The ‘Third World’ is that vast region, stretching over parts of three continents, which has left behind the past but not yet arrived in the present; which belongs neither to the capitalist camp nor to the communist, but feels the pull of both; which is staring about it today like a released prisoner to whom everything outside his cell has grown unfamiliar. Peter Worsley’s book is a remarkable and invaluable study of it.footnote1 He begins with a survey of the process of colonization. He goes on to review the various types of anti-imperialist movements, and then the various forms of State that countries recovering their independence have adopted. Finally he turns to the problem of what the future may hold for them.

On all these subjects he has much to say that is important and stimulating. One of his virtues is his ability to combine historical reasoning with social anthropology, even if readers accustomed to plain history may feel here and there that sociology clothes itself in somewhat out-landish diction. A book covering so much ground must often and usefully provoke disagreement. This sometimes arises from the arrangement. Moving to and fro among many places and periods, Worsley is not always quite careful enough to make the sequence of his argument clear. Partly his arrangement depends on his view of the age of imperialism as essentially a brief one, with its ‘really crucial phase’ coming after 1885. This may be correct if we are thinking in terms of finance-capital and capital export, but in terms of the general interaction of Europe and the colonial world one might almost think of the 1885–1914 period as an aberration, an atavistic postlude, ending fittingly in Europe’s suicidal civil war. At any rate colonial tribute, colonial wars, and so on, already had a long history. India, vastly the most lucrative of all colonies, had long since been taken; so had Indonesia and the Philippines; Latin America had been taken and lost; and China and Japan were never taken. If imperialism had not been so long drawn-out, its impact would have been much smaller.

This leads to the fundamental criticism that the book may be open to: that it groups together areas which are, in fact, heterogeneous from the decisive standpoint of their historical and actual class structures, and alike only in poverty and instability. Worsley assumes that an analysis of Afro-Asian conditions will be applicable also to Latin America; but Latin America, much closer to Asia than to Africa in class divisions, is also gripped by acute problems of racial antagonism. Worsley’s discussion of the Arabs does not sufficiently recognize that they are a very old and divided community. India is so much more divided that it is unconvincing to be offered the Indian national struggle as a typical example of modern colonial revolt. It is even less convincing to equate the present massacres in the Congo with those in India during the partition, as due to ‘ethnicity’, or regional-tribal feeling. In India they were to a great extent a perversion of class hatreds into pseudo-national enmity, envenomed by religious propaganda.

The grand line of distinction is between Africa, far the least developed area, and all the rest of the ‘third world’. This dichotomy is so pronounced that one might wish Worsley had written two separate books. In this volume, after saying much about India before independence, he says little about its present problems, and nothing about Pakistan. In Africa he is concerned with the situation today, and this is the subject of his longest sections, and those with the most practical and topical bearing. The following discussion is confined therefore, as the book might have been, to Africa.

Worsley, who follows Marxism in many ways while eschewing what he calls its ‘theology’, is sceptical of the ability of Marxist analysis to deal with African realities; and it must be admitted that Marxism has not yet brought into play all the refinements needed to interpret the history of its own homeland, Europe. Worsley’s dislike of the indiscriminate use of the term ‘petty-bourgeoisie’—he might have added the term ‘feudal’—is well-grounded. By trying to come to grips with Africa, European Marxists may come to learn more about history in general. Africa for its part is thinking a good deal about Marxism, for as Worsley’s book makes clear, this is the only political theory with any serious interest for Africans, and socialism the only practical programme.

For Marxists, the prime question is how far class differentiation has occurred in Africa. In recent years both European and African writers, desirous of rehabilitating the Dark Continent, have been inclined to claim for it two incompatible achievements: an egalitarian way of life unknown to Europe, and those features of civilization—cities, palaces, empires—of which Europe was all too fertile. If Africa has had a history, it has had classes; if no classes, no history. Much, of course, depends on exactly what part of the globe is under discussion. There is a tendency among apologists (Worsley is not altogether free from it) to include the northern region, above the Sahara, or to exclude it, according to the convenience of a particular argument. In reality, North Africa has historically been a twilight zone between Africa and Europe, as the Near East has been between Asia and Europe. If we wish to lay our finger on what is truly and quintessentially the historic Europe, we must go to a quite small area of the north-west: all the rest is, compared with this unique evolution, abortive, imitative, or hybrid. Similarly it might be said that Middle Asia fully displays itself only in northern India, and that Further Asia concentrates itself in north-east China. In this sense the archetypal Africa may well seem to lie south of the Sahara, an immense tract shut off by the desert, or by desert combined with early loss of the northern coastline to alien occupants, Carthaginian, Roman, Arab; there was also from early modern times a loss of most of the eastern, western, and southern seaboards to Europeans or Arabs.

It may be safest to conclude, as some students have done,footnote2 that Southern Africa, retarded by these factors, was in a condition of incipient class division, though community life and collective land-owning (quite widespread even in Europe as late as the 19th century) remained predominant. In some territories chiefs may have partially graduated, like the Highland chiefs before 1745, to the status of feudal landlords. But the formation of classes continued to be rudimentary, and inequalities were still for the most part the ‘natural’ ones between the sexes and the generations, between clans and between tribes. Men exploited women, the Watutsi exploited the Hutu. For if class differentiation had gone further, there would have been a more decisive development of those elements of the social superstructure that Africa possessed in common with Europe and Asia, but at a much lower level. Africa pullulated with the primitive materials out of which religions are organized, but they hardly got beyond animism and witchcraft. Here and there tribal chieftainship was evolving into monarchy, but the weakness of monarchy and religion had a reciprocal influence, each retarding the other. Kingship was mainly a foreign intrusion: of a crude Asiatic type, in northern Nigeria, accompanying Islam; of a crude European type, in Ethiopia, accompanying Christianity. In these cases, war also was fairly highly institutionalized. Elsewhere fighting was mostly spasmodic raiding and looting, like the Ngoni harassment of the Tonga in Nyasaland, as much inferior to real war as pocket-picking to a Stock Exchange coup. It was only at the very end, and very dramatically, that war and kingship seemed to be flowering in one area, with the Zulu conquests.