Gareth Dale

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online March 2011 | | DOI:

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Although Marxism has had a good deal to say about historically evolving structures that transcend national borders, the relationship between Marxists and the academic discipline of international relations (IR) has not been straightforward. Constituted by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the third quarter of the 19th century as a critical and holistic methodology, Marxism maintains that political relationships are conditioned by, and can only be comprehended in their connection to, modes of surplus extraction. By contrast, IR, arising half a century later, manifests the distinctions between economics and politics, between domestic and foreign, and between world economy and world order. The key terms in Marxist IR discourse, historically, have been “imperialism,” “dependency,” “hegemony,” and “empire.” One of the defining periods in the development of Marxist thought on international relations occurred immediately before and during World War I, when “imperialism” emerged as the master term, a place it yielded, following World War II, to “dependency.” In the 1990s and the 2000s, however, an interest in imperialism returned, although the term competed for primacy with “hegemony,” favored especially by authors from the world-systems and neo-Gramscian schools, and with “empire,” a term given a distinctive twist in the best-selling book of that name. There are several distinguishing features of Marxist approaches to international relations. First, they subject prevailing categories, such as “anarchy” or the “balance of power,” to critique, seeking to uncover their historical and sociological foundations. Second, as a materialist philosophy, Marxism accords explanatory primacy to a society’s “mode of production” as the key to understanding its systems of power and belief. Third, Marxist approaches tend to conceive of society dialectically, as a totality whose contradictions yield continual change. Contradictions within historical processes are conceptualized at high levels of abstraction (e.g., between productive forces and a particular configuration of production relations) as well as in the form of real historical struggles. A final defining feature of Marxist thought is that the purpose of understanding the international system is wedded to that of its radical transformation.

Article.  9400 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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