R. Judson Mitchell's article The Brezhnev Doctrine and Communist Ideology uses the term "class basis of law".

I'm not sure but I think:

Because this concept almost always appears hand in hand with "duality of systems (because 2 camps)", class basis of law means law has different meanings/content under different classes? As in the dominant class in the system (e.g. in capitalism this would be the bourgeoise)

In the article it mentioned under some Soviet ideological theory:

Bourgeoise Law represented the norms of a dying class, while socialist law was the manifestation of the underlying laws of history which contained existential, rather than normative, judgements.


  1. I'm not sure if I'm right

  2. Even if I am I'm not really getting the stuff I'm saying

Edit: Here is some of the text of the linked article, which speaks of the class basis of law.

Kovalev's Pravda argument in support of Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia was organized around four basic concepts: (1) the class basis of law

Kovalev argued: charges that the sovereignty of Czechoslovakia had been violated were based upon an abstract, classless approach to questions of sovereignty and self-determination. In a class society there is no such thing as nonclass law and legal norms must be subordinated to the laws of class struggle and social development. To emphasize "legalistic considerations" at the expense of the socialist viewpoint is to use bourgeois law as a "measuring stick."

  • I'm sorry its a long article, but if you're interested, please help? Commented May 3, 2017 at 14:21
  • 1
    I think you are basically on the right track.... Perhaps you could add a specific quote or two from the article to help explain what you're having trouble with exactly?
    – Brian Z
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 15:23
  • Was not Marxism conceived as international, states and their laws seen as abstractions? Years ago I read Poggi, (surely a Marxist) on this subject, and the thing that stands out in my mind was the notion of the state as a boundary of legalised violence exercised by a bourgeois class. This book seems to me to be an authoritative work on the subject.
    – WS2
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 22:43

3 Answers 3


Marxist Theory

Marxism, as taught and practiced in the USSR, claims that human society consists of

  • base: economic structure (ownership of means of production, relationships between the owners and workers, technology envolved &c)
  • superstructure: "culture" (politics, laws, rituals &c)

and the base determines the nature of the superstructure.

Accordingly, the superstructure reflects the class structure of the society. Every law corresponds to the views and protects the interests of the ruling class.

Corollary: Positive vs. Normative

The bourgeois society is run by an oppressive retrograde class of exploiters who make arbitrary legislation without regard for objective laws.

The socialist society is managed by the Communist Party representing workers, the most progressive class, and is armed with the progressive Marxist Theory, which provides an objective scientific basis for legislation.


Here is how a Soviet/Marxist sociologist would explain some existing laws and customs:

  • The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution of the US constitution reflects the interests of the exploiters, who want to own weapons to protect themselves from the people they oppress, while the many US gun control laws reflect the interests of the exploiters, who want guns out of hands of the people they oppress.

  • The Soviet culture "Тащи с завода каждый гвоздь - ты здесь хозяин, а не гость" (grab every nail from the plant [you work at] - you are the owner, not a guest here) reflects the base fact of workers' ownership of the means of production, while the anti-theft laws (such as the infamous Law of Three Spikelets) reflect the workers as the owners of the means of production protecting their property from Lumpens.

This is only slightly tongue-in-cheek.


If this sounds like religious drivel, well, it is.

See also my answer to Why did Stalin deem Quantum Mechanics 'counter-revolutionary'?:

Remember that a quote from Marx/Engels/Lenin was enough to win any argument in the Soviet Union.

Quote From the Article

"the USSR accepted certain aspects of international law, and at various times even used general international law to defend its own specific interests, the conceptual framework for such usage being the duality of systems and the class basis of law."

This is just plain opportunism: whenever the international law favored USSR, it said

See, even the corrupt bourgeois law recognizes that we are right!

and when the law disagreed with USSR, it said

we are not bound by the corrupt bourgeois law

The main two points to understand when studying what the communists say or do:

  1. Lenin and his followers were the ultimate opportunists; they never let principles interfere with the practical matters of gaining and keeping political power.
  2. "Do not look for logic where you did not put it yourself" - i.e., do not try to view whatever the communists say as some coherent political, sociological or philosophical doctrine.

IOW, whatever they say boils down to:

  • we are right because we are The Communists,
  • you are wrong because you disagree with The Communists.

This, of course, creates a problem when the opponent claims to be "The Communist" too (the primary examples are Bolsheviks vs. Mensheviks and USSR vs. PRC). Not to worry - just call the opponent a revisionist and win the argument.


E.g., the Marxist-Leninist idea of a "just war" is that

  • A war is just when it promotes the interests of workers
  • Support of USSR is the only interests workers have
  • Ergo:
    • any war fought by USSR is just
    • in any other war, whatever faction is supported by the USSR is just.

The above was, in fact, the official USSR position throughout its existence, I shit you not.

PS. When I was in college, our informal term for Marxism was "Mraksism", from "Mrak" - darkness.

PPS. One my favorite jokes: a guy comes out of the oral exam on Scientific communism with a huge smile on his face.

  • His friends ask him: "did you pass? got an A?"
  • He answers: "no, I failed!"
  • They ask: "why are you so happy about?"
  • He answers: "I am here - while my classmate was arrested right there!"
  • 3
    Well done, and with less snark than I could have managed.
    – MCW
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 17:18
  • Beauty. Up Vote. Commented May 3, 2017 at 17:35
  • So class basis of law is for explaining the flaws in capitalist societies, and not to justify the socialist/communist system? I'm a bit confused because one part of the article says: "the USSR accepted certain aspects of international law, and at various times even used general international law to defend its own specific interests, the conceptual framework for such usage being the duality of systems and the class basis of law." So why would the Soviets use law that protects the ruling class to justify their own actions? [Sorry I'm really out of my depth here] Commented May 4, 2017 at 1:54
  • @AnnaCHOI: this is plain opportunism, please see the addendum to my answer.
    – sds
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 2:43
  • 1
    There's no contradiction in the US Second Amendment versus gun control. It's just saying that people should be able to have guns to protect society but not to overthrow it, which is in the interests of those who benefit from the society (which to the Marxist, is the exploiters). I suppose there's the difference that the Marxist sees gun control as a means of preventing the proletariat overthrowning the bourgoisie, whereas American gun control advocates are mostly interested in stopping ordinary people killing each other. Commented May 4, 2017 at 8:24

I remember a British TV episode where someone sarcastically remarked on the majestic equality of English law, where the millionaire and homeless man are equally forbidden to sleep under bridges.

That is similar to the Marxist view expressed in "class basis of law" that the laws in Capitalistic society are more for the benefit of the upper classes than the workers.

  • 2
    Yes; and both get ice in a month beginning with "J"; the homeless man in January, and the millionaire in June & July. Commented May 3, 2017 at 23:43

Marxists claimed that all aspects of the social life were determined by the class struggle. This included law. In other words, they claimed that all laws and all legal procedures were established to the benefit of one class that dominated the society. In particular, all legal system in the capitalist countries was made to protect and benefit the dominating class, which was "bourgeoisie" in their terminology, which is usually translated as "middle class", but this translation is not adequate. And of course the legal system in a socialist country (like Soviet Union) had the goal to protect the interests of "proletariat".

They denied the possibility of existence of a class-neutral legal system.

EDIT. All references that I can find are in Russian. Here is a relatively recent one: http://politazbuka.info/biblioteka/sociologiya/903-kovalyov-burzhuaznaya-zakonnost.html

Let me translate the title and a part of the resume:

Bourgeois justice: theoretical illusions and judicial-constabulary reality. The authors uncovers the class essence of bourgeois justice, its crisis in the activity of judicial and police institutions, shows how the law is used to infringe the rights and freedoms of people in the capitalist countries, uncovers the bourgeois doctrines justifying the judicial and police repression.

(It is so difficult to translate this newspeak into a normal language:-)

  • This answer reads great. It could probably use some references backing up the statements made though.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 21:16
  • This is what Wikipedia calls "original research":-) I suppose that unlike in Wikipedia it is not prohibited here. Or you may call it first-hand account:-) Seriously: I spent my first 36 years there, and studied a lot all aspects of Marxism in school and in the university.
    – Alex
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 21:19
  • Your expertise on the subject (I gather from other posts) is part of the reason I put it that way. I wouldn't have even said anything, but I'd like to see this post get the high vote I suspect it deserves. Honestly, I highly suspect you could dig up some references, but what I think might be really difficult is finding ones in English.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 21:51
  • @T.E.D.: I can try to find some references but I am afraid they will all be in Russian.
    – Alex
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 7:12

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