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Monday, February 8, 2010

Marxism: Philosophy in historical and current context

Exploitation and alienation about a class divide is the principal concern of Marxism, a theory derived from the critical analysis of capitalism by 19th century German political philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. International Political Economy (Frieden, Lake) analyses Marxism as principally a remedy to the pitfalls of capitalism. Marxism has progressed, adapted and thus diffused through the contingencies surrounding those who supplemented Marxist theories. In order to understand why Marxism is effective as a framework for the study for international politics, it is critical to first conduct an intrinsic synopsis of classical Marxism, overview the evolution of Marxism, and understand what facets of Marxist theory are relevant to the 21st century.
Classical Marxism is limited to the theories presented by Marx and Engels; it is characterized by a primarily philosophical continuum when compared to extrapolations of Marxist theory. Economic and sociological elements of Marxism are based upon a materialist discernment of history, critical analysis of capitalism, social change, and an ultimate focus on human liberation. Marxism rests on the historical pattern whereby a self interested capitalist upper class unremittingly exploit a lower (labour) class. In capitalism, the labour theory of value allocates a portion of income as surplus value, paid directly to the owner of the means of production (also known as the bourgeoisie). Marxists characterize this surplus value as “not the capitalist’s “reward” for investment, but something taken away from the labour... any gain for the capitalist must come at the expense of labour, and vice versa” (Frieden, Lake). The expropriation of surplus value denies labour the full return for its efforts, and thus encourages an estrangement between the classes. Because of this intensely subversive class divide, Marxist theories propose that capitalism as necessarily conflicting.
“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has... pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”... It has resolved personal worth into exchange value... has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation” – The Communist Manifesto, chapter 1
As a remedy to class alienation, Marxism calls for a revolution in the working class. A revolution must spark a re-distribution of ownership of the means of production, so that all members of society jointly share surplus and thus prevent its expropriation from the labour class. Classical Marxism - independent of adaptations - is primarily a critical analysis of capitalism, and a proposed remedy. The implementation of Marxism spawned a multitude of adaptions; each fit the contingencies unique to where and when it was applied.
Largely due to the philosophical nature of Marxism, it became a popular base with which to adapt political theories in order to meet contingencies in times of need. In effort to overthrow the Tsarist regime in Russia, revolutionary Vladimir Lenin emphasized the need for the working class everywhere to jointly encourage the overthrow capitalism. In order to formalize, and concentrate the widespread efforts the labour class revolution, Lenin integrated elements of democratic centralism with Marxism. Marxism-Leninism is broadly known as communism, this adaption of Marxism became a base that was further adapted by: Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedong, and Leon Trotsky. Stalin strictly instilled bureaucracy into communism; resulting in a series of failed economic plans that were formally intended to promote collectivism. Khrushchev further diffused communism into competing factions. Zedong focused on rural development to coerce a movement among the peasants, while further integrating the military with the communist government. Trotsky more than all others stressed the need for a global socialist revolution to overcome both capitalism, and the domestic Stalinist bureaucracy which he feared would eventually become a form of capitalism itself. While the complex diffusion and adaption of Marxism as a framework for political organizations is a testament to its versatility, the implementation of any unadulterated form of Marxism has so far been ephemeral.

Marxist theories and adaption’s of it are relevant to those living in and amongst capitalist societies because they clearly identify the appeal of capitalism, and how liberal market societies can appear successful while furthering the class divide. Classical Marxism attests that capitalism, through systematic exploitation holds the capacity to be so successful that if unguarded; it can and will influence lesser economies. A trait of capitalists addressed by Marxists is the belief furthers the capitalist idea that a company if grown to a proper size has the capacity to be invincible. This trait is countered with the assertion that as a market becomes further dominated by a single entity; it ceases to be a market and thus becomes vulnerable to instability. Lenin furthered this by concluding that the success of capitalism is only temporary and the illusion of success is provided by colonialism and international trade: by offsetting tendencies to overproduce, providing the ability to exploit the less expensive resources, including the transfer of production when labour costs rise at home. Current Transnational adaptions of Marxism scrutinize capitalists who now transcend nationality in exploiting global trends without regard to their homeland, thus “leaving only labour-capital division in world politics” (Frieden, Lake).

Marxism is foremost a critical analysis of capitalism: illustrating pitfalls of human nature in liberal market societies such as; unequal distribution of wealth, characteristically discordant markets, “zero sum” trade where power is used as leverage, and oligopolistic markets prone to instability. Marxism is effective as a framework for the study for international politics because at its core it is a philosophy consisting of critical analysis and remedy for the pitfalls of liberal market societies. The diffusion and evolution of Marxism provides tangible cases suitable for comparative analysis ensuring its versatility as a framework for the study of international politics.

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