Monday, September 28, 2009

Is the West trying to keep poor countries poor? - What would Marx and Engels say?

Below is an attempt to apply a marxist critique of international economic relations with specific reference to statements made by the G20 leaders....

The following is an excerpt from the Leaders' Statement from the G20 Summit in London in April 2009.

Ensuring a fair and sustainable recovery for all

25. We are determined not only to restore growth but to lay the foundation for a fair and sustainable world economy. We recognise that the current crisis has a disproportionate impact on the vulnerable in the poorest countries and recognise our collective responsibility to mitigate the social impact of the crisis to minimise long-lasting damage to global potential.

· the actions and decisions we have taken today will provide $50 billion to support social protection, boost trade and safeguard development in low income countries, as part of the significant increase in crisis support for these and other developing countries and emerging markets;

· we are making available resources for social protection for the poorest countries, including through investing in long-term food security and through voluntary bilateral contributions to the World Bank's Vulnerability Framework, including the Infrastructure Crisis Facility, and the Rapid Social Response Fund;

· we have agreed to review the flexibility of the Debt Sustainability Framework and call on the IMF and World Bank to report to the IMFC [International Monetary and Financial Committee] and Development Committee at the Annual Meetings; and

Link to the full article on

One of Marx's defining critiques of society is found in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy where he states

In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social and consciousness.

-- pg 775

This is a key element in Marxism… this concept of a base/superstructure, yet it is not limited to the individual Nation State. Rather it can be applied to our global society. Here we can see the tie in with the statements from the G20 leaders. The leaders highlight the uneven distribution of wealth within the global arena and the higher degree of suffering experienced by those countries on the periphery. Industrial countries are the “capitalists” while the poorer, developing countries are the “labours”. A Marxist critique of the current politics of economic relations would highlight the lack of development exhibited in many countries despite numerous years, money and development institutions involvement. Specifically, they might argue that lesser-developed countries develop to the extent that it benefits the developed, industrial nations. For example, it is in the interest of the G20 countries to “recognise [their] collective responsibility to mitigate the social impact of the crisis to minimise long-lasting damage to global potential” because they are most likely worried about the security of the financial system as a whole. Furthermore, while they are offering solutions to debt management through the IMF and WB, these are inherently Western institutions serving Western goals (and western banks needs/desires) and under Western leadership -- ( insert “capitalist” for “western”). Is this "fair" or "sustainable"? Additionally, let us not forgot how successful these institutions have proved in the past when countries have turned to them for help.


So....Is it reasonable to apply an Marxist analysis to international economic relations? Are the relations between industrial and developing countries similar to those between worker/owner? Are there other elements within the world economy system that support a Marxist critique?

Basically, am I making a valid point or just rambling on about nothing? In my opinion, a Marxist interpretation international political economic relations is not only possible, it can be relevant sometimes!


  1. Since we don't have class until later today, I'm hesitant to chime in here. You know, I wouldn't want to ruin my lesson plan for the afternoon. That said, I think you have pinpointed a variety of issues that are relevant and that do warrant a Marxist analysis. However, I also want to redirect you to the opening of The Communist Manifesto, specifically the passage that reads "The history of all hiterto existing society is the history of class struggles." You might ruminate on that line a bit. What does it mean for history to be made entirely out of class struggles? What implications are there for the future, given that kind of historicizing?

  2. I don't believe that you are rambling about nothing, but do indeed have a valid point to make. The issues that Marx presents, namely social justice in a world where power enables some to put their interests before others and the effects that it this has on those whose interests are so superseded, are relevant as long as such a world exists. For this and other reasons, we must be wary of discarding such theory as Marx's for its societally-held connotations; the fact that some subverted his ideology to create harmful systems that almost exactly mirrored what they originally rallied against does not mean that the ideology is valueless.