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Marx, Lenin and Pashukanis on Self-Determination: Response to Robert Knox

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This response to Robert Knox’s very kind and constructive review1 of my 2008 book The Degradation of the International Legal Order: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics gives me the opportunity not only to answer some of his criticisms, but also, on the basis of my own reflections since 2008, to fill in some gaps. Indeed, to revise a number of my arguments. First, I restate my attempt at a materialist account of human rights. Next I explain why, for me, the right of peoples to self-determination is absolutely central to a materialist understanding of human rights; and also fill a serious gap in my own account in the book. This leads me not only to a reply to Robert Knox on the question of ‘indeterminacy’ in international law, but also to a disagreement with him on the use or misuse of the language of self-determination. My fourth section returns to our very different evaluations of the significance and meaning of the work of Yevgeny Pashukanis, and what, for me, is Pashukanis’s misunderstanding, for reasons consistent with his general theoretical trajectory, of Marx and Lenin on the Irish question. Finally, I present an outline of a re-evaluation of Marx’s principled position on self-determination.

Affiliations: 1: Birkbeck College, Email:


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