Further Comments on the Affluent and Proletarian Nations

Iam glad to have the opportunity of commenting on Michael Barratt Brown’s paper Third World or Third Force? which criticizes some aspects of my essay in N.L.R. No. 18. His major criticism is that my “talk of a ‘Third World’ that is inevitably at odds with the European workers is utterly wrong-headed and may be fatally dangerous”. Before I comment on the major criticism, however, I should perhaps deal with some of the points of detail.

I don’t, as far as I can see, bring any sheikhs into my analysis and your contributor’s repetitive listing of what I am supposed to regard as the “bourgeoisie”: “princes, sheikhs, chiefs, comprador merchants and middlemen . . . ” diverts attention from the main point I wished to stress: that there exist in the societies of the Third World powerful groupings opposed to that restructuring of society without which development is impossible and aid wasted.footnote1 These groups may, in detail, range in character from the industrial bourgeoisie of Latin America, to the administrative bourgeoisie of many African and Asian states, or the traditional authorities of tribalism in Africa. Yet, while the composition of this group may be highly diverse from one region to another, it has in almost every territory played the same role—it has been, and still is, a barrier to progress, a point of entry or of support for the forces of neocolonialism, a group largely preoccupied with the exploitation of the peasant masses. As such, it is uncompromisingly rejected by writers such as Fanon or Césaire, by peasant spokesmen such as Juliao in Brazil, by the leaders of the national struggle in South Africa, the West Indies, by an increasing proportion of the Negro population struggling for emancipation in the USA. . . .

The “growing points” of a new world to which I refer (and I use the plural deliberately for the developments of recent years and the differing needs and conditions of the Third World countries suggest we shall see emerging a wide range of socialisms) are precisely those countries in which the structural changes I referred to above have been, or are being, made—and often in the face of very real resistance by privileged groups old and new.footnote2 The countries I list show inevitably a great diversity—for their socio-economic problems, their cultural heritages, the types of pressure they have been exposed to, vary greatly and no magic political formula exists which will solve all of their problems. And I follow the practice of many French students of the Third World and include People’s China and the Democratic Republics of North Vietnam and North Korea within the Third World. Their problems of underdevelopmentfootnote3 and their socio-geographic conditions link them much more closely with the emergent countries of Africa, Asia or Latin America than with the older European socialisms and their experience may be much more relevant to the emergent countries than the rather specialized experience of the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe.

And, to clarify the record, I am indeed not unaware of the “long tradition of anti-imperialist writing and action in the British Labour Movement”. I was not in any way undervaluing the contributions of Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Palme Dutt and other pillars of the “British Labour Movement”; I might, in fact, add that year after year I have recommended Basil Davidson’s volumes on Africa as fundamental background reading for the course on the geography of Africa I taught. But I referred specifically in my essay to “the left wing politicians” and “the political leaders of the left in Europe” and, even though your contributor confines his attention to the British Left, the wide historical sweep and the extreme catholicity of definition which he must adopt to make up his list (an even more varied list than my list of “growing points” of the Third World . . .!) underlines how real has been the defection of the political leaders of the Left in the last couple of decades. The only relatively recent Labour Party spokesman he quotes is Ernest Bevin—and Bevin’s views on the “Empire” show no very great feeling of socialist solidarity. . . .

Let me also clarify another fundamental point. I don’t at any point talk about charity—which, in the social situation I described, degrades both donor and recipient, and I don’t think I anywhere refer to self-sacrifice. What I did say is: “a courageous confrontation of the political and moral issues posed by the Third World—a real rejection of and active opposition to all forms of economic and political domination, the formulation and adoption of a massive policy of genuine redistribution of wealth between the affluent nations and the proletarian nations (may) restore to the Left the drive and idealism which it possessed when confronted with these problems at the national level.” The mechanisms of such a redistribution, such as a levy of some two per cent of the GNP of the affluent nations, to be diverted through United Nations channels to the tasks of eliminating hunger, wiping out illiteracy and initiating real economic development, have been discussed by writers such as René Dumont. Such mechanisms mean that the techniques of levelling out gross disparities in per capita income which have been used within the framework of the nation-state for the last two or three generations should be used on a global basis. Ultimately, the parallel with XIXth century Britain may be a close one; in Britain the levelling out did not come as a result of “charity” or “self-sacrifice” on the part of the “haves” but was forced through by the “have-nots” as they gained increasing political power. A similar pattern of development may emerge at the global level, with the increasingly powerful bloc of “have-nots”—the Third World—pushing through the United Nations drastic measures for resource redistribution as between the affluent and proletarian nations. It is in this context that the contribution of Western socialists may be critical for, provided they recognize the scale and character of the problem, provided above all they can attain some understanding of the hopes and aspirations of those whom Fanon calls “the damned of the earth” (an emotive phrase but nonetheless damnably true) they may be able to act as mediators in the difficult and protracted transition period. And it is going to be a tragically difficult period; we hardly need the example of South Africa to remind us that Europeans may be prepared to die in the last ditch defending their standard of living and their privileged position.

We are not likely to attain the sort of understanding on which a real socialist solidarity can be built as long as we stick to our cramped and Europo-centric vision of the world, as long as we shut our ears to the swelling volume of criticism from left-wing spokesman of the Third World, as long as we refuse to recognize the bitterness and the desperation left by long years of European arrogance and exploitation. We cannot continuously shut our eyes to movements such as the Ras Tafari cult in Jamaica, the Black Moslems in the USA, Poqo in South Africa, with the comforting thought that these are not rejections of Europe and of European mores but are merely directed against the upper classes, the power elite, in white society. These rejections of white society are rejections of white society as a whole and this total rejection of Europe finds its raison d’être, in part at least, in the fact that all groups in Western society have connived at, collaborated in, or profited from the dehumanisation of the remaining two-thirds of mankind. And if Sartre recognizes this, it is surely not in a spirit of “violent self-mortification” but rather because this recognition is fundamental to the ultimate re-establishment of a real human solidarity between those who belonged to the exploiting nations and those who were exploited. Listen to the voices of the Third World: Frantz Fanon, for example: