By Daniel Barragán

Buenos Aires, 1974. Several international voices, including Beatriz Bissio, Samora Machel, Neiva Moreria, Aquino de Brançanza, Jawdat El Atassi and Vessa Burenett, gathered around an intellectual and political journal: Cuadernos del Tercer Mundo (henceforth Cuadernos). In its first number, the editorial perceived that the twentieth century’s “main antagonism” was the contrast between two global projects: Third-Worldism and Imperialism. The Cuadernos’s editorial was clear: against the desire of the centers of the world to consolidate their dominance and power, the marginate and underdeveloped nations needed to “eliminate the causes of exploitation and dependence.”

The inclusion of the term Third World was not a coincidence. In 1952, it was coined by Alfred Sauvy, inspired by the “Third Estate” of the abbé Sieyès. As a spatial term, Third World encompassed the countries “ignored, exploited and despised” by the two great projects of modernity and society during the Cold War: the United States and the Soviet Union. Here I will contend that the concept of Third Worldism was one of the tools Latin-American actors used in their international struggles, being thus central in its construction. They recurred to Third Worldism as an imaginary that could defend the ideas they presented in cultural and international events such as the Tricontinental Conference in Havana, Cuba, and printed journals such as the Cuadernos or Casa de las Americas. Thus, in Latin America, Third Worldism helped political and intellectual actors claim and defend their role in the construction of global politics, acting as a concept of movement, which houses experiences and expectations that are mobilized towards the future.

This piece will show how Third Worldism can be conceived as counterweight to liberal doctrines defended by the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), for instance. Third Worldism inherited the “ideological enthusiasm of interwar intellectual debates” the former rejected, and sought to establish its “utopian ideals” on legitimizing and practical instances and institutions. The processes of decolonization and the critiques of the imperialist models of the US and the USSR sedimented a layer of political experience that simultaneously nurtured and fostered the utopia of transnational solidarity. As a political concept, Third Worldism drew on a conceptual heritage marked by the values of solidarity, international aid, anti-colonialism, and anti-racism, which were all integral to the set of critical utopias that oversaw the conception of a Third World sensibility. As a project, Third Worldism was instituted at the hands of concrete international meetings at the Conferences of Bandung (1955), Cairo (1961), and Belgrade (1961). Faced with the bipolar world of the Cold War, the Third World created a spatial and temporal project aimed at an anti-imperialist future which sought to host the international diversity of national liberation movements. By perceiving these movements’ diversity as a virtue, the Cuadernos wished to avoid “sectarianism” as conducted by a bipolar perception of the world, which was the “least representative modality” in which to portray the “rich diversity of the Third World.”

The Cuadernos are thus an example of the complexity of Third Worldism’s strategical instruments. The global relations that were ensued in its institutions were an important channel for the diffusion of publications issued from different Third World countries. Publishing centers in Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Portugal, as well as different African countries, soon became important hubs for the material diffusion of Third Worldism. Besides Tricontinental, which was conceived during the 1966 Tricontinental Conference in Havana, the Cuadernos are an important tool to understand how the ideal of transnational solidarity originated and later spread globally. Though the journal circulated during the 1973 “Non-aligned conference”, it was also present in the Americas during those years. Noticeably, it traveled from Argentina to Mexico as soon as the 1976 dictatorship censored its circulation. The journal can thus help trace the movements of people, as well as help explain the regional configuration of ideologies of Third Worldism throughout the Latin American space.

The particular political sensitivity that arose from Third Worldism as a poly-centric concept and movement is notorious when we see that these publications were a fundamental tool for transmitting news, from Africa and Asia to the Americas, on the national liberation movements. Marcha and Casa de las Américas were imagined as spaces for dialogue and intellectual debate for writers such as Carlos Fuentes or Julio Cortázar, who called for the integration of a “Third-Worldist us” based on the similarities of Latin American, Asian, and African countries. A member of the editorial committee of the Cuadernos, Beatriz Bissio, for example, wrote about these international movements and institutions through the glasses of the Third World Film Committees which were present in Algeria and Buenos Aires.

The Cuadernos are thus a powerful testimony of the Latin American centrality in the conception and enactment of Third Worldism. For obvious reasons, this was a posture defended by Latin American members of its institutions. It could be said that from the 1966 Conference in Havana, these intellectuals conceived Third Worldism as a process that extended the “Tricontinental” solidarity towards an internationalism that embraced the processes of decolonization in Africa. This, in turn, was mirrored by the South-South dialogue that was created thanks to journals such as the Cuadernos, which fastened and allowed to summarize the sharp criticism they shared towards the imperialist Cold War powers, namely the US and the USSR. Such actors’ claims served as powerful frameworks for the ideals of international cooperation they pursued by enhancing their political imaginaries as intellectual workers that were part of a vast network spread throughout the Third World.

Journals, however, were not the only means of circulation of Third Worldism in Latin America. During the “golden” years of Third-Worldism, the governments of Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Cuba shared the spaces of the international diplomatic scene with the Non-Aligned Movement based on the Third World notions of blackness, decolonization, and solidarity. The movement had a strategic dimension in Latin American internationalism and its diplomacy. The foundation of institutions dedicated to the study of Latin America such as ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), FLACSO (Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences), CLACSO (Latin American Council of Social Sciences) or CLAPCS (Latin American Center for Research in Social Sciences) at least partially responded to its circulation in the region. It is notorious how cultural missions, transnational intellectual networks, and “militant global networks” ushered from the Americas mobilized historical experiences in the hope to build a common and better future for the Third World.

In effect, they played an important role within the global strategy of Third Worldism to encourage its countries to take a significant role in the transnational community that wished to knock down bipolar conceptions of the world. Three central countries were Cuba, Mexico, and Argentina. Indeed, the Cuban government ensued from the Revolution supported national liberation movements by exporting the Revolution to the rest of the third world countries. Through arguments relating to Third World international cohesion, Cubans wished to establish a “critical mass” that could counter Cuba’s exclusion from the international scenario as a result of the US embargo. The work of diplomats such as the ambassador to the United Nations Raúl Roa Kourí, as well as some Cuban delegations led by Carlos Lechuga and Leví Marrero in Third World countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Greece, Egypt, and Yugoslavia) sought to spread the image of Cuba as a revolutionary model to follow. Likewise, the efforts of the Congress of Underdeveloped Nations to promote a “global third force” may well be seen as taking part in these attempts. 

Mexico also developed its own strategy to cohere a Third Worldism from Latin America by proposing a New International Economic Order that followed president Luis Echeverría’s ideals, presented in the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States during the United Nations Assembly in 1974. Mexicans strove to find similarities between its process of independence (1810-1821) and the anti-colonial struggles of the twentieth century in the Third World. Latin American independences taught the world how independence in political terms did not ensure the end of economic colonization, which continued to wreak havoc on their nation’s economies ever since. This is why the values of solidarity and anti-imperialism were enhanced by Third Worldists in Mexico to seek economic decolonization while establishing national self-determination. Only so could economic cooperation between equally represented countries in international institutions be upheld. Their strategy can hence be synthesized in their search for an equitable distribution of the “profits of global capitalism.”

During the conflictful decades of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Argentina also had a particular place within the “geography of rebellion” it was a part of. It received and created productive dialogues with other international left-wing movements that developed, for instance, in France and Italy. The conflict that stemmed from constant hostile encounters with the military regimes determined the creation of a New Left that articulated the dialogues, receptions, and exchanges it had with those movements. Such intellectual exchanges would be decisive even for the Argentinian dictatorship which sought support of the Non-Aligned Movement during the crisis in the “Falklands/Malvinas” Islands.

Even in a present which no longer strictly lodges a Third Worldist imaginary as a value crowned by a set of countries that defend international solidarity, it has not completely disappeared. Transformed by the end of the Cold War, what formerly appeared as languages of solidarity and anti-imperialism, now Third Worldism may be seen to designate the spaces that were scarred by processes such as “capitalist globalization”. Historians have continued to argue that its legacy resonates in international claims on racial justice, inequality, or criticism of global capitalism which continue to structure anti-racial movements to date. Latin America’s importance in the establishment of Third Worldism can thus be identified in the wake of such global movements of discontent.

As I contend in this piece, Latin American experiences were determinant in shaping the heterogeneous and internally diverse character of Third Worldism. As a political concept and as a movement, indeed, as a “concept of movement,” Latin American Third Worldism conducted a critical utopia by receiving and adapting demands of solidarity, anti-racism, and decolonization against a bipolarized imperialism in the twentieth century. Journals and magazines, as well as international conferences and congresses were important milieux for the establishment of dialogues in the midst of a polycentric political project. Not only does its study merit more attention by historians, it is also an important call of awareness for international solidarity to continue political struggles “by other means” in the optic of establishing “concrete utopianism” in our present’s political projects.

Daniel Barragán is a PhD candidate at El Colegio de Mexico, in Mexico City. He was member of the Research Training Group Temporalities of Future at the Freie Universität Berlin. His research concerns conceptual history, printed artifacts, political languages, and theory of history. He is currently working on a thesis on the temporal dimension of political economy in Hispanic modernity. @danielmbarragn

Edited by Shuvatri Dasgupta

Featured Image: Rostgaard, Tricontinental Conference Third Aniversary, 1968. Creative Commons.