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Marxism and globalization in international relations

By: Saeed Kakeyi


May 6, 2007

In this short assay, I will summarize, explain and criticize Marxist theories from a
realist/liberalist perspective, and use Globalization as an alternative notion for dependency theory.

Marxism and international relations


Marxism, in the context of international relations (IR), is a paradigm which encompasses a variety of
theories and approaches, all of which reject realism’s notions of state anarchy and liberalism’s
concepts of cooperation. Instead, Marxism focuses on the economic and material features of world
politics. In other words, Marxism makes the assumption that human history moves through a process
of dialectical materialism by which people’s positions and needs—ideas and income—in any given
society are determined by the nature of their economic productions with which their thoughts and
political behaviors dependent on their economic structure and that their world evolves through a
predetermined sequence of thesis, antithesis and synthesis (Kaufman: 2004, 537).
But, describing Marxism to be as such, one might ask; what Marxism has to do with IR? In
response, we should not forget to point to the embedded notion of Karl Marx’s historical materialism
which directly exposes the three problematic stages of economic efficiency which he regards them as
the logic for human development. In order to reach to the end of these economic phases, Marxism
justifies radical clashes—class struggles—especially with Capitalism in the process of liberating
proletarian class from the bourgeoisie class for new classless opportunities in the form of dependence
(538-541).
Although never materialized during the lifetime of Marx in nineteenth century, Marxism and
other related progressive theories, especially Marxist-Leninism, became a “powerful intellectual force
for radical change” in the last century in parts of Africa, Latin America, South and East Asia, and
some parts of Europe (542-545).

Marxist-Leninism and emergence of dependency theory


As a theory of IR, Marxist-Leninism is a “critique of imperialism” within the sphere of international
politics where progressive actions are more needed to support political discourse. Accepting Marx’s
basic historical materialism, Lenin argued, however, that capitalism had reached its final phase by
becoming monopolist capitalism in a form of two-tier structure within the world economy; “core—
capitalists” and “periphery—working classes.” That is to say that Lenin foresaw “the inequality of
economic status exhibited between states in the international political economy [to be] a permanent
feature of the capitalist world economy that causes tension and armed conflict…” (546) and,
therefore, called on the “Workers of the World, Unite” in order to end the “immoral” capitalist mode
of production based on exploitations.
After the Word War II, a number of colonized states obtained their independence and entered
the world economy with impoverished status. Not being able to secure a position in the international
market, they asserted that the capitalist dominant world economy is a biased system toward their
Third World status. Accordingly, their theorists engaged in updating “the Marxist notion (of ‘have”
and “have-nots”), arguing that Lenin had described yet never fully explored the permanently
debilitating economic consequences to the colonies created during western imperialism” (547). Thus,
some of their theorists argued for a radical revolution by the “have not states” to replace the world’s
capitalist system—the “have states”—by socialist one.

Critics of Marxism and dependency theory


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Realists and liberals criticize Marxist theories, especially dependency theory, for being outdated and
that their theorists are incapable of adapting new approaches and liberal reforms that can elevate their
Periphery status into the semi-Periphery and then Core status, particularly after the dissolution of the
Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War and the increasing transnational influence of capital due to
the increasing expansion of globalization. But, feeling victimized by the superiority of the developed
capitalist “North”, theorists like Immanuel Wallerstein argue that the capitalist globalization will
ultimately lead to a socialist system because of its multiple crises in exploiting of the Periphery states.
Such radical view has a lot to do with the psychological effects of Marxism as a political
ideology which can rationalize one’s extreme position to be left outside of the critical thinking vis-à-
vis the evolving changes in global economic conditions. Thus, Marxist theories of IR are not only
proved to be unpractical, but also tend to create unstable and extortionist climates.

Globalization as a cure for class alienation


James N. Rosenau argues that the powerful socioeconomic actors—proletarians and bourgeoisies—
armed with economic, political, cultural, and social themes; domestic and transnational, have altered
the competence of states and rendered their sovereign authorities vulnerable due to their participation
in dynamic economic production revolutions and transnational organizations that have been going on
(812-813).
The multidirectional fragmented authorities of political institutions, transnational corporate
alliances, international regimes, NGOs, subnational actors and social movements are all in action to
shift authority away from the states which hinders “the spread of economic innovations around the
world…” (815).
This globalization effort is parallel with the localization of socioeconomic, political and
cultural protectionists who are fragmenting the authorities of a sovereign state, especially in Third
World countries. This is to say that is that there is an underlying distinction between domestic and
international affairs. As this distinction is obvious for us, we should not forget that domestic affairs
can develop into a transnational challenge as is the case with terrorism, crime and nationalism.
Therefore, Rosenau’s “Fragmegration” is a concept by which he amalgamates the processes of
fragmentation and integration in order to manage conflicts within and between organizations,
societies, nation-states and transnational systems that are dynamic in their nature and somewhat
linked to each other (816). This compelling economic remedy can easily become a cure for the under-
developed countries of the “South”, if they are willing to adapt to the norms of the civilized liberal
world.
In conclusion, Marxist theories of IR are inconclusive and outdated. Globalization of market
economy not only benefits the middle class, rather, it will eliminate the notion of “have” and “have-
nots” if civilized norms of socioeconomic, political and culture are adapted.

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Reference:
Kaufman, Daniel, Jay Parker, Patrick Howell, and Grant Doty. Understanding International
Relations: The Value of Alternative Lenses. 5th. Boston: Custom Publishing - McGraw-Hill,
2004.