South-South cooperation was identified as an important goal, necessary for the autonomy and development of newly independent nations, in the 1950s and 1960s. Two of the giants of African nationalism, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, were among its advocates. They called it “non-alignment,” referring to their desire to avoid political alliance and economic dependency on both the former colonial powers of the West, among which the United States had become hegemonic, as well as the socialist bloc headed by the Soviet Union. In accordance with the strategy of non-alignment, the newly independent nations of Africa and Asia would develop economic and commercial exchanges with one another and with Latin America, seeking to sever economic dependency on the former colonial powers, with which the colonies were locked in a core-peripheral relation, providing cheap raw materials and superexploited labor and purchasing surplus manufactured goods, thus promoting their underdevelopment. The strategy of non-alignment was integral to the worldview of the leaders of the newly independent nations, which viewed the nations, cultures, and peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America as forming a “Third World,” distinct from the First World of capitalism led by in the United States, and the Second World directed by the Soviet Union, which had developed a bureaucratic form of socialism based in the particular conditions of Russia and Eastern Europe. They understood the anti-colonial revolution as the Third Revolution, following the bourgeois and proletarian revolutions (see “What is the Third World?” 7/16/2013; “What is the Third World Revolution?” 7/17/2013; “What is the Third World perspective?” 7/18/2013).
But the vision of the Third Revolution and the strategy of non-alignment confronted insurmountable barriers (see “Obstacles to Third World movements” 7/22/2014). The most important obstacle was the opposition of the United States and the former colonial powers of Western Europe, which rejected out of hand any thought of cooperating with the newly independent nations in order to promote their autonomous development, thereby creating a more just and democratic and politically stable world-system. Instead, the global powers used all means at their disposal to preserve the essential economic and commercial characteristics of the colonial relation in the new era of political independence. Taking advantage of the class and ideological divisions within the national liberation movements, the core powers supported moderate elements and sought to destroy radical and revolutionary tendencies. Their mechanisms included strategically placed aid, political maneuverings, deceptions, ideological distortions, economic sanctions, wars and military interventions, and assassinations of radical leaders.
Beyond the hostility of powerful global actors, the Third World revolutionary vision of a more just and democratic world had to confront the legacy of the colonial situation. There was not sufficient capital for investment in industry and in the diversification of industrial and agricultural production. The domestic markets of the newly independent nations, necessary for the expansion of industry and trade with other newly independent nations, were weak. The necessary infrastructure for the movement of goods within or among nations of the South did not exist, inasmuch as the colonial transportation infrastructure was oriented to the service of the core-peripheral relation with Europe and the United States.
In spite of the obstacles, enormous efforts were made, and modest gains were registered. But through the collaboration of the national bourgeoisie with core governments and the international bourgeoisie, most newly independent nations of Africa and Asia and the independent republics of Latin America were neocolonies, and the colonial legacy of underdevelopment and poverty endured. In the 1980s, as the world-system was beginning to feel the effects of a structural and possibly terminal crisis (see “The terminal crisis of the world-system” 3/28/2014), the global elite turned to the neoliberal project, an aggressive economic war against the poor, casting aside the modest gains that had been registered by the national liberation movements.
But since 1995, there has been a stunning reversal, and today the dreams of Nkrumah and Nyerere are being made real. A new global political environment has been established, constructed on a foundation of popular movements in opposition to the neoliberal project. The process has been especially advanced in Latin America, where popular movements resulted in the taking of power by political forces of popular sectors in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador and by a progressive coalition of forces that includes popular sectors in Nicaragua, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, all of which have been developing economic, commercial, and cultural accords of mutual benefit. This dynamic has affected other nations of the region, and it has culminated in the establishment of the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR for its initials in Spanish; see “Latin American union and integration” 3/13/2014) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC; see “The Declaration of Havana 2014” 3/14/2014), which are dedicated to the strengthening of relations among the nations.
Now, as a further step in this process of South-South cooperation, CELAC and UNASUR are expanding relations with China and with BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), as we will discuss in the next posts.
In the context of the structural crisis of the world-system and the persistent efforts of the global powers to sustain an unsustainable neocolonial world-system, the governments and peoples of the South are developing alternative norms of international relations, based on mutual respect and cooperation.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, non-alignment, South-South cooperation