Has Post-Marxist and Critical Theory Strengthened Marxism? Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer

Introduction

This assignment is a discussion on international relations theory. The discussion is based on the question of whether Post-Marxism and critical theory has strengthened Marxism. It will be argued in the discussion that Post-Marxism has strengthened Marxism by a way of re-shaping the original ideas of Marxism to fit in the contemporary social, political and economic world. The discussion starts by looking at a brief overview of international relations theory and its constituents which include realism, liberalism, constructivism and globalisation.

The discussion then narrows down to Marxism and Post-Marxism. Key Marxists to be discussed includes Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels while key Post-Marxists to be discussed include Antonio Gramsci, Jürgen Habermas, Ralf Dahrendorf and Marx Weber. At the end is a conclusion which restates the thesis and sums up the main arguments of the discussion.

Thesis statement

Post-Marxism has strengthened Marxism by adjusting the original ideas of Marxism to fit in the contemporary social, political and economic world.

What Is International Relations Theory?

A theory is a set of ideas which provide an explanation for something. Theories act as frameworks for guiding scholars and researchers in their work, so as to avoid duplication of ideas or repeating the mistakes which were made by previous researchers or scholars. In international relations, theories are used to explain the relationships between nations of the world. The theories look at the philosophies which shape the relationships between nations and the key interests of the nations which participate in international relations (Acharya and Buzan, 2009).

Various theories have different explanations about why, how and to what extend do nations interact. However, the overriding principal in all international relations theories is that nations relate for specific interests, and in their relations, nations usually try to create a win win situation, which is characterised by a symbiotic kind of relationship. The key elements of international relations theory include realism, liberalism, constructivism and globalisation (Brown and Ainley, 2009).

Realism

This is a state-centric international relations approach in that it looks at states as the key actors in international politics. The theory of realism is based on historical writers such as the works of Rousseau, Machiavelli and Thucydides (Edkins and Vaughan-Williams, 2009). The main argument of realism is that international relations is characterised by anarchy, in which states interact for their selfish interests. Realism therefore negates the mutual understanding of states in their relations but rather puts more emphasis on the struggle of nations to amass as much resources as possible in order to advance their own interests. With realism, economic success is the leading interest in international relations (Booth and Smith, 1995).

Liberalism

This is the idea that nations of the world relate not only for political power and economic purposes but also for cultural purposes. With liberalism therefore, the relationship between states is characterised by a lot of cooperation in various aspects like in trade and cultural exchange. Liberalism also claims that nations which interact in trade and cultural exchange rarely make war and these acts as an incentive to international peace (Burchill, et. al, 2009).

Constructivism

This is the augment that international relations are based on ideas but not on material things like wealth creation or cultural exchange. Countries which have similar ideologies are therefore more likely to relate or interact with each other than those which have different ideologies. According to constructivists, the interaction between states is influenced by collective values, social identities and culture. The constructivist approach therefore does not see any anarchy between nations and also blames realism and liberalism for failing to predict the end of the cold war (Sitglitz, 2003).

Global imperialism and international relations

Globalisation can be defined as the minimisation of the differences between people of the world and the maximisation of their similarities through interactions, cooperation and communication (Krieger, 2006). During the pre-world war period, the world was characterised by minimal interaction, communication, cross-border movements and language homogeneity. However, after the world war, this situation changed. The changes were mainly triggered by the desire for nations of the world to unite in various spheres of development mainly the economy, education, employment, the environment and governance (Beck, 2000).

The main driving forces for globalisation was however the advancement in information and communication technology, improved transport systems, liberalised trade as well as liberalised immigration policies which have with time transformed the world into a global village (Baylis, Smith and Owens, 2010).

Globalisation is however characterised by politics of domination between the rich and the poor nations or simply put, between the North and the South. This has seen nations in the North try to push for what is referred to as a new world order. The term new world order is used to refer to a bureaucratic system of governance of the world which advocates for global governance in disregard of the traditional state sovereignty which advocates for national sovereignty (Jørgensen, 2010).

The term has its history from what was referred to as “illuminati” which was a movement responsible for the French revolution as well as revolutions in Europe (Bieler, et al, 2006). Recently, new world order has taken the form of institutions which have global influence, appeal and presence like the United Nations and its affiliated institutions as well as the so called Breton wood institutions (Hirst and Thompson, 2001).

The main idea of new world order is to come up with full pledged global institutions which are responsible for the control and regulation of world’s affairs including politics, culture, economy, technology transfer and to some extent religion. These regulations, according to the proponents of new world order would help the world to achieve universal culture of the world in which people of the world subscribe to universal rules, principles and regulations in almost all aspects of life. The proponents of the new world order are mostly the super powers of the world like the United States and the nations which are members of the European Union (Scholte, 2005).

These rich nations have been very instrumental in interfering with state sovereignty in countries like Yugoslavia, Iraq Afghanistan and Libya among others with the disguise of protecting civilians from bad or dictatorial leadership.

Marxism

This can be defined as a method social inquiry which looks at economic, socio- economic and socio-political aspects of a society. In its attempt to explain social change, the method relies on the concept of historical materialism, the rise and development of capitalism as a mode of production and the study of opposites (dialectical view) (Gills,1987.pp.265-272). Marxism was founded by two Germany scholars namely Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the period between the start of the 19th century to mid-19th century. They rejected the ideas of realism, liberalism but focused on class struggle as the basis of international relations (Kubálková and Cruickshank, 1985.pp.1-24).

However, Karl Marx is seen as the most influential in the foundation and development of Marxism, thus the name of Marxism which was derived from his name, Marx. Marx was mostly interested in the study of society in terms of what he referred to as class struggle, which he argued was responsible for social change (Maclean, 1988. pp.295-319). On his part, Friedrich Engels based his argument on the study of opposites, arguing that social change was as a result of conflicting ideas, which influence the actions of people in the society, the argument being that the idea which is more dominant over the others shapes social change within a given society (Lenin, 2000).

The conflict theory

The roots of conflict theory are found in Karl Marx and Marx weber. To both of them, coercion but not consensus was the basis upon which social order was maintained. Karl Marx argued that conflict in the society was about economic resources while Max Weber accepted the idea and added that political power was also a cause of conflict in the society (Marx, 1970).

Both Karl Marx and Max Weber agree that the society is naturally unstable and the main force of social change is conflict. They also agree that in all societies, there are winners and losers and that those with power dominate and control the powerless. In this sense therefore, conflict is always happening in society which comprises of many groups and individuals with differing interests in which some end up benefiting more than others, which in turn continues to sustain the potential of conflict within the society (Marx, 1993).

Karl Marx

Karl Marx sees people as both producers and products of the society in which they live in. According to him, society is made up of different parts which influence each other but the economic part has the greatest influence. He argued that the history of human society is the history of tension and conflict. As per the manifesto written by him and Friedrich Engels in 1848, ‘the history of all existing societies is the history of class struggle, that of free men and slaves, lords and serfs who stand in a relationship of an oppressor and oppressed and thus are always in constant oppositions to one another (Marx, 2000).

The conflict between the oppressor and oppressed is sometimes hidden or open war and at the end, they always have a reconstituted society. In the manifesto, they go on to state that ‘you do not have to be poor, nobody was born poor but the conditions that made man poor were created by man himself, and therefore can be changed by man.Karl Marx gave more attention to the economy, which he argued formed the base of society while the superstructure which comprises of things like culture, religion, social life and media were a reflection of the economic mode of production of the society.

Social class

Karl Marx presented two class models of society namely the bourgeoisie and proletariat. The bourgeoisie are the capitalists who are few in number and are the owners of capital. They are also rich, powerful, oppressors, exploiters and they always win elections in democratic countries. On the other hand, the proletariats are the workers, owners of labour and they are the majority in numbers but are powerless since they are oppressed and exploited by the rich and they always lose in election in democratic nations. The proletariat can be described as a class in itself in the sense that they share same objectives and relationships to the means of production, that is, they are labours who are paid in wages.

The two classes are always in conflict with each other because their interests are incompatible. While the bourgeoisie have the interests of maintaining the status quo which ensures their dominance, the proletariats are interested in changing the status quo which deprives them of good life. However, the two classes are not aware of the nature of the circumstances which they live in but assume that the situations which they find themselves in are natural and nothing can be done to change them. This is what Karl Marx calls a false class consciousness.

The bourgeoisie are not aware that they are the exploiters while the proletariats are not aware that they are exploited or oppressed, they are also not aware that they are poor but assume that they are naturally supposed to be poor. However; when the proletariats become aware of the reality, that is, when they know that they are exploited by the bourgeoisie, what follows is a revolution. Marx argues that the Russian revolution of 1917 was as a result of the realisation of the proletariats that they were being oppressed by the bourgeoisie.

According to Karl Marx, the defining features of social class are the ownership or lack of ownership of the means of production. He argued that those who owned the means of production were able to exploit those who did own them. Marx was of the view that both labour and capital are very essential in the stability of the economy. This is because the capital cannot transform itself into wealth without the labour while the labour cannot create wealth without the capital.

It therefore follows that both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat must work together, because none can exist independently of the other. What this means is that both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are equal shareholders in the wealth which is created through their interaction. However, this is not always the case. This is because at the end of the production process, the sharing of the profits is not fair since the supply value is more appropriated by the bourgeoisie at the expense of the proletariat, who produces more labour which is not paid for.

According to Karl Marx therefore, the levels of profits made by organisation was inversely proportional to the level of exploitation of the proletariat. That is, the more the companies make profits, the higher the levels of exploitation and vice versa. In other words, what Karl Marx was arguing was that profit was synonymous with surplus value, which is labour that is not paid for.

Unfortunately, the proletariats are not aware of this and they even go to the extent of celebrating when they hear that the companies which they work for have made significant increment in the amounts of profits, not knowing that what that means is that the companies are saying that they have intensified the exploitation of the workers.

Religion

According to Karl Marx, religion was opium of the masses. His argument was based on the fact that religion does not solve social problems but rather makes life bearable. He argued that the rich use religion to maintain their dominance in positions of power. They use certain quotes of the holy books which reinforce the argument that the blessed are those who are poor while on earth because when they die, they will be the richest. According to him, this is a conspiracy to make the poor believe that there is hope in their life after death so that they do not question the systems whim oppress and exploit them.

Alienation

Karl Marx understood work as alienating. His argument was based on the capitalistic mode of production which has its roots in the industrial revolution of 1600. This mode of production is characterised by two groups of people namely the capitalists and the proletariats. According to Karl Marx, the proletariats own nothing except their labour, which they sale at cheap price to the capitalists.

The concept of alienation simply means the existence of some dividing forces between things which are essentially supposed to be in harmony with each other. For example, man created and discovered religion, but the same man subjects himself to uncomfortable religious beliefs or practices like refusing to take medicine due to religious beliefs. In this situation, religion makes man to be uneasy, yet it is the same man who creates the religion.

Marx argued that the ideal purpose of work was to make man happy by enabling him move towards the actualization levels in his life. But due to the capitalistic economy, work is no longer playing its primary function in man, but rather, it is alienating him. According to Marx, man can be alienated in three major ways namely the alienation from the results of labour, alienation from the other workers and alienation of the worker from him or herself.

Alienation from the results of labour happens when man works but he does not have a stake in the products of his labour and only gets his wages, which are way below the worth of the products of his labour. This is what Karl Marx calls exploitation, which creates profits in form of surplus. Paradoxically, the surplus is not attributed to the workers but rather to the capitalists.

Alienation from other workers takes place when the worker is transformed into a commodity to be used in the competitive capitalist economy. In this situation, the worker is not viewed as a social being but is tied to his or her work, in which he or she is paid as per his or her output. Alienation of the worker from himself takes place when the worker is robbed of his ability or opportunity to enjoy the intrinsic value of work. In the capitalistic economy, personal lives are separated from work, meaning that the worker is transformed into a machine. This makes him or her to work for the sake of working, but not as a way of serving humanity or quenching his passion to work in a certain field.

Critique of Marxism

Marx has been criticised on various grounds. First of all, his argument that class conflict is the cause of social change has been overtaken by events because apart from growing in intensity, it has been institutionalised especially in advanced capitalistic economies which are now accepting social classes. The idea of the society being composed of only two social classes does not work today especially due to the emergence of the middle class and the low class, which comprise the unemployed (Skocpol, 1977.pp.1075-1090).

Marx was also criticised for emphasising on communism as the solution to the problems of social inequities. This is after it emerged that even in communism, there are some forms of inequalities. similarly, his emphasis on the economy as the key determinant of the superstructure has also been criticised through the findings of Max Weber (Protestantism and work ethics) which actually showed that religious beliefs or ideas actually provided motivation for working hard so as to accumulate capital and wealth, an indication that even the superstructure can also influence the base (the economy). Marx emphasised that the ownership of means of production formed the basis of power but other theorists have argued that the control of the government machinery forms the basis of power because the rich are able to use government’s machinery to influence the social, economic and political ideologies of a country.

Post-Marxism

These are sociologists who were inspired by Marxists theories but developed their own theories. They are also the recent theorists who accept Marx’s ideas but revise and re-orient those ideas to fit in the contemporary economic, social and political world. All of them however generally dispute the idea of Marx that economic factors are the ones which determine the historical changes in the society. They include Antonio Gramsci, Jürgen Habermas,Ralf Dahrendorf and Max Weber (Skocpol, 1977.pp.1075-1090).

Antonio Gramsci

He was an Italian sociologist who was influenced by the works of Marx, but was of a different view in regard to various issues as discussed by Marx. First of all, he argued that ownership of the means of production was not sufficient to guarantee the ruling class dominance and monopoly over the poor and the powerless but that the ruling class has to actively win the support of the other classes so as to retain its dominance.

In this argument, he was disputing the idea of false class consciousness by stating that either class in the society is fully aware of its situations. For example, he argued that the poor are aware of their situation and that is why they demand for the payment of leave allowances, medical bills or insurance by their employers. The employers are also fully aware in that they offer sponsorship for their employees to further their education as a way of human resource development (Tormey, 2004).

He also disputed the idea of historical materialism, which puts more emphasis on economic determinism as the key force of influencing social change, by arguing that the masses can act to bring social change irrespective of the economic mode of production. Gramsci was of the view that the state does not always act exclusively on the interests of the owners of the means of production and gave the example of the existence of labour laws which are meant for protecting the proletariats from exploitation and oppression by the employers.

On the issue of social class solidarity, he disputed the argument that the proletariat usually have common interests arguing that there are wide divisions among the social classes and especially among the proletariats, who are faced by different problems and have different grievances. For instance, he argued that industrial, mine workers and agricultural workers have different interests and grievances and it is these differences in interests and grievances among the proletariats which give the bourgeoisie an opportunity to exploit the proletariats thus creating what he called ruling class hegemony.

Gramsci also placed more emphasis on superstructure in influencing the economy arguing that cultural ideals greatly influenced the people’s perception on the mode of economic production and also the extent to which people attached value to accumulation of wealth. He also argued that ideas are generated by intellectuals, extended to the masses who put them into practice and therefore, the masses require the elite in order for them to be self-conscious. He went on to state that ideas are needed for social change but not economic factors and in this regard, he highlighted the importance of ideas which was rejected by Marx.

Jürgen Habermas

This is another sociologist who belonged to a group of sociologists who were connected to the institute of social research in Frankfurt University in 1923. This group was mainly concerned with the development of Marx’s ideas shortly after his death. Jürgen Habermas analyses capitalism as presented by Marx in a book called ‘Legitimation Crisis’. He argues that Marx had predicted that economic crisis was inevitable and it would bring capitalism to an end.

However, Habermas argues against this idea by saying that the state is able to intervene and avert the economic crisis. A good example is the current global economic crisis, which has affected many countries. The case of the United States government’s intervention is a good example of how the state can intervene to avert economic crisis (Wallerstein, 1991).

While Marx had argued that the state was part of the superstructure, Habermas is of the view that the state is part of the base (substructure) because it is involved in economic affairs. Marx had argued that the potential of class conflict was to increase as capitalism decreased and as the poor became poorer. However, Habermas argues that class compromise was acceptable and that the potential of class conflict was not inevitable especially as a result of the emergence of the Woking class.

Habermas agrees with Marx that advanced capitalist societies tend to be subject to social crisis but he sees the tendency towards crisis in ideas not in the economy. As state resolves economic problems; it creates the problems of legitimation. Habermas, just like Marx therefore believes that that the state always acts in the interests of the bourgeoisie and it will always try hard to stabilise the economy on which power and interests of the bourgeoisie lie but in doing so, it presents itself as a representative of bourgeoisie and in the process creates a legitimation crisis. In other words, the economic crisis is averted but a legitimation crisis is created.

Ralf Dahrendorf

He writes about post capitalism and agrees that Marx’s description of capitalism was accurate in the 19th century when he was writing but in the 20th century, those ideas are out-dated as a basis for explaining conflict. This is because major changes have taken place in Western Europe and North America which are now post-capitalists. Instead of the two social classes getting polarised as Marx had augured, the opposite has happened. For example, population of skilled workers has grown tredemosly; inequalities in income and wealth have been reduced due to changes in social structure and the intervention by the state (Wilkinson and Clapp, 2010).

Social mobility is now more common and he link between ownership and control have been broken. In the organisational context for example, managers, but not the owners of the business exercise day to day control of the organizations as well as over the means of production. Under these circumstances, Marx’s argument that conflict was based on the concept of ownership of the means of production is therefore not valid today because there is no longer any close association between wealth and power.

Dahrendorf went ahead to argue that conflict therefore is not about the control over the means of production but over authority, which according to him was a legitimate power attached to a particular social role. For example, a manager or a teacher has a right to make decisions in the organization or classroom regardless of the wishes of the workers or students.

In all organisations, there are positions of dominance and subjection, some make decisions legitimately, others do not and this is the basis of conflict in post capitalism society. Those in the subject positions have the interest of changing the social structure that deprives them of authority and those in dominant positions have the interest of maintaining dominant structure in many social situations not just economic ones and so nobody is confined to dominant or subject positions and therefore society presents a picture of plurality of competing dominant and subject positions.

Max Weber and bureaucracy

While Marx put a lot of emphasis on the idea of economic base as the determinant of the social relationships, Weber was of the view that the superstructure, mainly religion was very instrumental in shaping peoples’ economic behaviour. In his study of the protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism, he tried to show that there was a relationship between Protestantism and capitalism in that capitalism was caused by the behaviour of the Protestants (Weber, 2009).

He examined the relationship between the behaviour of Protestants and the western industrial capitalism and argued that capitalism was about profits. According to him, capitalistic enterprises are organised in a bureaucratic manner while the protestant ethics contended that man has a calling in life, a well-defined career which must be pursued in a determined and a single-minded manner. God has commanded man to work for his glory, and therefore success means the individual has God’s blessings.

Accordingly, making money is a sure proof of success in ones calling. Christians must extract what they can, save all they can in order to grow rich. The riches must not be used in luxuries or in expensive lifestyles but must be used for re-investment in businesses so as to create more wealth.

Protestants attacked time wastage, laziness, idling, gossiping, and sleeping too much, sexual pleasures outside marriage as sins before God. Making money became a religious duty as well as a business interest and therefore, the Protestants’ interpretation of profit making justified the activities of the business man. The Protestants ethic was based on the spirit of self-denial and frugality and recommends sober and quiet life, avoidance of affluence and re-investment of wealth for creation of other enterprises. Weber therefore argued that religion provided the disciplinary ways of life that led to capitalism success in that ‘being chosen’ was indicated by material prosperity which created a strong desire towards economic success.

By pursuing a new way of life, the early protestant entrepreneurs had little awareness that they were creating capitalism. Weber believed that economic interests (as presented by Karl Marx) did not provide sufficient incentive for human beings to love wealth but religion did. That is, social change takes place when ideas change just the way religion, which is a set of ideas led to economic change.

Weber also presented the theoretical approach of bureaucracy in 1947.The approach conceptualizes organisations as being guided by hierarchical chains of command, in which decisions were made based on the top down approach. Those who are at the top management positions are responsible for making the decisions while their juniors are responsible for the execution of those decisions. In the hierarchy, each position is composed of specific roles and responsibilities as well as some amount of authority to make decisions or to command other workforce down the hierarchy.

Weber conceptualizes organisations as being characterized by division of labour and specialization. Each position in the hierarchy is held by specialized individuals or bureaucrats who have acquired education and training on that particular position. The specializations are accompanied by some powers and authorities depending on the position in the hierarchy.

Weber views organisations as being guided by formal regulations and rules which are formed and communicated well within the organisation. There are the rules of conduct in the workplace which govern things like working hours, holidays, offs, the language to be used, communication protocols within the organisation based on the hierarchy, and the communication channel regarding assignments for specific positions in the hierarchy. These rules and regulations govern the procedures and the processes of the organisation so as to give it an identity as well as stability and make it possible to predict it’s because everything is planned in advance and followed to the letter without failure or compromise.

Critique of Post –Marxists

Post-Marxists can be criticised for reducing the clear alternative approach to understanding societies; for example, the role played by the economy. They instead attach interests on cultural and ideological aspects of society. They are also not able to determine when and how cultural factors are more important in shaping the society.

Conclusion

This assignment was about international relations theory and the relationship between Marxism and Post-Marxism. The main elements of international relations theory which have been discussed include realism, liberalism, constructivism and globalisation and how it relates to international relations. The discussion has also analysed Marxism and Post-Marxism. The main Marxist scholars who have been discussed are Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels while the Post-Marxist theorists who have been discussed include Antonio Gramsci, Jürgen Habermas, Ralf Dahrendorf and Marx Weber.

Throughout the discussion, it has emerged that many Post-Marxist theorists used the original works of Marx in their attempted to explain society and social change. However, most of them seem to disagree with Marx’s’ idea that the economy was the key determinant of social change and the superstructure but argue that even the superstructure, which comprises of things like religion, culture and social life are also able to influence the economy. It can therefore be argued that Post-Marxists and critical theory have strengthened Marxism, by re-inventing it to fit in the contemporary social, political and economic world.

Reference List

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