Chapter 3: Marx on the Factory Acts: Law, exploitation, and class struggle
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In the middle of the nineteenth century, the British parliament adopted a series of laws limiting the exploitation of the industrial proletariat. This chapter examines the theory of law underpinning Marx’s account of such factory legislation in the first volume of Capital. Marx depicts these laws as outcomes of a class struggle occurring on a political terrain shaped by capitalism. The chapter argues that this analysis undermines the liberal belief in legal autonomy and state neutrality, along with the economistic and voluntarist theories of law that have dominated the Marxist tradition. It also explores the apparent tension between Marx’s positive attitude towards factory legislation and his other criticisms of law and rights. Ultimately, the chapter argues that Marx believed that the Factory Acts were important, not simply because they improved working conditions but because they transformed the balance of class forces, particularly by mobilising the proletariat and developing their level of political organisation.

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