Third-worldism is a tendency within left wing political thought to regard the division between developed, classically liberal nations and developing, or "third world" ones as of primary political importance. Third-worldism tends to involve support for Third World nation states or national liberation movements against Western nations or their proxies in conflicts where the particular Third World state or movement. The thought behind this view is often that contemporary capitalism can be characterised principally as imperialism. Hence, third-worldists say, resistance to capitalism must principally be resistance to the predations of advanced capitalist nations upon others.

Key figures in the Third Worldist movement include Frantz Fanon, Ahmed Ben Bella, Andre Gunder Frank, Samir Amin and Simon Malley. The New Left led to an explosion of support for Third Worldism, especially after the failure of revolutionary movements in the First World, such as Paris 1968. Among the New Left groups and movements associated with Third Worldism were Monthly Review and the New Communist Movement.

The Bandung Conference and its creation the Non-Aligned Movement represented significant venues for third worldist politics during the twentieth century. Third worldism is also closely connected to movements such as Pan-Africanism, Pan-Arabism, Maoism, Pan-Slavism, African socialism and the variety of Communism associated with Fidel Castro. National liberation movements such as the Palestine Liberation Organization, Sandinistas and African National Congress have been causes célèbres of the movement.

More recently, Third Worldism has become a powerful force in the World Social Forum (particularly since the Mumbai WSF in 2004) and in the Cairo Anti-War Conference.


Though third worldism is advanced in the tradition of left-wing or socialist politics, there is an argument over whether it has genuine contiguity with this tradition. Some socialists believe that third-worldism involves a retreat from class politics (wherein it is the division between the workers and capitalists that is most important), and often entails endorsing ideologically suspect groups. For example, even today, some groups (such as Socialist Action in the UK) are still prepared to defend the government of North Korea, despite the manner in which it treats its own citizens. Positive support for Ba'athist and theocratic militias in Iraq during the current occupation (as opposed to independent workers' and social movements) might also be seen in this tradition. Third worldism has sometimes been associated with support for authoritarian socialist states, and Western supporters of Fidel Castro, Stalinism or Maoism. It might therefore seem that advocacy of third-worldism is sometimes caught up with the defence of particular regimes.

During the Cold War, the world was often seen as being divided into the first world (Western parliamentary democracies), the second world (the USSR and its satellites) and the "third world" - other countries, which were typically in less advanced stages of capitalist development or industrialisation. During this time, episodes such as the Vietnam War seemed to cast the most clear political division as (for example) between the Viet Cong guerrillas and the United States Army. Many socialists want to say that this division is illusory and that the important division of interests in the world is between the proletariat and those who attack them - whether in the name of capitalism or nationalism.

Further reading

* Robert Malley, [ "The Third World Moment"] , in "Current History", November 1999
* Robert Malley [ The Call From Algeria: Third Worldism, Revolution, and the Turn to Islam] " UC Press
* [ "Toward a Pan-third worldism: A challenge to the association of third world studies". Journal of Third World Studies, Spring 2003 by Bangura, Abdul Karim]
* [ "The rise of neo-Third Worldism? the Indonesian trajectory and the consolidation of illiberal democracy", Vedi R Hadiz]
* [ "Third Worldism or Socialism?"] , by Solidarity

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