top of page
  • Aviral Kumar Mishra

Class Approach to International Law: A Futile Assertion or Need of the Hour


International law was developed to promote world peace and egalitarianism between nation states. These are the set of regulations that govern the relationships between sovereign independent nations. However, since the development of the International law, scholars and academicians are focusing only on the giant economic powers; a class approach to International Law focuses our attention on social groups and classes; these social groups have historically shaped the International law. Also, this approach does not implement rejection of the significant approaches to International law, including but not limited to conservative, liberal, feminist, or post-modern approaches. These can complement each other better to comprehend the structure and process of CIL. Building upon the Marxist division of classes, the development of transnational capitalist class [TCC] and its influence on Customary International Law [CIL] is poignant. We must look at the microscopic view of the erstwhile proclaimed egalitarian international law that forced us to examine the unspoken norms governing international law. The Class approach draws our attention to look into the struggles of transnational oppressed class [TOC] and transnational middle class [TMC] in the public sphere. Emerging global social formation on the lines of economic prowess has also sadly influenced the contours of international law.

Catastrophic influence of economic power on International law

As per the layman definition, International law consists of rules and regulations governing the relations between the nation-states. But in the public sphere, which is highly influenced by the economic status of the country, Can CIL be oblivious to that? Right from the veto power of the 5 permanent nations in UNSC to the appointment of the judges in the ICJ, the omnipresence of the TCC is evident. Not just in the ICJ, which is at the helm of the international law arena, but also this capitalist mentality is evident in the working and governance of international organizations. From WHO’s unexpected silence on the giant economic power like China, and its role in the covid pandemic to the world bank’s alleged dismantling of doing business data in order to favor China, shows us the ground-level reality of the application of grundnorm of international law.

These standalone events forced us to look into the prevalence of capitalism in International law in a much more constructive manner. On one hand, CIL claims to be the egalitarian set of regulations governing the nation states while on the other, the application is quite different. In a class approach to International law, we are looking at the global struggles of TOC which valorizes concrete struggle for democracy and global justice. The class approach to international law helps us to look into the struggles of the marginalized social groups, which are often tormented by economic giants. Class approach draws our attention towards the struggles of Tibetan people in China or Balochistanis in Pakistan.

The idea of class approach to International law also forced us to look into the motive and the working of the international institutions like IMF. IMF, which was established after the Bretton woods Conference, aimed at reducing economic inequality, however, in application instead of giving voting rights on the basis of member states population, it gave rights on the basis of financial contribution. This paradox shows us the influence of TCC in the transnational public sphere and how it governs, directly and indirectly, all the contours of international law.

In the modern world, which rests on the bedrock of capitalism, there is a paradigm shift in the capital-labor relations from the Marxist era to this technology era. It's majorly due to the sub-contracting and outsourcing of work by the transnational corporate sector. The increasing role of immigrant workers in the world economy adds another dimension to it. Forget about sovereign independent nations; now the corporate giants are also taking advantage of the capitalist attitude governing the customary international law. The corporate giants like Facebook’s denial of following intermediary guidelines in a third world country like India, which they are following in economic powers like the US, is testament to the fact that they are aware there will be no international hue and cry for their hypocritical behavior.

Recently in Afghanistan’s crisis as well, Class approach is quintessential to understand the plights of the civilians. As per the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report, it is estimated that four of the provinces (Daykundi, Faryab, Badakhshan, and Ghor) are already undergoing severe crises & may face large scale famine due to food shortage. A large number of Internally displaced people (IDP) is making things further difficult as the number of such people is closely reaching about a million. In a country which is facing civil war-like situations for over five decades and where over 92% of the population lives on less than 2$ per day, the problem is really alarming and needs immediate humanitarian intervention. Due to the inherent biased characteristics of the international law of only looking into the sovereign independent nations without understanding the plight of the civilians affected is only of the most prominent reason for strong disapproval of international law rules by developed nations.


The bigger and the most fundamental question is, Whether CIL’s continued reliance on TCC is hampering the notion of world peace, which is the bedrock of the existence of the United Nations? Emancipation from the capitalistic mentality governing the international institutions and organizations is the need of the hour. A class approach helps one focus sharply on the factual state and apprehensions of the TOC in a way that illuminates the limits of international human rights law; it thereby helps to etch and draw attention to the alienation of international law from the fate of the TOC. Within a global class structure, this approach can render us to look into the struggles of TOC and TMC across the globe. Hearing voices from the marginalized social groups across the transnational sphere can bring the CIL in its truest form. This approach can shift the trajectory of international law from a tool in the hands of economic giants to a weapon to protect world peace.

1 view0 comments


bottom of page