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Marxism and International Law Essay


The contemporary world has seen many philosophers relating the trends in international relations to the ideologies of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Popularly known as Marxism, the concept entails the development of laws that propagate a balance of power between states while brewing anarchy. The inclination of international laws is also highlighted by the political and economic imbalances that foster the development of laws to accommodate the changes. Marxism is also a materialistic philosophy that has been used to highlight the role of capitalist and communist policies in international law. The concept is particularly useful in providing criticism to both economic models by revisiting the sociological and historical aspects of the models.

Basically, international law, from the perspective of Marxists, is an attempt of the nations across the world to strike a balance of power based on their respective production power. One of the most interesting aspects of Marxism is that it tends to view society as a totality, and the contradictions within the society are responsible for the changes that people witness in international law. This implies that from a Marxist perspective, international law is an attempt of the international community to adapt to the contradictions that exist in the world. This paper looks into Marxism and international law with a close focus on the four discourses of Marxism, which include imperialism, dependency, hegemony, and the empire. Marxism is the core of international law in the contemporary world.


Imperialism refers to the process of enhancing a state’s power over other nations through the application of diplomatic approaches or the use of military power. Marxist imperialism is a concept that has recurrently been linked to Western Power because it is the foundation of the capitalist economic model that drives it. Imperialism, in the eyes of Marxists, is a concept that can either be viewed systemically or structurally (Ozsu & Marks, 2010). However, regardless of the perspective one takes, it is apparent that imperialism and capitalism go hand-in-hand. The current international laws can be linked to the need for the Western states to expand their productivity and power over the rest of the world. The expansion of imperialism is dependent on the centralization of capital, and the necessity of social changes to facilitate political and economic growth to the states instigating imperialism.

A critical view of the current international laws reveals that imperialism has been a major driver of the treaties and policies developed between various nations. It is only by viewing capitalism from a historical perspective that one gets to understand the role of Marxist imperialism in the development of contemporary international laws. For instance, the WWI and WWII were based on the need for respective nations to expand their power through military power (Ozsu & Marks, 2010). Diplomacy followed, and the results were numerous treaties between nations to adjust to the new shift in power. In the modern world, the concept of globalization has played a major role in enhancing imperialism, but the sociological requirements for the facilitation of globalization have forced the nations to use diplomacy in the development of policies that eliminate anarchy. However, the military-political paradigm is still actively employed by the superpower status in the world to meet their partisan needs. The superpowers are likely to assume anarchy whenever they want to compel other states to yield to demands that facilitate imperialism for the superpowers.


Marxist international laws are deeply enshrined on the elements of the dependency theory. Dependency refers to the need for the developed nations to enhance the dependency of the developing nations on the developed states. This is a strategy that has been traditionally used to enhance the ability of the developed nations to leverage natural resources and revenue from the developing states. Dependency is instigated on the developing nations by the developing states assuming the role of political and economic advisors to the states (Mignolo, 2011). The infiltration of multinational companies into the developed nations also provides the developed nations with a chance to reap more revenue from natural resources in the developing nations. For instance, by taxing the multinational companies, the developed nations receive more revenue than the royalties paid to the developed nations, which own the natural resources. This ensures that the developed nations stay in power, economically and politically, while the societies in the developing nations enhance their dependency on aid from the developed states.

Capitalism is the main tool used to influence developing states to become dependent on developed nations. The promise to help them attain a higher level of international power is an enticing strategy used by the imperialists. The developed nations are driven into signing agreements and treaties that not only guarantee long-term dependence on the developed states, but they also give the developed states the power to influence their political and economic decisions (Mignolo, 2011). This results in the assumption of international laws that cripple the developing states.


Marxist international laws are inclined toward the development of a social, economic, and political environment where those in power stay in power. While the laws are applied through mutual consent of the powerful states and the states that depend on them, it is apparent that hegemonic intentions are always tied to the international laws (Mouffe, 2011). Capitalism is the main ideology that has been traditionally used by the superior Western nations to ensure that the developing states maintain their dependency on them.

It is apparent that hegemony influences the development of a consciousness that enhancing the ability of its instigators to remain in power. For instance, the education system and cultural beliefs of the Western nations have been widespread in the wake of globalization, which has led to many societies subscribing to international laws that indirectly increase the superiority of the Western states over other nations in the world. The indoctrination of the ideologies that promote hegemony involves the development of platforms to facilitate sharing information (Mouffe, 2011). For instance, the media has played a major role in promoting hegemonic ideologies in the contemporary world. Marxist international laws also influence cultural hegemony in the contemporary world through the spread of the Western cultural beliefs and influencing various societies to accept that the upper social class has the power to rule and to influence changes. The idea of the presence of a ruling class has become widely accepted in the world because the international laws facilitate social norms associated with differences in power among social classes. Hegemons have a very high influence on the nature of today’s international laws, which implies that Marxism plays a very big role in the development of the laws.


The discourse of the empire is a concept that has been developed in recent times as international laws in the modern world seem to eliminate imperialism as they consolidate power networks among different states. Imperialistic states seem to have reached a point where it makes more sense to bring more states on board in their quest of developing power structures, and this has been seen through the numerous treaties and agreements signed between states. The resulting architecture of power highlights a decline in the expansion of imperialism, and an inclination of the imperialistic states toward developing empires (Panitch & Gindin, 2012). The consolidation of power enhances the bargaining power of the empires in the development of international laws. The conflicts between the superpower states might come to an end if the international law continues to alter power structures, and this will result in conflicts taking place in blocks of international networks.


International law is developed through the societies’ subscription to specific ideologies. Various theories have been used to facilitate the development and implementation of ideologies, and it is apparent that Marxism is widely manifested in contemporary international law. This is clearly portrayed by the presence of the four discourses of Marxism in international law. Dependence is clearly highlighted in the approaches used by the developed nations to maintain the dependence of the developing nations on them. Imperialism is a function of the need for the developed nations to continue expanding their power through culture and ideologies. However, imperialism is gradually being overtaken by the empire discourse, which entails the consolidation of power for different states to make political, social, and economic decisions as a block. Marxism has, indeed, played a major role in the development of international law in the modern world.


Mignolo, W. (2011). The darker side of western modernity: Global futures, decolonial options. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Mouffe, C. (2014). Gramsci and Marxist Theory (RLE: Gramsci). London, UK: Routledge.

Ozsu, U., & Marks, S. (2010). International law on the left: Re-examining Marxist legacies. Leiden Journal of International Law, 23(3), 687.

Panitch, L., & Gindin, S. (2012). The making of global capitalism. Brooklyn, NY: Verso Books.

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