'Reform or revolution'? Polanyian versus Marxian perspectives on the regulation of the economic


  • Grietje Baars University College London


Rosa Luxembourg’s 1900 pamphlet 'Reform or revolution', which critiqued reformist political strategy, has relevance to, and finds echoes in today’s debates on the possibility and desirability of using law to protect society from the market’s negative effects. It also summed up the nineteenth-century 'Polanyian' reformist and Marxist 'revolutionary' perspectives. Polanyi argued that 'the economic' must be 'embedded' in the social by means of legal regulation, an argument he illustrates with the help of the 'Speenhamland' example. Marx, while acknowledging the role of the legal struggle as part of class struggle, concludes that ultimately 'right can never be higher than the economic structure of society'. Marxist legal theorist Pashukanis developed this position in his 'commodity form theory of law' which points to the structural impossibility of law’s regulation of capitalism. While contemporary 'Polanyist' Ruggie again asserts that legal and soft law 'global governance' regimes can control capitalism’s main instrument, the corporation, Shamir contra Ruggie argues that the 'moralisation of markets' through corporate social responsibility (CSR) leads to the 'marketisation of morality' or a change in what we perceive law to be (and who has legitimate authority to regulate) rather than a 'taming' of markets. Following Shamir, I add that this corporate-led global governance hastens the collapse of capitalism, and confirms the inevitability of revolution and the subsequent creation of a law-free society.





Part I: Conceptual perspectives