“Of course it would be just if the State were to stop criminalising political protestors, and this is necessary, at a minimum. But political transformation lies in challenging the nature of private ownership that pervades the very form that law takes. In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx writes that the “huckstering with landed property, the transformation of landed property into a commodity, constitutes the final overthrow of the old and the final establishment of the money aristocracy.” Huckstering, Marx tells us, is what defines the very essence of ownership (whether it’s feudal or capitalist, of land or money).
“Perhaps huckstering is also an apt and analogous term for the use of law to criminalise political dissent. What we are being offered here (what is being peddled) is a version of the law that deems it criminally improper to disrupt the entitlement of the wealthy to enjoy sport, to assert a noisy, visible presence in public space, to challenge the increasingly private ownership of our universities. Perhaps one place to begin in reconceptualising a law of public harm is to imagine laws that are not tied to the protection of property in all of its glorious diversity, but conceives of public harm as that which damages the life chances of that majority living on the margins of socio-economic privilege.”
Brenna Bhandar is Lecturer in Law, Queen Mary, University of London.