Archive for July, 2008

Assassination of the Third World

THE DARKER NATIONS — A Biography of the Short-lived Third World: Vijay Prashad; LeftWord Books, 12, Rajendra Prasad Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 650.

Vijay Prashad opens his book The Darker Nations: A Biography of the Short-lived Third World with the affirmation that the Third World was not a place but a project, vibrant and significant. Leaders of newly-independent countries crafted an ideology and a set of institutions to bear the aspirations of their populations for another, better world.

This is a powerful account of the way in which the Third World moved to the centre stage of international politics by the beginning of the 1960s, challenged the forces of domination and by the end of the century was pushed out or to use Prashad’s term “assassinated” by neo-liberal globalisation and its powerful instruments. The Third World project and its ideologies and institutions had enabled the powerless to hold a dialogue with the powerful and try to hold them accountable. The dialogue was terminated unilaterally by the powerful.


Prashad traces the new political platform from the 1928 meeting in Brussels of the League Against Imperialism where the project of the Third World began to take shape. It was there that the call for the rights of the darker nations was first made. Unity of the people of the Third World came from a political position against colonialism and imperialism rather than from any intrinsic cultural or racial commonalities. But in the early stages itself, they demonstrated their ability to discuss international problems and offer considered notes on them. The platform incorporated not only a quest for enhanced status, but also for economic justice in the face of a shared condition of poverty, underdevelopment and dependence. Prashad points out how in spite of disagreements in tactics and strategy, the Third World had a core political programme around the values of disarmament, national sovereignty, economic integrity and cultural diversity.

Underlining the significance of the Bandung Spirit, the author shows how the formation of the Afro-Asian movement was an integral part of the story because it was through the relations among the main non-aligned countries that the Third World was constituted. What was meant by the Bandung Spirit was simply that the coloured people had emerged to claim their space in world affairs not just as an adjunct of the First and Second Worlds but as players in their own right.

The Bandung Spirit was a rejection of the two major policies of imperialism — economic subordination and cultural suppression. Despite its immense diversity, the Third World came to exhibit a remarkable unity of purpose in its struggle to establish a new international order, to shake off the rules and institutions devised by the old established forces and create new rules and institutions that would express the aspirations of the newly emerging forces.


Prashad describes the marginalisation and virtual demolition of all international institutions, oriented to or initiated by the Third World, not only by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but by the U.N. itself. Two examples will suffice. The United Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations (UNCTC) was virtually suppressed. The principles and procedures produced by the UNCTC would have posed a frontal challenge to the kind of anti-Third World operations maintained by many multinational corporations. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) which was created on the initiative of the Third World and which could at one time challenge the power of the First World global corporations was deprived of its original purpose and direction. With the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), it was deemed superfluous and unnecessary and the UNCTAD in its leaner and meaner form became just a promoter of transnational corporations. In July 2000 the U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, launched an ambitious partnership with 50 of the world’s biggest and most controversial corporations thus blessing their exploitative penetration of markets in the Third World, having already buried the UNCTC’s Code of Conduct which would have effectively held them to account.

The economic development in the Third World was a complex process that involved more than just economic factors. The distorted development agenda followed by most of the Third World and the imperialist pressure faced by these states resulted in misery for millions. By the 1980s the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) was infected with the belief that economic development is a technical problem that should not be bothered with the question of the Third World. Prashad points out how the path to the New World Order has been paved with the debris of failed policies and short-sighted development programmes promoted by the World Bank, IMF and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT).


Prashad traces the evolution of nationalism in the Third World. Rejecting the idea of nationalism that emerged from Europe’s history, the Third World states had absorbed the idea of nationalism and fashioned it to suit the rhythm and demands of their various histories. But as IMF-led globalisation undermined the idea of nationalism, conservative social classes gathered together to offer an alternative vision of what is meant to be patriotic; indeed what it meant to be nationalistic. The secular nationalism of the Third World agenda withered before the rise of a cultural nationalism deeply invested in racial, religious and such atavistic differences.


The assassination of the Third World led to the virtual destruction of the ability of the state to act on behalf of its population, an end to making the case for a new international economic order and a disavowal of the goals of nationalism. Prashad shows how catastrophic the demise of the Third World has been.

In spite of the virtual collapse of the Third World, the term is used as a self-designation of peoples who have been excluded from power and authority to shape their own life and destiny. As such it retains, as in Prashad’s description, a supra-geographic denotation, describing a social condition marked by social, political, religious and cultural oppressions that render people powerless and expendable. In this sense the Third World also encompasses those people in the First World who form a dominated and marginalised minority.

Based on prodigious research, this ambitious and wide-ranging book presents a fascinating account of the Third World, its rise and fall. Prashad’s study represents issue-based international history at its best. He weaves together the tale of Third World politics with stories about personalities, problems of revolution and social change, ideological tensions and people’s aspirations.


@ Ninan Koshi, The Hindu, 15 July 2008