Marxists: Keepin’ It Real and Anti-Revisionist Since 1848

From International Relations in the U.S. Academy by Maliniak, et al:

The TRIP survey also reveals that US IR scholars are not universally enthusiastic about theoretical synthesis—and whether respondents value synthesis depends upon their paradigmatic commitments. In the 2004 survey, we asked the following question: ‘‘Recently, much IR scholarship has been categorized as either ‘rationalist’ or ‘constructivist’. How should we conceive of the models developed within these broader categories [of constructivism and rationalism]? As alternatives to be tested against each other; as complementary explanations that should remain distinct; or as two approaches that could be usefully synthesized to create a more complete theory.’’ Marxists were the most skeptical of synthesis with only 18% responding that the approaches could be usefully synthesized.

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I saw this chart while doing reading for a class on Monday and was shocked to see such a huge hostility among self-identified Marxist IR scholars to theoretical synthesis, but when you stop to think about it, it does make a lot of sense. Marxists are economic structuralists; while not every mundane activity can be reduced to down to market behavior, there are particular patterns in human history that can be traced not just to economic interests but to struggles between classes. After all, only the most jaded cynics and the most fanciful postmodernists perceive human existence as sheer chaos and anarchy, with significant global shifts carried along by mere contingency. One of Marx’s greatest theoretical contributions to scholarship is the identification that material interests have been and remain the chief forces in any era. Let me quote the elegant Terry Eagleton, from Why Marx Was Right:

[History] has been a much more monotonous story than meets the eye. There is indeed a kind of unity to it; but it is not one that should yield us any pleasure, as the unity of Bleak House or High Noon might. For the most part, the threads that leash it together have been scarcity, hard labour, violence and exploitation. And though these things have taken very different forms, they have so far laid the foundation of every civilization on record. It is this dull, mind-numbing recurrence that has lent human history a good deal more consistency than we might desire. There is indeed a grand narrative here, and more’s the pity. As Theodor Adorno observes, “The One and All that keeps rolling on to this day — with occasional breathing spells — would teleologically be the absolute of suffering.” The grand narrative of history is not one of Progress, Reason or Enlightenment. It s a melancholic tale which leads in Adorno’s words “from the slingshot to the atomic bomb.”

Little surprise, then, that Marxists and realists have been so resistant to muddling the theoretical waters, hedging bets and thinking that either institutional integration or norm entrepreneurship will save the world. Realists, fundamentally, have tended to see international politics as ultimately shaped by power. For Marxists, it has been shaped by economic power specifically.

Strange then, especially in this age of globalization and the diminishment of the state relative to international finance institutions and multinational corporations, that Maliniak and company find that Marxist publications have all but disappeared from the IR field…

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