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Is Marxism relevant

to contemporary



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Name(s): Laura Ciudad de la Gndara
Student ID Number(s): 11104708
Lecturer: James Fitzgerald
Programme: Introduction to International Relations
Module Code: LG117
Assignment Title: Is Marxism relevant to contemporary International Relations?
Submission Date: 07/12/2011
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The birth of International Relations as a discipline is linked to concerns about the
existence of conflicts between States. This concern reaches a high level in this century
after the experience of two World Wars and the emergence of nuclear weapons.
Previously, the phenomenon of war had been treated by philosophers, historians,
statesmen and diplomats (e.g. Rousseau, Hobbes, More, Machiavelli, etc.). However,
the contribution of these thinkers is not a systematic body of knowledge: there is no
scientific approach in their theories. Therefore, it can be said that the theory of
International Relations is new.
Since the end of the Cold War and the triumph of capitalism, it became commonplace to
assume that the ideas of Marx could be safely consigned to the dustbin of history. They
needed an alternative to capitalism after the failed experiment of the Soviet Union, and
after two decades of this, there appears to be a renaissance. But Marx theories were seen
excessively concerned with the role of economics in determining all aspects of social
and political relations, as well as excessively pessimistic, offering few means of genuine
escape from the capitalist system.
Karl Heinrich Marx (1818-1883), was a German economist, philosopher and
revolutionist whose writings form the basis of the body of Marxism. He laid the basis of
historical materialism, and with Frederick Engels, he gave a definition of communism.
Both published in 1848 the "Communist Manifesto" which portrayed the evolution of a
communist utopia from capitalism.
The basic tenet of Marxism is that the world is divided not into politically determined
nations but into economically determined by classes. Consequently, politics does not
supersede economics, but rather economics trumps politics. The various Marxist
theories of international relations agree that the international state system was
constructed by capitalists and therefore serves the interests of wealthy states and
corporations, which seek to protect and expand their wealth.
Although Marx and Engels left numerous theories around the theme of international
relations, Marxism itself has not yet produced a whole paradigm that tackle the broad
problem of international relations in both political and economic dimensions. There
have been several attempts of this, but not with an approach that takes as its starting
point the analysis of the economy and world politics. In the book of Marx and Engels,
although it does not provide references to international relations, develops concepts that
will be valid instruments, which subsequently will be enriched and extended by other
authors such as Lenin. Lenin studied the phenomenon of imperialism and indicated the
changes in capitalism and the modifications of its national and international structure.
All this was necessary due to their constant need for expansive development to
overcome its internal contradictions and its rate of profit.

Karl Marx let a large amount of writings that have given rise to various interpretations,
and have created some other schools of thought that are linked to it. The most relevant
authors that developed Marxist theories are those who intend to continue Lenins ideas
exposed in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917); the world-system
analysis of Emmanuel Wallerstein and the sociological school he founded, and the
synthesis suggested by those who take its starting in the conceptualization of hegemony
from the work of Antonio Gramsci.
According to Marxists, both realism and liberalism are simply self-serving ideologies
introduced by the economic elites to defend and justify global inequality. Instead,
Marxists argue, 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. The level of analysis adopted by
Marxism is that of global society. His aim is focused on the idea of social reality
considered globally. All above must be understood from the perspective of historical
materialism. Its perspective is dynamic and progressive, providing a theory of social
change, thats to say, an ever-changing and constantly evolving society.
The States appear as institutions serving the bourgeoisie, moreover, as an instrument of
the dominant social class. Therefore, the international society appears, as a society in
which the main actors are the social classes and not the states, in which international
relations are dominated by class struggle. The basic feature of the methodology of Marx
and Engels to investigate the International Relations, is that of have valued it as an
integral part of the complex social organism.
Scientific socialism, as its creators Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels named it, is against
the utopian socialism as a revolutionary ideology that can transform the society. The
book Capital: Critique of Political Economy gives an overview of Marxist ideology, by
studying the serious contradictions of capitalism and presenting a large amount of
alternative solutions. The profound study of economic liberalism will allow them to
make a strong critique of bourgeois society. In the Communist Manifesto (1948), we
find the ideological bases among which stand out:

Historical materialism. It is an interpretation of history according to which the

evolution of societies is determined by the economic structure. There is a tension
between infrastructure (economic base) and superstructure (institutions,
culture ...) that produces changes in the structure of the State. This is how the
humanity has gone through several stages: the predatory society, the slave, the
feudal and the capitalist. The last one full of contradictions and must inevitably
lead to the socialist stage.
The surplus value and the law of accumulation of capital. The worker has never
received the full value of their work, because otherwise employers would not
have been enriched. Thus, the entrepreneur appropriates part of the job of the
worker to what is called surplus value. This ownership tends to be higher, which

makes the capital increasing concentrated in the hands of a few, this is the law of
accumulation of capital which leads to serious contradictions and is the origin of
class struggle.
Class struggle is, for Marx and Engels, an undeniable premise because there
have been always two contrary groups: the oppressors and those who are
oppressed. This confrontation becomes the motor of history; this fight will end
with capitalism and the bourgeois State. Class plays a key role in Marxist
analysis, in contrast to liberalism, Marxists hold that society is systematically
prone to class conflict. The main conflict is between the bourgeoisie (the
capitalists) and the proletariat (the workers).
The dictatorship of the proletariat. After having conquered the bourgeois state
by a revolutionary movement, it is about to control it and transform the society.
Once achieved, the proletariat dictatorship will leave this to create a classless
society. In this communist society, all means of production are socialized. The
state tends to disappear.

In the study of the Marxist conception of international relations, it is necessary to

distinguish two schools of thought. On the one hand, foreign policy followed by the
former Soviet Union and the countries that demanded or that are claiming of this
guidance. On the other hand, both theoretical and methodological implications of this
approach in International Society analysis. Within this background, it is necessary to
highlight the complex approach developed by Marxism, with following aspects:
a) The social class is the main factor in international environment consideration.
b) There is an effort to produce a total and global vision in the analysis.
c) The study is performed from a dynamic and critique perspective of the
international system.
d) There is an element in overcoming the state.


The most successful theory of international relations derived directly from Marxism is
Immanuel Wallerstein'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. Instead, these states actually make up the "core"
and "periphery" of the world system. The central wealthy states which own and chiefly
benefit from the mechanisms of production, and the impoverished developing countries
which supply most of the human labor and natural resources exploited by the rich.
States which do not fit either class, but lie somewhere in the middle of the model, are
referred to as "semi-peripheral". 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. The three areas of the world economy are linked together in an

exploitative relationship in which wealth is drained away from the periphery to the
centre, thats to say, the rich get richer while the poor become poorer.
Immanuel Wallerstein, analyzed the capitalist system and presented the results of his
analysis through the thesis called "world system". In here, he explains the phenomenon
of production through the laws of supply and demand. In other words, a well-balanced
capitalist society depends on an equitable flow of capital and labor. Within the context
of this system, all the institutions of the social world are continually being created and
re-created. Wallerstein proposed a modern world system formed by: core, periphery and
semi-periphery. This semi-peripherys main feature is to be the intermediary trade
within the core and the periphery. Furthermore, it is composed of countries that could
eventually promote or go down in the hierarchy of global interstate (the capitalist world
system). Wallerstein argues that the system itself is historically bounded, for example,
the end of Cold War indicates that the current system has entered its end phase; a
period of crisis that will end only when it is replaced by another system.
Furthermore, some writers as Christopher Chase-Dunn, Andr Gunder or Rosa
Luxemburg have developed their own theories starting from Wallersteins. Therefore,
his work has had different interpretations depending on the viewpoint.
Antonio Gramsci was an Italian founding member of the Italian Communist Party; his
main written contribution is Prison Notebooks, that is because he spent several years
in prison due to his political ideology. It was Gramsci who developed the concept of
hegemony in Marxism, which defined it as the domination between social classes.
Gramsci coined the term Hegemony to explain how the ruling class organizes consensus
among the oppressed classes. He also argued that capitalist class not only used the State
force and coercion, but also used political and ideological force of consensus. Having
this considered, he said that to change the order and organization of society is necessary
an assault to power overthrow the Bourgeois government and seize power and also
aware the society to end ideological contradictions that working class has against the
capitalist system. The concept of Hegemony refers to the way that moral and ideologist
leadership of ruling class works; moreover, Gramsci used the term historic bloc to
describe the mutually reinforcing and reciprocal relationships between the socioeconomic relations (base) and political and cultural practices (superstructure) that
together underpin a given order.
In the same guideline of work is Robert Cox, who insists that there are a few universal
truths and that ideas are rooted in the particularities of a determined time and place, and
must be understood into their historical context. In other words, there can be no simple
separation between fats and values. He made a critic of realism and neo-realism,
claiming that they only benefit the ruling elites; the concept of hegemony for Cox is
an adjustment between material capabilities, ideas and institutions. He rejects the neo-

realist definition of hegemony, which understood solely as domination through physical

force of the states.
Theory is always for someone, and for some purpose (1981:128)
A good example of the need of a background while putting in practice any theory is the
development of the concept of hegemony in Gramsci. Prison notebooks were written
in a very specific context and, above all, in order to reassemble the Italian Communist
Party against the rise of fascism and Mussolini. Gramsci's writings were always in the
service and practice of revolutionary commitment.
There are certain differences between Gramscianism and critical theory. Those authors
who were influenced by Gramsci are more concerned with issues relating to the subfield
of international political economy; while critical theorists are worried about questions
that concern international society, international ethics and security.
The Critical Theory is a theory that seeks to understand the situation of society in a
historical and cultural sense, but also to become a transformative power through
struggles and social contradictions. This theory was developed by a group of thinkers
that formed the Frankfurt School; the most well-known were Max Horkheimer, Theodor
Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Jrgen Habermas. However, with the coming to power of
National Socialist German Workers' Party in 1933, the members of Frankfurt School
were forced into exile, and after touring several European cities, they finally settled in
New York. This experience prompted the resignation of the original purposes of the
Critical Theory and a rethinking of its main ideas. In this School gather intellectuals
from different sectors of European knowledge with some common characteristics:

Theoretical and practical interest in Marxism.

The concept of philosophy as a critical theory of society.
The rejection of philosophical speculation, dealing with the knowledge of that
they call the world of life.
The opposition to neo-positivist logic school approaches.
The opposition to the concept of reason as enlightened reason and the idea of
progress that emerged in the 18th century.

The aim of the Critical Theory of society is to interpret and bring up to date the original
Marxist theory. His target was, on one hand, to reflect on the phenomenon of human
progress by rejecting the possibility of a Marxist positivism. The critic that has given its
name has several aspects, the first one is a critique of capitalist and consumerist Western
contemporary society, and the second consists in a critique of the social sciences. There
are some ways in which this theory and Marxism disagree, for example, this School
takes as its goal is to reveal more precisely the nature of society, and they are
concentrated on questions relating to culture, bureaucracy, the structure of the
family...rather than the development of analysis of the economic base of society. Other

matter is the key role of the working class, and they also coined a new meaning for
The definition for emancipation given in Marxism is very often unclear and deeply
ambiguous, so that, it can lead to misinterpretations as in the chase of Stalinism and
imperialism. To Marxists, emancipation means having a greater control over the nature
thanks to technological advances. In contrast, critical theorists argue that emancipation
had to be conceived in terms of reconciliation with nature. In general terms in
Habermas, emancipation is the normal sense of submission or release of any power
alien to reason.
Habermas thinks emancipation is a state of autonomy rather than debauchery, therefore,
emancipation identifies with responsibility. This possibility of emancipation lays
through radical democracy, in other words, a system in which the widest possible
participation is encouraged not only in word but also in deed.
The person who developed some key principles of Habermas theories in politics was
Andrew Linklater. He also coined a new significance to emancipation; he saw it as a
process in which the borders of the sovereign state lose their ethical and moral
significance. Following this line of work, critical theory considers urgent to speed the
development that leads to a society free of injustice, and this shows the dependence of
the theoretical world to the world of facts, thats to say, the social world.
In connection with this, the Critical Security Studies (CSS) emerged. CSS is a selfconsciously new approach to theorizing about security issues that emerged in the 1990s.
It aims at both theoretical re-conceptualizations of what security is. The Critical
Security Studies refuses to accept the state as the natural object of analysis, as it sees
the state as a part of the security problem rather than a provider of security. The most
important theorists of CSS were Michael Williams and Keith Krause (Critical Security
Studies: Concepts and Strategies), Ken Booth (Security and emancipation; The security
dilemma: fear, cooperation, and trust in world politics; Theory of world security) and
Richard Jones (Security, strategy and critical theory).
New Marxism consists of a vision less dogmatic, more humanistic and open to dialogue
of Marxism. It emerged in the XX century and is related to Marx and Engels writings,
but it is more focused on psychological, sociological and cultural aspects. The two
writers who used new Marxism to critique other theoretical approaches in international
relations and globalization are Justin Rosenberg and Benno Teschke.
Justin Rosenberg made a critique of realist International Relations theory. The realist
theory provides a coherent explanation of how the international order works, but
Rosenberg sees as the major problem the lack of definition of what is international.
He also argued for the development of a theory of international relations that is sensitive
to the changing character of world politics. Hence, if we want to understand the

international relations in any particular era, we should start by examining the mode of
production, and in particular the relations of production. (Oxford, 2004)
The other contribution of Rosenberg is his theory of globalization. He made an
extensive review to the concept of globalization and the attempts that have been made to
put it beyond the reach of social theory, as well as to isolate it from the process of
capitalism. One of his approaches lies in the theoretical explanations made about the
changing nature of the modern world, in other words, for Rosenberg, the theory of
globalization should be rooted in classical social theory. But instead of this, a body of
globalization theory has emerged premised on the claim that the supposed
compression of time and space that typifies globalization requires a whole new social
theory in order to explain contemporary developments. (Oxford, 2004)
Rosenberg rephrases Thomsons words from, It happened one way in France, and
another way here (1978:269) to it happened another way in France in part because it
had already happened here (2007:23) (Muzzafar, 2008)
Benno Teschke as well as Rosenberg, made a critique of the International Relations
theory, and developed his own theory to analyze changes in the constitution and
practices of actors in the international system. They also agreed in the need of
investigate international relations to the understanding of social relations.
Epistemologically, Neorealisms survival is predicated on its move to cut off the
political from the social (Teschke 2003:274) (Oxford, 2004)
One of the main points of his analysis is that rather than one major change between
feudal and modern international systems, there have been two major transformations:
between feudal and early modern (dominated by absolutist monarchies) and between
early modern and modern (capitalist states). He defends that these changes were
gradual, had more than one type of actor and the practice of international relations was
different during each period.
Having these things considered, the concept of the Treaties of Westphalia that most of
International Relations theorists have, has been exaggerated. The Treaties constitutes the
point at which absolutist rather than capitalist states became the key actors of the
international system; and since the 17th century the capitalist state has become the
prominent state form.
The particular trends pointed to as typifying globalization include the growing
integration of national economies, a growing awareness of ecological interdependence,
the proliferation of companies, social movements and intergovernmental agencies
operating on a global scale. When Marx and Engels wrote their book, were clearly
aware not only of the global scope of capitalism, but also of its potential for social
transformation. (Oxford, 2004)

A global capitalist system has always existed, and within this system, all elements have
been interrelated and interdependent. The economies of the world have been getting
used to this; the only innovation is the increasing awareness of these linkages. However,
Marxist theorists insist that the only way to discover how significant contemporary
developments really are is to view them in the context of the deeper structural processes
at work. (Oxford, 2004)
To sum up, I have to say that there many different fields of knowledge in which his
theories have been applied such as international relations, society or economy and
various schools of thinking that have been founded: Stalinism, Leninism, NeoMarxism... As a conclusion, we can summarize that Marx theories and its understanding
have had a lot of importance not only in his epoch but several years later and we can
also foresee that it will have influence in the incoming years.


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