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professor timothy c. limcalifornia state university, los email@example.com
an opening questionis Marxism dead?(is it, in other words, a dead theory? onethat died with the collapse of the SovietUnion and with China’s embraceof capitalism?)before answering, let’s considerwhat one prominent realist scholarhas to say …
Is Marxism Dead? Stephen Walt’s viewStephen Walt had this to say: Marxism and neo-Marxism were “largelydiscredited before the Cold War ended. The extensive history ofeconomic and military cooperation among the advanced industrialpowers showed that capitalism did not inevitably lead to conflict. Thebitter schisms that divided the communistworld showed that socialism did notalways promote harmony.”coming from a realist, there issomething ironic about thisstatement: what is the irony?
Is Marxism Dead? Stephen Walt’s viewthe irony is this: Walt criticizes Marxism for predicting continualconflict between/among capitalist powers: yet, from the realistpoint of view, we know that conflict is an inherent and unavoidablepart of the anarchic international system!more importantly, though, Walt’s view ofMarxism is terribly oversimplified, even crudeBova, on the other hand, providesus a more informed perspective; heunderstands, for example, that …
Is Marxism Dead? Bova’s view“… stripped of both its expectation for the victory of the Communistcause and its role as the philosophical foundation for real-worldCommunist regimes, … Marxism is still seen as a relevantalternative view of how world politics operates…. In certainimportant respects, the … Marxist perspective shares someassumptions with realism. Both agree that world politicsis inherently conflictual.”continued
Is Marxism Dead? Bova’s view“Moreover, both … see that conflict is rooted in certain structuralcharacteristics of the international and world system … [and] bothperspectives share the realist’s skepticism toward liberal,constructivist, and feminist optimism that cooperation …can replace conflict as the central feature of world politics”let’s consider one another view…
Is Marxism Dead? E.M. WoodEllen Meikskin Wood in her article, “Back to Marx,” begins with a“provocative claim, which is contrary to allconventional wisdom”so, what is this provocative claim?
Is Marxism Dead? E.M. Wood“… this historical moment, the we’re living in now, is the best not theworst, the most not the least appropriate momentto bring Marx back …. I’m making this claimfor one simple reason: we’re living in momentwhen, for the first time, capitalism has becomea truly universal system … Capitalism isuniversal … in the sense that its logic—thelogic of accumulation, commodification, profit-maximization, competition—has penetratedjust about every aspect of human life andnature itself …”
Is Marxism Dead? More Viewswe’ll come back to the principles and logic underlying Wood’s claim in abit, but it would be useful to take a quick look, too,at what another of our assigned authors hasto say about the supposed demise of Marxismhere is what Robert Hallidayhas to say on the issue …
Is Marxism Dead? Halliday’s viewhistorical materialism (i.e., Marxism) is not dead, but itsmore “vulgar” assumptions have been discredited“yet to recognise this is not to conclude that in its broader sensethe approach crystallized in historical materialism has no relevance:it may indeed constitute an importantcontribution to interpreting, and, whereboth possible and desirable, prescribingfor the contemporary world”
Is Marxism Dead? Halliday’s viewto properly understand the significance of historical materialism wemust “detach” it from its overly deterministic and utopian companionswe must also disconnect Marxist analysis from the “vulgar polemic” ofcommunist regimes who espoused certain “standard, formulaic”readings of Marxismand we must understand that whatexisted the Soviet Union, China, andelsewhere was not Marxism at all, butsomething quite different. this all leadsto an obvious question …
starting pointsMarxism is a theory of history: it’s a theory of how historyunfolds and of the primary forces that shape historyMarxism is a theory of capitalism: it’s a theory aboutthe dynamics, logic and implications of capitalismMarxism is a quintessentially structural theory, but unlike realism,it is a historical structural theory, nor is it wholly deterministicMarxism is not a theory of international relations per se, but it cantell us a lot about the motivations and actions of states1234what is ?
what is Marxism? a theory of historyMarxism’s theory of history is premised onthe concept of historical materialismbasic meaning: “history” is definedor shaped by the material (or economic)basis of society; moreover, as thematerial basis of society changes,so does history
what is Marxism? a theory of historymore. historical materialism is based on a fundamental “fact”: inorder for human beings to survive from generation to generation,it is necessary for them to produce and reproduce thematerial requirements of lifethis basic insight has profound implications: for one, ittells us that societies are governed by the forcesof productionkey implication: those who control the forcesof production, control society (more on this later)
what marxism is: more on historyhistory is a movement from one historicalstage (or era) to anothereach historical era is different, each has its owndynamic and logic based on the dominantmode of production: primitive society was onestage, feudalism another, and …
… capitalism is the lateststage of historicaldevelopmentcapitalism, however, isalso just a stage, whichmeans that it, too, willcome to an end—eventually
important implication (re Wood): the endpoint for ahistorical stage comes when process has unfolded toits logical and spatial limits—when the whole world iscapitalist, the contradictions and inherent tensions ofcapitalism are exacerbated. there are “no more escaperoutes, no more safety valves or correctivemechanisms outside its own internal logic.” nowcapitalism can only “feed on itself”
what is Marxism? a theory of capitalismMarx’s views on are not as simple as is generally thought; indeed, whilehe was extremely critical of capitalism, in one respect, marx mightalso have said …how is this possible?Icapitalism
what is Marxism? a theory of capitalismMarx didn’t really love capitalism, of course, but he understood thatcapitalism was the most productive and efficient economic systemin human history …key point: it was capitalism’s productive capacity, in Marx’s eyes, thatwould make communism possible, for communism requires amaterial base that would allow for the emergence of a society basedon the principle of “from each according to his abilities, to eachaccording to his needs”Only capitalism is productiveenough to fulfill all of our needs,to make it possible for anequalitarian society. This is why Ilove capitalism!
what is Marxism? a theory of capitalismyet, while Marx understood capitalism as tremendouslyproductive, he also understood that it had certain inherent flaws andcontradictions that made it unsuitable as the ultimate foundation forhuman societywhat were these flaws?
what is Marxism? a theory of capitalism the most salient flaw: while tremendously productive,capitalism is unavoidably oppressive and exploitative the oppression and exploitation of capitalism aremost clearly seen in one of its most salientmanifestation: the division of society into distinctsocial groups or classes Marx talked mainly about the division between_____________ and ____________capitalists workersmodern capitalism is a bit more complicated, asthe following illustration suggests …
anotherviewofclassdivisionsincapitalistsocietycapital sits on top of thepyramid, evenabove the leaders ofstatesthis is one salient andcritically important pointof difference betweenmarxism and realism:whereas realismassumes leaders act inthe interests of thecountry as a whole,Marxist assert thatcapitalists act only intheir self-interests.consider the followingquote …
what is Marxism? a theory of capitalism“We sell iPhones in over a hundred countries. We don’t have anobligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is tomaking the best product possible” (an unnamed Apple executive)In a meeting with President Obama, Steve Jobs was just asblunt. Responding to a question posed by Obama—“Whatwould it take to make iPhones in the US”—Jobs simplysaid, “Those jobs aren’t coming back”interestingly, under Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, thecompany has announced plans to build a factory in theUS
what is Marxism? another lookalthough repetitive,let’s take a quick look at whatHalliday has to say about thehistorical materialist paradigm,which he summarized in
the historical materialist paradigmfour themesthe first theme revolves around material determination, or, moreprecisely, determination by socio-economic factors“In more simplified terms, Marx saw society as a totality,a composite within which each element was in a broad sensegoverned by the character and tendency of the whole. Thecentral activity in any society is economic production
the historical materialist paradigmfour themesthe second theme, embodied in the very term for the paradigm itself,is that of history, and historical determination.“In the first instance, Marx argued that history influencedpresent behavior.” More than merely “influencing” behavior,Marx insisted that history fundamentally shaped our frame-work of action: everything we do and think is a product ofour particular historical context—but, historical epochs,while long-lasting, are not permanent
the historical materialist paradigmfour themesthe third theme of the historical materialist approach is the centralityof classes as actors, both domestically and internationallyclasses are defined, very broadly, by reference to theirownership and control of the means of production …. Ifwithin a particular state classes act to subject and controlthose less powerful than themselves, they act internationallyto ally with groups similar to themselves when this isbeneficial, and to compete with them be peaceful ormilitary means, when rivalry is preferred
the historical materialist paradigmfour themesthe fourth theme of the historical materialism is that of conflict and itsapogee, revolution“Conflict is taken here to be a historical and socialconcept, pertaining to relations between differentclasses and other social groups, generated bydifferences in socio-economic positions.” Revolutionsrepresent conflicts between social classes of differentcharacter, within particular states.
the historical materialist paradigmfour themes: a summary material determination historical determination centrality of classes centrality of conflict and revolutionconsider how thesethemes differ from oroverlap with the realistand liberal perspectives
the next stephistorical materialism is all well and fine, butthe real question is this: what is its relevancethe study of world politics?
a BIG word of warning!it is absolutely essential to understand that, in our discussion ofMarxism’s relevance to world politics, it does NOT matter that fewif any state leaders would identify themselves as “Marxists.”Marxism, in our present discussion, is not about ideology per se, butis instead a framework for explaining world politics: it is designed totell us why states do what they do regardless of ideologicalorientation; it is designed to be an objective theory that identifiesthe key actors, forces, processes, and dynamics in world politics—consider, for example, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Farewell Address” ...
Marxism and world politicsEisenhower was certainly no Marxist; indeed he was vehementlyanti-communist ... and, yet, through his speechesand actions we find evidence of how Marxismaccurately explains the decisions and actions ofstates in international relations or world politicsin his farewell address, the most obvious point isthis: US foreign policy could be and was beingdictated by the interests of dominant economicactors (i.e., capitalists) who were exercising undueinfluence in the halls of government ...
Marxism and world politics... this takes us back to a basic pointwe have learned that the world, according toMarxism, is dominated by the capitalist class,who control not only the means of production, butthe instruments of governance in theirrespective societiesthis means … what?
Marxism and world politicsthe dominance of the capitalist class meansthat it is this class that “calls the shots” in worldpolitics. the capitalist class calls the shots becauseit is this class that controls the state and all itsagencies, including the militaryto grasp Marxism’s relevance to world politics,then, one must recognized that much of whathappens in the world, domestically andinternationally, is an expression of the interestsand power of the dominant classes
Marxism and world politics in this view, Marxists tell us that thestate is a mere puppet of the dominantclass! there is no such thing as the nationalinterest; there is only class interestthis image helps to illustrate thebasic, but powerful pointcapitalists
this cartoon provides another good illustration—again, very simplified—of themarxist perspective on foreign policy
Marxism and world politicsvideo example. consider the overthrow of Salvador Allende,a democratically elected but socialist leader.before and after his election, the US govern-ment worked against him; as president,however, Allende represented no threatto American national security; he threatenedno American citizens or military personnel •and yet, he was the target of a vicious anddeadly coup supported by the US. Marxistsask, “How can realism explain US action?”
Marxism and world politics most contemporary marxists are careful not to reduce everythingto class interests and power most recognize, for example, that states are not purely instrumentsof the dominant class; they acknowledge, in other words, that stateshave relative autonomy in the complex capitalist societies of today, marxists also recognizethat class interests are rarely defined in black and white: evenamong capitalists, interests can diverge in dramatic ways (in thisway,Marxist analysis also tells us to examine intra-class struggles)
Marxism and world politics: another pointHalliday tells that, at the most general level, historical materialism orMarxism necessarily shifts our attention from security to conflictthis may sound the same as realism, but thecontext of conflict is dramatically different: inMarxism, conflict is not the product of anarchy,but that of the “market and of capitalism itself”the lesson. to understand world politics,we must carefully examine the dynamics ofcapitalism and inter-capitalist conflict
Marxism and world politicsexamples. during periods of general expansion, international relationswill generally remain peaceful and stable, but during periods ofeconomiccrisis, the prospects for intra-class conflictdramatically increaseconsider on this point, the origins ofboth World Wars … the following excerptfrom the PBS series, Commanding Heights,helps to illustrate the importance of capitalistdynamics in world politics
Marxism and world politicsexamples. in the Pacific War, capitalistdynamics and intra-class conflict wasalso a central, if not the central factorin the war between the UnitedStates and Japan—a point wetouched on earlier in the quarterkey point. the root of the conflict wasnot a struggle for military power, buta struggle for control of marketsand access to the materials neededfor continued industrialization
Marxism and world politics: the cold warcritics of Marxism also do not understand that the emergence ofostensibly “communist” regimes in the Soviet Union, China, andelsewhere was also a reflection of capitalist processessimply put, “communism” was an attempt to create an alternative tocapitalism. not surprisingly this effort to create an alternative tocapitalism represented a vital threat to the dominant capitalistpowers. this helps explain the visceral reaction to “communism” inthe west generally, and in the US specifically; it also explains theextraordinary postwar alliance of capitalist powers, the use of militarypower in the “third world,” and so on: all were meant to protect theinterests of western capital against any and all threats
Marxism and world politics: more caveatsin the complex capitalist societies of today, marxists also understandthat class interests are rarely defined in black and white; thus evenamong capitalists, interests can diverge in dramatic ways…this means that state policy may, at times, appear to be inconsistentand even contradictory—it may even appear to be driven by non-class forces (but appearances can be deceiving)
Marxism and world politicsclosing remarksas a theoretical framework, marxism hasenduring significanceKarl Marx may be dead and buried, but Marxismis decidedly not dead: some of its “predictions”were wrong, but the same could be saidfor realism and other major theories
Marxism and world politicsclosing remarksmoreover, the more one looks around the worldtoday, the more we find concrete examplesto demonstrate the continuing validity ofMarxist analysis…consider the failure of the Soviet Union and China’sturn toward capitalism; the wars against Iraq; theseeming stability of the current “unipolar system”(recall: Marxists see the world as hierarchic, notanarchic); and so on