European colonial domination of vast regions of the world has been a central part of the modern story, establishing underdevelopment and poverty in the vast colonized regions of the planet, and promoting development for the colonizing societies. The conquest by Spain and Portugal of what is today Latin America and the Caribbean occurred during the 16th century, and the conquest by England, France, and other European nations of Africa, South Asia, Southwest Asia, and much of Southeast Asia occurred in the period of 1750 to 1914.
The conquered peoples from the outset consistently resisted their conquest and enslavement. In every region of the colonized world, the armed resistance to the conquest was a central part of the story, often attaining heroic proportions. And among the enslaved peoples captured in Africa and transported to the New World, slave rebellions and other forms of resistance were important dimensions, creating a general climate of fear among those who lived a privileged life in intimate relation with their slaves.
Ultimately, however, armed resistance was overcome, and slave rebellions were contained. The world system was consolidated. Once formed, the world system itself would generate a more serious threat to the established order: sustained revolutionary social movements established on a foundation of universal human values.
The revolution of the peoples of the Third World (see ¨What is the Third World¨ 7/16/2013) began in Latin America in the 19th century, and it expanded to include Asia and Africa in the 20th century. In Latin America, anti-colonial revolutions led to the formation of independent republics in South America, Mexico, and Central America (but not the Caribbean) in the period of 1810 to 1824. In Africa and Asia, anti-colonial revolutions began in the early 20th century and ultimately culminated in the establishment of independent nations for most of the colonized peoples of Africa and Asia (as well as those of the Caribbean) during the period of 1948 to 1963.
But this was not a true independence. The politically independent nations found themselves limited by the global economic structures established during the colonial era. In Latin America, the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies became semi-colonies of England during the second half of the nineteenth century. During the twentieth century, Latin America nations became neocolonies of the United States, as this rising imperialist power was able to establish a system of neocolonial domination. When the colonies of Africa and Asia became independent in the post-World War II era, they too found themselves in what Nkrumah called an “economic stranglehold” of the United States and the ex-colonial powers.
Thus the Third World revolutions attained independence and formal political and civil rights for nearly all peoples of the earth, but they did not attain the emancipation of the colonized peoples. The movements provoked a transition to neocolonialism, giving rise to further popular movements in opposition to neocolonial structures.
During the course of the twentieth century, the anti-colonial and anti-neocolonial movements emerged as a dynamic social force, displacing the workers’ movements of the North as the principal force of opposition from below. In the North, the unions and political parties supported by workers adopt a mixture of reform and conservatism in the context of parliamentarianism; whereas in the Third World, the movements challenge the fundamental philosophical suppositions of capitalism as a social and cultural system, and they challenge the fundamental structures of the capitalist world-economy. They seek to establish the self-determination of peoples, the true sovereignty of nations, and a just and democratic world-system.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Cuba, Latin America