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Contribution of Marxism and Imperialism in Shaping the Modern International Political System Essay

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Updated: Feb 11th, 2020


Many political, economics, and philosophy scholars contend the Karl Marx is an iconic thinker who has influenced the modern political, economic, and social systems in numerous ways. Central to Marxist theory is the argument that societies are divided into two main strata.

The first stratum is composed of all those people who own all means of production or what Karl Marx called bourgeoisie. The other stratum is composed of subordinates (proletariat). They are the labourers hired to support and ensure that the production process continues without being halted.

These two strata provide substantive grounds for cutely understanding the mechanisms of operation of social relationships in the international arena. Marxists hold that social relations are enshrined within the perspectives of the “material conception of life” (Samir 1982, p.48). For nations to remain materially endowed, they engage in capitalistic productions. Imperialism also holds a similar point of view.

With regard to Barbara (2006), imperialism involves “the massive export of capital to foreign countries for the purpose of exploiting and dominating both their labour forces and markets” (p.45). Therefore, it may be argued as encompassing the highest order of capitalism, a concept that advocates for globalisation view as being the only way that societies can remain competitive.

The paper argues that the modern political systems are giving a rebirth to the reemergence of situations characteristic of societies operating under imperialism and Marxism revelations. Therefore, it is suggested that Marxism offers a coherent account of the modern international political system.

Interpretation of modern international political system from paradigms of Marxism

The international political system is ideally capitalistic in nature. Therefore, the postulated concepts of class struggles, materialism, and the surfacing of a capitalistic world market incredibly provide a point of alignment of the Marxism concepts and theories of international relations.

However, while associating Marxism concepts with the interpretation of the international political system, it is crucial to note that Karl Marx never postulated a theory of international or world politics. The interpretation offered for Marxism paradigms sets forth a means of interpreting the concepts of materialism and class struggles within the modern international politics.

Advocates of Marxism are predominantly concerned with providing an explanation of various world events from the perspective of economic factors. In this context, Marxism runs short of being a right paradigm of interpreting the modern international politics since such categories of politics are driven by many factors rather than just economic self-centeredness.

Nevertheless, it is also possible to argue that economic gains supersede any action taken by nations to influence the political environment in any particular direction. Marxists essentially claim that they are able to subtly understand various world’s events among them being treaties and wars from the context of global capitalism (Hobden & Jones 2008, p.144).

Arguing from the dimension of impacts of capitalism, as suggested by Karl Marx, being a mega trait that is shaping the modern international politics, global capitalism has the implication of fracturing the world’s population into two main distinct groups. At the core of the political arena, the wealthy and the dominant group exist. On the other hand, the poor and powerless are situated at the periphery.

What makes the occupants of the core prosper materially is the possession of an ability to oppress those in the periphery. Arguably, this happens because the poor and powerless have no equal capacity to control the factors of production. The aftermath of this is creation of an ever-enlarging inequality gap between the two groups of people. In the modern international politics, the ideas of Karl Max related to class struggle are still relevant.

Nevertheless, the Marxism theory fails to operate purely as a mechanism of interpreting the modern international politics. In fact, “the conflict has shifted from the bourgeoisie and the proletariat who are confined by the national boundaries within the core and periphery operating in a world-market without national boundaries” (Hobden & Jones 2008, p. 146).

Nonetheless, the modern international politics has the historical materialism concept of Marxism still resonating in it. The chief argument for holding this position is that historical change is a depiction of various societal economic progressions. This means, “Economic prosperity or change drives social relations, which are responsible for social change” (Dunn 2009, p.47).

Therefore, economic factors in any society determine the history of that society in a vivid way. The Marxism theory outlines two main economic factors that propel the history of people. These are the “means of production and the relations of production” (Anievis 2010, p.79).

These two concepts are related though different in some aspects, especially in their capacity to influence the modern international politics. McComick (1990) exemplifies this relationship when he argues, “as the means of production develop, for example, technological advancement, the relations of production become outdated hence restricting the full utilisation of the new technology” (p.127).

Therefore, when new production means occur, development of different production relations follows as well. Arguably, this situation has happened in the international political arena in the recent past. A good example is the formation of trade treaties among various nations following the rapid embracement of technology in the production of consumables in a cost-effective way.

In particular, there has been a rapid migration of many corporations to base their production plants in emerging economies especially in Asia, which is done to ensure that the corporations remain competitive in the world market hence continuing with their domination in the international market.

Arguably, in the context of Marxism theory, this claim suggests a full embracement of the concept of ‘material conception of life’ in the modern international political system. Although this concept is inherently economic in its stipulation, it has the ability to alter political and legal international relations.

From this argument, it sounds sufficient to infer that, despite the fact that Marxism theory is laid on economic stratum, it may be a subtle paradigm of explaining the modern international political system.

People opposed to the argument that Marxism theory can be used to explain the modern international political systems see liberalism and realism as close approximations of paradigms that can be deployed to provide an explanation to the problems that are experienced in the modern political systems.

One of the cited evidence for this is, “realism was vindicated by the power politics of the cold war, and Liberalism is relevant because of an increase in interdependence and reliance on international institutions” (Samir 1982, p.50). On a different perspective, the modern international political system may be described from the contexts of being a process of seeking international understanding and harmonisation of ideas.

In this dimension, the incidences of engagement of superpower nations in wars to curtail individual acts of other nations perceived as exposing the international human race to danger are attempts to enforce particular ways of social interaction between international communities.

Congruent with this line of argument, Marxism theory introduces a significant problem when explaining the reason why the war against individual nations is justified though it amounts to exposing the citizens to life risks.

The concept of capitalism and or how it shapes relationships of persons who are economically segregated is evident in the modern international political system in the sense that some nations have dominated the world markets simply because they are wealthier and hence owning most of the global factors of production.

However, the ideas of Marx have a myriad of limitations. For instance, cultural and feminists’ critics believe that Marxism theories are predominantly economic. They over-dwell on perspectives of class dominations.

Therefore, Marxism ignores “other forms of oppression and dominations that exist in the modern society, including those based on gender, race, or ethnicity” (Little 2010, Para.11).

Arguably, utilisation of Marxism theory as an explanation of the modern international political systems places concerns on critics of capitalism, which makes Marxism theory inappropriate in explaining the modern forms of ideological oppressions and dominations.

In the same line of augment, theorists who investigated the roles played by media in shaping international political systems immensely believe that the forms of oppression and domination produced by public opinion instruments cannot be explained by Marxism theories.

Indeed, Kornai (1992) declares the forms of oppressions presented by such opinions “as profound as the more visible forms of political and economic domination that Marx emphasized in the contemporary world” (p.107). Amid these critics of the Marxism theoretical paradigms’ capacity to explain the international political systems, Marxism has a central vision for emancipating people from economic forms of oppression.

Economic forms of oppression give rise to other types of oppression since, even in presentation of public opinions, the economic endowment levels of different people play active roles in determining the vocal levels in the international political arena.

Therefore, the modern political system forms of oppression can be traced collectively as having their roots ingrained in economic and social class struggles discussed by Karl Marx. All these oppressions hinder the collective development of people across the globe, even in the modern age where equality is a central public debate.

New imperialism accounts and the modern international political system

Consistent with classical Marxism arguments, imperialism represents capitalism of the highest order. It occurs the moment the production capacity of nations reach high levels such that all the products and services produced intrinsically within the nations cannot be fully consumed by the citizens (Barbara 2006, p.52). Consequently, external markets must be sort.

Myriads of international politics scholars deploy the term imperialism to refer to any form of subordination and domination, which is structured such that there is a centre of expression of power and with peripheries, which are the subordinated and the dominated persons.

“Internal logics of the capitalists’ competitive systems forced them to seek opportunities to control raw materials, markets, and profitable fields of investment from the less developed countries” (Dunn 2009, p.64). Apparently, the modern political system is shaped by such quests.

For instance, many areas where confrontations have occurred in the recent past are the areas endowed with resources. Such resources include oils and minerals. In particular, oil has been a significant propeller of economies since the onset of industrialisation. The nations, which are well endowed with oil reserves, have the capacity to control the global economy if not maintained under checks.

For this reason, wealthier nations with global influences strategically move to control capitalisation of the management of oil and other minerals that drive the global economies in foreign nations. Opposed to pure imperialism that existed in the imperialism age, this new form of imperialism has no formal colonies.

However, as Barbara (2006) argues, “informal imperialism with no formal colonies is properly described as such, and remains a controversial topic among historians” (p.46). Nevertheless, the modern expression of indirect colonialism is mostly an expression of milder forms of imperialism.

Stemming from the above arguments, a crucial question is whether the traditional Marxism beliefs on imperialism are coherent interpretations of the modern international political systems. In response to this question, Castree (2006) argues that domination has been the main driver and source of motivation of global conflicts (p.36).

To exemplify this argument, in the age of imperialism, the US was widely opposed to the exercise of imperialism claiming that it adhered to the democratic rights of people. Unfortunately, during the early 20th century, policies aimed at ensuring that the entire world embraces democracy received hefty military backings.

However, such an endeavour was not directly implied since the participation of the military mostly took place behind scenes that were enshrined within the perspectives of hegemony. After the end of World War II, the US had a clear interest of being the world’s superpower, as well evidenced by the US’ participation in resolution of global conflicts, something that prompted the collapsing of the Soviet Union.

Even after the collapsing of the Soviet Union, the US never heralded its efforts to project military force in ensuring that it remained a superpower solely. This resulted to a ‘unipolar’ global domination. In the twenty-first century, domination is also a central objective of globally influential nations.

Cohen (1997) amplifies this argument by further claiming, “Department of defense and the US’ administrations stated and restated in the various Quadrennial Reports, force posture statements, etc. in execution of its role as the sole remaining superpower” (p.27). By 2005, the US had established about 737 foreign nations’ military bases.

The spending on the military is also tremendous since, by 2010, it stood at 43 percent of the global total. The significance of these statistics is that they indicate the US’ concerns in protecting its status of dominating the world’s political system.

Arguably, in the context of this example, the classical Marxism beliefs on imperialism are valid, subtle, and coherent explanations of the modern international political system. Amid the position held in the above discussion, classical Marxism beliefs on imperialism face a significant drawback in explaining the international political systems coherently.

The position that classical Marxism may be used to explain the political systems of the world is based on the argument, “Marxism is viewed as a ubiquitous and benign theory apt to explain all kinds of social injustice ranging from slavery and poverty to the malfunctioning of colonial institutions and political systems” (Adama 2011, Para.1).

Unfortunately, using it to explain an array of issues characterising the modern political systems subjects political scholarship to challenges because any scholarly body of knowledge cannot predominantly depend on a single paradigm to provide explanations to many problems, which are often different in nature, as classical Marxism would attempt to suggest.

When a single paradigm is applied to explain a range of issues in any scholarly body of knowledge, it infers that the explanation rests on very thin and inappropriately anchored conceptions. However, this criticism does not put off the fact that the modern world globalisation politics has resulted to the reemergence of imperialism theory under the tag name ‘new imperialism theory.’

Whether it is denied that Marxism beliefs on imperialism can be used to explain the modern international political systems or not, it is widely contended by many political scholars that globalisation politics are based on capitalism concepts raised by Karl Marx.

The reason why every nation (especially the industrialised) would like to seek for global markets for its industries is pegged on the needs to acquire new markets for their excessive productions. Many of the markets sought by such nations are located in the less developed nations.

Since the paradigms of capitalism, as set out by Marxism theories, are principally framed to take optimal advantages of markets, substandard goods are produced and sold in these markets because such goods are cheap and can be afforded by the periphery occupants of the global market sphere. Arguably, this exemplifies the concept of class distinctions and divisions central to the classical Marxism.

Therefore, even though it is possible to argue that, based on the interpretations of the modern international political systems on the classical Marxism beliefs on imperialism, which introduce narrow conceptions of explaining a wide range of issues, imperialism theory has reemerged.

Indeed, it has high probabilities of leading to vivid and substantive theories of explaining the modern international political systems, especially when integrated with the Marxism theories.


Through globalisation of politics, the modern international politics has prompted the reemergence of imperialism theory as a possible explanation of the modern political systems. In this paper, several arguments about the possibility of the classical Marxism beliefs about imperialism to provide a mechanism of explaining the modern international political systems have been considered.

Several challenges are experienced by deploying Marxism paradigms as means of coherently explaining the modern political systems.

However, the paper maintains that, in the modern world societies, capitalism has fully impinged their production systems so that the owners of the means of production are all oriented towards gaining the maximisation at the expense of consumers, as well as those who support their means of production by providing labour.

The central objective is to gain global competitiveness. Additionally, the needs of the powerful nations such as the US to remain in power have been argued as crucial indicators of the reemergence of imperialism. Opposed to the kind of imperialism that existed in the age of imperialism, which the US highly opposed, the modern imperialism has no formal colonies.

However, the immense political power possessed by the wealthy nations makes it possible for them to impose an indirect colonisation to poor countries tantamount to that of imperialism age.

This move has the consequence of leading to subordination of the poor nations besides domination of the wealthy nations in the global markets in global policy enforcement. From this stand, the paper holds that Marxism beliefs on imperialism can coherently explain the modern political systems.


Adama, N 2011, The fallacies of classical Marxism, ideas on imperialism and development. Web.

Anievis, A 2010, Marxism and World Politics, Routledge, London.

Barbara, B 2006, Imperialism and Post-colonialism History: Concepts, Theories and Practice, Longman, New York.

Castree, N 2006, ‘David Harvey’s Symptomatic Silence’, Historical Materialism, vol.14 no. 4, pp. 35-57.

Cohen, W 1997, Report of the Quadrennial defense review, Department of Defense, United States of America.

Dunn, B 2009, Global Political Economy, Pluto, London.

Kornai, J1992, The Socialist System: The Political Economy of Communism, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Little, D 2010, . Web.

McComick, T 1990, ‘World Systems” The Journal of American History’, vol. 77 no. 1, pp. 125-132.

Samir, A1982, ‘The Struggle for the Control of the World Capitalist Economy’, Monthly Review, vol. 34 no. 1, pp. 47-53.

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