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Marxist Theories of Development, the New International Division of Labor, and the Third World


What are the implications for development in the Third World in light of the widespread intellectual retreat from Marxist theory and practice in recent years? This essay offers an answer to this question by focusing on the current debate concerning the rise of a new inter­ national division of labor (NIDL). The debate over the NIDL has much significance given the growing interpenetration of various re­ gional and national economies in an increasingly integrated global economy. But while one can safely argue that integration with the global economy is now essential to economic growth, the terms of the debate over that process appear to have shifted to the mechanism and conditions of integration for hitherto isolated economies. This essay will delineate the trajectory taken by the NIDL debate to date and will suggest how an historical-structural approach in the Marxist tradition, provides opportunities for furthering the discussion.

The essay first provides a brief overview of Marxist theories of Third World development, including the ideas of Marx, Lenin and key post-World War II dependency theorists. Next, it highlights key points of continuity and discontinuity between these older theories and the current debate on the NIDL. The essay then concludes with a discus­ sion of both the structural and historically determined economic and political constraints on the incorporation of the Third World into the NIDL before setting out some questions for future research.

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