Marxist Approach to International Relations

First, we will try to understand the basic ideology and principles of Karl Marx. Marx was of the view that history progresses through the clashes of Matter. He opined that changes that occur in Economic base of the society leads to the change in socio- political- cultural Superstructure. As Mode of Production has changed in the history, Class Structure also kept on changing. He said that History is nothing but the result of Perpetual Class Struggle means history Progresses through Class struggle. And in the history, there has always been two classes. One who has been Exploited, poor and Other Class which has always been Dominant and Exploiter.


According to Marx the International System is the nothing but a Capitalist World Order, which is being framed in a manner so as to cater to the interest of the Dominant Class. Because the Dominant or powerful States are nothing but the representatives of Dominant Class. Major Actor in International Relations is Class- All the States, MNCs, International Organizations like- United Nations, IMF, World Bank, WTO etc. They all reflect the dominant class’ interests in the Global Economic System. Structure of the Global Capitalist System – Marx also talked about the Structure of the Global Capitalist System. He said that there is CORE- That comprises of Major Powers like, America and Western Europe. Then there is PERIPHERY- which comprises of the Poor or Exploited Countries. Like, Bangladesh, many African Countries and Latin American Nation. And in the middle, there is SEMI- PHERPHRY- which comprises of the semi developed Areas like Russia, Brazil, Eastern Europe. Further Marx said that the Elites of Core Areas make an Alliance with the Elites of the Periphery. And both of them Exploit the Masses or Natural Wealth of the Periphery. And this leads to a kind of Drain of Wealth from Periphery to CORE and owing to which Capitalist class start becoming more Powerful

Karl Marx has said that this becomes a Core- Satellite Configuration. Means Peripheral Sates become nothing but the Satellites of the Core States. And this Core- Satellite Configuration leads to the dependency of the Peripheral States on Core[1]. And even the Development which happens in the Peripheral States that is so much dependent on the Core that it is not even a Real Development and Marx has named it as a Development of Underdevelopment. Marx has stated that Global Politics is determined by the Global Economic Structure. Means International relations is not the clash of interests and power, but rather a reflection of the global mode of production and the ensuring relation of production among nations.

According to Marx, Colonialism and Imperialism are the methods through which Powerful states have acquired their control over Peripheral States and drained their wealth by making the core countries a market of their own manufactured products. And Marx said that the World Order that has been developed through this means, is nothing but the expansion of the Capitalist World Order. And which later on converted into Imperialism.

Apart from using their force, Dominant classes or states also use their Hegemony to make the Subordinate class or state accept their ideas, ideologies, worldviews, educational system. Dominant class through books, poems, Literature, Films tries to impose their viewpoint on the Subordinate class.  In this way they acquire control over everything. They promote only those ideas, views that embolden the interest of theirs. And those who are worst effected by those ideas, they also start considering this to be their own ideology. And the Subordinate class never feel that they are being exploited because of the acceptance of these ideas. Marx term this to be a Soft Power or Cultural hegemony. This Hegemony is very different from Military or political hegemony. And marx is of the view that the Cultural hegemony theory helps to maintain the more dominance of the dominant class in the world order as compared to Political or military hegemony. In current world if we look the soft power of America, the kind of impact that America has created in the world order in some way resembles the idea of soft power of Marx.

Four strands of Marxist Approach in International Relations

  1. World System Theory & Dependency Theory-

World System Theory– was given by Immanuel Wallerstein. This theory is closely linked with the concept of Imperialism.

This theory visualizes the Structure of Global Capitalist System in a following manner-

There is a CORE [ powerful countries], PERIPHERY [ Exploited countries] and SEMI- PERIPHERY. Core is an area which is prosperous, developed, politically and militarily dominant and controls the Global Economic system.

Periphery is termed as a satellite of the core. It consists of poorly developed and low- income group countries. And they are politically and militarily weaker in nature.

Semi- Periphery consists of those countries which are declined Core means earlier they used to be developed or dominant countries but now they have declined. It also includes Upwardly mobile periphery. These are considered to be middle income countries and they are exporter as well as importer of the raw material.

Ultimately Wallerstein said that this system is unjust, inequitable, exploitative. And there is a need to bring a change in this system to make a just and equitable system.

Dependency Theory– given by Andre Gunder Frank.  He worked on this theory with respect to the Latin American Nations. This theory is also similar to the idea of World system theory. It states that the Core or dominant countries use periphery as their Satellite.

He stated that if any underdeveloped region is developing then this thing needs to be looked on that whether that region is developing on its own or is it developing as a satellite of some core. As he said that in Latin America the regions of Brazil or Chile were developing exactly as a satellite of the core. Which is why when core withdrew their support from them, then their development totally went in vain and got stopped. So it becomes a dependency of Under developed Countries over Dominant countries. And the whole purpose of this dependency is to exploit the satellite countries[2].

Satellites rely on the core for technology, capital, raw material, and markets. They do the exploitation of periphery and on the other hand they are exploited by the core also.  The arrangement of the core, periphery and semi-periphery does not remain static, it keeps on changing with respect to time and space. It has its beginning, middle and end. The Dependency theory came in against to the Modernization theory[3]. Modernization theory was guided by the ideologies and the national interest of USA. In this theory it was said that the underdeveloped nations will face the same phases of development which developed nations have faced and owing to which they will become developed. But Andre gunder frank criticized this idea. He said that underdeveloped nations will not develop according to the developed nations rather they will develop according to their own way in an autonomous manner. Condition of these countries is miserable because they are in subordination to the core countries. And they can flourish and can become self- sustainable only after getting completely detached from the core countries.

Frank gave example in context of India, that there was a time when India used to be a very prosperous country. And once the Core which is Britain got into the picture. India started loosing its prosperity because then India became a satellite and its development became dependent on Britain.

  • Gramscianism-

This concept of Gramscianism has been erected over the notion of ‘Hegemony’ propounded by Antonio Gramsci in his book ‘Prison Notebook’. He wrote this book when he was incarcerated in the prison for twenty years in this book he talked about his concept of Hegemony.  

Gramsci says that Marx focusses a lot on Economy base. As Marx said that changes in the Economy determine that how the Socio-Political superstructure is going to be. But Gramsci discarded this idea. He said that on the contrary, the dynamism that are going on in socio- political superstructure leads to change in economic base. And this process of change is not tangible.  It is a 3rd Dimension of Power. Means it is a process to manufacture the concept where moral, political, cultural values, ideas of dominant are acquired by the subordinate class as if they are their own ideas and beliefs.

If we apply this theory in Indian context. Then we can understand that how Dalits who were the marginalized section. They believed that it is their destiny or fate that they would remain as an exploited class. So, this ideology which was made by the dominant class for their own benefit was considered as a mainstream. And this ideology got perpetuated by vedas, puranas, philosophies etc. And Gramsci said that this all phenomenon happens in the superstructure and because of this the Economy which is a base gets affected.

There are many things like- Media, educational system, NGOs etc. Which help in ossifying the concept of Hegemony. And with the help of Hegemony dominating class holds a dominance over superstructure.

In International Relation, hegemony manifest in dominant capitalist powerful state controlling global superstructure-Internet, Financial market, global trade and manufacturing consent on prevailing moral political, cultural values/ ideas- dress, food, entertainment, leisure, worldview and so on. So, when a superpower starts controlling these things then it becomes a hegemon and it is way more than the power acquired by military and Politics. Because through this the superpower starts owning the ideology itself owing to which the exploited states start assuming it to be their fate and considering this exploitation to be the reality.

He said the dynamism that is going on in Socio- political Super Structure will affect the Base. So, Hegemony is developed and sustained by civil society and a network of institutions such as the media, educational system, and non- governmental organizations (NGOs)etc. And through Hegemony the Dominant maintain their control over Superstructure.

  • Critical theories in International Relations

Critical theorists argue that there will be hardly any revolution because the exploited class has been imbibed in the mainstream system by the hegemony. That is why this society has become one-dimensional society. As there is no resistance left in the society.

But this theory endorses the view that there must be an Emancipation and transformation which will lead to more Equitable and just world order. And this is possible, if humans could reconcile with the Nature. In order to dominate the nature humans have started dominating on each other and it eventually states started dominating over other states. And another thing that this theory envisages is that instead of domination control, humans should more focus on dialogue, communication, shared understanding.  Every person should have their say in the world community. Actions must be more sort of Communicative rather than being strategic. It is also called as Discursive Ethics. Means if we can make a common understanding to resolve the problems of the world through deliberation, discussions, dialogue, communication. Then it will lead to a more just and equitable world.

One strand of this theory also goes towards Cosmopolitanism. Cosmopolitanism refers to a situation when the moral boundary as a political community exceeds the boundary of a Nation itself. One of the best examples of Cosmopolitanism is Arab Spring. As there was an insurgence of the dictatorial tendencies of the government in Tunisia. And which ultimately lead to the protest from six other nations. It shows that state does not prescribe any moral boundary. That if the citizens of our country are going to be affected then only, we will raise the voice. But if this is the case in an art of the world so being a global citizens it behoves us to raise the voice against such exploitation.

Ex- EU [European Union] is a perfect of example of Emancipatory tendency or emancipatory tendency in the present world. It shows that how boundaries of the state get broken and how all the states act in synergy and try to progress.  

This theory is rested on the assumption that you cannot fathom the Reality in an Objective manner. That is why it is known as Post- Positivist, Reflective or Interpretative theory. According to critical theory we have to raise a question on every social structure. It is mainly focused on the Superstructure Phenomenon like- Culture, Bureaucracy, Structure of the Family.

  • Neo- Marxism-

Neo- Marxist approach stresses on the original ideas of Karl Marx of- Historical materialism, Economic base, Mode and Relation of production.

It says that what is happening at the societal level, when it starts happening at the world level, then it takes the form of international relation.  With the change in the social relation, International Relation also changes. And with the change in time, mode and relation of production also changes which in the long run leads to a change in International Relation. Therefore, the Timeless theory which is based on the concept of ‘Political Man’ that is Realism is an illusion.

As with the passage of time Mode and Relation of Production changes and because of which International Relations also changes[4].



  1. It endeavours to raise the cardinal issue of unequal and exploitative world order from the standpoint of class perspective.
  • It divulges the unrevealed sources of Power. Like Cultural hegemony and dominance by Economic means become the real power.
  • This theory is Emancipatory and Transformative because this talks about Change and is not status- quoist.
  • It tries to map out the principles of International Relations to make the world more fair, just, and unbiased.
  • It spotlights the ingredient of conversation, dialogue, cosmopolitanism and global citizen and community.


  1. It puts an intemperate emphasis on aspects of Economy known as Economic Determinism. According to this theory everything is determined by the Economy but this is not the true reality
  • Lays down an excessive focus on Class. And what will ensue form this is that, other identities which are more important in the global politics like- gender, race, disability etc, will get undermined.
  • There is a lot of segmentation. As there are various strands of this theory. So, a unified consolidated theory of International Relations which could explain the theory in a simpler manner could not be developed.
  • Approach is quite utopic and not realistic. Some also say that it is pessimistic as well.
  • There is a sort of disconnect between theory and practice. As it lead to an insurgence of dictatorial regimes and restlessness of cold war.


So overall we can conclude that the Marxist perspective to the international relation brings up the cardinal point of Exploitative World order from the point of view of Class. His theory tries to divulge the latent sources of power. As He said that it is not only the Military or Political power but there also exist the Cultural hegemony and Economic Dominance which gets converted into the Real power. His theory is Emancipatory or transformative in nature because it talks about the ‘Change’, it is not in favor of maintaining the status quo. It seeks to redesign the principle of International Relations by making this world more fair, just and less exploitative. It also focusses on the feature of Deliberation, Communication and Dialogue.

[1] Your Article Library,, (20th July, 2022).

[2] Your Article Library,, (20th July, 2022).

[3] Dca.du,, (21st July, 2022).

[4] Dca.du,, (21st July, 2022).

Author: Dhruv Pachauri

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