Although Marxism has had a good deal to say about historically evolving structures that transcend national borders, the relationship between Marxists and the academic discipline of international relations (IR) has not been straightforward. Constituted by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the third quarter of the 19th century as a critical and holistic methodology, Marxism maintains that political relationships are conditioned by, and can only be comprehended in their connection to, modes of surplus extraction. By contrast, IR, arising half a century later, manifests the distinctions between economics and politics, between domestic and foreign, and between world economy and world order. The key terms in Marxist IR discourse, historically, have been “imperialism,” “dependency,” “hegemony,” and “empire.” One of the defining periods in the development of Marxist thought on international relations occurred immediately before and during World War I, when “imperialism” emerged as the master term, a place it yielded, following World War II, to “dependency.” In the 1990s and the 2000s, however, an interest in imperialism returned, although the term competed for primacy with “hegemony,” favored especially by authors from the world-systems and neo-Gramscian schools, and with “empire,” a term given a distinctive twist in the best-selling book of that name. There are several distinguishing features of Marxist approaches to international relations. First, they subject prevailing categories, such as “anarchy” or the “balance of power,” to critique, seeking to uncover their historical and sociological foundations. Second, as a materialist philosophy, Marxism accords explanatory primacy to a society’s “mode of production” as the key to understanding its systems of power and belief. Third, Marxist approaches tend to conceive of society dialectically, as a totality whose contradictions yield continual change. Contradictions within historical processes are conceptualized at high levels of abstraction (e.g., between productive forces and a particular configuration of production relations) as well as in the form of real historical struggles. A final defining feature of Marxist thought is that the purpose of understanding the international system is wedded to that of its radical transformation.
Textbooks and Readers
There are no textbooks geared specifically to the teaching of Marxist international relations (IR), but a wide variety of student-friendly books and book chapters fills the gap. These include chapters in standard IR textbooks, such as Burchill, et al. 2001, Rupert 2007a, and Rupert 2007b, which provide accessible introductions to the subject. The closest approximation to textbooks are, on theories of imperialism, Anthony Brewer’s classic survey (Brewer 1990) and, on international political economy, Bill Dunn’s Global Political Economy (Dunn 2009). A number of collections of 19th- and 20th-century Marxist writings on imperialism and dependency exist; the most comprehensive and/or judicious collections are Chilcote 2000 and Cain and Harrison 2001. Alison Ayers has edited a notable collection of essays on neo-Gramscian IR theory (Ayers 2008). Finally, for a window onto 21st-century debates on Marxist IR, the indispensable reader is Anievas 2010.
Anievas, Alexander. Marxism and World Politics: Contesting Global Capitalism. London: Routledge, 2010.
Fourteen essays by scholars involved in the major debates of the 2000s. Themes include the renaissance of historical materialism in IR theory; geopolitics of capitalist modernity; relationship between capitalism and the international system; Gramsci, passive revolution, and transnational capital; uneven and combined development.
Ayers, Alison J., ed. Gramsci, Political Economy, and International Relations Theory: Modern Princes and Naked Emperors. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Edited collection of critical reflections upon neo-Gramscian theory, including essays by Alfredo Saad-Filho and Mustapha Kamal Pasha.
Brewer, Anthony. Marxist Theories of Imperialism: A Critical Survey. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 1990.
The best-known English-language textbook on imperialism. Panoramic survey of the field. Includes excurses on non-Marxist theories, such as “free trade imperialism.”
Burchill, Scott, Richard Devetak, Andrew Linklater, Matthew Paterson, Christian Reus-Smit, and Jacqui True. Theories of International Relations. 4th ed. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2001.
Includes chapter on Marxism by Andrew Linklater; also Richard Devetak on Marxian currents within “critical theory.”
Cain, Peter J., and Mark Harrison, eds. Imperialism: Critical Concepts in Historical Studies. 3 vols. London: Routledge, 2001.
The most comprehensive compilation of writings on imperialism, largely but not exclusively Marxist. Vol. 1: Marx’s journalistic writings on India; excerpts from Kautsky, Hilferding, Lenin, and Bukharin. Vol. 2: excerpts from dependency and world-systems theorists, including Immanuel Wallerstein and Samir Amin. Vol. 3: cultural critiques; of only tangential relevance to IR.
Chilcote, Ronald H., ed. Imperialism: Theoretical Directions. Amherst, NY: Humanities, 2000.
Student-friendly reader, including sections on legacies of Marx and Lenin, dependency theory, and essential texts by Paul Baran, Amilcar Cabral, A. G. Frank, Fernando Enrique Cardoso, and Prabhat Patnaik.
Dunn, Bill. Global Political Economy: A Marxist Critique. London: Pluto, 2009.
International political economy (IPE) textbook. Comprehensive but concise. Surveys global political economy, with sections on the various IPE theories, including “critical IPE” and Marxism; also sections on international financial institutions and global governance.
Rupert, Mark. “Marxism.” In International Relations Theory for the Twenty-First Century: An Introduction. Edited by Martin Griffiths, 35–46. London: Routledge, 2007a.
A short introduction by an eminent scholar from the neo-Gramscian school of IR.
Rupert, Mark. “Marxism and Critical Theory.” In International Relations: Discipline and Diversity. 2d ed. Edited by Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith, 148–165. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007b.
Another short introduction by this eminent scholar from the neo-Gramscian school of IR.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Academic Theories of International Relations Since 1945
- Arab-Israeli Wars, 1967-1973, The
- Arab-Israeli Wars, The
- Arms Control
- Arms Races
- Asylum Policies
- Authoritarian Regimes
- Balance of Power Theory
- Bargaining Theory of War
- Challenge of Communism, The
- China and Japan
- China's Defense Policy
- China's Foreign Policy
- Civil Resistance
- Civil Society in the European Union
- Cold War, The
- Conflict Behavior and the Prevention of War
- Conflict Management
- Countermeasures in International Law
- Criminal Law, International
- Critical Theory of International Relations
- Cuban Missile Crisis, The
- Cultural Diplomacy
- Cyber Security
- Cyber Warfare
- Demobilization, Post World War I
- Democracies and World Order
- Democracy and Conflict
- Democracy in World Politics
- Deterrence Theory
- Diplomacy, History of
- Diplomacy, Public
- Disaster Diplomacy
- Eastern Front (World War I)
- Economics, International
- Embedded Liberalism
- Emerging Powers and BRICS
- Empirical Testing of Formal Models
- Energy and International Security
- Epidemic Diseases and their Effects on History
- Ethics and Morality in International Relations
- Ethnicity in International Relations
- European Migration Policy
- European Security and Defense Policy, The
- European Union as an International Actor
- European Union, International Relations of the
- Fascism, The Challenge of
- Feminist Security Studies
- Food Security
- Forecasting in International Relations
- Foreign Policy, Theories of
- French Empire, 20th-Century
- From Club to Network Diplomacy
- Future of NATO
- Game Theory and Interstate Conflict
- Genocide, Politicide, and Mass Atrocities Against Civilian...
- Genocides, 20th Century
- Geopolitics and Geostrategy
- Germany in World War II
- Global Civil Society
- Global Constitutionalism
- Global Environmental Politics
- Global Ethic of Care
- Global Governance
- Global Justice, Western Perspectives
- Greater Middle East, The
- Hague Conferences (1899, 1907)
- History and International Relations
- Human Rights
- Human Rights and Humanitarian Diplomacy
- Human Rights Law
- Intelligence Oversight
- Internal Displacement
- International Conflict Settlements, The Durability of
- International Criminal Court, The
- International Economic Organizations (IMF and World Bank)
- International Health Governance
- International Justice, Theories of
- International Law
- International Monetary Relations, History of
- International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
- International Nongovernmental Organizations
- International Organizations
- International Relations as a Social Science
- International Relations Theory
- International Security
- International Society
- International Society, Theorizing
- International Support For Nonstate Armed Groups
- Internet Law
- Interstate Cooperation Theory and International Institutio...
- Intervention and Use of Force
- Iran, Politics and Foreign Policy
- Iraq: Past and Present
- Just War Theory
- Kurdistan and Kurdish Politics
- Law of the Sea
- Laws of War
- Leadership in International Affairs
- League of Nations
- Lean Forward and Pull Back Options for US Grand Strategy
- Mediation and Civil Wars
- Mediation via International Organizations
- Middle East, The Contemporary
- Military Science
- Minority Rights
- Multilateralism (1992–), Return to
- National Liberation, International Law and Wars of
- National Security Act of 1947, The
- Nations and Nationalism
- NATO, Europe, and Russia: Security Issues and the Border R...
- New Multilateralism in the Early 21st Century
- Nonproliferation and Counterproliferation
- Peace of Utrecht
- Peacebuilding, Post-Conflict
- Political Demography
- Political Economy of National Security
- Political Learning and Socialization
- Political Psychology
- Popular Culture and International Relations
- Post-Civil War State
- Post-Conflict and Transitional Justice
- Power Transition Theory
- Preventive War and Preemption
- Prisoners, Treatment of
- Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs)
- Prospect Theory in International Relations
- Public Opinion and the European Union
- Quantum Social Science
- Race and International Relations
- Religion and International Relations
- Religiously Motivated Violence
- Reputation in International Relations
- Responsibility to Protect
- Rising Powers in World Politics
- Russian Revolutions and Civil War, 1917-1921
- Sanctions in International Law
- Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), The
- Shining Path
- Social Scientific Theories of Imperialism
- Soviet Union in World War II
- Space Strategy, Policy, and Power
- Spatial Dependencies and International Mediation
- State Theory in International Relations
- Strategic Air Power
- Strategic and Net Assessments
- Sustainable Development
- Teaching International Relations
- Territorial Disputes
- Terrorist Financing
- Terrorist Group Strategies
- The Changing Nature of Diplomacy
- The Queer in/of International Relations
- Theories of International Relations, Feminist
- Theory, Chinese International Relations
- Trade Law
- Transnational Actors
- Transnational Social Movements
- Trust and International Relations
- UN Security Council
- United Nations, The
- US and Africa
- US–UK Special Relationship
- Vienna Conventions on Diplomacy and Consular Relations
- Voluntary International Migration
- War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714)
- Western Balkans
- Western Front (World War I)
- Westphalia, Peace of (1648)
- Women and Peacemaking Peacekeeping
- World Economy 1919-1939
- World Polity School
- World War II Diplomacy and Political Relations