Review: “State-Monopoly Capitalism and Labour Law” – Igor Kiselyov

You’ll have to forgive me for the brevity of this review. I have been working tirelessly to get my manuscript ready for publication with my editor, which has consequently occupied most of my time, thoughts, and energy. Also, I read this book weeks ago, so might have forgotten some of it by now.

“State-Monopoly Capitalism and Labour Law” by the Soviet scholar Igor Kiselyov examines the dialectics of labour law, i.e., the legal regulation of labour including the activities of trade unions, strikes, collective agreements and employment contracts, wages, working time, leisure time, labour protection, hiring procedures, industrial disputes, etc., under conditions of monopoly capitalism. As Kiselyov explains, “Labour law is a sharp and flexible instrument for the capitalist state to implement its social policy. It is used, on the one hand, to weaken and split the labour movement, undermine the trade unions, strengthen the power of the employers, increase the exploitation of the working people and impinge on their social gains and, on the other, to deceive the workers, dull their class consciousness, conceal exploitation and cultivate the ideas of ‘social partnership’, reformist illusions and opportunism among workers” (p. 6).

The adoption of bourgeois labour law in most capitalist countries dates to the post-WWII period. At the end of WWII, the capitalist ruling class was unable to stand up to the growing onslaught of a militant working-class using tried-and-true methods of oppression. Thus the bourgeoisie made use of methods of struggle that would seem to be at odds with the classical features of capitalist exploitation and oppression. Instead of murdering strikers and union organizers, such as when the richest American family hired terrorists to shoot machine guns at sleeping women and children in Colorado, or when mine owners used an armoured train mounted with machine guns to shoot miners in West Virginia, or when the RCMP murdered striking miners in Estevan and have continued to refuse to allow the words “Murdered by the RCMP” to be displayed on the victims’ tombstones, the bourgeoisie sought to achieve “socio-economic and political stability, a social consensus with the help of a system of shock-absorbers: compromises, partial concessions, the introduction of reforms deigned to pacify the working class and achieve, by means of various types of manipulation, an integration of the working people and their organizations, above all the trade unions, into the system of state-monopoly capitalism, and thus to ease class contradictions and adapt to the changed situation” (p. 23).

Kiselyov examines how bourgeois labour law ostensibly embodies but actually curtails the protection of workers in the US, Canada, France, Italy, Britain, Germany, etc. The primary function of bourgeois labour law is not to protect labour from exploitation and capitalist oppression, but to ensure that worker militancy is directed into “safe” channels that don’t threaten the capitalist system. The unwillingness of capitalist ruling circles to agree to the codification of labour law is an interesting, albeit relatively minor, manifestation of this which really stood out to me. As Kiselyov writes, “Characteristic of the labour law in many capitalist countries is a combination of statutes adopted in various historical eras under different political regimes” (p. 44). In the FRG (West Germany), for example, along with modern legislation labour relations were regulated by the German Civil Code of 1896 (with amendments), the industrial charter of 1869 (with amendments), as well as legislative acts of both the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. Similarly, labour acts adopted in Britain in the 1870s are still in force, testifying to the “continuity and, in particular, of the class content of the capitalist legal regulation of labour, its basic features remaining fundamentally unchanged in the course of historical development and with changes of political regimes” (p. 44). This jungle of laws, complex and confused, is no accident. The bourgeoisie is not interested in a full and comprehensive systematization of labour legislation, for capitalists are able to hire competent and qualified lawyers to defend their interests. However, “business circles are rightly concerned that since, for the adoption of a code an open parliamentary procedure is required, this would inevitably attract the attention of the general public to the problems of labour law, intensify the struggle of the working class for improved labour legislation and its democratization” (p. 45).

Although a slightly dry, sometimes repetitive read, this book nonetheless offers an excellent analysis of bourgeois labour law under conditions of state-monopoly capitalism.