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Marxist Theories of IR "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." (The Communist Manifesto). Introduction. Key figures: Marx, Engels and Lenin Key concepts of Marxism for IR Influence of Marxism on IR Critiques of Marxism Is Marxism obsolete?

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Marxist Theories of IR"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."(The Communist Manifesto)


Key figures: Marx, Engels and Lenin

Key concepts of Marxism for IR

Influence of Marxism on IR

Critiques of Marxism

Is Marxism obsolete?


karl marx 1818 1883
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
  • Family: German Protestant Jews
  • Lawyer, journalist, doctorate on Greek political thought
  • Young Hegelian
  • The Communist Manifesto with Engels in 1848 – coinciding with 1848 revolutions across Europe
  • Refuge in Paris, then London
  • Led First International (working man’s association)
  • See Francis Wheen’s biography
friedrich engels 1820 1895
Friedrich Engels (1820-1895).

Son of German industrialist

Managed father’s cotton factory in England

Long political collaboration with Marx

Key works:

The Condition of the Working Class in England

The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

marx s philosophy
Marx’s philosophy
  • Key influences:
    • Hegelian idealism – dialectical thinking
    • Feuerbach’s materialism
    • Criticises one-sideness of both idealism and materialism
    • His historical materialist approach attempted to overcome the one-sideness of both idealism and materialism
    • Key to overcoming one-sidedness of idealism and materialism by testing ideas in ‘revolutionary or practical-critical activity’ i.e .political and social experiment
marx s critiques of idealism and materialism
Marx’s critiques of Idealism and Materialism

Works exploring Marx’s critiques of idealism and materialism and attempts to overcome dualism of base v superstructure etc

e.g. Franz Jakubowski’s Ideology and Superstructure in Historical Materialism, Pluto, 1990

‘the man who knows reality no longer stands outside history like Hegel’s “philosopher” but is himself a factor in transforming social relations. Theory no longer merely exists post-festum but becomes a lever in the revolutionary process.’ (Jakubowski, 1990, p. 61).

consciousness and being
Consciousness and Being

‘It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.’

Marx, 1856 Preface to “The Critique of Political Economy”

What does Marx mean?

Aristotle on humans as social beings by nature

Modern theories on the development of human consciousness

Link to tool use

see e.g. Voloshinov’s linguistic theories

see e.g. Raymond Tallis’ The Hand

history making subjects
History making subjects

Historical/dialectical materialism

Human agency in human-made material conditions

‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please, they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past’ Marx, Brumaire

‘man’s consciousness not only reflects the objective world but creates it’ Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks

marx s theory of alienation1
Marx’s Theory of Alienation

“whom am I now to believe, political economy or ethics? ... It stems from the very nature of estrangement that each sphere applies to me a different and opposite yardstick – ethics one and political economy another; for each is a specific estrangement of man and focuses attention on a particular field of estranged essential activity, and each stands in an estranged relation to the other.” Human Needs & the Division of Labour, Marx 1844

See Istvan Mezaros’ Marx’s Theory of Alienation , Merlin Books, 1970

dialectical approach
Dialectical approach
  • From Hegel’s dialectics
  • Dialectics as understanding of social relations in motion
  • e.g. value only value if in motion
  • Dialectical historical development: thesis, antithesis, synthesis
  • Contradictory forces and relations under capitalism
    • social production v private appropriation of profit
    • socialising v alienating aspects of capitalism
contradictory character of capitalist commodity production
Contradictory character of capitalist commodity production

Commodities as use values v exchange values

Commodification – everything becomes a commodity including human life

Products may be socially wanted but particular social groups in need may not be able to buy them

E.g. famine politics E.g. housing problems

contradictory character of capitalist production
Contradictory character of capitalist production

Social production i.e. groups of workers producing things for others not for themselves

Private appropriation – profits going to owners of factories not to factory workers

contradictory character of money
Contradictory character of money
  • gold as money form
  • Particular commodity v universal value in exchange
  • Capitalism as value in motion
  • Money form (currency, credit etc) easing circulation
  • operation of market not the same as barter economy
  • every sale does not necessarily lead to purchase new purchase
  • potential hiatus in circulation
  • E.g. current credit crunch
vladimir lenin 1870 1924
Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)
  • Key figure in 1917 Russian Revolution
  • Leader of Bolshevik Party
  • Key works:
  • Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism
  • State and Revolution
  • What is to be done?
lenin imperialism highest stage of capitalism
Lenin- Imperialism: Highest Stage of Capitalism

Imperialism = monopoly stage of capitalism

Concentration of production & creation of monopolies

Contradictions of monopoly v free trade

Dominance of finance capital

Export of capital not just goods

Different from earlier empires and even earlier European colonial rule

lenin imperialism highest stage of capitalism1
Lenin- Imperialism: Highest Stage of Capitalism
  • Lenin quotes Cecil Rhodes in 1895:
  • ‘The Empire…is a bread-and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists.’
john hobson s imperialism a study 1902
John Hobson’s Imperialism, A Study, 1902

Lenin’s work drawing upon Hobson’s work

Large extracts in Lenin’s Imperialism

fate of lenin s imperialism
Fate of Lenin’s Imperialism

‘imperialism’ became a generic term with little content….the category imperialism was extended to cover almost any relationship of subordination or control.

Today, Lenin’s ‘grounding of imperialism in issues of the boardroom has been almost entirely forgotten’ (Lewis and Malone in Lenin, 1996, p. xiii).

common criticisms of marxism
Common criticisms of Marxism
  • utopian
  • ignores conventional struggles for power and security arising in anarchical system (Ken Waltz)
  • economic determinism (Martin Wight)
  • over-estimation of class political struggle
  • working class not revolutionary
  • underestimated nationalism
  • criticisms underscored by Marxist concepts becoming rigid
responses to criticisms
Responses to criticisms

Economic determinism?

Various Marxist strands downplay dialectics and suggest causal determinism

But dialectical method - understanding relations as in motion, involving contradictory relations and forces not simple static, causal determinism

Equating theoretical approach with results of approach at particular historical moment

‘Most criticisms merely state the obvious – that the world is not the same as when [they] wrote’ (Lewis and Malone in Lenin, 1996, p. xiii).

marxism s influence on international relations theories
Marxism’s influence on International Relations theories
  • Influence on International Political Economy and development theories
  • Modernisation theory as response to Marxism
    • Rostow’s Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto, 1960
  • Dependency or Underdevelopment theories
    • Andre Gunder Frank, Samir Amin, Raul Prebisch
  • Gramsci and Neo-Gramcian theories
  • World-systems theories
    • Immanual Wallerstein
  • Post-colonial theories e.g. Edward Said’s Orientalism, Culture and Imperialism, Hardt and Negri’s Empire
  • Continuing influence on critical theories e.g. concepts of agency, emancipation etc
dependency or underdevelopment theories
Dependency or underdevelopment theories

Key theorists: Andre Gunder Frank, Samir Amin, Raul Prebisch

Formal political control (colonialism) not necessary to create dependency, possible through economic means

Uneven development and underdevelopment

Capitalism leading to uneven development and hindering development of developing countries

Not opposed to industrialisation

But entanglement of industrial sectors with foreign capital relations

Seek strategies to develop independent national economies free from international capitalist political economy.

relevance of marxist theories today
Relevance of Marxist theories today?

Relevance of Marxist theories of class struggle, capitalism, imperialism, militarism to international politics today?

How do we understand humanitarian intervention? e.g. Bosnia, Kosovo

How do we understand global governance? e.g. Bosnia, Kosovo – economic drain rather than economic extraction

Why invade Iraq if could better dominate a country and extract more profit with formally independent state without costs of occupation?

  • Dialectic understanding of social relations v Marx’s particular analysis of social relations under capitalism in particular period
  • Dialectic analysis of social relations in motion will not be same as Marx’s analysis of 150 years ago
  • E.g. Marx’s analysis of idealism in German Ideology perhaps more relevant than Capital in explaining today’s international humanitarian interventions.
further reading and resources
Further reading and resources
        • E.g. communist manifesto in cartoon version that I told you about:
  •  E.g. Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey
  • 13 2-hour podcast lectures