Along with Realism and Liberalism traditions, Marxism also evolved as one of school of thought in international theory. Whilst realism is all about the power and the big guns and Liberalism is all about creating order through institutions,Mbah Marx Marxism focuses on the emancipation of the working class and the world equality. The Marxism were also relevant to analyse the dynamic of change in societies, in particular it gave very convincing explanation about social revolution. Yet, the Marxian tradition seems to have little impact on the field of international relations.

According to Holsti, the minor contribution of Marxian way of thinking to the international theory is perhaps because Marx and particularly Engels give more emphasis on outlining ways to transform domestic societies than with developing a systematic theory of international politics. For example they view war as a social problem, a manifestation of capitalist system rather than a way of states survival or power accumulation. The other possible reason is because the theory emerged while Europe was experiencing a relative peace (during the era of Concert of Europe), so the problem of war and security is not a compelling issue. Finally, and perhaps the most important factor is because Marxian tradition in whatever variant give more concern about the problem of modernization, exploitation and inequality instead of war, security, peace and order which are the main concern of Liberal and Realism . However, as well as other schools, Marxism also had been evolved through the centuries. Challenges that drive the evolution of Marxian tradition had been arise since the Lenin’s era until more recent thinkers such as Immanuel Wallerstain and Andrew Linklater.

In 1916, Lenin through his pamphlet called Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, challenged Marx Ideas on the character of Capitalism. He argued that the character of capitalism had change since Marx published the first volume of Capital in 1867. Capitalism had entered a new stage -it highest and final stage- with the development of monopoly capitalism. Under monopoly capitalism, a two tiers structure had developed within the world economy with a dominant core exploiting a less developed periphery. Such structures dramatically complicate Marx’s view of simple divergence of interest between proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

Lenin’s work had been the pillars of Wallerstein’s “World System” theory. According to Wallerstein history has witnessed two types of world systems, world-empires and world-economies. The main distinction between the two relates to how decision about resource distribution -who gets what- is made. In a world empire a centralized political system uses its power to redistribute resources from peripheral areas to its core area. In the Roman Empire this took the form of tributes by outlying province back to Roman heartland. By contrast, in a world economy there is no single authority but rather we find multiple competing centres of power. Resources are not distributed by central decree but rather through the medium of a market. However, although the mechanism different, the effect of both type of system is the same, that is the transfer of resources from the periphery to the core.

Other development in Marxian tradition has been done by Andrew Linklater, from the Critical Theory’s camp. As other critical theorists’ thinkers, Linklater had been deeply influenced by Frankfurt school tradition, particularly Juergen Habermas. He used some of the key principles and precepts developed in Habermas’s work in order to argue that emancipation in the realm of international relations should be understood in terms of the expansion of moral boundaries of a political community. In other words, he equates emancipation with process in which the borders of the sovereign state lose their ethical and moral significance. He suggests that an important part of the international system is entering a post-Westphalia era in which the sovereign state is beginning to lose some of its pre-eminence.

In sum, although it seems that Marxian tradition had little influence to the International Relations Theory, the Marxian tradition had unique contribution to the field which could be summarized as follow; Firstly, Marxism is the only mainstream theory that put emphasis on the equality and emancipation. Emancipation may be a goal of Liberalism, but it doesn’t have the same prominence as in the Marxist framework. Secondly, Marxism gave basic and systematic foundation to understand the unfairness of world, while other theories didn’t. Thirdly, Marxism, and apparently neo-Marxism, approaches to international relations focus on the problem of development, the issue of inequality, economic dependency, exploitation and unfairness, while these issues relatively neglected by other tradition, notoriously by Realist. @


  1. K.J. Holsti, The Dividing Discipline: Hegemony and Diversity in International Theory. Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1985. Ch.4
  2. Lenin, V.I. “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”. Lenin on Politics and Revolution. Ed. James E. Connor. Indianapolis: Pegasus, 1968.
  3. Linklater, Andrew. “Marxism”. Theories of International Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1996.
  4. Wallerstain, I. “The Interstate Structure of the Modern World System”, in Steve Smith, Ken Booth and Marysia Zalewski (eds). International Theory: Positivism and Beyond. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996: 85-107.
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