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International Socialism, Spring 1964

Tony Young

The Law as an Ass

From International Socialism, No.16, Spring 1964, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Changing Law in Developing Countries
J.N.D. Anderson
Allen & Unwin, 35s.

A book dealing with this subject might expect to find an interested if limited readership not only among socialist lawyers and law students but among others wishing for new ideas and information on the relationship, first discussed by Engels, between the economic basis of society and its ideological, including legal, ‘superstructure’. Unfortunately, the title is most misleading, for the book consists not of any coherent attempt to examine this theme, but merely of reprints of a series of London University lectures in 1961-62, many with virtually no connection with the purported subject, and those that have, mostly considering only very specialised aspects of it in isolation. Four of the fourteen papers are by Colonial Office lawyers, prompting the reflection that while an astrologer or alchemist might display as much erudition within the framework of his fixed assumptions, he could hardly achieve such a level of aridity. As they are not discussing real problems, but whether Letters Patent or Orders in Council are more appropriate for amending colonial constitutions, etc., they must seem quite sterile to anyone who has even heard of Marxism. Unsatisfactory for another reason is a paper by an ex-President of the Law Society on the legal profession in African territories, a matter which could have been of real though minor interest given some factual content, but which turns out to consist almost entirely of smug generalities about the great worth of lawyers in ‘civilised’ society.

There are two papers of some value, in my opinion: outstandingly, one by Dr A.N. Allott on Legal Development and Economic Growth in Africa, which contains most interesting information and reflections (from a bourgeois standpoint) on the changing law of land tenure, credit structure including the enforce-ability of debts, and legal response to the requirements of foreign capital investment: and a rather slight but, so far as it goes, useful essay by J.S. Read on women’s status and law reform.

However, fewer than 50 pages of good capitalist sense out of 270 does not justify recommending comrades to pay out 35s.

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