Geopolitical Strategy And Class Hegemony: Towards A Historical Materialist Foreign Policy Analysis

Bastiaan van Apeldoorn


This article seeks to lay the groundwork for a historical materialist foreign policy analysis. Although there is a huge Marxist literature on especially US imperialism, there is little in the way of systematic empirical research on foreign policy-making from this perspective. Most contributions in this tradition, including more recent ones in the debate on the “new imperialism” are often rather abstract exercises in grand theory – important and insightful but not necessarily directly amenable to empirical research. On the other hand, the radical empirical studies of (US) foreign policy-making that we do have often tend to suffer from a lack of adequate theorization. Seeking to bridge this gap this article first critically reviews the current (and expanding) historical materialist literature on geopolitics (and its link to global capitalism) and then seeks to move beyond that by offering an analytical framework that can be applied to actual empirical research. A theoretical point of departure is that what Harvey identifies as the territorial and capitalist logics of powers are dialectically and hence internally related. But whereas many historical materialists would agree on this abstract notion, the question, however, is not only why but also how (in practice) they are thus related, and how we can thus study the effects of this internal relation. For this, I argue, we need to go beyond positing any abstract logic(s), and analyse the concrete agency of social forces constituting the link between state and capital. I argue that class is the crucial mediating force here and the missing link in much of the literature. A focus on class and class strategy provides us with a basis for a systematic empirical analysis of the concrete processes through which geopolitical strategies of (major) capitalist states are formulated and implemented.

Keywords: Historical Materialist IR, Geopolitics and Social Structure, Capitalist Geopolitics, Class and Geopolitics, Ruling Class Security

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