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Marxism Notes

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MARXISM
QUESTIONS

1. 'Critically evaluate the key features of one of the following ideologies: (a) Conservatism, (b) Liberalism, (c)
Marxism, or (d) Feminism' [2016]

2. 'What contribution does Marxism make to our understanding of contemporary world politics?' (2014)

3. 'What are the strengths and weaknesses of Marxism?' [2016]

4. 'What are the strengths and weaknesses of the neo-Gramscian approach to the study of world politics?' [2015]

5. Is there a Marxist theory of IR?

6. Is Marxism still useful as a theory of IR after the fall of the Berlin Wall?

7. 'What are the main similarities and differences between two of the following ideologies: (a) Conservatism, (b)
Liberalism, (c) Marxism, or (d) Feminism' [2016, 2015]

Marxism is (1) an ideology of the state, (2) a social movement (e.g. Sanders, Corbyn); and (3) an intellectual interrogation of capitalism.
KEY FEATURES
Class
Class refers to a form of social stratification (under specific historical circumstances) defined by relations of production; the main axis of conflict being between:

Capitalists/bourgeoisie - owners of the means of production (the physical/technological arrangements of economic activity; machinery, factories, raw materials) who reap the profits of unpaid surplus-labor.

Proletariat - wage workers who must sell their labor powers to the bourgeoisie in order to survive.
The centrality of class in Marxism is demonstrated in Marx & Engels' 'The Communist Manifesto' in which they argue: 'the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle'. Class antagonism resulting from a fundamental conflict of economic interests functions like a motor that drives human history.
Historical materialism; base-superstructure model
In Marx's 'A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy', he posits that men inevitably enter into definite relations of production (independent of their will) appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production.
The totality of these relations of production constituted the economic base of society from which arises a legal/political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness; 'it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. Marx argues no economic system is surpassed until it has accomplished its historical work. As technologies of production develop (e.g. automation), previous relations of production become outmoded, leading to the transformation of social relations in order to best accommodate the new productive capacity (new syntheses arising from the embers of old systems).
Marx's dialectic materialism diverged from Hegel's teleological philosophy of history (dialectic idealism)

For Hegel, all human behaviour in the material world, and hence the history of humankind, is rooted in a prior, nonindividual, unifying state of consciousness (Weltgeist or 'world spirit'); materiality is only an externalized manifestation of the abstract 'idea'*.

For Marx, this dialectic is reversed in that concrete relations of production are the generative/transformative impetus of ideas, and whose internal conflicts are the chief drivers of history. To hypothesize that history had a predestined ideological 'endpoint' was to bely man's infinite creativity; society could progress materially whilst regressing spiritually. Nevertheless, he profited from locating his political ideal - communism - at the next stage in what was undeniably a progressive theory of history.
Ideology* (Althusser, 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses')
In Althusser's structural Marxist perspective, ideology is 'a set of practices and institutions that sustain an individual's imaginary relationship to his/her material conditions of existence'. One example is Christianity in the feudal mode of production; corvee (a day's unpaid labor owed by a serf to his feudal lord) was sanctified under Christianity, thereby stabilizing the extortion of
'surplus value'; this same extortion was masked in capitalist societies by 'fundamental economic categories' such as the wage. There is no 'outside' to ideology; denial of the ideological character of ideology is effectively ideological which begs the question: why do men 'need' this imaginary, alienated transposition of their real conditions in order to experience materiality?
According to Feuerbach, this is because their conditions of existence are themselves alienating.
Alienation
Marx identified four types of alienation that manifest in workers laboring under a capitalist mode of production:

1. Alienation of the worker from their product
The design/manufacture of a specific product is entirely shaped by the bourgeoisie who appropriate workers'
manual/intellectual labor and condition consumers to purchase goods/services at a price that yields maximal surplus value. Labor (economically productive human activity that creates value) is converted into a commodity which, like products, can be assigned an exchange value. This stifles a worker's capacity to derive pleasure from objectifying their life through activity.

2. Alienation of the worker from the act of production
The worker is alienated from the means of production via two forms: wage compulsion and imposed production content, the former of which can only be rejected at the expense of their survival and that of their family.

3. Alienation of the worker from their Gattungswesen (species-essence); self-alienation/dehumanization

4. Alienation of the worker from other workers
Capitalist relations of production pit worker against worker in competition for 'higher wages', preventing the realization of mutual economic interests.
Capitalism
Marx's writings express an ambivalence towards capitalism. On one hand, he admired its unprecedented productivity and viewed capitalism as a necessary catalyst for historical change; however, he abhorred the unpredictable/periodic crises and exploitation generated by capitalists' relentless pursuit of profit. Capitalism is neither natural nor eternal; it is a specific form of socioeconomic organization emerging at a specific epoch.
To Marx, capitalism can be understood in terms of a 'circuit of capital': M — C ... P ... C' — M', where M = money, C =
commodity and P = production.

1. The owner of money capital (M) buys the commodities (C) of labor power and means of production on the open market.

2. Productive consumption (P) of the purchased commodities results in a product of greater value than the elements entering into its production: use value (value produced by workers' labor) > exchange value (workers' wages) =
surplus value.

3. The capitalist converts his enhanced commodities (C') into money/profit (M'), which is now greater than that which was initially advanced.
According to Ricardo, the 'value' of a commodity should ideally be determined by its overall 'socially necessary labor-time' (the amount of labor required, given typical conditions of production for a particular good). But if that was indeed the case, where does profit come from? Marx pointed to competitive capitalist pressures to penetrate new markets, incorporate advanced production techniques, secure 'the greatest possible production of surplus value and hence, the greatest possible exploitation of labor power''; those who fell behind faced declining rates of profit, bankruptcy and liquidation (social Darwinism).
This imbues the capitalist mode of production with its most basic structural contradiction: whilst capitalists' compulsion for accumulation rests on the continued ability of the market to consume communities produced at a price yielding sufficient rates of profit, this ability is constrained by the increasingly restricted purchasing power of workers which generates commodities in excess of the market's consumptive capacities (commodity overproduction). Solutions involving higher exploitations of labor:

If unsuccessful: growing burden of debt will devour an ever-greater proportion of surplus value, thus undermining productive outputs, inflation, economic instability, class antagonism.

If successful: class antagonism, exploitation limited by the physical boundaries of a working day and finite laboring capacity of the workforce.
Marx held 3 predictions about the fate of capitalism:

Cyclical crisis; overproduction

Monopolization (concentration of wealth and private ownership)

Automation: 'Labor passes through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is an automatic system of machinery,
a moving power that moves itself, so that workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages... the worker appears as superfluous.' (Marx, 1858)

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