Michael Barratt Brown comments on Keith Buchanan’s article “The Third World—its emergence and contours”.
Keith Buchanan in NLR 18 makes a moving plea that socialists in the rich industrialized lands should, in José Marti’s words, “cast our lot with the poor of the earth”, whom Buchanan defines as the “Third World”. The appeal must evoke a warm response in all our hearts, but policy must be based on something more than emotion.
First, the question arises as to whom we throw in our lot with. Buchanan distinguishes two classes in the “Third World”—a native bourgeoisie and a revolutionary peasantry, but the analysis is based on altogether too disparate a collection of facts to permit the wide generalisations that Buchanan makes. For example, a native “bourgeoisie” (my quotes) apparently includes princes, sheikhs, chiefs, comprador merchants and middlemen; for all of these may be found in the elite trained to succeed colonial rule. The peasantry is described as “the truly revolutionary class in colonial countries” in the same paragraph that Fidel Castro is quoted with approbation, speaking of the peasantry “as a potential force which—led by the workers and the revolutionary intellectuals—has a decisive importance”. Left-wing movements in Cuba, Guinea, Algeria, British Guiana and Cambodia are classified together as “in a very real sense, the growing points of a new world”; and thrown in with them are Communist China, North Korea and North Viet Nam—all evidently part of the “Third World”.
These quotations may be unfairly torn out of their context, but they do seem to suggest the need for more rigorous analysis and more precise formulations. What is more serious is the second question, of the nature of the appeal that José Marti makes to us. Is it self-sacrifice, charity that we can well afford or cooperation? To Buchanan it appears to be an appeal to selfsacrifice, because it is his basic theme that there is a fundamental conflict of interest between European workers and the Asian, African and Latin American peasants. “The working class has forced up its standard of living (in the West) in very large measure at the expense of fellow workers in the colonial world,” says
Now I confess that I have not read Moussa’s “The Underprivileged Nations” nor Fanon’s “Les Damnés de la Terre”, upon whom Buchanan says that he draws heavily in his account of the “colonial” social situation. And it may well be that what they say applies well enough not only to French but to Portuguese and Dutch colonial relations, though I should have some doubts here too. It certainly does much less than justice to the long tradition of anti-Imperialist writing and action in the British Labour Movement from Marx and J. S. Mill through Morris, Hobson, Brailsford and Morel to Dutt, Fenner Brockway and Basil Davidson. The point that I wish to make here is that the supposed conflict of interest between Europeans and non-Europeans, specifically between workers in the rich capitalist countries and peasants in the poor ex-colonial lands, has no basis in fact.
There is no doubt that the concept of a conflict of interest is sedulously cultivated by Tory statesmen and the Tory press: “Our” interests are threatened when Nasser nationalizes the Suez Canal; “our” influence is at stake in Iraq, in Aden, in Kuwait, in Sarawak or wherever the power of the oil companies is challenged; “our” investments have to be protected in Rhodesia, the Congo, Malaya or British Guiana. And it is true that right-wing Labour leaders have often echoed these claims. It was Ernest Bevin who said that “if the British Empire fell . . . it would mean that the standard of life of our constituents would fall considerably”. But we need not therefore accept that the claim is correct.
There is no space here to examine in detail the long relationship between the peoples in the metropolitan and colonial countries. I hope that readers will look at my book (to be published by Heinemann in August) since it is concerned precisely with this question. The general thesis is that while there is no doubt that the economic development of the colonies was held back by plunder and exploitation, by the terms of trade, by an artificial division of labour imposed through free trade, and above all by forms of indirect rule, which maintained in power feudal, tribal and comprador groups with no interest in economic development, yet the gain from these processes for the workers at home was negligible, if not actually negative. The reason for this apparent contradiction is that the impoverishment of any large part of the world’s people in colonies and elsewhere is bound to work back upon the metropolitan people themselves and this