In Praise of the Human Rights Left

July 25, 2008 at 6:22 pm (Andrew Coates, Human rights, left, Marxism, politics, serbia, socialism, stalinism)

——————————————————————————————————-

What priority should the defence of human rights, law, and International Courts in enforcing them, have for the left? The capture of Radovan Karadžić long after his initial  indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia have brought some issues about this to out into the open. There are those who criticise ‘victor’s justice’ (not entirely without reason) and the legitimacy of any bourgeois court’s judgment. Not only are such Tribunals driven by the power of Western states, but their bias is, at root, a reflection of their function to protect the interests and property of the rich. Their ethical claims are human rights ‘imperialism’. Far from enforcing real rights they act as a smokescreen for the West’s own abuses, primarily in Iraq, across the planet.

 

Let’s begin with the charges Radovan Karadžić faces. He is accused of direct responsibility for the deaths of more than 7500 Muslims. Under his direction and command, Bosnian Serb forces set siege to Sarajevo, and carried out countless massacres across Bosnia. Tens of thousands of non-Serbs were killed, hundreds of thousands were expelled from their homes, and thousands more were held in appalling conditions in camps, where many died.  He is alleged to have ordered the massacre at Srebrenica, commanding Bosnian Serb forces to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival of life” in the UN safe area… In sum Karadžić is indicted of complicity in genocide, extermination, murder, wilful killing, persecutions, deportation, inhumane acts, unlawfully inflicting terror upon civilians, and the taking of hostages. So it goes. http://www.un.org/icty/cases-e/cis/mladic/cis-karadzicmladic.pdf

 

No-one can imagine that these are ‘bourgeois’ charges. The actions of the Yugoslavian warlords go against the root of our existence as human beings. There is nothing ‘falsely’ universal about prosecuting what are universal offences.

 

Now back to Law. And Marxism (heavy, but, hey it’s a lefty thing, you non-Marxists wouldn’t understand…). Engels stated that law is a “reflection of economic relations in the form of legal principles”. (Engels to Schmidt October 27. 1890). There is a view, not often expressed today, that the Rule of law is “The chief obstacle in the development of class consciousness.” “Collective struggle should transcend concern for individual legal rights and justice according to law.”(Marxism and Law. Hugh Collins. 1984. P 139) Marx stated that the market (circulation) is the exclusive realm of freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, let as say of labour power, are determined only by their free will. The…” (Capital Vol. 1 1976. P 280) Against this: we have the standpoint that human rights, when enshrined in law,  are historical creations that go beyond securing goods and chattels. They come from below, and are a central part of the right against injustice (class oppressions and others). Marxism in this interpretation would make Courts answerable to the voices ‘from below’, but that their role, and their calm procedures, is essential to ending abuses and upholding rights. (The Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism. Justice. Historical Materialism. Vol. 13 No 3. 2005.)

 

Formal bourgeois law, whatever its roots in enforcing contracts and safeguarding property, is often more genuinely universal and just than many of the alternatives. Take legal systems based on status: ancient Roman or Anglo-Saxon law (which assigned worth to the free and nothing to the unfree), or religious-based law – the most glaring case being the non-law of the Sharia which refuses to treat people equally. Or indeed law in Stalinist states, which registered people’s class origins (fixed for ever). The problem is not the idea of human rights, but that making them real requires more than Courts: they can be fully realised only in the kind of egalitarian society we call socialism, or communism. Something like this idea was, at any rate, the opinion of those who have looked at the foundations of the left and the workers’ movements in early forms of human rights demands. Inspired as they are by the French Revolution, and key writings like Tom Paine’s Rights of Man, such principles have been continued by the non-Stalinist left into modern times.

 

Movements for human rights across the planet should inspire us. We, the left, should be at their forefront. That instruments like the International Court of Justice, or the present Tribunal on Yugoslavia, are flawed, may be the case. But our role should be to improve them, to build a society where justice and rights are real. Not to dismiss them because their claims to universality are blemished.  Or still worse, to run with the twisted apologists for nationalist murder and the ‘anti-imperialists’ who deny the very possibility of universal rights and freedoms.

14 Comments

  1. charliethechulo said,

  2. tcd said,

    “Movements for human rights across the planet should inspire us. We, the left, should be at their forefront. That instruments like the International Court of Justice, or the present Tribunal on Yugoslavia, are flawed, may be the case. But our role should be to improve them, to build a society where justice and rights are real.”

    How are “we” supposed to improve the International Court of Justice exactly?

  3. modernityblog said,

    [sigh]

    Possibly by getting it to set the precedence that heads of state and their accomplices are not immune from prosecution or justice when they commit genocide or warcrimes

    The key word is precedence

    Alternatively one can scream and shout at the top of one’s voice in opposition to the ICC*, much like the right-wing American isolationists do

    I wonder what you think is better?

    *same goes for the ICTY

  4. modernityblog said,

    PS: Andrew, very good article,

    plenty of Marxism, but I somehow doubt that past critics on this theme will want to take up those issues? I hope they do, but we’ll see

    where’s Rob?

  5. tcd said,

    “Possibly by getting it to set the precedence that heads of state and their accomplices are not immune from prosecution or justice when they commit genocide or warcrimes”

    so because a few criminals from one small eastern european state ar enow on trial by a court run by people who had a clash of economic interests with them, you really thinkt here is a mass wave of human pprogress which can be spread to bring to justice all the war criminals of the world, from Zimbabweto Saui Arabia to Iraq to the Balkans to Russia, Israel, the US, China, Sierra Leon, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua,…I could go on.

    “The key word is precedence”

    no, the key word is self-interest of a kangaroo court.

    “Alternatively one can scream and shout at the top of one’s voice in opposition to the ICC*, much like the right-wing American isolationists do

    I wonder what you think is better?”

    Actually I think neither is better, I don´t think we should oppose the ICCor anyone else prosecuting war criminals like Karadzic. But I think it´s a damaging dream to hold that bourgeois organs of jsutice can be extended into some long term world police and provider of jsutice. And all because one redundant war criminal got prosecuted, while at the same time the interests behind the prosecutiona re orchestrating the deaths of millions every day.

  6. tcd said,

    also ymy simple (unanswered) question was how “we” make the ICC do what we want.

    hunger strikes? appeals to their innate goodness? pickets? blog posts? voting?

  7. Rob said,

    Rob will write a blog post on this. I am quite happy to take up these issues, and indeed have done so before.

  8. modernity said,

    indeed Rob, but surely dialogs are better than monologues?

  9. Rob said,

    I often feel that the internet is nothing but monologues.

  10. modernityblog said,

    rob,

    to avoid that maybe it is better to engage with other’s points rather than write mini-essays? as we often know our own views but without that exchange of arguments with others we can’t always refine or improve our ideas?

  11. Rob said,

    I don’t think writing long, considered responses excludes engaging with the points of others. Evidently we also disagree about my ability to do so. Also – how can I put this? – these debates aren’t exactly new (they recur every so often). So whilst I am happy to engage with what people are saying, it’s not accurate to say that I haven’t already considered the substance of what they’re saying, or exchanged arguments with others who hold similar views.

  12. charliethechulo said,

    How very true, Rob: many of us have studied the arguments of the so-called “anti-imperialists” for many years.

  13. modernityblog said,

    rob wrote:

    “it’s not accurate to say that I haven’t already considered the substance of what they’re saying, or exchanged arguments with others who hold similar views.”

    exactly, that is NOT what I said.

    my point was, and I didn’t want to belabour it, was that the wisdom of the crowd and an exchange of views is sometimes better than solely thinking through points on our own.

    it is clear that you are smart, and have thought about these issues, but even the smartest of us can’t know-all

    PS: I think you write very well, and will do well in the legal profession should you wish to take it up :)

  14. modernityblog said,

    Andrew, maybe you want to set JohnG straight on these matters?

    “The very idea that Islamic thought might have played a role in the European renaissence is causing tremendous upset amongst self proclaimed members of the ‘human rights left’ like Andrew Coates over on Shiraz Socialist. Its an appalling concession to Jihadism one presumes.
    johng | 26 Jul, 17:17 | # “

    http://www.haloscan.com/comments/lenin/6413159772433704338/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 473 other followers

%d bloggers like this: