Third worldism

Kenny Mostern kennym at
Thu Apr 20 10:43:12 MDT 1995

Inasmuch as stupid dismissals of third worldism are the norm everywhere I
look--on this list, among social democrats and hard leftists, among
postmodernists and marxists--I thought it might be valuable to actually
think about what a third worldist argument, in the 1960s and 1970s when
they were comment, actually looked like.  Since it had nothing whatsoever
to do with having the peasants rise up in the U.S., it seems to me that we
might clear up some BS.  (The use of Mao in this country, however silly,
was always limited to his theories of contradiction.)

In third worldist analysis, the revolution in the U.S. was not supposed
to happen "in the same way" that it happened in, say, China, but rather
the process of decolonization and socialist revolution in the third world
was supposed to trigger the revolution in the first world.  (A repeat of
Lenin and weak link theory, no doubt.)

According to this analysis, on its own, the imperial proletariat is simply
not going to make a socialist revolution, because, taking the world
economy as a whole, our proletariat share interests with the world's
bourgeoisie more than the world's proletariat.  In this context, the only
contradiction broad and deep enough to set off an *international*
socialist revolution is in the colonial world:  *if* the third world
countries are able to form autonomous socialist states on a large scale,
it would disrupt the flow of colonial capital extraction, and thus the
power structure in the imperialist countries will be weakened
sufficiently for class consciousness to be developed here.  Thus, the
U.S. revolution will require, minimally, a two stage process:  (1)
anti-racist action and pro-third world solidarity work to aid the
international struggle; and (2) building a socialist revolutionary
movement starting with the internally colonized populations of the U.S.,
through a process of community based education.

This analysis, which was (for example) Huey Newton's (as distinct, of
course, from Eldridge Cleaver's--I'm getting to that) was, in my
opinion, the best analysis of a U.S. revolutionary scenario available in
the late 1960s.  Lots of stuff went wrong, of course, but I'm surely not
going to act like I think a better analysis, of all things, would have
made the difference.

First of all, the imperialists figured out early on--way before the
leftists--that the way out of this was going to be neo-colonialism:  let
them cover their own administrative costs, pay a small number of native
elites to do our bidding, and rebuild resource extraction on different
grounds.    This weas, obviously, an attractive alternative for third
world elites, and a great deal easier to accomplish than actually making
a real anti-colonial revolution.  In spite of Fanon's warning--and
perhaps, because of Fanon's warning, since Fanon was, in fact, working
for the Algerian FLN at the time--third worldists in this country
consistently failed to distinguish between revolutionary and reactionary
movements in the third world, and found themselves time and again
supporting corrupt, nonrevolutionary third world leaders.  (Some did this
knowing full well that they were making this choice; Stokley
Carmichael/Kwame Toure is the best example of this.  Others were
seriously trying to avoid this, to lesser and greater extent.  Cleaver
and the Ramparts folks, who unlike Newton and Carmichael were never an
organic part of a movement on the ground, were particularly good
propagandists for third world liberation movements precisely because they
were more interested in the grand narrative they believed they were part
of than actually ensuring the narrative happened.)

Second, to the extent it was ever possible for the third world socialists
to lead the revolution, they required much, much more substantial and
effective support from revolutionaries in the west than was forthcoming.
(To some extent, they stopped being socialists when they saw that this
support was not really forthcoming.)  Dependency has a very
straightforward meaning which continues to be valid:  third world
economics, militaries, and cultures could not separate themselves from the
*power* of the west without, paradoxically, relying on western aid.  It
is hard to see what else could have happened besides the takeover of
power by the native bourgeoisies (who have, of course, been so weak that
ultimately their best hopes of reproducing themselves have been
immigration to the west.)

Finally, because the U.S. third worldists saw, in my opinion, correctly,
what was going on in the third world as a necessary prerequisite for a
revolution here, they spent a lot of time waiting around rather than
doing organizing work.  I recognize myself here, please don't imagine
that this is coming from any position of superiority.  There is a
combination of factors:  people woh honestly thought the whole structure
of the argument seemed so tenuous that they found themselves unable to do
anything; or the people who were institutionally positioned to do the
entire analysis were removed from the organic communities in which it
might have been useful.  (About me:  I have participating in any number
of organizing efforts, the general effect of which has been nothing in
particular.  At the same time, I have been successful at developing
marxist analytical tools.  I admire greatly those of you, however few,
have been able to do both things.)  (And sorry about the implicit,
Frankfurt School derived pessimism:  perhaps it really does explain my
attraction to punk and hip hop, as Ralph Dumain seems to think.)  In any
event, watching the third world took time away from building a more solid
base in the U.S., and when the movement was over, there were only two
directions to go:  stop-gap social service providing, and reactionary
suicide.  The case of Oakland's Black Panthers (described in the
autobiographies of Elaine Brown and David Hilliard) illustrate this

>From my point of view the single most concrete good that emerged from all
this was the feminist critique which started to appear in the early
1970s.  The feminists pointed out that what third worldisms most had in
common was the waiting for a single great patriarchal leader to save us,
when no movement could be built unless women (in this case)
simultaneously saved themselves.  (I know about the right-wing abuse of
this position, where saving yourself replaces movements activity.  That's
another discussion.)  What ends up being most embarassing to someone like
me who would try to rescue what is valuable in Huey Newton, George
Jackson, and Malcolm X is their reliance, to the core, on specifically
patriarchal models of social change. I do not believe
we would have won had we been feminists then; on the other hand, the
situation on the ground might be much better now.

Anyway, we continue to be caught in the same paradox, the one that Marx
tried to solve by labelling the industrial proletariat as the
revolutionary class:  the people really at the bottom, suffering
genocide, can't make the revolution themselves; the people who can make
the revolution won't because they prefer to commit genocide against the
folks at the bottom.  I don't believe that the structure of a third
worldist feminist analysis can be "gone beyond".  To the extent the
analysis is inadequate, it may be that the objective conditions for a
proletariar revolution still do not exist.  A scary thought, in light of
the fact that capitalism will destroy the earth if we don't stop it soon.

Kenny Mostern
UC-Berkeley Ethnic Studies Graduate Group

Against:  racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, militarism
For:  the truth--and the funk!

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