The Third World project of the post-World War II era was rooted in the twentieth century anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa and anti-imperialist movements in Latin America. The giants of the era, who had enormous prestige based on the leadership of their peoples in anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles, met with another to formulate a united vision for the future of the world-system and to develop cooperative strategies of action. They sought to transform the structures of the neocolonial world-system, which were ensuring the preservation of European economic, financial and cultural domination, and which were obstacles to the genuine sovereignty of Third World nations.
At the UN Conference on Trade and Employment in Havana in 1948, delegates from the Third World criticized Western ethnocentric assumptions with respect to economic development. They denounced the creation of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) for its exclusion of the Third World, thus enabling the advanced industrial states to make the economic rules of the world. They argued for the right of the Third World nations to utilize tariffs to protect their domestic industries. And they called upon Third World nations to invest in industrial development with capital attained through foreign aid and the surplus from the exportation of raw materials (Prashad 2007: 62-69).
In Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, representatives of twenty-nine newly independent Asian and African nations met. Sukarno of Indonesia was the leading force; Nehru of India, Nasser of Egypt, Zhou En-lai of China and U Nu of Burma were among its prominent participants. The Bandung conference declared the importance of Third World unity in opposition to European colonialism and Western imperialism. It advocated economic cooperation rather than exploitation as the base of international relations. It sought to break the core-peripheral relation, in which the Third World nations export raw materials and import manufactured goods, and thus it called for the diversification of the economies of the formerly colonized nations and the development of their national industries. It supported the regulation of international capital flows. It advocated international regulation and control of arms, the reduction of military forces, and the prohibition of nuclear arms. It denounced cultural imperialism and the suppression of national cultures (Prashad 2007:32-33, 36-46).
The Bandung conference had a tremendous impact on the peoples of the Third World. Vijay Prashad writes:
From Belgrade to Tokyo, from Cairo to Dar es Salaam, politicians and intellectuals began to speak of the “Bandung spirit.” What they meant was simple: that the colonized world had now emerged to claim its space in world affairs, not just as an adjunct of the First or Second Worlds, but as a player in its own right. Furthermore, the Bandung Spirit was a refusal of both economic subordination and cultural suppression—two of the major policies of imperialism (2007:45-46).
In 1960, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was established by Venezuela, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, which together produced eighty-two percent of the world’s crude oil exports. The creation of OPEC was one example of a general Third World strategy of creating public commodity cartels that united producing and exporting nations, with the hope of curbing the power of the private cartels that had been formed by core manufacturers and distributers. Public primary product cartels would enable producing and exporting nations to set prices for their raw materials exports, thus generating more income for investment in national industry and social development. In addition to petroleum, public cartels were formed by nations that were producers and exporters of cocoa, sugar, rubber, copper, and bauxite (Prashad 2007:69-70, 180-86).
In 1961 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, representatives of twenty-three governments of Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe established the Non-Aligned Movement. Tito of Yugoslavia, Nehru and Nasser were its founders. U Nu, Ben Youssef (Algeria), Sukarno, Nkrumah (Ghana) and Osvaldo Dorticós (President of Cuba) were present at the first Summit in Belgrade. The Summit called for the democratization of the United Nations, particularly with respect to the Security Council, which holds unbalanced power vis-à-vis the General Assembly, and which is dominated by the core powers. The Summit called upon the nuclear powers (United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain and France) to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. And it supported the armed struggles of national liberation movements in Algeria and the Portuguese colonies (Mozambique, Angola, and Cabo Verde) in Africa (Prashad 2007:95-97, 100-4, 110).
In 1964, seventy-seven nations of the Third World formed the Group of 77, an organization that functions as a bloc within the United Nations. It called for the First World nations to finance Third World projects, as compensation for colonialism, and to permit Third World states to use protective tariffs without sanctions. It supported Third World efforts to improve the prices of raw materials, and it called upon the Third World nations to develop new forms of mutually beneficial trade among one another in order to ameliorate the effects of imperialist exploitation (Prashad 2007:70-71).
In 1966, the First Solidarity Conference of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America was held in Havana, convoked by the revolutionary government of Cuba. The 513 delegates represented 83 governments and national liberation movements from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, including the National Liberation Front of Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), and Amilcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau. The conference named colonialism and imperialism as the source of Third World underdevelopment, and it defended nationalization as an effective strategy for attaining control over the national economy. It supported armed struggle as a necessary tactic in opposition to colonialism and imperialism, and it pledged solidarity to the Vietnamese struggle against the United States (Prashad 1007: 106-13, 310).
At its 1973 Summit in Algiers, the Third Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement declared that the international order continued to promote the underdevelopment of the Third World nations. The Summit supported the creation of public cartels to transfer power to raw material producers; it called for a linking of the prices of raw material exports to the prices of imported manufactured goods; and it affirmed the principle of the sovereignty of nations over their natural resources, including their right to nationalize property within their territories. The Summit endorsed a document on the New International Economic Order, which had been in preparation by Third World governments for a decade (Prashad 2007:189, 330).
In 1974, the UN General Assembly adopted the Third Word document on a New International Economic Order, which was supported by the Non-Aligned Movement, the G-77 and the socialist nations. 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 producers’ associations to give raw material exporting states control over prices; a new international monetary policy that did not punish the weaker states; increased industrialization of the Third World; the transfer of technology from the advanced industrial states to the Third World; regulation and control of the activities of transnational corporations; the promotion of cooperation among the nations of the Third World; and aid for Third World development (Castro 1983:27-28; Prashad 2007:189, 334-35).
Later in 1974, the UN General Assembly approved the “Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States,” which drew upon the New International Economic Order. It affirmed the right of the nationalization of foreign properties, endorsed the establishment of raw material cartels, and called for the creation of a system with just and equitable terms of trade (Prashad 2007:189).
In 1979, the Sixth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement was held in Havana. Ninety-three countries of the Third World reaffirmed their commitment to national sovereignty, economic integrity, cultural diversity and nuclear disarmament (Prashad 2007:113-14). They declared: “The Chiefs of State and Government reaffirm their deep conviction that a lasting solution to the problems of countries in development can be attained only by means of a constant and fundamental restructuring of international economic relations through the establishment of a New International Economic Order” (quoted in Castro 1983:25).
In the aftermath of the 1979 Havana Summit, representing the Non-Aligned Movement as its President, Cuba called upon the United Nations to respond to the desperate economic and social situation of the Third World. It proposed: an additional flow of resources to the Third World through donations and long-term low-interest credit; an end to unequal terms of trade; ceasing of irrational arms spending and directing these funds to finance development; a transformation of the international monetary system; and the cancellation of the debts of less developed countries in a disadvantageous situation (Castro 1983:25).
The Third World project, formulated with clarity and commitment and on a basis of a knowledgeable understanding of the world-system, confronted the hostile opposition of the global powers. It thus found itself in a war on two fronts, on the one hand, with the aggressions and maneuvers of the global powers, and on the other hand, with the colonial legacy of underdevelopment and poverty. And it would be temporarily derailed by Third World spokespersons who were tied economically and ideologically to core corporations and international organizations, and who promoted their particular interests. We will discuss these themes in the subsequent posts in this series on the Third World project.
Castro, Fidel. 1983. La crisis económica y social del mundo. La Habana: Oficina de Publicaciones del Consejo de Estado.
Prashad, Vijay. 2007. The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World. New York: The New Press.
Key words: Third World, Non-Aligned Movement, Bandung, G-77, New International Economic Order