—Its Emergence and Contours

Heinrich Heine

The most striking political development of the last two decades has been the emergence of what French geographers and social scientists term the Tiers Monde—the Third World. This term is applied to a great bloc of countries stretching from the Andean republics of South America, across Africa and the Middle East, to Indonesia and the islands of the tropical Pacific. It is made up of over a hundred political units, greatly differing in size, in population or in political status. Some, like Pakistan or Indonesia, have populations of close on one hundred million; others, like Gambia or Gabon, have populations of under half a million and a problematic chance of long surviving as isolated units. Some, like Cambodia or Cuba, are socialist in their politics—though their socialisms are often very different from the western form of socialism; others, like Saudi Arabia or Ethiopia, are feudal theocracies; some, like Angola or Kenya, are still colonial territories of the old type; some, like Guatemala or Katanga, are classic examples of “new colonialism”. All are poor, most are backward, all are either crippled by lack of development or deformed by exploitative development. They contain an aggregate population of almost two thousand million people—two-thirds of the world total.

That their emergence should be treated as a “striking phenomenon”, that we should still be unwilling to recognise the implications of this emergence, serves to underline the ethno-centric, Western-oriented (if I can use such a paradoxical term) character of our world vision . . . But, one may stress, this “Third World” is relatively new—and its emergence means that we have got to make an “agonising reappraisal” of our world view. For those of you who are young this is not easy, since, born into, and living amid, a world in flux, you cannot always realise that “the earthquakes of change” to which you have grown accustomed, which, indeed, for you represent the normal world condition, are symptomatic of the end of a world. And for those of us who are older, who grew up in a world whose major lineaments seemed fixed and unchanging (because we did not recognise that the Long March and the rioting in India and the shooting down of Africans were the twisting birth pains of a new world), it is no less difficult to adjust to the reality of an era in which most of the old and familiar land marks—the Empire, the supremacy of Europe, the dependence of Africa, the inscrutable chaos of the East—have disappeared, along with Loretta Young and Laurel and Hardy . . .

“Not so very long ago,” says Sartre, “the world contained two thousand million inhabitants, or five hundred million men and one thousand five hundred million natives. The former possessed the World, the others borrowed it . . .”footnote1 The emergence of the Third World is the assertion, by this three-quarters of humanity who were “natives” of their human dignity. And we in the West have not found it greatly to our liking that these folk, these “natives”, should assert their humanity and demand that they, too, should be heard, that the “four Freedoms” should be applied, not only to Nordics, or Europeans, or Aryans, but to all men . . . And so the assertion of this humanity had to be made with the machete and the machine gun; in armed conflict the oppressed finds freedom and asserts his humanity so that, as Sartre puts it “the weapon of a fighter, that is his humanity.” Vietnam and Cuba; Cyprus, Kenya and Algeria, Angola and South Africa—all these are stages in the progressive assertion of their humanity by the “damned of the earth” . . .