Marxism and its contribution to the study of International Relations today

The question of the current work is the potential of applicability of Marx’s works to modern world in general and to today’s international relations in particular. From the first glance the answer is simple: the Marxist theory is outdated, together with Marxist ideology, and the demise of both from world’s political scene has already happened. But, looking deeper into the problem, it becomes clear that such simple answers are premature.

1. End of History or End of Marxism?

In 1989, Fukuyama had proclaimed an “end of history”, first and foremost meaning the end of century-long confrontation between Communism and Capitalism (Fukuyama 1989). In larger view, he had meant not only the end of Communist regimes, but rather the failing of communist ideology in comparison to democracy, the victory of liberal capitalism over communism. And, the failing of Communist ideology was automatically assumed to be the failing of Marx’s economic theory which was supposed to be the economical basis of Socialism and Communism.

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Western economists had declared that “Communism… clearly failed as a form of economic organization” (cited by Southgate 2006), forgetting the fact that Communist economics wasn’t centered on economics in its traditional approach. Moreso, the Communist ideology was burdened by need to confront the Democratic one, often resulting in non-Marxist approaches and extremes. Thus, the demise of Communism from the face of the world cannot be considered as an “automatic failure” of Marx’s theory in general.

Rather, the disappearance of non-capitalist countries led to further expansion of capitalism – the process often masked by popular term Globalization. The term hadn’t been in use in times when Marx and Engels were working, but they desscribed it as “the need of a constantly expanding market [which] chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe” (Marx & Engels 1969). First in their time, they manadged to gather the trends and to predict the results of processes which were already taking place.

Globalization tends to modify international relations, when the business interests prevailing over – or even completely taking place of – political. In the same way capitalism “does not encounter other social systems in an external or superficial way; it penetrates, transforms and incorporates their productive foundations into itself” (Rosenberg 2007:4-5). This effect of globalization had been, in fact, foreseen by Marx’s view on capitalism as a single entity.

2. Lessons of Historical Materialism

Marxist theory, and its main concept of Historical Materialism, can definitely have its uses in study of International Relations. The three main areas of its application can be defined:

First application of Historical Materialism is that it offers a “a counter-weight to realist theories”. It explains domination of capitalists over workers, which results in inequality “with its emphasis on production, property relations and class”. Thus, from the position of opposed and dominated, it sees “the struggle for power and security” in (Burchill et al. 2005).

Secondly, Marx’s theory offers an explanatory dimension to most modern theories of both economics and geopolitics. Its critical-practical approach reminds that no theory is ever value-free – that it always express the views of dominating class (or part of society). Thus, the theory that seems to be sound from dominating point of view must be examined from other positions (such as the opressed class’, for example) for weak points.

Third application of Marx’s theory in international relations that it underlines the capitalistic impulse “to emancipate those members of international society, whom are dominated” (Burchill et al. 2005). This means not only emancipation of people, but – in global view – emancipation of whole countries by capitalist system, which forms a substantial share of world politics. Particularily, the expansion of EU to countries of Eastern Europe, liberated from Warsaw Pact, from Marx’s view loses most of the beneficial aspects implied by EU officials and becomes a living nesessity of capitalism, with its “need of a constantly expanding market” (Marx & Engels 1969).

3. World Crisis in Marx’s Words

Marx had criticized the capitalistic system, seeing it as not only oppressive, but also ineffective at the extreme. The effectiveness of its fast scientific and industrial progress, in Marx’s opinion, is nullified by increasing exploitation and disproportion of profits and earnings.

An important part of Marx’s view on capitalism, which is wise to recall today, is his opinion on crises as its inherent part and weakness:

“In these crises a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity – the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism: it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence: industry and commerce seem to be destroyed and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.” (Marx & Engels 1969).

These reasonings can be applied without exception to modern world economic crisis. The fact that today the product in over-abundance is money, rather then industrial manufacture, doesn’t disproves Marx’s theory but rather adds a new dimention to it. Marx and Engels weren’t to predict the post-industrial economy, centering on social capital and producing money (Fukuyama 1989), but this economy is still subordinate to rules first stated by Marx, meaning over-production and over-exploitation.

If more consideration was given to Marx’s words, the current economic crisis could be if not prevented, then at least moderated. Undoubtely, it would have resulted in different pattern of international relations than current, with more international co-operation and less individualism on national level.

4. Practical and Unusual Applications of Marxism

The most uncommon results of Marx’s theory can be received if stretching it to the relationships between not countries, but world geopolitical blocks.

Basic premise of Marx’s theory stands on rejecting the capitalism. Marx had viewed the capitalism from the position of “oppressed class”, for which all bourgeoisie can be seen as united body of oppressors. In today’s world of globalization, the “Golden Billion” population of developed countries, which specialize on post-industrial production of ideas and money, takes place of bourgeoisie, while Third World countries, specializing on industrial and agricultural production (which is less profitable by definition) feel themselves in the position of oppressed. Thus, a class dichotomy of unprecedented scale is being formed, taking the whole world in its grasp.

With Marx’s theory, reinvention of class struggle in form of international relations can be predicted, placing the developed nations in position of defence against the outside world – in the same position that Marx’s theory places bourgeoisie against working class. The class war between “the Golden Billion” and Third World can be the most devastating war the world had ever witnessed, and its prevention should be one of the main premises of modern politics.

Thus, studying and understanding of historical materialism concept and Marx’s theory in the whole is definitely required in International Relations study not only concerning the past, but looking into the future.

List of References

Burchill S, Linklater A, 2005, Theories of International Relations, p. 135, Palgrave Mcmillian.

Fukuyama F 1989, The end of history?, The National Interest,

Marx C & Engels F 1969, Selected Works, Vol.1, pp.113-114 and other, Progress Publishers.

Rosenberg J 2007, International Relations: the “Higher Bullshit”. (A Reply to the Globalization Theory Debate), International Politics, Vol. 44.4 (Summer 2007), pp. 450-482.

Southgate D, Graham D & Tweeten L, 2006, The World Food Economy, p.190, Blackwell Publishing.



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