Public discourse in the Third World constantly refers to colonialism, neocolonialism and imperialism. This is consistent with the widespread commitment in the Third World to the construction of an alternative more just and democratic world-system that is post-neoliberal and post-neocolonial.
The Third World emerged as a unifying project of national and social liberation in the 1950s and 1960s, forged by the charismatic leaders of Asia, Africa and Latin America, who possessed moral authority and great prestige, as a result of their having had led their peoples in independence struggles. By the 1970s, the Third World was able to present to the global powers a scientifically informed proposal for a new sustainable, post-colonial international economic order. The proposal was cast aside by the global powers in the early 1980s, as they turned to the implementation of neoliberal policies; and the Third World project appeared dead. But on the foundation of popular movements, the Third World project was born again in the late 1990s. Today, the Third World project has reached its most advanced stage, precisely in an historic moment in which the global elite is demonstrating its moral and intellectual incapacity to respond to the sustained structural global crisis, and the neocolonial world-system makes evident its unsustainability (see various post on the Third World project in the category Third World).
Thus, we are today in a critical historic moment. In the North, there are critical and reformist proposals, but they either do not involve structural transformations of the neocolonial world-system, or they are lacking in political viability. In the Third World, an alternative theory and practice has emerged, and political reality is being transformed. Thus, humanity faces a practical choice between the neocolonial project of the global elite and the emancipatory project of the Third World.
We intellectuals and activists of the North pay insufficient attention to the Third World project. If we were to encounter it, we would be able to arrive to the insights necessary for scientific critique of the world-system and of neocolonialism, neoliberalism, and neo-fascism. And we would be able to forge effective political movements among our peoples, which would seek to establish a just, democratic and sustainable world-system, in alliance with the Third World governments and movements.
If we were to encounter the Third World project, we would find that the Third World movements do not disdain grand narratives; to the contrary, they have formulated grand narratives that have been effective in mobilizing their peoples. We need to learn from their example, and to formulate grand narratives for our own nations of the North, projecting that the peoples of the North will cast their lot with the neocolonized peoples of the Third World, forging an international popular movement that will create a sustainable world-system and save humanity.
The Third World narrative sees the European colonial/neocolonial project as an impressive military, political and economic achievement. However, it sees the European colonial project as completely lacking in moral justification, violating the fundamental tenets of all religious traditions that humanity has created, and violating as well the democratic values that were formulated and are proclaimed by the dominating colonial/neocolonial nations. Moreover, the Third World narrative discerns that the European project was characterized from the outset by a fundamental contradiction: it established a world-system that requires unlimited economic growth through the conquest of new lands, but the earth has finite geographical and ecological limits. In accordance with this contradiction, the global powers ran out of lands and peoples to conquer during the course of the twentieth century. Having overextended its natural geographical and ecological limits, the world system has been in a sustained structural crisis since the 1970s, revealing its unsustainability. From the vantage point of the Third World, economic stagnation, spiraling financial speculation, wars of aggression led by a declining hegemonic neocolonial power, the rise of religious fundamentalism, the emergence of secessionist and ultra-nationalist movements, and uncontrolled international migrations are the signs of the profound structural crisis of the world-system.
The Third World narrative thus discerns the ecological and economic unsustainability of the world-system and its capitalist world-economy. And it also sees its political unsustainability, inasmuch as the neocolonized peoples of the world are in movement, calling for a more just, democratic and sustainable world-system as the only hope for saving humanity. Here the Third World narrative tells its own story: the Haitian Revolution; the formation of the Latin American republics; the anti-colonial movements of Asia and Africa; the creation of the unified Third World project and the Non-Aligned Movement; the reverses as a result of the imposition of the neoliberal project of the global powers; and the renewal of the Third World project, especially evident in the formation of regional associations in Latin America and the proclamation of “socialism for the twenty-first century.”
In formulating a vision for a post-colonial future, the Third World project has not sought to return to a pre-colonial past, however much it remembered and appreciated a more dignified earlier era, for it recognized the practical impossibility of doing so. In “returning to the source,” its goal was to appropriate from its past and to rediscover and re-experience its essential dignity, robbed by colonialism. But it did not seek to resurrect earlier forms of thinking in a pure form. It has had a practical orientation to the present: transforming economic structures imposed by colonialism, which promote deepening underdevelopment and poverty in the neocolonial situation; forging a political and social movement that could unify the peoples, taking control of state structures established by colonialism, and using such political control to transform national economies; and reforming international associations created by the neocolonial powers, so that Third World governments would have democratic voice in global affairs.
In forging an alternative political and social project, the Third World appropriated from its own precolonial past as well from the political and philosophical cultures of the colonial powers. From the outset, it was a project of national and social liberation, seeking independent and truly sovereign nations as well as a social transformation that would protect the social and economic rights of all and would permit all to live in human dignity. It forging the project, it drew from the bourgeois and proletarian revolutions of Europe and the United States, appropriating their insights, but expanding and deepening their meanings as it placed them in the intellectual and moral context of a project of national and social liberation that sought to overcome colonial and neocolonial domination. Later, the Third World project appropriated the insights of the women’s movement, again transforming them in order to fit them into an ongoing popular movement for national and social liberation. And still later, the Third World project appropriated the insights of the ecological movement, once again transforming them in order to fit them into its own project. Ultimately what emerged was a movement that integrated issues of colonial domination, class exploitation, patriarchy and gender exclusion, and ecological degradation into a comprehensive intellectual movement, tied to political practice, and articulated in eloquent voices by charismatic leaders as well as by intellectuals.
Third World leaders have formulated an interpretation that explains the historic roots of their current political powerlessness and economic weakness, and that projects hope for a more just and democratic world. Through this narrative, the Third World leaders have politically mobilized their peoples. In their most advanced manifestations, they have taken control of states, redirected policies, and forged alternative international associations.
Intellectuals and activists of the North could learn much from the achievements of the Third World project, for it is taking the initial steps toward the construction of a more just, democratic and sustainable world-system. If we were to do so, we would be in a much better position to counter the neo-fascist narrative of Trump and his team.