Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

In Struggle!

The “Three Worlds Theory” must be opposed: No compromises with imperialism

First Published: In Struggle! No. 109, March 2, 1978
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Imperialism is in the throes of its most serious crisis since the Second World War. Everywhere, the peoples struggling against imperialism are rising up to win their liberation. Everywhere, the working class is asserting itself as the leading force in the struggle against capitalist exploitation, which still crushes the labouring masses, and against all forms of oppression. As Mao.Tse-tung so correctly put it, the world is experiencing great upheavals. Imperialism is being shaken from within by the new forces which it carries within itself and which it contributes to awakening with its increasingly brutal attacks against oppressed peoples and the labouring masses of the oppressor countries.

Right in the middle of these upheavals a new Marxist-Leninist movement, which is ever more forcefully asserting itself, has been born. Tempered in the courageous struggle waged by communists against Soviet revisionism in the 1950’$ and 1960’s, this movement is currently developing in the struggle against a new attempt to disarm the struggles of the national liberation movements and sow confusion within the international labour movement.

This attempt is the “three worlds theory”, which is based on the pretension that at the present time the globe can be divided into three worlds: the “third world” composed of the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America; the “first world”, composed of the two superpowers, the USSR and the USA; and the “second world”, which includes all the other capitalist and imperialist countries, such as those of Europe, Japan, Australia, and Canada. This supposedly “revolutionary” theory affirms that the struggle for socialism in the world today is contingent on the unity of the peoples of the “second and third worlds” in the struggle against the superpowers, against the oppression which they exercise in the “third world” the vexations which they cause the “second world” to suffer and, more especially, against the threat of war which is the result of their rivalry and struggle for hegemony.

In September 1977, on the occasion of the Third National Conference of Canadian Marxist-Leninists, our group published a declaration entitled “Against right opportunism in international questions” [1]. In it, we clearly reject the pretensions of those who defend the “three worlds theory” and state that this “theory” should serve as a starting point for charting communist strategy in the revolutionary struggle of the working class and the oppressed peoples and nations of the world. We still firmly maintain the point of view expressed in our declaration of September 1977, and we invite our readers to refer to it. But, more than that,today we also consider that as an analysis of the fundamental features of the current international situation the “three worlds theory” is in no way valid and serves only to mislead the workers and peoples of the entire world as to the nature and character of the social forces present in the world today.

The best of intentions must be evaluated and judged on the basis of their practical results. And in this respect, this “modern” theory has proven itself! Only those who deliberately close their eyes can still believe that a theory which leads us to making a united front with the enemy and masking the difference between oppressed and oppressor countries, which packs the decisive role of the working class at the epoch of the proletarian revolution away in moth balls and which denies the vanguard role of the socialist countries in the struggle against imperialism can have something in common with Marxism-Leninism.

This opportunist theory must be firmly opposed and entirely rejected by the international communist movement; thus strengthening the latter’s ideological unity – a unity that is indispensable in an era in which international capital has become a master in the art of masking its aggressive nature with progressive words and of linking the different countries together so as to better tighten its grip on the working class in each country.

Put the interests of the working class in the forefront

There aren’t a thousand and one ways of analysing current international reality if we want to transform it. There’s only one – we must analyse it from a class point of view, by seeking the expression of the class struggle, by identifying the contradictions which animate it and by determining the right objectives and means for transforming it in the interest of the revolutionary proletariat and peoples.

In doing this, we can’t help but serve the interests of the working class and the development of the struggle for socialism. But the “three worlds theory”, despite the denials of its defenders, disagrees with all that. Because if we want to grasp the logic, the guiding line of this “theory”, we have to look at it from their point of view, which is a nationalist point of view. In fact, the “three worlds theory” proposes struggling to win or preserve national independence by placing oneself at the mercy of the bourgeoisie, by subordinating the interests of the proletariat to the interests of the national bourgeoisie. In brief, by abandoning the revolution. This is how it can wind up claiming that the “third world” is a homogeneous bloc of social forces, since all the countries of the “third world” are oppressed by colonialism and neo-colonlallsm. It’s in this way that it masks the reality which is increasingly making itself felt in the world, the reality of the revolutionary forces that are vigorously developing within the countries oppressed by imperialism in their struggle against the domestic reactionary forces which have traitorously come to terms with imperialism and which negotiate the sale of its people to the highest bidder among the imperialist countries.

When this theory is applied to the countries of the so-called “second world”, i.e. the capitalist and imperialist countries, it concentrates the working class’s attention on a series of secondary tasks, including the task of resisting the war which the superpowers want to declare as well as the somewhat dubious task of supporting the development of “friendly” ties between the imperialist bourgeoisie of their countries and domestic reactionary forces in the oppressed countries. However, isn’t the most efficient way of preparing the peoples to resist a possible war precisely to devote oneself as of today to the preparation of the socialist revolution? If this is true, how can the working class brave the imperialist war without its party, without working to rally the most advanced elements of the working class, without establishing the proletariat’s hegemony among the progressive popular forces during the very course of the struggle? The proletariat does not have tasks for safeguarding the national independence of the imperialist and capitalist countries on the one hand, and, on the other, tasks for preparing the socialist revolution. There’s only one way of struggling against the superpowers’ attacks against the independence of the other capitalist countries, and that’s to make proletarian revolution in these countries and to thus reinforce the forces of progress in the world which are struggling against imperialism.

In the epoch of imperialism, the struggle to win or preserve national independence must be considered from the point of view of the proletarian revolution. if not, it will inevitably lead to the reinforcement of the domination of imperialism and its lackeys. This means that the revolutionary forces in countries which have gained their independence must take up the struggle for the proletarian revolution if they want to take their countries out of the camp of imperialism and thus reinforce the camp of the revolution in the world. This also means that the struggles being waged by the national liberation movements against dominant imperialism and against the internal reactionary forces in their own countries are an integral part of the struggle for the world proletarian revolution and that they thus serve the objectives of the proletariat and the peoples by contributing to undermining the very foundations of imperialism.

Any position or argument which does not take the necessity of subordinating the struggle for national independence to the struggle for socialism as its starting point is an opportunist position which comes down to losing sight of the interests of the proletariat and replacing them with the interests of the national bourgeoisie, interests which are most definitely the interests of the proletariat’s class’enemy.

The “three worlds theory” only looks at matters from the point of view of the nation

According to those who defend this “theory”, the “third world” is a homogeneous bloc, mainly characterized by its common interests, despite internal differences such as the social regime, the class in power and the nature of the links that each one of these countries has, with imperialism. That’s why the “infighting and bickering” between these countries is always presented as old quarrels left over from the colonial era, remnants of the colonial past. But this description of reality hides an essential aspect. It doesn’t allow us to understand that the national bourgeoisie in power in several countries of the “third world” have capitalist relations among themselves, and that this thus competition.

And it’s the interests of these national bourgeoisie which result in certain of these countries playing the role of watchdogs of imperialism in their region. Iran, with its fascist regime devoted to US interests, is one of these countries. Brazil, in Latin America, is another, as is Cuba,which now carries war into the heart of other countries of the “Third world” on behalf of Soviet social imperialism.

In fact, the countries which the “three worlds theory” includes, under its “third world” heading have only one thing in common – they are all developing countries. But what is principal is the struggle between the only two possible paths of development the capitalist path or the socialist path, the path of compromise with imperialism, or the path of the struggle against imperialism.

These two paths correspond to national reactionary movements and to revolutionary movements. The ardent defenders of the “three worlds theory” cannot support this objective truth being pointed out without crying Trotskyism or revisionism. But no one who firmly adopts a class point of view to make this distinction will be impressed by this. The Trotskyist opposition to the “three worlds theory”, which is left-wing in appearance, in fact results in a right-wing policy, a policy which consists of calling everywhere for the “pure and integral” revolution (they call it the “permanent revolution”) but denying and sabotaging the possibility of it really happening in the given conditions of each country. This policy leads the Trotskyists to deny that the national liberation and democratic movements of the oppressed and nations against imperialism and internal reaction have any revolutionary role whatsoever. As for the revisionists, like those of the “Communist” Party of Canada, their division of the countries of the so-called “third world” into progressive and reactionary regimes is just a way of supporting the domination of the “progressive” regimes by the USSR and Soviet social imperialism’s ambition of grabbing the control of the countries said to be “reactionary” away from its rival, US imperialism. But in fact, aren’t fascist Ethiopia and aggressive Cuba every bit as reactionary and don’t they serve imperialism just as well as Geisel’s Brazil or Pinochet’s Chile?

For authentic Marxist-Leninists, no compromise is possible. The revolutionary movements, those that merit the support and backing of the international working class, are the movements of armed struggle against imperialism no matter where the imperialism comes from or what label it’s wearing – in Zimbabwe, Palestine and Brazil, or the movement of the Iranian people struggling against the Shah. And the reactionary regimes are the fascist dictatorships of Iran, Brazil or Ethiopia. That’s the real demarcation between revisionism and Marxism-Leninism.

Refusing to make these distinctions and masking these fundamental differences between those who are struggling against imperialism and those who compromise and collaborate with it is serving imperialism, playing into the hands of the sworn enemy of the peoples.

In 1920, Lenin said:

The characteristic feature of imperialism consists in the whole world, as we now see,being divided into a large number of oppressed nations and an insignificant number of oppressor nations, the latter possessing colossal wealth and powerful armed forces.

But even so, he considered it necessary to establish a clear distinction between bourgeois liberation movements and revolutionary movements. Here’s how he justified this distinction:

... that distinction has been very clearly revealed of late in the backward and colonial countries, since the imperialist bourgeoisie is doing everything in its power to implant a reformist movement among the oppressed nations too. There has been a certain “rapprochement” between the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and that of the colonies, so that very often perhaps even in most cases – the bourgeois national movement is in full accord with the imperialist bourgeoisie, i.e., joins forces with it against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes. This was irrefutably proved in the commission, and we decided that the only correct attitude was to take this distinction into account and, in nearly all cases, substitute the term “national-revolutionary” for the term “bourgeois-democratic”. The significance of this change is that we, as Communists, should and will support bourgeois-liberation movements in the colonies only when they are genuinely revolutionary, and when their exponents do not hinder our work of educating and organizing in a revolutionary spirit the peasantry and the masses of the exploited. if these conditions do not exist, the Communists in these countries must combat the reformist bourgeoisie, to whom the heroes of the Second International also belong.[2]

Today, at a time when the modern revisionists and social democrats are in power in many countries, and at a time when their capacity to deceive the peoples and lead them down the path of reformism is a hundred times greater than it was at the time of Lenin, it would be criminal to hide the fundamental distinction which exists between the revolutionary and bourgeois paths of development; for that would amount to disarming the peoples in the face of the domestic and foreign enemies.

But it’s not surprising that the proponents of the “three worlds theory” are completely “myopic” when it comes to appraising the struggle of the revolutionary proletariat in the imperialist countries. They speculate on the inevitability of a third world war on the basis of an underestimation of the revolutionary proletarian forces at work, particularly within the two superpowers, and in the same breath, they grace the anti-imperialist struggle of the “third world” with the epithet “motor force”. This ’third world” includes such gems of barbarous reaction as these fundamental differences between those who are the Shah of Iran or the fascist dictator of Brazil, Gelseil. In the same line of reasoning, they unceasingly support and praise the national bourgeoisie of the “third world” when they put up some opposition to one particular imperialist force, all the while keeping quiet about the necessity that a communist party, the party of the proletariat, be at the head of the truly anti-imperialist forces if the national liberation struggle against imperialism is to be victorious, if it is to permit these countries to start on the path of socialism, both politically and economically.

The “dialogue” between the aggressor and the victim

Those who hold to the “three worlds theory” speculate a lot about the so-called coming together or “dialogue” between the “second” and “third” worlds. They dangerously put into second place, or “forget” altogether, the imperialist nature of many of the countries of the “second” world. They forget, for example, that France is the dominant imperialist power in Mauritania, which is a country that serves as an instrument to liquidate the just struggle of the Saharan Arab people. Doesn’t France still have colonies? They “forget” that West Germany is the second most important imperialist power in Brazil after the USA, or that Japan is one of the principal supporters to the fascist Pak Jung Hi clique in South Korea. They “forget” that the Canadian bourgeoisie seeks to promote its own imperialist interests in Brazil, Haiti, South Africa, etc. Those who hold to the “three worlds theory” end up denying the imperialist nature of these countries. They leave open the possibility of inciting these bourgeoisie to voluntarily abandon the exploitation and oppression to which they have subjected millions of men and women around the world.

Here as well, the “three worlds theory” clearly shows that it in no way serves the interests of the peoples in struggle and the international proletariat. The encouragement which it lavishes on the peoples of the developing countries to push them to move closer to the “weaker.” imperialist countries comes down to obliterating the antagonistic opposition which exists between the bourgeoisie of the oppressor countries, which includes all the imperialist countries, and the peoples of the oppressed countries. And don’t try and make us believe that France or England or Germany have “slid” into the camp of the oppressed peoples due to the fact that they have contradictions with the more powerful imperialist countries the two superpowers! Those who toss off such affirmations dilute the imperialist character of these bourgeoisie, hide the role which they play vis--vis oppressed peoples as international exploiters, and present their “feelings of frustration” with regard to the superpowers as “anti-imperialist” feelings.

But what is more serious is that they sow confusion among the struggling peoples and within the international proletariat on the nature of the enemy to be defeated, which is no longer imperialism, but only the two superpowers – and which for the proletariat of the imperialist countries is no longer their own bourgeoisie... but the external enemy.

Isolate the enemy or collaborate with it?

Besides obscuring the fundamental differences between oppressors and oppressed, the defenders of the “three worlds theory” end up attacking only one of the superpowers, the USSR, on the pretext that its current weakness is only temporary and that it’s the more aggressive and thus the more dangerous of the two. To explain their complacency with regard to the other superpower the USA, they seriously maintain that their attitude consists of “playing on the contradictions within the enemy”. But at a time when the USA and their allies in the international arena are moving towards fascist measures internally, provoking coups d’Etat in certain countries and accentuating their repression of the labouring-masses, to think that it is possible to count on this superpower to isolate the other is to quite simply support one part of the bourgeoisie, and one of the most ferocious parts at that, against another. And this has absolutely nothing to do with the precious teachings of Lenin calling on us to profit from the internal contradictions of the bourgeoisie... to further weaken and finally overthrow it, and not to support it! A tactic like this leads to one and only one result: placing the international working class and the struggling peoples at the mercy of one of the two reactionary blocs contending for world hegemony! It’s a tactic which merges with that of the revisionist and reformist agents of the bourgeoisie within the world labour movement who aim to stifle the revolutionary struggle of the masses by diverting them into the dead-end of supporting one section of the bourgeoisie.

Deepen the criticism of the “three worlds theory”

Our group has consistently criticized those who used the “three worlds theory” to revise the general line of the international communist movement by advocating opportunist united fronts with their bourgeoisie, in brief, by advocating collaboration with the reactionary and imperialist bourgeoisie in our country, those who were and who still are the most rabid defenders of this policy of capitulation before the Canadian imperialist bourgeoisie, while all the while presenting themselves as Marxist-Leninist, are, on one hand the so-called “Communist” Party of Canada (“Marxist-Leninist”) and the Trotskyist sect the “Bolshevik” Union, and on the other, the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist) and the Red Star Collective of Vancouver. Even if the first two, both of whom are real parasites on the Canadian Marxist-Leninist movement, have with great pomp and ceremony, pretended to reject a ’theory” which they openly supported in the past, this hasn’t changed a thing concerning the basis of their nationalist line which, to varying degrees in the two cases, remains a line of first struggling against the US superpower, on the pretext that Canada is a “weak” “dominated” country which is not quite completely independent! As for the League and the RSC. today as yesterday, their energetic defence of the “three worlds theory” each day leads them further along the path of capitulation before the struggle to be waged against the imperialist Canadian bourgeoisie and for the proletarian revolution. And this to such a point that, in a recent editorial in its newspaper The Forge, the League called on the Canadian working class to build its vanguard party to... lead the struggle against the two superpowers and to conserve the independence of Canada! This clearly shows that if they don’t apply themselves to recognizing and correcting their errors right now, those who defend an opportunist theory such as the “three worlds theory” cannot help but one day find themselves in the camp of those who, in practice, are opposed to the proletarian revolution, in the camp of the revisionists.

Our guiding line, which was firmly adopted by the 2nd Congress of our group in the fall of 1976, has always consisted of firmly basing ourselves on the 4 great fundamental contradictions of our epoch to defend the general line of the international communist movement. Thus, in the face of the promotion of this “theory” by its main supporters as a strategic guide, that is, as a guide for charting the path of the revolution at the present time in the world, and also as a theory supposedly inspired by Mao Tse-tung himself, our declaration in September 1977 energetically denounced the fraudulent use of the name of that great proletarian leader to hide a theoretical mistake and to try and pass off a fundamental change in the general line of the international communist movement on the sly.

However, at the same time, our group based itself in part on this “theory” in the analysis of the current international situation. This led us into errors which, while secondary in all our propaganda and agitation, manifested a certain conciliation with the narrow and nationalist schema of the “three worlds theory”. We presented the division of the globe into “three worlds” as a “synthetized expression of the present principal developments of the four fundamental contradictions of the imperialist era” [3]. According this theory some value in describing the current world, and this, despite the fact that we were evidently incapable of scientifically demonstrating this point of view, we gave way to a certain third-worldism and presented some acts of the reactionary bourgeoisie of the “third world” for example as being acts which were objectively anti-imperialist.

Today, thanks to the broadening debate in the international communist movement, and thanks to our group’s determination to seek the truth in the analysis of current world reality, we clearly see that there is nothing of value in the “three worlds theory”, except perhaps for the struggle which it has given rise to, so as to rid ourselves of the inevitable consequences of its application – capitulation in the face of imperialism and the renunciation of the proletarian revolution.

We emerge from this struggle within our ranks and within the Canadian Marxist-Leninist movement with precious lessons. One of these lessons is that in each domain, each party or organization within the international communist movement must keep a critical attitude and a spirit of independence with regard to all other organizations, groups or parties, no matter how prestigious their history. The second lesson is that we must only put forward that which we are fully convinced of and able to demonstrate. As well, this is the only way that communists will win the confidence and respect of the masses. This is the only way they will be recognized in practice as their leaders, leaders who at all times keep cool-headed and know how to analyse the most difficult and dangerous situations with foresight.

Where are the revisionists?

The revisionists, as we all know, are always on the side of those who revise Marxist-Leninist principles, particularly on the question of the imperialist era. They have always “discovered” fundamental changes in the situation, have always “forgotten” the long-term interests of the peoples, and finally, have always rejected Lenin’s theory on imperialism, under the cover of making a “creative contribution” to this theory. And when the crticism of revisionism is limited to denouncing it because it recognizes the seeming existence of progressive and reactionary movements in the countries dominated by imperialism, then the criticism of revisionism is s futile and superficial criticism where the essence of revisionism has been missed. It is forgetting that the modern revisionists have become master in the art of adulating the dictatorship of the proletariat... so as to better destroy it.

In the 1960’s, according to Khruschev the revolutionary peoples struggling against imperialism should have held back from waging armed struggle because it was possible to negotiate with imperialism... from the moment that the socialist camp came into being.

In 1978, we should be dialoguing with the imperialist countries whose label “second world” is supposed to wash away their reality since this is supposed to be the only path for struggling against the superpowers... the socialist camp no longer existing! And more and more clearly, we see the tendency to ally with US imperialism appearing, on the pretext of struggling against the more aggressive superpower! The circumstances have changed, the arguments have changed and the men have changed. But the betrayal remains the same: a path of negotiation with imperialism, rather than struggle, collaboration with the bourgeoisie rather than struggle, and capitulation in the face of imperialism rather then the intensification of the struggle.

Canadian workers, those who preach agreements and disarmament in the face of our age-old enemy deceive us. They’ve always acted as extinguishers of class struggle. We must reject their rotten opportunist theory and not let ourselves be deceived by the “three worlds theory” which constitutes the germs of a new revisionism.

Workers of all countries, oppressed peoples and nations, Unite!

The Central Committee of the Canadian Marxist-Leninist group IN STRUGGLE! (February, 1978)


[1] This declaration was reprlnted in the newspaper iN STRUGGLE! no 97, vol. 5. no 12, septernbar 1977.

[2] Lenin, Works, Volume 31, Report of the Commission on the National and the Colonial Questions, pages 240 and 242, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1958.

[3] See our journal, Proletarian Unity, no 2. December 1976, page 31.