1 Brit. J.L. & Soc'y 136 (1974)
The Main Themes of Marx and Engels' Sociology of Law

handle is hein.journals/jlsocty1 and id is 142 raw text is: THE MAIN THEMES OF MARX' AND ENGELS' SOCIOLOGY
OF LAW*
Little has been written about Marx' and Engels' approach to law. This is largely
because Marx never fully developed his theory of the State although, as Sweezy points out,'
his original intention as stated in the Preface to the Critique of Political Economy was to
discuss state, foreign trade, world market at some length.2 He died before he could do
this. Thus in piecing together Marx on law one is forced to treat sections from different
works as additive, as if their central concerns were the same. Sometimes, as in chapter X
of Capital3 or Engels' Anti-Dfirhing,4 the extracts are sufficiently long to stand alone as
statements about law. At other times there is merely an allusion to law in a text dealing
with other matters. These snippets are more open to the abuse of being interpreted out of
context. Because my aim has been to let Marx' and Engels' writings speak for themselves
I hope I have avoided this. I began the research for this paper with no pre-conceived
categories in terms of which to order the extracts. My method was to copy onto cards
all the relevant passages (with notes on their contexts) and then to classify them in terms
of what seemed to be important or recurring themes.
Although I do not have any particular Marxist or academic axe to grind, two approaches
to Marx on Law worried and still worry me. These are the worker bashing inter-
pretation and the criminological interpretation. The former view has been held by lawyers,
the latter by sociologists. Neither does justice to the complexity and potential of Marxist
thought. Although I cannot claim to know what Marx and Engels really meant, I hope to
show at least that their theory of law was highly sophisticated and that it is still useful not
only in analy.;ing and comprehending present day society but also in sparking off ideas
dialectically with contemporary theory and in guiding one to fruitful areas of research.
Previous Discussions of Marx on Law
The putting down the workers model of Marx' thought is epitomised in the work
of Denis Lloyd,S who none the less recognized that Marx made a major contribution to
the foundation of legal as well as other forms of sociology. Lloyd stated that for Marx
Law was nothing but a coercive system devised to maintain the privileges of the property
owning class. Alternatively, law
was distilled out of the economic order which gave rise to it, and was an institutionalized form of the
prevailing ideology whereby the dominant section of society coerced the masses into obedience.
This is close enough to be recognizably Marx, yet by its dangerous over-simplification it
makes it possible to dismiss Marx as incapable of explaining those many laws which have
* An earlier version of this paper was presented to the British Sociological Association Study Group on
the Sociology of Law in May, 1972.
I P. M. Sweezy, The Theory of Capitalist Development (1942 Monthly Review Press, New York).
2 K. Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy in K. Marx and F. Engels,
Selected Works (1969 Progress Publishers, Moscow).
3 K. Marx, Capital (1970 Lawrence and Wishart, London) Vol. 1.
4 F. Engels, Anti-Dfirhing (1935 Chas. H. Kerr and Co., Chicago).
5 D. Lloyd, The Idea of Law (1964 Penguin, Harmondsworth) 22, 205-7.

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