It is fair to say that the Marxist tradition is of greatest interest on an international level, partly due to its success as an ideology under the leadership of the Soviet Union’s Communists, and partly due to the notable views and analysis offered by the perspective. In particular, the Marxism developed by Lenin (leader of the Soviet Union following the Russian Revolution in 1917) showed how the empires of the time could be interpreted as an expression of capitalism in its most developed form, as the wealthy western states attempted to find more profit by exploiting labour and resources from other parts of the world. From the Marxist perspective therefore, international politics can be understood not so much as a society or system characterised by individual states co-operating or fighting against each other, but rather a single global economic system controlled and used by some countries to exploit others.
The long term ambition from the perspective of Communism, therefore, is the destruction of this capitalist system on an international level, to rid the world of systems considered immoral and unnecessary. Implicit in the foreign policy of states such as the Soviet Union was the intention to undermine those countries loyal to capitalism – but in practice, this was neither a priority nor realistic, particularly during the early years of that state. Indeed, due to the internal requirements of establishing and developing a communist system, side-effects of the great recession, and the rise of fascism in Europe, for a long time there was no true effort to widely spread the system. However, due to the Second World War, Joseph Stalin was given an opportunity to reconstruct the situation, and that was achieved through expanding the circle of influence over a number of countries in eastern Europe. This Soviet ‘block’ would develop a communist system over the next years in complete opposition to the capitalist system in western Europe and north America.
This was indeed the beginning of the ‘Cold War’ – so-called due do the lack of bloody conflict between the Soviet Union and United States. This was partly due to the development of nuclear weapons and the planned disastrous outcomes of any military conflict. However, in reality, two states were at battle, but that battleground was in other countries in Africa, South America and Asia, with both sides trying to support, finance and arm those groups loyal to their ideologies.
International politics during the decades following the Second World War was therefore essentially an ideological war between Communism and Capitalism. That war was ‘won’ by the end of the ’80s when the Soviet Block began to disintegrate, and, one country at a time, the communist system was shunned, with Russia ending the process in 1991. There are at least two obvious outcomes to this process – first of all, capitalism is now considered the only valid system, and socialism would have to battle on that basis, able to demand only policies suppressing the market. A mixed economy was the best that socialists could now hope for – except for the example of Cuba. Secondly, with capitalist supremacy a new age began in the world of international politics where the Americans dominated, and some suggest, like Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History, that world politics is shifting towards a situation where countries would turn one by one to democratic liberalism.
Despite the failure of Communism, the interest in Marxism continues, partly due to the understanding that a number of aspects of Social Union development were disloyal to the original vision. In that respect, and particularly in an age where the global economy has faced further crises, a Marxist interpretation of some contemporary problems remains appropriate. One of those perspectives is the theory developed in the 1970s by thinkers such as Immanuel Wallerstein, the theory of dependency. Beginning with the concept of the international system as one huge economy, these thinkers claimed that the global capitalist system is one requiring some parts of the world to be kept in a state of dependency to enable the capitalist system to work, and produce profit for people in other parts of the world. According to this perspective, we have a global economy with a core and a periphery, with the metropolitan core extracting human and natural resources from the periphery for utilisation and exploitation in production processes. On the other hand, those peripheral states do not have the experience or ability to make much of their core resources, and most importantly of all, there is no way for them to establish what is necessary to create profit and compete with others, namely resilient production industries.
Whilst Marxism and, in that respect, liberalism, have been very influential in international politics, and particularly regarding field study, social democracy has not received the same focus nor been a basis to comparable recognised tradition. One suggestion for this lack is the tradition of thinking that, in truth, fosters social democrat values but is introduced in the name of another tradition, egalitarian liberalism. To all intents and purposes, this is the American label for one family of ideas – one used partly due to the link of ‘socialism’ to the old rival, the Communism of the Soviet Union, and due to the strength of the liberal tradition and the importance of individual rights in its history.
One example of a philosopher introducing such ideas is Thomas Pogge (from Germany originally), and indeed, it is quite easy to recognise the socialist influence in his work due to his debt to the dependency theorists like Wallerstein. In that respect, Pogge places great emphasis upon the barriers of the global economic system upon the development of countries in the majority world (a contemporary term for the concept of the third world) – arguing that people in the west have a duty to work towards dissolving those structures that, to all purposes, continue to exploit vast parts of the world. There are other thinkers in this tradition, for instance the Indian Amartya Sen, who have written extensively on the need to reform the world’s countries according to democratic principles. For him, the economic and political development of countries is dependent upon ensuring wider freedom for individuals, especially women. Those arguing for ‘global justice’ (see also the section on liberalism) are arguing to all purposes for the extension of social democratic principles to the international level, professing the redistribution of resources, fairer economic structures, extension of rights and ensuring further equality between individuals and people of the world.
From a practical point of view, several examples can be identified to try to promote this agenda, particularly since the Second World War. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in response to atrocities such as that war, is a starting point in the attempt to promote world-wide justice. Another notable contribution was the Brandt Report in 1980, an investigation (under the leadership of ex-Chancellor of West Germany, Willy Brandt) of the inequality characteristic of the international community – and the resulting recommendations of wealth redistribution between countries. In 2000, the Millennium Summit was held, and subsequently, eight development aims were drawn up for the international society, again reflecting socialist democratic values such as eliminating poverty, promoting education, ensuring equality, improving health, as well as protecting the environment. The Millennium Development Goals in 2016 were followed by a list of 17 Sustainable Development Aims, showing progression with the original goals but reflecting also the immediate need to respond to the environmental crisis.
Socialism in its various forms is an universal ideology, in the sense that it is a collection of values and ideas able to be spread across the world, theoretically at least, according to those professing them. Such was the belief of Robert Owen on his co-operative communities – communities that he believed could characterise every society no matter where in the world. In their Communist Manifesto Engels and Marx appealed to workers of the world to unite in their fight against the bourgeoisie. This tradition is reflected in the constant claim that socialism is an internationalist ideology, its sights stretching beyond the individual nation to the international direction, professing causes such as workers’ rights, peace and equality on that level also. This international spirit was incorporated into two institutions of great importance, namely the First International, or International Workingman’s Association (1864-1876), and Second International (1889-1916). Both movements were intended to merge left wing groups – socialists, communists, anarchists, unions – in an international network to come together in a class war. The former came to an end due to breaches with the anarchists, that were not part of the following institutions, although the movement remained influential until the First World War. The cause was demolished as a result of the support of a number of socialist parties for war, in the face of principled opposition to the working class being made prey to the big guns. The Third International was another matter, namely the Comintern: the institution formed in 1919 to conduct a mission for Communism for the Soviet Union. It would play a leading role in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) when socialists, anarchists and Communists fought with the Peasantry, against nationalist forces. This is an articulate expression of the internationality of the international socialist movement, with International Brigades organised by the Comintern attracting tens of thousands of soliders from various countries – including Wales. The notable book of Hywel Francis, Miners Against Facism, traces the contribution of these individuals to war.