Global politics consists of the politics performed on a
worldwide level, focusing not only on relations among nation-states as
International Relations (IR) does, but also on relations between organisations
and institutions such as: multinational corporations, non-governmental
organisations (NGO), transactional terrorists’ groups and social classes.1
The main issue when analysing
global politics is the overwhelming material that must be looked at.2 It
is necessary to consider theories as they act as “simplifying devices”,
allowing individuals to determine what facts are important when interpreting
Realism and Liberalism are the leading theories explaining global politics. Realists
emphasise state sovereignty, indicating that global politics is strongly based
on accumulating power competitively, whereas, liberalists believe in
cooperation rather than competition. However, rival theories such as the
conflictual capitalist theory of Marxism reflects the world divided into two
categories: the dominant bourgeoisie (ruling class) and the subordinated
proletariats (working class). The German revolutionary socialist Karl Marx’s
theory focuses on economic classes rather than states, thus highlighting the
central importance of economic issues. Also, the Marxist approach places
emphasis not on patterns of conflict and cooperation between states like
realists or liberalists. Instead, Marxism focuses on structures of economic
power and the role played in world affairs by international capitalism. The
work of Karl Marx has influence post-Marxist theories, creating the modern Neo-Marxism
approach. Classical Marxists theories such as historical materialism and
hegemony created by Karl Marx, Engels and Antonio Gramsci are of fundamental
importance to the interpretation of contemporary global politics as well as other
theories such as Imperialism, dependency theory and the world system theory.
This essay intends to examine the
relevance of the Marxist International Relations (IR) theory for analysing
contemporary global politics.
interpretation of capitalism has been historically produced and was considered
a form of life. Historical capitalism refers to the analysis of the developing
modes of production.
Karl Marx believed that changes
in society led to a change in the forms social organisation and claimed such
changes were based on economy and on the evolving modes of production. For
example: changes occurring due to the move from a feudal society to a capitalist
society. These changes led to the advancement of modes of production, which
changed the superstructure of society and social relations. Marx emphasises the
fundamental conflict of interests between the capitalist class (bourgeoisie) and
the workers (proletariats), which is purely based on competition as
capitalists’ aim was and still is to modernise their means of production by
exploiting the lower class with long hours of work and low wages.
workers less than the true value of what they produced, allowing the
bourgeoisie to accumulate surplus value (the difference between what workers
produce and what they are paid). Capitalists own and controls the means of production
and the working class sell their labour to survive. Therefore, economic forces
dominated by the ruling class determine social and global political change.
For example: The
French Revolution was a capitalist revolution in the sense that it was driven
by class conflict. 4
In the 19th century, in Europe, the feudal regime was weakened and the
emerging elite groups such as manufacturers and merchants desired to increase
their economy and gain political power. This event is an example of the process
where an emerging social class (the bourgeoisie) rose and displaced the
established ruling class (monarchy).
economic changes were taking place before the revolution, resulting in new
relationships between individuals.
implies that this exploitation in human history, where there was class conflict
and economic class struggle is reflected in the present world today. Thus,
contemporary capitalism is based on the bourgeoisie’s domination over the
subordinated proletariats as the bourgeoisie controls the means of production
while the proletariats are underpaid and exploited. Thus, it could be said that capitalism was and
is the central social factor in creating social power relations in global
Marx argued that
relations are defined in terms of economic production.
This implies that social and economic organisation are now based
on forms of oppression and exploitation.
of goods being the central social factor in creating social power relations in
exploitative relationship is reflected in the following case study:
However, Karl Marx also argues
that the exploitative nature of capitalism will be undermined by a new
communist and classless world, resulting in the death of capitalism.
Therefore, the Marxist IR theory
is relevant to contemporary world politics because it explains how capitalism
has become universal due to profit maximisation and competitions having
influence several institutions in the world.5
Marx recognised forces
structuring states’ interactions
Marxists emphasise the idea that
power is maintained by constructing ideologies.6 Antonio
Gramsci claimed that the bourgeoisie do not only dominate political power over
the proletariats but the bourgeoisie is also in control of other institutions
in our society, such as the church, education, media etc. Through these
institution, the bourgeoisie has imposed an ideology on their workers. Such
ideology is based on deceptions and misinformation, which maintains the working
class’ state of false consciousness. The working class is being blinded by the
ruling class into a state of acceptance, leading to the conclusion that the
exploitative system is natural. For example: Religious institutions can act as
ideological weapon used by the ruling class to legitimate the suffering of the
poor as something inevitable or god given. This is reflected in the bible where
it is stated that: “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a
needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” SEARCH
These ideas create a distorted view of reality, preventing the poor from
realising their subordination to the capitalist class and therefore not being
able to change their situation. Therefore, the ruling class ideology aims to present
those values as universal, legitimating exploitation as a normal state of
Furthermore, the Russian
communist and political theorist Vladimir Lenin discusses the economic essence
of capitalism. Lenin did not agree with Marx’s view that capitalism would
collapse as workers became poor and the markets would no longer be productive. Instead,
Lenin claimed that the nature of capitalism is that it needed to expand in
order to find new markets and secure new sources of raw materials and labour. He
claimed that colonial exploitation of under-developed states was a natural
consequence of capitalism.
Industrialisation provided the elites (developed European states)
with means to undertake campaigns of colonial expansion (extending control over
weaker areas) across the globe. Hobbes claims that these campaigns’ aim was to
ensure that the rich elites in European states had captive markets and was a
form of exploitation.
Lenin’s idea of expansionism led him to develop an analysis of imperialism as the highest
stage of capitalism as it would bring the total exhaustion of new markets
in accordance to Marx’s predictions. However, Lenin believe that before that
happens, capitalism would collapse because of the conflicts that were arising
due to the search for captive markets and sources of raw materials.
Lenin concentrates on
understanding imperialism through an economic analysis.
Large corporations dominated
He highlights the development of
monopoly capitalism, which refers to
WORLD SYSTEM & DEPENDENCY
IR scholars became more interests in the relationship
between International economics and international politics.
The influence of the IR Marxist theory increased due to Neo
THE WORLD SYSTEM THEORY studies the economic ties between
the industrialised world and third world countries. The theory aims to explain how
the economic exploitation of poorer countries could continue.
WST is a perspective or a theory which says that there are
unequal economic and political relationships in which certain industrialised
nations and their global corporations still continue to dominate at the core of
the world system.
This theory explains how the peripheral countries or nations
are in an exploitative relationship at the core nations. Core nations and their
corporation control and exploit the non-core nations’ economies, natural
resource and labour force.
The division between the core and the periphery is a very
stable relationship. Meaning that when a nation or country is in one of these
categories (core, semiphery or periphery) it is very complex to move to another
The World system theory derived from the Dependency theory,
which talks about developing countries making economic advances will remain subservient
and weak to core nations and large corporations.
There is a conflict theory – the intra dependency of
industrialised nations allows them to continue to exploit developing countries.
The industrialised nations playing the role of the bourgeoisie and the
developing countries playing the rule of the proletariats.
A growing share of human resources and natural resources of
developing countries is being shifted/ distributed to the core industrialised
nations. This happens because developing countries go into debt to core nations
and one the ways in which developing countries can pay to core nations back by
allowing the core corporations to exploit the workers and the natural resources
of that country. So the consequences can also be things like: currencies may be
devalued, workers’ wages may froze and reduction in government services and
employment. Preventing them to change their status.
Dependency theory and wolrd system theory aim to explain the
failure of many countries to develop.
Immanuel Wallerstein argued that the system is shaped by the
workings of the global capitalist economy.
Dependency theory analyses the economic relations between
the centre (industrialised world) and the periphery (third world or developing
world). It analyses how these two groups trade with one another. Both produce
In the centre, we produce manufactured good eg: factories
producing cars, machines etc. The periphery however, produces raw materials
(fuel oil, stuff we need for production in the centre. But consumables such as
coffe, tea and sugar etc.
Elasticity of income (Raul Prebish) – if the centre grows
economically will have a positive effect on the economy of the centre. Whereas
if the periphery grow economically, it will still have a positive effect on the
economy of the centre as the periphery are more likely to buy manufactured products
from the centre. Th price of manufactured goods increased rapidly in comparison
to the prices of raw materials. As a result countries of the periphery becoming
ANDRE GUNDER FRANK & HENRIqUE Fernando Cardoso (ex president
of brazil) developed this analysis further to demonstrate the development of
less industrialised countries was directly dependent on the more advance
This why the world theory emerged
Explanations of how the economic exploitation
of poorer countries could continue after the dismantling of the European
empires; divided states into the core and periphery. Could also link in
World Systems theory to this as it is derived from dependency theory.
Human actions are dictated by the economic: It
is not relevant whether an individual is bad or not. Individuals’ behaviour is
dictated by economic circumstances according to Marxists. For example: even
countries who declared to be in favour of human rights are being pushed in a
certain direction by the global capitalist system. Therefore, all individuals
are being motivated by profit.
How is the Marxist theory relevant to Global
Politics in comparison to other theories?
You do need to come back to the question at the end of the
essay, but you should also aim to highlight the relevance or not of Marxist
theory as you go through the essay, perhaps after each section.
world is not any different; it just looks different’,7
this is because of the different theoretical approaches that exist, dominating
the study of global politics.
approach highlights the division of social classes as the most important issue
in global politics.
Both Realist and Liberalist ideologies are justified global
Marxists argue that the concerns of realists and liberalists
are irrelevant and that world capitalism is the dominant factor.
The 9/11 attacks on the USA enable the USA to
use its dominant position to etend its control even further, using the 9/11
attacks as an opportunity to implement new foreign policies and a vigorous
military response. Also, such attacks allow America to justify their own
This alteration to foreign policy