Marxism and Realism in International Relationships


Realism orientated scholars might be found in fields like social theory and sociology, management studies, law and geography, feminism, and economics. In turn, Marxism was not demanded within several decades, nevertheless, remaining one of the leading intellectual perspectives. It is noteworthy that many of Marxism’s opponents recognize its main points (Brown, Fleetwood and Roberts, 2001). Although some states still have a realism tendency in their international policy, the recent emergence of anticapitalistic mood reveals the valuable lessons in Marxism, which has been the main “anti-capitalist” stream during the last 150 years.

Basic Ideas of Marxism and their Applicability to the Modern IR

In the sphere of international politics, the primary opponent of Marxism was probably political realism – the central IR doctrine during the Cold War (Richmond, 2020, p. 12). It is noteworthy that with the end of the Cold War in Europe, the positions of Marxism in international relations (IR) have been shaken, but not completely collapsed. Marxism states that the basis of society and IR are the socio-economic relations, which to a certain extent, determine the behavior of both ordinary individuals and the state activists, but not natural principles of the human psyche. Therefore, the establishment of international peace is possible only through a radical restriction of the power of the bourgeoisie. In contrast, the role of human qualities themselves in the development of conflicts was not accentuated. People are still witnessing similar manifestations in the new IR field.

As European socialism left the historical scene in the late 1980s, the Marxist theory’s changes took place in state forms (Gilpin, 2016, p. 3). Along with the weakening of its positions in the IR field, Marxism experienced the contextual transformations. Having passed under the neo-Marxism, more sophisticated Marxism’s brand, the followers of the classic communism theory became one of the areas of critical theory but not the carriers of original views. The central neo-Marxism concept is the world-systems theory of I. Wallerstein. Its essence is that the modern world is a global “world-systems”, the main element of which are Western countries, or core countries (Baylis, Smit and Owens, 2020, p. 121). Next to them, there are semi-peripheral countries, which in the recent past were the states of the socialist camp. Finally, the periphery is formed with the backward countries of the so-called “Third world”. Today, there are a lot of examples illustrating this theory. It is the “two-tier economy” in developing countries, in which, along with archaic forms of economic life, there are developed sectors that are entirely focused on exporting goods to the “core” countries. Another example is the Dutch or Venezuelan “diseases,” manifested in the orientation of the predominantly raw material of the economies of underdeveloped countries, and the long-term, historically developed disparity in the economics of many regions of the world.

According to Marxism politics, IR is neither the fight for power nor an attempt to make the world better. It is concentrated on the equal distribution of economic resources – this is its main difference from the realism IR theory. Today, Marxism still stays relevant, being a safer policy in the field of IR than realism. Moreover, it has better instruments for explaining the world’s economy and the world economic crisis. For example, realism could not apply to the World Crisis in 2007-2009, while Marxism, on the contrary, is efficient in its approach to such cases for crisis’s unavoidable effect of the capitalist economy (Marxism as an IR theory, n.d.). Secondly, its idea of inequality and exploitation stays actual till nowadays. Current researches claim that 1% of the world’s population owns 99% of the world’s wealth (Marxism as an IR theory, n.d.). Another data shows that the wealth of about 60 individuals in the world is equal to one of three billion people of the world’s poorest countries (Marxism as an IR theory, n.d.). Finally, Marxism is supported by the eternal idea of justice that makes it relevant throughout centuries.

The Danger and Relevance of Realism Today

Realism is primarily grounded on skepticism and responsibility, but, concerning today’s foreign policy of international partners, it is often inappropriate to talk about trust. This is an entirely different matter – it is ultimately about protecting one’s business interests at best, securing one’s group, career, and other benefits. For realism, absolute security is only possible when the opposite side is destroyed. Therefore, one of the achievements and main threats of realism is the security dilemma formulated by realists. Safety cannot be absolute, it is the same conflict cycle, entering into which people and states run the risk of being defenseless against the threats which they fought with.

The authors of the concept of classical realism were based on the following idea: anarchy is inherent in IR. Unlike domestic political life, which is regulated by legal norms, international relations are developing spontaneously and are not subject to any organizing principles (Kuusisto, 2020). The dominant actor in IR is a nation-state, acting under its national interests, seeking to establish control over the most important economic resources – people, territory, natural resources, access to sea and land communications. The main event content of international politics is a military confrontation, and the tool is military power. Therefore, militarily powerful countries have the right to exist, while small states are doomed either to extinction or dependent, controlled existence (Kuusisto, 2020).

Although neo-realism retained the basic realistic categories of state, power, and conflict, it also emphasizes the critical role of the IR economy as an instrument of state power. In its updated version, neo-realism asserts that cultural affiliation breeds today open, armed hostility. Hidden hostility is no less significant, accompanying modern relations of highly developed, but culturally different countries, for example, the USA and Japan.

After the end of World War II, while Japan was rebuilding its economy, the Americans treated it quite loyally, in the spirit of the teacher’s attitude towards a diligent student (‘Americans, Japanese: Mutual’, 2015). But as soon as Japan turned into an economic superpower and began to invest heavily in the American economy, the latter responded with open irritation. It was primarily caused by the reluctance of Americans to work under the leadership of Japanese managers and owners in enterprises. Additionally, processes in the modern world, primarily 11 September 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States and trade friction between the West and countries in the Asia-Pacific region to some extent confirmed Huntington’s findings.


If applied to the current IR on the world arena, Marxism explains the modern international system better than realism. The world economies experience inequality and uneven distribution of global resources. Nevertheless, despite realistic doctrines, all the conflicts caused by inequality and injustice are primarily regulated peacefully and without destruction or eradication of countries. There is no doubt that some states hold the position of aggressors towards others. Still, the vast majority of the world tends to apply to anticapitalistic Marxism ideas seeking ways out of global environmental disasters, economic crises, and social injustice.

Reference List

  1. Americans, Japanese: mutual respect 70 years after the end of WWII. (2015). Web.
  2. Baylis, J., Smith, S. and Owens, P. (2020). The globalization of world politics: an introduction to international relations. 8th edn. Glasgow: Bell and Bain Ltd.
  3. Brown, A., Fleetwood, S. and Roberts, J. (2001). Critical realism and Marxism. Cambridge: Routledge.
  4. Kuusisto, R. (2020). International relations narratives: plotting world politics. New York: Routledge.
  5. Marxism as an IR theory. (n.d.) Web.
  6. Gilpin, R. (2016). The political economy of international relations. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  7. Richmond, O. P. (2020). Peace in international relations. 2nd edn. New York: Routledge.

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1. DemoEssays. "Marxism and Realism in International Relationships." July 24, 2023.


DemoEssays. "Marxism and Realism in International Relationships." July 24, 2023.