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slide2

Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic analysis based on a materialist interpretation of historical development, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis of class-relations within society and their application in the analysis and critique of the development of capitalism.

  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
  • Marxist analyses and methodologies have influenced multiple political ideologies and social movements throughout history.
slide3

Marxism is based on a materialist understanding of societal development, taking at its starting point the necessary economic activities required by human society to provide for its material needs.

  • The form of economic organization, or mode of production, is understood to be the basis from which the majority of other social phenomena — including social relations, political and legal systems, morality and ideology — arise.
slide4

These social relations form the superstructure, for which the economic system forms the base.

  • As the forces of productionimprove, existing forms of social organization become inefficient further progress. These inefficiencies manifest themselves as social contradictions in the form of class struggle.
slide5

According to Marxist analysis, class conflict within capitalism arises because of the contradictions between highly-productive mechanized and socialized production performed by the proletariat, and private ownership and private appropriation of the surplus product in the form of surplus valueby a small minority of private owners called the bourgeoisie.

  • As the contradiction becomes apparent to the proletariat, social unrest between the two antagonistic classes intensifies, culminating in a social revolution.
slide6

The long-term outcome of this revolution would be the establishment of socialism - a socioeconomic system based on common ownership of the means of production, distribution based on one's contribution, and production organized directly for use.

  • Marxarguedthat, as the productive forces and technology continued to advance, socialism would eventually give way to a communist stage of social development.
  • Communism would be a classless, stateless, moneyless society based on common ownership and the principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs".
slide7

Marxismhas traditionally been seen as the principal critical or radical alternative to mainstream realist and liberal thinking.

  • According to Marxists,bothrealism and liberalism/idealism are simply self-serving ideologies introduced by the economic elites to defend and justify global inequality.
  • Instead,class is the fundamental unit of analysis of international relations, and the international system has been constructed by the upper classes and the wealthiest nations in order to protect and defend their interests.
slide8

Marxists view the international system as an integrated capitalist system in pursuit of capital accumulation.

  • Thus, the period of colonialism brought in sources for raw materials and captive markets for exports, while decolonialization brought new opportunities in the form of dependence.
  • The core of Marxism is a philosophy of history that outlines why capitalism is doomed and why socialism and eventually communism are destined to replace it.
slide9

This philosophy is based on the ‘materialist conception of history’, the belief that economic factors are the ultimately determining force in human history.

  • The world is divided not into politically determined nations but into economically determined classes. Consequently, politics does not supercede economics, but rather economics trumps politics.
slide10

Historical materialism has focused its attention oncapitalism as a material way of life, a groupof social relations .

  • Marxism has much to say about historically evolving structures and practices which have crossed national boundaries and linked the domestic and the international, the economic and the political – much to say, in short, about the social production of global politics.
slide11

Historical materialism suggests that states and systems of interstate and transnational power relations are embedded in and (re-)produced through systems of relations that encompass (among other things) the social organization of production. The latter is itself structured according to relations of class, and is an object of contestation among social classes, state managers, and other historically situated political agents.

slide12

Thus politics is not limitedwiththe formally public sphere of the modern state, but infusesthe economic sphere as well.

  • The point here, is not to reconstruct global politics on the basis of an economic reductionism in which all causality is seen as emanating from an already constituted, foundational economic sphere, but rather to argue something very nearly the opposite – that politics and political struggle are essential aspects of the processes by which all social structures are (re-)produced, and hence that the analytical separation of political from economic life – as well as domestic and international aspects of these – represents a false dichotomy which obscures much of potential political importance.
slide13

The main theme in Marx’s materialist conception of history is that individuals must first satisfy their most basic physical or material needs before they can do anything else.

  • In practice, this has meant the mass of humanity, in order to survive, has had to surrender control of its labour power to those that own the instruments of production.
slide14

Given the basic reality of property relations, the dominant classes throughout history have been able to exploit the subordinate classes but this had always led to class conflict.

  • Marx believed that class struggle had been the principal form of conflict in the whole of human history.
  • Political revolution had been the main agent of historical development while technological innovation had been the driving-force behind social change. Marx wrote that history was the continuous transformation of human nature.
  • Put differently, human beings do not only modify nature by working on it; they also change themselves and develop new hopes and needs.
slide15

The history of the development of the human species could be understood only by tracing the development of the dominant modes of production which, in the West, included primitive communism, slave societies, feudalism and capitalism which would soon be replaced by socialism on an international scale.

slide16

In line with his belief that history revolves around the labour process, Marx observed that freedom and equality under capitalism mean that bourgeois and proletarian enter into a labour contract as legal equals, but massive social inequalities place workers at the mercy of the bourgeoisie and reduce their freedom and equality.

  • He took the view that proletarian organizations were developing an understanding of how socialism could make good the claims to freedom and equality which were already present in capitalist societies.
slide17

For Marx, global capitalist crisis was the recurrent danger. Consequently, the idea of ‘socialism in one country’ was irrelevant in his view in the context of capitalist globalization.

  • Human freedom could be achieved only through universal solidarity and cooperation to remake world society as a whole.
  • This is one reason why Marx had little to say about relations between states, but focused instead on the significance of capitalist globalization for the struggle to realize equality and freedom.
slide18

Realists have argued that members of the proletariat concluded during the First World War that they had more in common with their own national bourgeoisie than with the working classes of other countries.

  • The argument was that no-one with a good understanding of nationalism, the state and war should have been even surprised by this turn of events, yet many socialists were dismayed by the actions of the European proletariat.
slide19

For realists, the failure to anticipate this outcome demonstrates the central flaw in Marxism – its economic reductionism, as manifested in the belief that understanding capitalism would explain the mysteries of the modern world and its unprecedented political opportunities.

  • This is one of the most famous criticisms of Marxism within the study of international relations.
slide20

There are three points to make about it.

  • First, although Marx and Engels were clearly aware of the globalization of economic and social life, they believed that class conflict within separate, but not autonomous, societies would trigger the great political revolutions of the time. Their assumption was that revolution would quickly spread from the society in which it first erupted to all other leading capitalist societies.
slide21

According to this view of the world, capitalism provides an illusion created by geographical boundaries separating peoples governed by different political systems. It has been argued that the relatively peaceful nature of the international system in the middle of the nineteenth century encouraged such beliefs; the theory of the state gave way to theories of society and the economy.

slide22

Marx also argued that relations between states were important but ‘secondary’ forces in human affairs when compared with modes of production and their laws of development.

  • In a letter to Annenkov, Marx asked whether ‘the whole organisation of nations, and all their international relations [is] anything else than the expression of a particular division of labour. And must not these change when the division of labour changes?’. This is a question rather than an answer yet many have argued – Waltz is an example – that Marxism largely ignored geopolitics, nationalism and war.
  • Marx believed that capitalist globalization and class conflict would determine the fate of the modern world.
slide23

Second, Marx and Engels were forced to reconsider their ideas about the nation because of the importance of nationalism in the 1848 revolutions and its growing political influence later in the century.

  • These remarks indicate that while Marx and Engels were primarily concerned with the class structure of capitalist societies, they were well aware of the persistence of ancient hostilities between national groups – but they almost certainly continued to believe that national differences would eventually decline in importance and might even disappear altogether.
slide24

Third, as Gallie has noted, those interesting comments about nationalism, the state and war did not lead Marx and Engels to rework their early statements about the explanatory power of historical materialism.

  • An unhelpful distinction between the economic base and the legal, political and ideological superstructure of society remained central to most summaries of the perspective.
  • Too often, the state was regarded as an instrument of the ruling class, although it was thought capable of providing some degree of autonomy from the ruling class in unusual political circumstances.
slide25

However, Marxism is a very broad field, which encompasses, as far as international theory is concerned, two contrasting tendencies. The first of these gives primary attention to economic analysis, and is mainly concerned with exposing capitalism as a system of class oppression that operates on national and international levels. This applies to classical Marxism and to most forms of neo-Marxism.

  • Two of the most important Marxist-derived bodies of theory in international relations are world-systems theory (led by Immanuel Wallerstein) and dependency theory.
  • More recent neo-Marxist work in international relations is led by scholars such as Robert Cox, but is classified separately as Critical Theory or neo-Gramscianism.
slide26

The second tendency places greater emphasis on the ideological and cultural dimension of oppression, and has come to embrace a post-positivist, and therefore post-Marxist, mode of theorizing. This applies to what has been called ‘critical theory’, as influenced by the ideas of Gramsci and the so-called Frankfurt School.

slide27

The most successful IR theory derived directly from Marxism is Immanuel Wallersten's world-systems theory. According to Wallerstein, the "First World" and "Third World" are merely components of a larger world system which originated in 16th-century European colonialism.

slide28

World-systems theory suggested that the world economy is best understood as an interlocking capitalist system which exemplifies, at international level, many of the features that characterize national capitalism; that is, structural inequalities based on exploitation and a tendency towards instability and crisis that is rooted in economic contradictions. The world-system consists of interrelationships between the ‘core’, the ‘periphery’ and the ‘semi-periphery’.

slide29

Core areas such as the developed North are distinguished by the concentration of capital, high wages and high-skilled manufacturing production.

  • They therefore benefit from technological innovation and high and sustained levels of investment.
  • Peripheral areas such as the less developed South are exploited by the core through their dependency on the export of raw materials, subsistence wages and weak frameworks of state protection.
slide30

Semi-peripheral areas are economically subordinate to the core but in turn take advantage of the periphery, thereby constituting a buffer between the core and the periphery. Such thinking about the inherent inequalities and injustices of global capitalism was one of the influences on the anti-globalization, or ‘anti-capitalist’, movement that emerged from the late 1990s onwards.

slide31

The core-periphery thesis of world-systems theory is based on another body of work, dependency theory, which argues that the basis of international politics is the transfer of natural resources from peripheral developing countries to core wealthy states, mostly the Western industrialized democracies.

  • The poor countries of the world, like the poor classes of the world, are said to provide inexpensive human and natural capital, while the wealthy countries' foreign policies are devoted to creating and maintaining this system of inequality.
slide32

International economic law (such as the World Trade Organization) and other such systems are seen as means by which this is done.

  • To combat these systems of inequality, traditional Marxists and dependency theorists have argued that poor countries should adopt economic control policies that can break them out of the prison of international economic controls, such as import substitution rather than the export-based models usually favoured by international economic organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
slide33

Dependency theory was crucial for two reasons: it forced students of International Relations to analyse material inequalities which are at least partly the result of the organization of the capitalist world economy, and it argued for a moral engagement with the problem of global inequality.

  • It argued for a critical engagement with the world – for not only interpreting the world but with trying to understand how to change it – in a period when the newly independent states were forcing the issue of global economic and social justice onto the diplomatic agenda.
slide34

The study of global inequality was the vehicle which brought the Marxist tradition more directly into contact with the study of international relations. Robert Cox’s analysis of social forces, states and world order remains one of the most ambitious attempts to use historical materialism to escape the limitations of state-centric international relations theory.

  • His materialist conception of global economic and political structures focused on the interaction between modes of production – specifically the capitalist mode – states and world order but in such as way as to avoid economic reductionism.
slide35

Cox claimed that production shapes other realms such as the nature of state power and strategic interaction to a far greater extent than traditional international relations theory has realized but it is also shaped by them.

  • The relative importance of each domain in any era was an empirical question rather than a matter that could be settled a priori.
  • However, Cox was especially interested in first analysing the dominant forms of production and then moving to a discussion of the other constituent parts of the global order. He placed special emphasis on the internationalization of relations of production in the modern capitalist era and on forms of global governance which perpetuate inequalities of power and wealth.
slide36

Developing a theme which was introduced by the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci in the 1920s and 1930s, Cox focused on the hegemonic nature of world order – that is, on how the political architecture of global capitalism helps to maintain material inequalities through a combination of coercion and efforts to win consent.

slide37

During the Cold War, Marxists and their sympathisers were critical of realist arguments that strategic competition could be considered apart from the struggle between two radically different social systems and ideological perspectives, although this view had few adherents in the mainstream study of international relations.

  • The collapse of bipolarity and the accelerated rise of the ‘global business civilization’ encouraged a reconsideration of Marx’s writings on capitalist globalization.
slide38

Marxism may appear less relevant given the revival of national security politics since 9/11, but its analysis of the relationship between capitalism and the state can still contribute to the study of global governance in a period when the subordination of many states to the dictates of global capitalism is so evident.

  • Marxism comes into its own when analysing the relationship between the states system and global capitalism and when considering the structure of global hegemony. These are two respects in which it is best placed to contribute to the study of international relations.
slide39

Marxism has been influential in the development of approaches to international political economy which have a critical or emancipatory intent.

  • Marx wrote about the origins and development of modern capitalism, but not as an end in itself: he was especially interested in the social forces that would bring about its downfall with the result that the mass of humanity would be free from domination and exploitation.
slide40

Neo-Gramscian approaches work in the same spirit by focusing on the role of counter-hegemonic political forces in the global order – that is, on the various groups which are opposed to a world system which produces among other things massive global inequalities and damage to the natural environment.

  • Mainstream International Relations theory has long been opposed to what it sees as manifestly ‘political’ scholarship, although its claims to neutrality and objectivity have been challenged in the critical literature.
  • Realism and neo-realism have been criticized on the grounds that they have a ‘problem-solving’ rather than a ‘critical’ purpose.
slide41

The distinction between problem-solving and critical theory was made by Cox in conjunction with his much-quoted remark that ‘knowledge is always for someone and for some purpose’.

  • Cox argued that neo-realism is a version of problem-solving theory which takes the existing international order for granted and asks how it can be made to ‘function more smoothly’.
  • In the main, this means concentrating on the problems resulting from relations between the great powers.
  • By contrast, critical theory asks how the existing global political and economic order came into being, and whether it might be changing.
slide42

Marxist-inspired political inquiry is only one strand of contemporary critical theory. Approaches such as feminism, postmodernism and postcolonialism have been concerned with patriarchyand with constructions of identity and otherness in national and global politics which have not been central dimensions of Marxist studies of world politics.

nationalism and imperialism
NationalismandImperialism
  • We have seen that Marx and Engels were mainly interested in modes of production, class conflict, social and political revolution and the economic and technological unification of the human race.
  • They focused on the national ties which bound the members of modern societies together and separated them from the rest of the human race; they analysed what they saw as the weakening of national bonds because of capitalist globalization while recognizing the resilience of national loyalties in many of Europe’s nation-states; they discussed what they regarded as the development of new forms of human solidarity and the slow emergence of a global community which would eventually include the whole human race.
slide44

Somewhat simplistic assumptions about how capitalist internationalization would be followed by socialist internationalism had to be rethought in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because of the revival of nationalism and the increased danger of major war. The theory of capitalist imperialism should be viewed in this context.

slide45

Lenin and Bukharin developed the theory of imperialism to explain the causes of the First World War.

  • They argued that war was the product of a desperate need for new outlets for the surplus capital accumulated by dominant capitalist states.
  • The theory of capitalist imperialism has been discredited on account of its economic reductionism but, despite its flaws, it was concerned with the central question of how political communities closed in on themselves in the period in question – an inescapable preoccupation given the earlier Marxian assumption that the dominant trend was towards greater cooperation between the proletariat of different nations.
slide46

The theory of imperialism developed Marx and Engels’ analysis of the relationship between nationalism and internationalism, and globalization and fragmentation. In so doing, it highlighted the tension between forces promoting the expansion and forces promoting the contraction of the sense of community.

slide47

Lenin and Bukharin claimed the dominant tendency of the age was the emergence of new mercantilist states ever more willing to use force to achieve their economic and political objectives.

  • National accumulations of surplus capital were regarded as the chief reason for the demise of a relatively peaceful international system.
slide48

Lenin and Bukharin maintained that nationalist and militarist ideologies had blurred class loyalties and stymied class conflict in this changing international environment.

  • In Imperialism: The Highest Stage ofCapitalism, Lenin claimed that no ‘Chinese wall separates the [working class] from the other classes’.
  • Indeed, a labour aristocracy bribed by colonial profits and closely aligned with the bourgeoisie had developed in monopoly capitalist societies.
  • With the outbreak of the First World War, the working classes which had become ‘chained to the chariot of … bourgeois state power’ rallied around pleas to defend the homeland.But it was thought that the shift of the ‘centre of gravity’ from class conflict to inter-state rivalry would not last indefinitely. The horrors of war would show the working classes that their ‘share in the imperialist policy [was] nothing compared with the wounds inflicted by the war’.
slide49

Instead of ‘clinging to the narrowness of the national state’ and submittingto the patriotic ideal of ‘defending or extending the boundaries of the bourgeois state’ the proletariat would return to the main project of ‘abolishing state boundaries and merging all the peoples into one Socialist family’.

slide50

Marx and Engels believed that capitalism created the preconditions for extending human loyalty from the nation to the species – and Lenin and Bukharin thought the destruction of national community and the return to cosmopolitanism would resume after a brief detour down the disastrous path of militarism and war.

  • Their idea that the superabundance of finance capital was the reason for the First World War was mistaken, but that does not mean their analysis lacks all merit.
  • Like Marx and Engels before them they were dealing with a fundamentally important theme which has received too little attention in mainstream International Relations.
slide51

Marxist writings on nationalism dealt with the boundaries of loyalty and community in greater detail. Recent claims about how the contemporary world is shaped by globalization and fragmentation have an interesting parallel in Lenin’s thought:

  • Developing capitalism knows two historical tendencies in the national question. The first is the awakening of national life and national movements, the struggle against all national oppression, and the creation of national states. The second is the development and growing frequency of international intercourse in every form, the breakdown of national barriers, the creation of the international unity of capital, of economic life in general, of politics, science etc.
  • Globalization and fragmentation were inter-related in Lenin’s account of how capitalism spreads unevenly across the world.
slide52

This theme was central to Trotsky’s analysis of the ‘combined and uneven development’ of capitalism and to the later phenomenon of Third World Marxism.

  • According to the latter perspective, the metropolitan core capitalist societies, including the proletariat, exploited the peripheral societies which had been brought under their control.
  • Their understandable response was not to seek to develop alliances with the working classes in affluent societies but to strive for national independence.
slide53

Lenin and many other Marxists believed that national fragmentation was an inevitable consequence of the global spread of capitalism, but with the exception of Austro-Marxism they believed it was essential to avoid a socialist compromise with nationalism.

  • Proletarian internationalism was more important than creating multicultural political communities.
slide54

Theories of imperialism shared Marx’s belief that capitalism was a progressive force because it would bring industrial development and the basis for material prosperity to all peoples.

  • The assumption was that Western models of capitalist and then socialist development would be imitated by other regions of the world.
slide55

It was noted earlier that several Third World Marxists argued that the proletariat in the industrial world is one of the beneficiaries of neoimperialism;they supported the national revolt of the periphery rather than the Western socialist ideal of proletarian internationalism .

  • Western Marxists disagreed about whether or not to support national liberation movements in non-Western societies, and many displayed considerable unease with forms of nationalist politics which would dilute the internationalist commitments of classical Marxism.
slide56

The fact that Marxism is a Western doctrine with its roots in the European Enlightenment is the crucial point here. Marxist cosmopolitanism was developed in the era of European dominance – in the colonial era which Marx greatly admired – and at a time when it was reasonable to assume that the non-European world would become more similar to the West in most ways.

slide57

The rise of Third World Marxism in the 1960s and 1970s was a powerful reminder that the modern world was gradually entering the post-European age. Its emergence might be regarded as an illustration of ‘the cultural revolt against the West’ or as an attempt to adapt European ideas to very different circumstances.

  • In more recent years, many non-Western governments and movements have openly rejected Western models of economic and political development, and many oppose what they see as alien and decadent Western values. In this context, all forms of cosmopolitanism – whether Marxist or not – meet with suspicion.
slide58

The main problem is not that classical Marxism underestimated the importance of nationalism, the state and geopolitics but, many would argue, that it expressed a culture-bound view of the world which was inherited from the European Enlightenment.

  • Classical Marxism may have defended the ideal of universal human emancipation, but its vision of the future assumed the non-European would and should become the same as the modern West. The issue then is whether its project of emancipation was always at heart a project of domination or assimilation.
slide59

Despite its weaknesses, Marxism contributes to the theory of international relations in at least four respects.

  • First, historical materialism with its emphasis on production, property relations and class is an important counter-weight to realist theories which assume that the struggle for power and security determines the structure of world politics.
slide60

This leads to two further points which are that Marxism has long been centrally concerned with capitalist globalization and international inequalities and that, for Marxism, the global spread of capitalism is the backdrop to the development of modern societies and the organization of their international relations.

  • A fourth theme, which first appeared in Marx’s critique of liberal political economy, is that explanations of the social world are never as objective and innocent as they may seem.
  • Applied to international politics, the argument is that the analysis of basic and unchanging realities can all too easily ignore relations of power and inequality not between states but between individuals.
slide61

Dominant strands of Marxist thought have taken the view that one of the main functions of scholarship is to understand the principal forms of domination and to imagine a world order which is committed to reducing material inequalities.

  • This critical orientation to world politics can no longer be simply ‘Marxist’ in the largely superseded sense of using the paradigm of production to analyse class inequalities.
slide62

But it can nevertheless remain true to the ‘spirit of Marxism’ by combining the empirical analysis of the dominant forms of power and inequality with a moral vision of a more just world order.

  • This critical approach can extend beyond the analysis of capitalist globalization and rising international inequalities to the ways in which states conduct national security politics.
  • One of the failings of Marxism as a source of critical international theory is its ingrained tendency to focus on the former at the expense of the latter field of inquiry.
slide63

Marxists had underestimated the crucial importance of nationalism, the state and war, and the significance of the balance of power, international law and diplomacy for the structure of world politics.

  • New interpretations of Marxism have appeared since the 1980s: the perspective has been an important weapon in the critique of realism and there have been many innovative attempts to use its ideas to develop a more historically aware conception of the development of modern international relations.
slide64

Its impact on the critical theory of international relations has been immense.

  • It has also been an important resource in the area of international political economy, where scholars have analysed the interplay between states and markets, the states-system and the capitalist world economy, the spheres of power and production.
  • For some, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the triumph of capitalism over socialism marked the death of Marxism as social theory and political practice.
  • In the 1990s, some argued that the relevance of Marxism had increased with the passing of the age of bipolarity and the rapid emergence of a new phase of economic globalization.
slide65

Marxist analyses of capitalist globalization and fragmentation invite reconsideration of Waltz and Wight’s argument that Marxism may not be regarded as a serious contribution to the study of international politics or is clearly inferior to conventional approaches in the field.

It might also be argued that its project of developing a critical theory of world society is one respect in which Marxism supersedes the dominant approaches in the Anglo-American study of international politics. If so, the question is how to build on its foundations, how to preserve its strengths and how to move beyond its errors and weaknesses.