Chapter Four Notes
The Essential Marxism
Marxist ideas inspired many political movements in the developing world in the period of
decolonization through the 1970s and 1980s. Karl Marx believed and preached that history had
taught the working classes the duty to master for themselves the mysteries of international
All the theorists here share with Marx the view that the social, political, and economic world
should be analyzed as a totality. The academic division of the social world into different areas of
inquiry history, philosophy, economics, political science, sociology, international relations, and
so on is both arbitrary and unhelpful. Another key element is the materialist conception of
history. Economic development is effectively the motor of history. The central dynamic that
Marx identifies is tension between the means of production (labor, tools, technology) and
relations of production (technical and institutional relationships) that together form the economic
base of a given society.
As the means of production develop previous relations of production become outmoded, limiting
effective utilization of the new productive capacity. This limitation in turn leads to a process of
social change that transforms relations of production to better accommodate the new
configuration of means. Developments in the economic base acts as a catalyst for the broader
transformation of society as a whole.
Class plays a key role in Marxist analysis. Marx defines class as social relations between the
producers, and the conditions under which they exchange their activities and share in the total act
of production. For Marxists, your income does not determine your class, but instead your class is
defined by your position within the hierarchy of production. In capitalist society, Marx says, the
main axis of conflict is between the bourgeoise (the capitalists) and the proletariat (the workers).
Marx and Engels predicted that capitalism would spread around the world and then, and only
then, would the proletariat become aware of their exploitation as workers, alienation from their
government, and estrangement from society ruled by the bourgeoise.
The Origins of WorldSystem Theory
Worldsystem theory identifies the world system as the basic unit of analysis in international
relations. This approach divides the world into core states, semiperiphery states, and periphery
Capitalism had entered a new stage in 1867 its highest and final stage with the development
of monopoly capitalism. A twotier structure had developed within the world economy: a
dominant core exploiting a lessdeveloped periphery. And with this development there was no
longer an automatic harmony of interests among all workers. The capitalists of the core could
pacify their own working class through the further exploitation of the periphery. The idea of dependency is an important assumption of worldsystem theory. Marxists argued that
states in the periphery were suffering as a result of what they called the declining terms of trade.
The price of manufactured goods increased more rapidly than that of raw materials, and as a
result of underdeveloped countries’ reliance on primary goods, states of the periphery become
poorer relative to those of the core.
The Key Features of Wallerstein’s WorldSystem Theory
For Wallerstein, history has been marked by the rise and demise of a series of world systems.
The modern world subsequently expanded from Europe to encompass the entire globe through
the seemingly relentless process of expansion and incorporation by the force of capitalism.
According to Wallerstein, the semiperipheral zone displays certain features characteristic of the
core and others characteristic of the periphery. Although dominated by core economic interests,
the semiperiphery has its own relatively vibrant indigenously owned industrial base. Because of
this hybrid nature, the semiperiphery plays important economic and political roles within the
modern world system. It provides a source of labor that counteracts any upward pressure on
wages in the core and also provides a new home for industries that can no longer function
profitably in the core.
Robert W. Cox analyzes the state of international relations theory as a whole and one of its major
subfields, international political economy. He believed that philosophy must change the world; if
ideas and values are ultimately a reflection of a particular set of social relations and are
transformed as those relations are themselves transformed, then this suggests that all knowledge
of political relations must reflect a certain context, a certain time, a certain space. Thus, politics
cannot be objective and timeless in the way some traditional realists and contemporary structural
realists would like to claim.
According to Cox, these theories are for, or serve the interests of, those who prosper under the
prevailing order. Their purpose is to reinforce and legitimate the status quo. They do this by
making the current configuration of international relations appear natural and immutable.
Cox extends his argument by contrasting problem solving theory with critical theory. Problem
solving theory accepts the parameters of the present order while attempting to fix its problems
and thus helps legitimate an unjust and deeply iniquitous system. Critical theory attempts to
challenge the prevailing order by seeking out, analyzing, and where possible, assisting social
processes that can potentially lead to transformation of the existing system.
Third World Socialists
Following World War II many former European colonies declared independence, and to build
sovereign states, they rejected prevailing economic theories of the day especially Sovietstyle
socialism and Western capitalism, in favor of politicaleconomic development strategies based on
autarchy. They recognized that, for most developing states, the major resources are people and
land, so states must intervene to replace exploitation with citizen access to economic resources
and opportunities. Finally, they stressed the importance of producing for local consumption, fearing that development strategies requiring rapid industrialization or reliance on exportdriven
industries would increase dependency levels.
Feminist theorists examine how different concepts are gendered and in turn how this gendering
of concepts can have differential consequences for men and women.
Feminist theory in international relations grew from work on the politics of development and
peace research. But by the late 1980s liberal feminism was mo