Quo Vadis, Historical International Relations? Geopolitical Marxism and the Promise of Radical Historicism


John Maclean’s 1988 call “Marxism and IR: A Strange Case of Mutual Neglect” has generated a rich bounty of Marxist studies and paradigms in International Relations (IR). This cross-pollination merged in the 1990s with the “historical turn” and shaped the sub-fields of International Historical Sociology and International Political Economy. But has it left its mark on how IR is practised today? We argue that while Marxism has spoken significantly to the discipline, mainstream IR, even Historical IR, has been largely impervious to Marxist arguments, drawing the standard charge of economism and structuralism. Rectifying these critiques, we suggest that conventional historical studies of “the international” remain methodologically and substantively impoverished. We exemplify this by showing how leading Historical IR studies of “systems change” fail to explain the inside/outside and public/private differentiations constitutive of the modern international order and to integrate the “levels of analysis” they presuppose. We further argue that this rejection has been facilitated by influential Marxist IR paradigms, which ultimately privilege structuralism over historicism: While Neo-Gramscians initially mobilised “historicism” to dissolve claims about the “sameness” of international relations across time and space, the approach became identified with the reified master-category of “hegemony”. Uneven and Combined Development, in turn, has gravitated towards matching Neo-realism’s claim to theoretical universality by insisting on transhistorical model-building and nomological “grand theory”. Both approaches remain over-sociologised and fail to address international politics. Drawing on radically historicist Political Marxism, this article shows how its substantive socio-political premises explain the historical formation of the contemporary international order and re-unite the “levels of analysis” theoretically to provide a framework for non-reductionist and non-economistic accounts of historical international relations. This requires an answer to the agentic challenge of Neo-Classical Realism by reincorporating grand strategy, diplomacy, and international politics into a reformulated perspective of Geopolitical Marxism to track the full historicity of the making of international orders.


Agency, geopolicy, historical sociology of international politics, method, historicity


Lauri Von Pfaler and Benno Teschke, “'Quo Vadis, Historical International Relations? Geopolitical Marxism and the Promise of Radical Historicism”, Uluslararasi Iliskiler, Vol. 21, No 82, 2024, pp. 21-40, DOI:10.33458/uidergisi.1474307


Lauri VON PFALER Doctoral Researcher, Doctoral Programme in Political, Societal and Regional Changes, University of Helsinki, Helsinki E-Mail: [email protected] Orcid: 0000-0001-5760-1112

Benno TESCHKE Professor, Department of International Relations, University of Sussex, Brighton E-Mail: [email protected] Orcid: 0000-0003-4054-3408

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