Karl Marx – Marxist Jurisprudence

Karl Heinrich Marx (1818-1883), more than proceeding a sophisticated theory of judicial decision making or baffling over the nature of law, Marxist jurisprudence prepossess an analysis of liberal capitalist commencements of law. As a section of its general discouragement of bourgeois consciousness, Marxism seeks to establish the legitimating purposes of law as a contributor to ideological misrepresentation and as a solidifier of the political status quo. Therefore, there is not so much a Marxist theory of law as there is a Marxist revealing of law’s alleged unsavory contribution in domination and oppression. This article will cover the concept of Marxist Jurisprudence, assumptions of Marxist legal theory, and setback.


Karl Marx provides a perspective about what the law means, which in order to appreciate, is essential to place it inside Marx’s whole socio-economic and political context.[1]In the Marxist view of the law, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are the two classes fighting for power. Societies are considered unjust if they permit and provide freedom to the bourgeoisie to frame laws and present moral decisions. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx explains that the law is simply a reflection of the desires of the Bourgeoisie class. He says to the Bourgeoisie that “[Y]our jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will, whose essential character and direction are determined by the economic conditions of existence of your class”[2]. Marx criticizes the entire tradition of government under the rule of law as no more than a mere expression of the“bourgeois” aspirations. Karl Heinrich Marx was a nineteenth-century German intellectual whose works have had a great influence on the world. Largely ignored during his lifetime, Marx’s writings on economics, politics, social science, and revolution eventually led to the founding of two political movements addition, his views have influenced many legal philosophers.

Marxist Jurisprudenceis a subject that has flourished considerably in law. If we compare then its quite clear that Marxist analysis of law gives extra weight on the power of economic influences in society rather than on then the concept of an impartial, neutral Rule of Law. Marxists consider that the significant forces of a society with those who have authority over these forces shape the society’s legal system.

What is Marxist?

The concept of Marxism first emerged in the mid-nineteenth century as a result of the hostile conditions created by the capitalistic society. Marxism is also known as conflict theory because it expresses the conflict among people in society. We can say that around the theories of criticism of Karl Marx it is an amalgamation of critiques, political goals, and theories. It consists of myriad ideas: that capitalism embodies a system of class exploitation, socialism is a social order in which private property and exploitation and which can be achieved through revolution.

Basic Assumptions of Marxist Legal Theory

In the Marxist theory of law, there are three basic assumptions. The first one is that law is the product of economic forces. Marx said that the way you work will shape your law and other institutions. He believed in the ‘two-level model’ in which ‘economy’ was the ‘base’ and law as well as other institutions were in the ‘super-structure’. Marx was of the opinion that the most important sphere of relations to consider was the relations of economic production. However, Engels admitted that the various components of the superstructure, including the institution of the law and other norms, exercise a reciprocal effect upon the economic basis and may, within certain limits, modify it. It would be easier to explain their characteristic of religious, political, moral, artistic, and legal principles. His main argument was that in a capitalist economy, the working classes (or proletarian) were exploited by the capitalist class (or the bourgeois). The second important doctrine is the doctrine of the class character of law. According to Marx and Engels, the law is believed to be the apparatus of the ruling class to maintain its powers over the ruling classes. Law is characterized as an expression of class will.

The third important doctrine is often recognized as the ‘withering away’ of law in the future communist society. There are certain debates regarding this doctrine although. Engels anticipated that the society of the future would substitute (for the government) the administration of things and that state in such a society would wither away[3]. The ‘withering away’ phenomenon was explained by Eugene Pashukanis[4]. He argued that law is a social regulator in a market economy in which independent private producers and owners of commodities exchange their produce by means of contracts and transactions. He believed that law was out of place in a socialist society which is characterized by the unity of social purpose. He maintained that legal rules for settling disputes between individuals and groups will not be needed in a socialist society. Consequently, according to this view, when classes disappear after the revolution, there is no need for a legal apparatus to continue and encourage class rule. So, poverty and exploitation, which are seen as the root causes of a crime, will vanish within the new classless society and people will develop into ‘group creatures’ having no need for codes and rules so that the need for institutionalized law vanishes.

Marxist Legal Theory

Marx’s ideas about the law were expressed mainly in the Communist Manifesto and On the Jewish Question which he published in collaboration with his friend Friedrich Engels in 1848. In Marxist believes, material relations of manufacture (economy) found the base, which regulates the superstructure such as politics, religion, education, culture, and law. Capitalism is inconsistent with our species-being because it alienates us from labor, our production, and from each other. The class conflict to which this lead will eventually lead to the demise of capitalism. To avoid this, capitalist relations of production need to be regulated, and this is the main task of the superstructure[5]. One way of viewing the relationship between the economic base and law (as an element of superstructure) is instrumentalist. In simple words, according to this view, the law means the oppression and domination of the proletariat by the ruling class (the bourgeoisie). The latter has a stronghold on the State and its law and uses it to promote its interests. It is on the basis of this that, according to Marx, the law is present in all phases of class domination prior to the proletariat revolution but not to carry equal emphasis in all stages of development. Thus the law is perceived as having a relatively minor role in the phase of feudal domination but started to make its role more prominent during the bourgeoisie phase, because of its least close relationship with institutions of private property.[6] As Fredrich Engels said: “law is sacred to the bourgeoisie, for it… enacted …for his benefit… because the English bourgeoisie finds himself reproduced in his law, the policeman’s truncheon… has for him a… soothing power. But… the employed man knows… that the law is a rod which the bourgeoisie has prepared for him; and when he is not compelled to do so he never appeals to the law.”[7]

Setback of Marx

The identification of law with the attention of the dominant class is one of the flaws in Marxist legal theory because it is evident that there are few laws that do not support those interests. How can a Marxist explain such anomalies? One clarification is that laws such as these are concessions twisted from the dominant class by an inferior class increasing in class consciousness and growing in power and are the first small steps towards revolution. This view is demonstrably wrong, but there is little indication to support it either.

 If there will always be the poor, then there will always be rich. There will always be division and any effort to establish a classless society in this side of heaven, predominantly through the violent and godless ways of Communism, is intended to frustration and failure.


To sum up, we can safely argue that the Marxian view of law is influenced by his over-all theory of state and social change. Marx regards the law as a part of the superstructure. Since the state is an instrument of class rule, the law is made to serve the interest of ruling classes and thus an arena of class struggle. The claim made in excessive optimism that laws are made in the general interest of the public, according to Marx, is only an ideological smokescreen to ensure its obedience by all.

[1]Legaltutors.com ‘Karl Marx’

[2]Marx and Engels, Collected Works, 6:501.

[3]Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, transl. E. Burns (New York, 1934), p. 309

[4]He was raised to the dean of Soviet legal philosophers but was eventually executed as a traitor to Marxism. See, Edgar Bodenheimer, Jurisprudence: the Philosophy and the Method of the Law (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), p. 82.

[5]7 J.E. Penner and E. Melissaris, “McCoubrey & White’s Textbook on Jurisprudence”, Oxford University Press 5th Edition


[7]Fredrich Engels and Karl Marx, “Collected Works” (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1975) pg 514


Q1. Who is Karl Marx?

Q2. What is Marxist?

Q3. What is the Marxist theory of law?

Q4. What are the setbacks?

Q5. What are his views on jurisprudence?


  1. See “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts”, Conway, D. A Farewell to Marx: An Outline and Appraisal of His Theories (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1987) at 34–41.
  2. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, 6:501.
  3. Letter of Engels to C. Schmidt dated October 27, 1890, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works (Moscow, 1955), Vol. 2, p, 494.
  4. Fredrich Engels and Karl Marx, “Collected Works” (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1975) pg 514
  5. “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts” (1844)
  6. “The Marxian Critique of Justice” in Cohen, M. Nagel, T. & Scanlon, T. eds., Justice and History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980) 3–41.

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