Organized Panel Session
Recent assessments of the Cold War have contributed much to our understanding of the period as a multi-polar conflict played out across the decolonizing world. This perspective has accompanied renewed interest in the Third World as both a prize to be won and a political project in itself – a third path for building society apart from by the First and Second Worlds. Yet, beyond legitimations of nationalist movements and conferences on economic cooperation, alternative social formations offered by Third Worldism remain unclear. In this paper, I make two claims. First, I look at relevant work from Mao Zedong and Franz Fanon, two of the best-known thinkers of national revolution under (semi-)colonial conditions, to establish how thought on the Third World as a political project was not just opposed to Western imperialism, but also the politics of the national bourgeoisie in the decolonized world. It was a socialist politics for non-capitalist societies. While the socialism Mao and Fanon promoted stood in close relation to nationalism, it was not reducible to the later as is commonly thought of anti-colonial revolutions. Second, analyzing China’s involvement in the Afro-Asia Movement from the Bandung Conference (1955) to the aborted Algiers Conference (1965), I argue that multiple geopolitical poles did not provide options beyond the capitalism/socialism binary. China’s failure to build and lead the Afro-Asian Movement lies in the history of coups and national revolutions among the decolonized world, not in the excesses of its socialist rhetoric as the current literature claims.