I’ve been meaning to read Pashukanis for a long while, I’ve finally started. I got this book out the library, Pashukanis: Selected Writings on Marxism and Law. I’m not far into it, just starting the selections from his General Theory of Law and Marxism that are included in the book.

I’m trying to keep an open mind but that’s not my strong suit (I keep reminding myself that I didn’t [don’t!] like the first few chapters of Capital v1 either, but it’s a great book). So far, from the editors’ intro mostly, I’m skeptical of the claims about the links between capitalism and law. I find the remarks about law in capitalist society pretty compelling, but am not moved by the suggestions about the history of law or the methodological stuff, and I find a fair bit of the argument by analogy from political economy uncompelling as there’s not been enough to establish that the analogy is the right one.

I like the stuff about not wanting a proletarian law, that’s a bit where I like the use of analogy:
“The withering away of the categories of bourgeois law does not signify their replacement by new categories of proletarian law. Similarly the withering away of the categories value, capital, profit, etc. during the transition to socialism will not mean the appearance of new proletarian categories of value, capital, rent etc.” Instead there will “the withering away of law in general, i.e. the gradual disappearance of the juridic element in human relationships.” (46.) I should keep the last bit of the quote in mind as I try to be patient with Pashukanis’s insistence on getting at what exactly is law – insofar as I’m sympathetic to his impulse that “the juridic element in human relationships” will eventually exit the stage and that people will be better off for it, I ought to be able to say what I have in mind there, rather than the vague “oh you know, like… judges and stuff” that I’ve got now.

Pashukanis cites Marx (of course) as the way that his inquiry should proceed. From abstract and general to concrete. I like this quote: “population is but an empty abstraction without the classes which constitute it (…) the latter are nothing without the conditions of their existence (…) which are wages, profit, and rent.” (49.) Understanding those in turn requires the categories price, value, and commodity. Using those, one “reconstructs the concrete totality not as a chaotic, diffused whole, but as a unity replete with internal dependencies and relationships.” (49.) I’m sympathetic but not entirely sure. I think this is partly a disciplinary approach. I don’t remember Thompson, for instance, starting from simplicity and proceeding to concrete totality, and Thompson is surely not someone whose marxist credentials need checking. Likewise, I’m just not convinced that v1 of Capital had to start with or is a better book for starting with then proceeding as it does. I think it’s better read as if written in a different order, either in the middle of its categories (starting with chapter 4 or so, which if memory serves is how Althusser suggested reading it) or starting with the crescendo at the end on primitive accumulation (that’s Cleaver’s suggestion for reading it).

I do like this bit a lot, it reminds me of Hacking. Pashukanis talks about the differences between the objects of the social and natural sciences. “The law of the transformation of energy was in effect before the appearance of Man and will continue after the cessation of all life on earth. It is extra-temporal; it is an eternal law. It is possible to ask when was the law of the transformation of energy discovered, but it is futile to concern oneself with the question of establishing the moment when these relations were reflected in that law.” (50.)

I’m not entirely sure, but I wonder if part of my disconnect has to do with the degree of self-reflexivity that I think is needed. Pashukanis in a way seems to be insisting that in using categories to talk about phenomena which are not themselves “extra-temporal,” that is, when talking about historical phenomena (which all social phenomena can be assumed to be), one not only needs to stay clear that the object is historical but that the category is historical as well. We grasp a historically conditioned object with a category itself historically conditioned, and should be able to account not only for object but for our category (put another way, we should have meta-categories within which to grasp our categories). I’m not against that per se, but don’t feel a need for it, at least not all the time. What’s more, my hunch is that for Pashukanis our grasp of the object will be better if we likewise grasp our categories. I’m not sure that’s true.

Of course, I’m sympathetic here as well (I’m really of two minds on all this); this is all clouded by what I think is a disagreement with Pashukanis about the meta-categories (he references some things as “historically inevitable” [p50] for instance); I can’t tell if I’ve got a difference with the methodology or with something else. (Along the same lines, it strikes me that this may be close to what NP works on, I don’t have the same reservations with her work, I feel much more on the same page there, so I’m not at all sure what’s my major malfunction.) Hacking has some similarities to Pashukanis but I don’t have nearly the same reservations with Hacking. I think part of this may be that Hacking seems content with disciplinary divisions – he likes and engages with history but clearly marks transitions in his writing saying things along the lines of “well, my interest here is philosophical, not historical, I’m a philosopher not a historians” – which suggests less of a complete and unified body of/approach to knowledge, so to speak.

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