International Law and Revolution: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

International Law and Revolution

1st Edition

By Owen Taylor


208 pages

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Hardback: 9780367076597
pub: 2019-06-12
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This book explores the historical inter-relations between international law and revolution, with a focus on how international anti-capitalist struggle plays out through law. The book approaches the topic by analysing the meaning of revolution and what revolutionary activity might look like, before comparing this with legal activity, to assess the basic compatibility between the two. It then moves on to examine two prominent examples of revolutionary movements engaging with international law from the twentieth century; the early Soviet Union and the Third World movement in the nineteen sixties and seventies. The book proposes that the ‘form of law’, or its base logic, is rooted in capitalist social relations of private property and contract, and that therefore the law is a particularly inhospitable place to advance revolutionary breaks with established distributions of power or wealth. This does not mean that the law is irrelevant to revolutionaries, but that turning to legal means comes with tendencies towards conservative outcomes. In the light of this, the book considers the possibility of how, or whether, international law might contribute to the pursuit of a more egalitarian future.


International Law and Revolution fills a significant gap in the field of international legal theory by offering a deep theoretical reflection on the meaning of the concept of revolution for the twenty-first century, and its link to the international legal system. It develops the commodity form theory of law as applied to international law, and explores the limits of law for progressive social struggle, informed by historical analysis. It will therefore appeal to students and scholars of public international law, legal history, human rights, international politics and political history.

Table of Contents




Foreground: Revolutionary Times?

Critical Times; Critical Scholarship

A Materialist Approach to International Law

Revolutions of All Shapes and Sizes

The Structure of the Book

Why Law Anyway?

Chapter 1: Revolution and Revolutionary Praxis

I: Introduction

I. Revolution in Existing Scholarship

II. The Conceptual History of Revolution

III: Marxist Revolution – Political and Social; Bourgeois and Proletarian

IV: Revolutionary Agency

V: Conclusion

Chapter 2: International Law and International Legal Praxis

I: Introduction

II: The Ambiguous Promise of International Law

III: The Politics of Law and Fundamental Legal Indeterminacy

IV: Pashukanis and the Commodity Form Theory of Law

V: The Brutal Heart of Law

VI: Revolutionary Praxis in Law

VII: Conclusion

Chapter 3: The Soviet Relationship to International Law

I: Introduction

II: Background – Revolution, Foreign Policy and the Law

III: The Soviet ‘Approach’ to International Law

IV: The View From Without

V: Common International Legal Practice?

VI: Understanding the Soviet ‘Approach’

VII: Revolutionary Legal Praxis and the Soviet example

VIII: Conclusion

Chapter 4: The Third World and the New International Economic Order

I: Introduction

II: Background

III: The Third World relationship to International Law

IV: Bandung; Non-Aligned Movement and the G77; UNCTAD

V: OPEC: Commodities, commodity booms and Oil – the exception

VI: Resolutions

VII: Revolutionary Legal Praxis and the Third World – An Assessment *

VIII: Conclusion *

Conclusion *

Counter-revolutionary times

The importance of reclaiming revolution

The possibility of revolutionary praxis as legal praxis

Fundamental legal relations

Soviet legal practice: between pragmatism and revolution

Third World legal practice: between idealism and revolution

The vulnerable heart of law: property and contract



About the Author

Owen Taylor is an independent researcher, currently based in Marseille. He completed his doctorate in Law at SOAS, University of London.

About the Series

Routledge Research in International Law

The series offers a space for new and emerging scholars of international law to publish original arguments, as well as presenting alternative perspectives from more established names in international legal research.  Works cover both the theory and practice of international law, presenting innovative analyses of the nature and state of international law itself as well as more specific studies within particular disciplines. The series will explore topics such as the changes to the international legal order, the processes of law-making and law-enforcement, as well as the range of actors in public international law. The books will take a variety of different methodological approaches to the subject including interdisciplinary, critical legal studies, feminist, and Third World approaches, as well as the sociology of international law. Looking at the past, present and future of international law the series reflects the current vitality and diversity of international legal scholarship.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / General
LAW / International