Karl Marx’s views on Legal Order in Society

Almost every list of greatest thinkers of the mankind will contain the name of Karl Marx. A great thinker, political analyst, anthropologist, economist and list goes on. Along with his friend Friedrich Engels he co-authored two very famous books namely Das Capital and the Communist Manifesto. The message of these two books was that the proletariats i.e. the workers and laborers were constantly being exploited by the owners of the means of production i.e. the capitalists. His ideas were so revolutionary that for the most of the life he was stateless. During the last part of his life he lived in Great Britain.[1] Throughout his lifetime he was influenced by various scholars.

Firstly, from Hegel, Marx took Dialectics (conflict between thesis and Antithesis). According to Hegel, dialectics is a historical process. Hegel believed that there is no absolute truth. Secondly, from Feuerbach, he interpreted teachings of Christianity through Human psychology. Marx interpreted dialectics with sense of economics. Thesis is not an idea, it is a material condition.  History progresses through change and there is always a conflict between the economic progresses. The two economic systems interact to give rise to a better system. The Soviets called it Historical Materialism. Thirdly, from David Ricardo, Marx took the labor theory of value and theory of surplus value. Lastly, from Rousseau he took the concept of Common Good. He believed in the Rousseau’s thinking that Human nature is essentially good and the state of nature was a perpetual bliss. This led him to the conclusion that after the bloody socialist revolution, and with the gradual decline of the class system, the new communist society will be free of any kind of Human wickedness. That will be the case as it formerly existed in the State of Nature (before the advent of the state).[2] That will be the true utopia.

Views on Law and Social Order

Marx was a philosopher of exceptional brilliance who took note of minute changes in social process and developed an interpretation to it which no other thinker had adopted or even attempted. Marx was a sociologist who believed in empirical type and he gave his opinions or ideas about the future course of action. His objective was to gain better understanding of human nature and behavior in order to improve his knowledge and opinion of the society, through his sociological understanding, he said that a desired social system should consist of a communist society, based on rational decisions, community based production, equal distribution of resources and the most important point that it should be from political and bureaucratic pressure.

According to Marx, the primitive society was governed by the distribution of commodities but due to change and development in production, distribution and exchange of products, law, public authorities and the state was supposed to control and distribute the means of production. The price of commodities was regulated by the cost of labor to produce them. There is always an imbalance between factors and means of production and always the laborers are exploited by the capitalists which control the means of production. The state and the law is a mere economic means to exploit and maximize the profits of the ruling class. The conflict between the bourgeois and the proletariat is clear example of dominance by the ruling class over the laborers.[3]

Another view that predominates in Marx’s work is that there is predominance of economic interest of the oppressive class. State is viewed as an instrument of oppression by the ruling class on bourgeois. It even acts in civil society as a suppressive agent in favor of proletariats’ interest of capital accumulation. Law is used as an oppressive mechanism to misguide or affect the behavior of the bourgeois. The capitalists dominates economic sphere through which it even dominates the political arena. This view of state is epitomized in “The Communist Manifesto”.[4]

The political ideology of Marx is pronounced throughout his works and writings in German ideology, Capital and in his critique of Hegel’s philosophy of right. Marx was critical of bureaucracy as it was considered as formal spirit of the state, he even considered bureaucracy and state as two sides of the same coin. The main objective of bureaucracy is to manipulate and gain material benefits and perpetuate class materialism. The ancient, the feudal, and the modern bourgeois modes of production are progressive approaches in the progressive formation of the society. The bourgeois modes of production are the last antagonistic forms of social process of production, arising from conflicts surrounding the life of individuals in the society.[5]

This antagonism is the antagonism of the conflicting classes and the state is an instrument of expression of the ruling class who assert their common interest and intermediary of all community institution which receives political form. He says law is not based on will but it is in fact distinguished from it. Law is a pre requisite for the growth and development of the industry and property. Marx interpreted dialectics with sense of economics. Thesis is not an idea, it is a material condition.  History progresses through change and there is always a conflict between the economic progresses. The two economic systems interact to give rise to a better system. The soviets called it Historical Materialism.[6]

His idea of legal order of society can be classified under four titles:

1. Class Struggle: The owners of the means of production, called the Haves and the workers at the means of production, called Have-nots are under constant tussle with each other. The Haves have tendency to suppress while the have-nots have tendency to revolt. This naturally gives rise to tension. This conflict is called class struggle.

2. Theory of Surplus Value: Karl Marx believed that amongst the four factors of production namely land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship except the labor all the three factors were sterile. It is the labor that adds value to the product. The value that a finished product is having is called Natural Price (Price of product after creation of a good). The value at which a product is sold is called Market price. The difference between the natural price and market price is called the surplus value. According to Marx, the Haves or the owners of the means of production misappropriate this value. This concept is called Theory of Surplus Value.

3. Dialectical Materialism: According to Hegel, the “ideas” that undergo process of dialectics. Marx was also his adherent, he believed that not ideas but matter interact with each other. This continuous and unending interaction gives shape to new and better form of institution.

4. Historical Materialism: That relations of the means of production remain the same but the form changes with passing of time. In its essence, the society progresses from Primitive Communism ( of Hunter Gatherer society) to Slave Society ( Master Slave relationship ) to Feudal Society ( of Lords and Serfs) then to Socialist Society (Workers eliminating the capitalists) and finally the communist utopia is reached that is Communist form of society (Classless society). The arrangement of the society changes but what remained constant was the exploitative system. This came to be known as Historical Materialism.[7] These are the four pillars of Marxism over which whole of the superstructure of communism relies.


Karl Marx opines that how Law, State and Politics are affected by the Bourgeois and the way they are used against the working class. The Marxist legal theory has three assumptions, first, which states that law is an outcome or molded by economic forces of the society, second, law is an instrument that is used by ruling class to maintain control over the working class, third, that communist society would wither away law in future.

On the contrary, Engels believed that state would wither away in future. In today’s era third assumption of Marxist Legal Theory has been repudiated and a new concept of ‘Sociality Legality’ has evolved. Many communist countries stress either on ‘Sociality’ or ‘Legality’. Marx emphasizes on the significance of legal order in society to maintain socio-economic and legal parity. According to him there is always a conflict between the bourgeois and the proletariats for securing dominance over the other. The societies in which the socio-economic and moral decision are taken by only the bourgeois, are unjust societies. He clearly states in his book ‘Communist Manifesto’ that law simply reflects the desires and will of the bourgeois class that they want to impose on the proletariats. He criticizes the complete system of government, the rule of law and states that this rule of law is nothing more than expression of interests of the bourgeois.

[1] An Introduction to the Work of Marx. thegreatthinkers.org/marx/introduction/, (last accessed 18 May 2020)

[2] Ibid

[3] Proletarians and Communists, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch02.html , last Accessed 18 May 2020

[4] Ibid

[5] Marx ‘The Greatest Thinker’, 1 October 1999, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/461545.stm, (last accessed 18 May 2020)

[6] Karl Marx, https://quotes.thefamouspeople.com/karl-marx-222.php , (last accessed 18 May 2020)

[7] Alan Woods, The Ideas of Karl Marx, 20 June 2013, https://www.marxist.com/karl-marx-130-years.html , (last accessed 18 May 2020)

Bhavik Jain from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab

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