Geopolitics, Social Forces and the International: Revisiting the 'Eastern Question'


This article contributes to current debates in materialist geopolitics and contemporary IR theorising by restating the centrality of social forces for conceptualising geopolitics. It does so by offering a detailed conceptual reading of the corpus of the ‘Eastern Question’, which is composed of a series of political analyses written by Marx and Engels in the period of 1853–6. This archive presents unique analytical and conceptual insights beyond the immediate temporal scope of the issue. I unpack this argument in three movements. The article (i) offers an overview of the debates on materialist geopolitics; (ii) contextualises the historical setting of the ‘Eastern Question’ and critically evaluates the great powers’ commitment to the European status quo; and (iii) constructs an original engagement with a largely overlooked corpus to reveal the ways in which Marx and Engels demonstrated the interwoven relationship between domestic class interests, the state, and the international system. I maintain that revisiting the ‘Eastern Question’ corpus (i) bolsters the existing materialist frameworks by underscoring the role of class as an analytical category; (ii) challenges an important historical pillar of the balance of power argument; and (iii) empirically strengthens the burgeoning scholarship in international historical sociology.

Review of International Studies
Cemal Burak Tansel
Lecturer in International Politics

I teach and write about the political economy of capitalist development.