The Fifteenth Anniversary Edition of Vijay Prashad’s The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (originally published in 2007) was recently highlighted online by the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. The Fifteenth Anniversary Edition is identical to the 2007 edition, except that it includes a new preface, signed by the author in February 2022.
Vijay Prashad is director of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research and editor of LeftWord Books. He is author of Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today and The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (2012). The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World was chosen as a Best Nonfiction Book of the Year by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize. Prashad lives in Santiago, Chile.
As Prashad explains, the nations of the Third World, in spite of their diversity, united behind a platform that stressed their right to political equality on the world stage, and the right of their peoples to dignity and to the basic necessities of life. Third World nations put forth demands before various international forums, including the United Nations, from the 1950s to the 1970s. Theirs was a movement of governments, not of organizations of civil society or protest organizations. The movement took organizational form with the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement in Belgrade in 1961.
Prashad maintains that the Third World project was assassinated. Assassinated by whom? In The Darker Nations, Prashad regularly declares in passing that it was assassinated by a combination of forces, actors, and events, including Western imperialism, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the economic policies that the IMF and World Bank were able to impose on Third World states, as a result of the Third World debt crisis.
However, in The Darker Nations, Prashad delves more into what he views as the ideological errors of the Third World project, particularly its insufficient attention to contradictory class interests within Third World countries. His 2007 Introduction contains the following:
“The Third World project came with a built-in flaw. The fight against the colonial and imperial forces enforced a unity among various political parties and across social classes. Widely popular social movements and political formations won freedom for the new nations, and then took power. Once in power, the unity that had been preserved at all costs became a liability. The working class and the peasantry in many of these movements had acceded to an alliance with the landlords and emergent industrial elites. Once the new nation came into their hands, the people believed, the new state would promote a socialist program. What they got instead was a compromise ideology . . . that combined the promise of equality with the maintenance of social hierarchy. Rather than provide the means to create an entirely new society, these regimes protected the elites among the old social classes.”
Prashad pays scant attention to the maneuvers of the neocolonial powers, which continually supported those political actors oriented to accommodation to Western imperialism, and constantly sought to discredit and weaken those political actors who sought a sovereign road for the newly independent nation.
In this vein, he maintains that the Third World project was not a genuine social revolution, because it was led by the landed, middle, and merchant classes, and for this reason, it rapidly declined. But this ignores the fact that the middle and merchant classes had a long-range economic interest in the socioeconomic development of the nation and a spiritual interest in a less subservient and more dignified nation, able to stand in defense of itself and the needs of its people. As a consequence of these objective Third World conditions, revolutionary leaders emerged in many nations, with an exceptional capacity to explain to the people and to lead them to a more autonomous road. The Third World project was (as is) persistently in tension between accommodationist reform, backed by imperialism, and revolutionary sovereignty, in tune with the hopes and aspirations of the people.
As evidence of the merely reformist character of the Third World project, Prashad presents the Non-Aligned Movement’s persistent call for the democratization of the United Nations, which does not imply, in Prashad’s view, a genuine reconstruction of the world in accordance with the image and interests of the Third World. Here Prashad seems to not appreciate that the democratization of the United Nations has been and continues to be a central demand of the states constructing socialism. Full democratic participation of the former colonized nations would make probable the implementation of the principles of the United Nations, which would enable the full sovereignty of the neocolonized states and would facilitate, therefore, much greater possibilities for social reconstruction within states and for mutually beneficial trade among nations. The democratization of the United Nations is considered by socialist revolutionaries in Cuba, China, and elsewhere as a fundamental demand in the construction of a just world order, because democratic relations among nations means the negation of imperialism.
Prashad, therefore, places a good part of the culpability for what he considers to be the death of the Third World project on the Third World itself, on its supposed inability to formulate a correct ideology.
The Third World project lives
I would want to insist, against Prashad, that the Third World project never died. It merely went underground for a while, during which time it remained alive in the memories and hopes of a significant sector of its people in many lands, and preserved in the thinking of some of its leaders, both in power and not in power, who were observing and waiting for conditions to improve.
The continued life of the Third World project is indicated by the continued existence and growth of the Non-Aligned Movement. Founded in 1961 by twenty-three governments, the Non-Aligned Movement today consists of 120 member nations. It elects a nation to service as president once every three years, and it holds summits of heads of state at the beginning of the elected nation’s three-year term, held in its capital city. The Summits generally emit declarations and communiques, expressing the interests and concerns of Third World states with respect to the international situation.
The Non-Aligned Movement in our time emits declarations that proclaim and reiterate the founding principles of the Third World project. These principles were first proclaimed by twenty-nine newly independent nations of Africa and Asia in Bandung in 1955, which declared the necessity of Third World unity in opposition to European colonialism and Western imperialism, and which called for the development of international relations on a basis of economic cooperation rather than exploitation. It called for the diversification of their economies and the development of their national industries, which would enable them to break from their imposed role of exporting raw materials. Subsequently, at the 1961 founding Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, the twenty-three member states turned to the question of their political powerlessness in world affairs, calling for the democratization of the United Nations, especially with respect to the issue of the limited power of the General Assembly vis-à-vis the Security Council.
At its Summit in Algiers in 1973, the Non-Aligned Movement took positions with respect to strategies. It called for the creation of public commodity cartels, which would increase the economic power of the raw materials exporters. It advocated linking the prices of raw materials to the prices of manufacturing goods, so that the declining terms of exchange of the developing nations would be eliminated. And it affirmed the right of nations to nationalize property, in accordance with the principle of the sovereignty of nations over their natural resources.
Reflecting the influence of the Third World project, in 1974 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a document proposing a New International Economic Order. The document affirmed the principles of the right of self-determination of nations and the sovereignty of nations over their natural resources. It advocated: the creation of raw materials associations, giving raw materials exporting states control over prices; increased industrialization of the Third World, including the transfer of technology; and the promotion of cooperation among Third World nations.
In the subsequent context of the turn of the imperialist powers to neoliberalism, the Non-Aligned Movement was highjacked by representatives of the Asian tigers, who gained the upper hand during the 1983 Summit in New Delhi. They rejected the concept of state-directed development and advocated a reduction of the role of the state; and they proposed that each state act in accordance with its national interests.
The final expression of the Third World project during its classic period was the speech delivered to the New Delhi Summit by Fidel in his capacity as outgoing president, which was expanded into a report published by the Cuban government in 1983. Fidel called for a unified Third World struggle that would seek: transformation of the global structures that promote unequal exchange; cancellation of Third World debt; an equitable international monetary and financial system; a form of industrialization that responds to Third World interests; socioeconomic structural changes, including agrarian reform; greater control of transnational corporations; and elevation of the prestige the United Nations. Fidel defended South-South cooperation as a necessary component of the 1974 program for a New International Economic Order and as a powerful force for contributing to the autonomous development of national economies. (See “Fidel speaks in the name of the colonized: In defense of all of humanity,” August 17, 2021
In the 1990s, worldwide rejection of the neoliberal project by the peoples of the world emerged. The protests were initially focused on particular grievances, such as increases in the costs of water or bus transportation. But they quickly spawned new social movements and new political parties, which impacted the policies and international diplomacy of Third World states
The people’s movement profoundly influenced the Non-Aligned Movement. The return of the Non-Aligned Movement to its classic Third World project was clearly evident by its 2006 Summit in Havana, held at the beginning of Cuba’s second presidency, whose election as president was itself an indication of the Movement’s retaking of its foundational principles. In the proceedings in Havana, speaker after speaker—that is, President after Prime Minister after Foreign Secretary—took to the podium to denounce neoliberalism and the unjust international economic order, in a powerful and emotional public display that lasted all through the night. The 2006 Declaration of Havana called a more just and equal economic order and denounced the excessive influence of the rich and powerful nations. It rejected neoliberalism for its promotion of global inequality. It affirmed the principles of the UN Charter, including the equality and sovereignty of nations, non-intervention in the affairs of states, and “the free determination of peoples in their struggle against foreign intervention.” It called for South-South cooperation as a necessary structure for checking the power of transnational corporations, but it also affirmed the need for North-South cooperation developed in a mutually respectful and mutually beneficial form.
I wish to emphasize here, first, the revolutionary character of these declarations, inasmuch as they imply the political and economic empowerment of Third World nations; secondly, the consistency of these declarations with those of the period of the 1950s through the 1970s; and thirdly, the unity of virtually the entirety of the Third World nations in these proclamations, inasmuch as the Non-Aligned Movement by 2006 had grown to 118 member states, which constituted a great political advance vis-à-vis the classic period. As is logical, since the announcement of the rebirth of the Non-Aligned Movement at the Havana Summit in 2006, the Non-Aligned Movement—in its summits of heads of state and its ministerial meetings—has continued with revolutionary declarations denouncing the unjust international order and demanding a more just and democratic world-system.
The 2016 Summit, for example, held in Venezuela, called for the peoples of the Third World to struggle against colonialism and neocolonialism and to participate in the construction of a more just and peaceful world established on a foundation of solidarity and cooperation. It reaffirms the principles of the sovereignty and equality of nations and the inalienable rights of all peoples to self-determination. It affirms the “right to development as an inalienable, fundamental, and universal right.” It rejects “the illegal policies of regime change aimed at overthrowing constitutional governments,” and it condemns unilateral sanctions and coercive measures against certain targeted nations as violations of the UN Charter. It recognizes South-South cooperation as an important strategy for sustainable development, as a complement to North-South cooperation. It calls for the democratization of the United Nations, the IMF, and the World Bank.
The Third World project is more advanced today than it was in its classic period, in that it has moved beyond unified declaration on the diplomatic front and has taken the first significant and organized steps toward implementation, in the form of regional associations that seek to implement the principle of South-South cooperation. Latin America and more recently East Asia and the Arab world have had important gains in this regard. China has played a key role in the process, not only with respect to East Asia, but in developing mutually beneficial relations with Latin America, the Arab world, and Africa. China’s intention is not to become the next hegemon. Its logic is not imperialist, for it discerns that imperialism is no longer sustainable in economic, political, and ecological terms. China seeks its own economic development on a basis of mutually beneficial trade with other nations in the construction of a pluripolar world order. See “The Construction of a Pluripolar World: The neocolonized peoples seek cooperation and mutually beneficial trade,” December 9, 2022.
People’s revolutions of the Third World
The people’s revolutions of the Third World have exerted themselves upon the world from the 1920s to the present. Great leaders emerged, who were able to explain historical and social dynamics, unify the people on the basis of a coherent plan of action, and lead the people of their nations to the taking of political control of the state; from which base they undertook social transformations, taking into account the particular ideological, political, and economic conditions of their nations. Some were more advanced than others; some were more successful than others. Some fell early on to accommodationist politicians supported by Western imperialism. But the most advanced of them were able to sustain themselves in political power and to accomplish structural transformations in defense of the sovereignty of the nation and the needs of the people. In doing so, they provide an experiential basis for advances in revolutionary theory.
From 1955 to 1983 and from 2000 to the present, Third World leaders, united in spite of ideological and cultural differences, have sought to demand and construct structural changes in the world-system, with the intention of giving more freedom to themselves and to all projects of national liberation, and with the intention of creating greater possibilities for mutually beneficial trade and cooperation among nations. They have supported and sustained the Non-Aligned Movement as the organized voice of the Third World people’s revolutions on a global stage. They offer to the world hope for a future of peace and prosperity.
Hope is the most important spiritual quality of the revolutionary. In explaining away the persistent revolutionary demands and evolving practice of the Third World project, Vijay Prashad contributes to the eclipse of hope.
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Perfect! what a great book to discuss.