Menu Close

5.3 Marxist School


It would be inappropriate if we use the term ‘Marxist school of international politics’. Because Marx considered politics as a part of superstructure hence it is preferable to use the term ‘Marxist school of international political economy’.

There is no contribution of Karl Marx toward the theory of international politics as he focused his attention in the domestic sphere. Yet we see some relevant ideas in Marx.
1] Marx did focused on expansionist nature of capitalism. In the words of Marx ‘Search for profits take bourgeoise to settle everywhere and nestle everywhere’.
2] Marx did not believe in nationalism and called for proletarian internationalism. (They are in favour of globalization but not capitalist globalization.)
3] In Marxism, it was Lenin who developed the theory of international politics. He has given the analysis of imperialism. From Lenin emerges the instrumentalist school, also known as dependency school. The prominent concepts of dependency school are (1) unequal exchange, (2) uneven development, (3) development of underdevelopment,  (4) core and periphery states.

Search for profits take bourgeoise to settle everywhere and nestle everywhere.

Karl Marx.

Claim you copy NOW!

World Systems Theory by Immanuel Wallerstein

World system theory is a grand sociological theory. World system theory is analysis of the working of capitalism at global level. It is influenced by Lenin’s ideas. It provides criticism of globalization from Marxist point of view. It gives critique of modernization theory.

Political modernization: Refer comparative politics approaches.
Modernization theorists suggested that the path for poverty alleviation of the developing countries is greater integration with international economy.
Dependency school scholars suggested that closer the country is integrated with international economy, poorer it will be. e.g. The reason for poverty in Africa and Latin American countries is linked to the working of MNCs in these countries. Hence they suggested ‘national autonomous development’.

Salient features of Wallerstein’s theory.

Wallerstein’s theory is descriptive as well as prescriptive. It describes the structure of international politics in the form of world system. And prescriptive because, it suggests to shift towards socialism. According to Wallerstein, we have only two choices either socialism or barbarianism.
1] According to Wallerstein, capitalism has become a world system. It means expanded throughout the globe.
2] Expansion of capitalism has linked the countries of the world with each other.
3] He categorizes the countries into three groups. 1) Core 2) Peripheries and 3) Semi-peripheries.
4] According to Wallerstein, we have seen two types of world systems. 1) Up till 17th century – The nature of world system was political. It was centralized (Roman empire). Peripheries used to pay the tribute to the center which was redistributed to the peripheries by center.  2) Since 17th century – The world system has become economic. It has become decentralized. The distribution of goods is being done through the markets. In 17th century, it was led by Holland (Netherlands). In 19th century by Britain and since 20th century by USA.
5] Wallerstein described world system as ‘multicultural territorial division of labour’ in which production and exchange of the basic goods and raw materials necessary for day to day life takes place.
6] He has explained the world system and its features as following.
Every world system has three dimensions. 1) Spatial dimension.  2) Temporal dimension and 3) Cultural dimension.

The spatial dimension of world system.

The spatial dimension has been explained through core, peripheries and semi-peripheries.

Features of core countries

Concentration of power, Political power, Economic power, Ideological power, Technological power


They continue to be under neo-colonialism. Drain of wealth is continuing. The ruling class is the instrument of the capitalist of core countries.

World System Theory
Core-Periphery-Semi Periphery model of Immanuel Wallerstein

Semi Peripheries

This is the new category added by Immanuel Wallerstein. This represents the set of developing countries which have got some benefits in the world system. e.g. Asian Tigers, BRICS countries. They get benefited because 1) They had some amount of law and order. 2) Some amount of industrial base. 3) Some amount of skilled and semi-skilled labour.
However these countries have not benefitted the other countries of periphery. In one way, they have become the allies of core countries. It is because of these countries that it has not been possible to achieve socialist revolution on a global scale. They have also harmed the interest of the working classes in the core countries. They have only benefitted the capitalist of core countries.
1) They have weakened the power of working classes in the core countries as they provide cheap labour to the capitalists. It is one of the reasons for unemployment in core countries. 
2) Since there is poor regulation and law and order, it was possible for the capitalists of core countries to shift outdated technologies from core to semi-peripheries. Thus they have offset the achievements of civil society, especially environmental movements in the western countries.
According to Immanuel Wallerstein, semi-peripheries have become the new elites exploiting the countries of periphery.

Temporal dimensions:

Every system has its lifespan. Present world system originated in 17th century and is now moving towards its end. He has given the three features of capitalism in terms of temporal dimension.
1) Cyclical rhythms – capitalism sees cycles of boom and burst. 
2) Secular trends – It reflects contradictions within capitalism. e.g. Decrease in wages for the sake of profits decrease the purchasing power and results into the slowdown of economy.
3) Crisis – Cyclical rhythms and secular trends ultimately lead to the collapse of the system.

Cultural dimension

Wallerstein uses the term geo-culture. Geo-culture has two components.  1_Science, 2_Liberalism, both features promote capitalism.

Criticism of World System School

According to critics, this model is also ‘monocausal’. An example of economic determinism. Overemphasis on economic factors behind the happening of any phenomenon. International politics is too complex to be explained only through a single factor.
Post colonial scholars consider even this approach as Eurocentric i.e. based on the experience of the western countries.
Gramscian school explanations (as given ahead) can also be used to criticise Wallerstein’s theory.

The Most Important Book for PSIR

Gramscian School

According to Gramscian tradition, it is not enough to explain international politics by understanding the material structure alone. We have to understand how cultural and ideological factors also play the role. e.g. In order to explain US hegemony, we have to see not just the economic and military power of USA but also the ideological power it utilizes. The liberal international economic order is meant to benefit USA. However USA has been able to convince the international community that it is in the benefit of all. When all approve liberal international economic order, it further benefits US and builds its hegemony.
Robert Cox became famous with his statement – ‘Theory is always for someone and for some purpose.’ He has analyzed the realist and liberal theories to find out that ultimately these theories are written from the perspective of which classes. Both the theories ultimately benefit the capitalist class.

Critical school

Scholar: Andrew Linklater
Critical school/ Frankfurt school is concerned about ’emancipation of masses’.
Andrew Linklater suggests that world can be emancipated from wars only when we make territorial boundaries irrelevant. He also suggests the strengthening of grassroot democracy. People should be empowered enough to put pressure on the ruling class to take responsible actions.
He suggests to strengthen moral boundaries across nations. It denotes transnational civil society networks.

Test Your Knowledge!

1] Which among the following are the prominent concepts of Dependency School?
a) Unequal Exchange
b) Uneven Development
c) Core and Periphery States
d) All of the above

Show Answer

Ans: d) All of the above

2] Who described the World System as a ‘multicultural territorial division of labour’?
a) Wallerstein
b) Robert Cox
c) Andrew Linklater
d) Lenin

Show Answer

Ans: a) Wallerstein

3] “Consider the Following dimensions.
Spatial Dimension
Temporal Dimension
Cultural Dimension.
According to Wallerstein’s Theory, which of the above are dimensions of the World System? “
a) 1&2 correct
b) 2&3 correct
c) 1&3 correct
d) 1,2&3 correct

Show Answer

Ans: d) 1,2&3 . Spatial Dimension, Temporal Dimension,3Cultural Dimension

4] World System School is criticised because
a) It is monocausal
b) It is Eurocentric
c) Both 1&2 correct
d) Both 1&2 are incorrect

Show Answer

Ans: c) Both 1&2 correct. It is monocausal. It is Eurocentric

5] Who said that ‘Theory is always for someone and for some purpose’?
a) Andrew Linklater
b) Robert Cox
c) Marx
d) Wallerstein

Show Answer

Ans: b) Robert Cox

Start your PSIR journey today

Posted in PSIR 2A

Related Posts

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments