Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • This chapter is unavailable for purchase
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - Marxism and Critical Theory

from 1 - Theories of International Relations



This chapter introduces students to the rich and controversial legacy of Marxism and one of its major offshoots in the twentieth century, Critical Theory. The common thread linking the two theories is an interest in struggles to dismantle structures of oppression, exclusion and domination. The chapter is in two parts. The first focuses on Marxism and its contribution to IR, the second on an offshoot of Marxism that goes by the name Critical Theory. The part on Marxism provides a discussion of how Marx’s ideas have been received in IR, an account of the historical and intellectual context that ‘created’ Marxism, and an account of Marx’s method of historical materialism. The part on Critical Theory provides outlines of the two strands of Critical Theory that have emerged within IR: a strand derived from the so-called Frankfurt School, and a strand derived from Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci.

Historical and intellectual context: Marx and the critique of capitalism

During the nineteenth century, European societies underwent dramatic and sometimes traumatic changes internally, while expanding their colonial rule to almost every corner of the world. Importantly, this expansion of European imperialism and the global consolidation of what is often referred to as the ‘Westphalian states-system’ occurred simultaneously with the comprehensive shift to industrialised production (known as the Industrial Revolution), significant changes in the ownership and control of property and large-scale population transfers, both internally and externally towards parts of the colonised world. By the nineteenth century economic affairs were also changing significantly, with the gradual demise of mercantilism and the rise of capitalism. Victorian Britain (England, specifically) had emerged as the hotbed of these developments, with its extraordinary innovations in industrial production and technology and in the capitalist production processes. It also provided many of the conceptual principles for understanding and legitimising the socio-economic transformations inaugurated by capitalism.

Further reading
Anievas, Alexander 2010 Marxism and world politics: contesting global capitalismLondonRoutledge
Cox, Robert W.Sinclair, Timothy 1995 Approaches to world orderCambridge University Press
Held, David 1980 Introduction to Critical TheoryBerkeleyUniversity of California Press
Linklater, Andrew 1990 Beyond realism and Marxism: Critical Theory and international relationsLondonMacmillan
Linklater, Andrew 2007 Critical Theory and world politics: citizenship, sovereignty and humanityLondonRoutledge
Roach, Steven C. 2008 Critical theory and international relations: a readerLondonRoutledge
Rosenberg, Justin 1994 The empire of civil society: a critique of realist theory of international relationsLondonVerso