Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Modern Times

Close Encounters With the Three Worlds


First Published: Modern Times, Vol. II, No. 3, March 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Three national Marxist-Leninist organizations have, over the past few months, sponsored forums in Hawaii to discuss their views of the international situation, particularly the “Three Worlds” theory of the Chinese Communist Party. This theory has recently come under strong fire from the ruling Party of Labor of Albania, which was once closely-allied with the Chinese on most questions of theory and international practice.

In the U.S. several Marxist-Leninist organizations are conducting campaigns attempting to clarify the “Three Worlds” theory, or to point out basic objections to it. This issue, like others in the past, has become the “great divide” of revolutionary politics–and one’s position on it may well determine whether one is “anti-China,” “revisionist,” “opportunist,” or “counter-revolutionary,” according to these groups.

The theory of “three worlds” was first recognized in the well-publicized speech by then-Vice-Premier Teng Hsiao-ping to the U.N. General Assembly in April, 1974. He bluntly asserted: ”Judging from changes in international relations, the world today actually consists of three parts, or three worlds, that are both interconnected and in contradiction to one another. The U.S. and Soviet Union make up the First World. The developing countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and other regions make up the Third World. The developed countries between the two make up the Second World.”

The Chinese Vice-Premier went on to describe this “drastic division and realignment” of the world, coining the word “superpowers” to apply to the two First World countries:

A large number of Asian, African, and Latin American countries have achieved independence one after another and are playing an ever greater role in international affairs. As a result of the emergence of social-imperialism, the socialist camp which existed for a time after World War II is no longer in existence. Owing to the law of the uneven development of capitalism, the Western imperialist bloc, too, is disintegrating. (Quoted in Peking Review, April 12, 1974).

Albania’s Critique

The Albanian Party’s attack on the theory of “three worlds” makes these basic points:

1. the socialist camp continues to exist, including a number of socialist states (though excluding the Soviet Union);

2. the “three worlds” theory is the same as the bourgeois theory of “non-alignment or “third camp” or “third path” to development different from socialism or capitalism;

3. the “three worlds” theory makes the class question secondary to the national question, and surrenders to bourgeois nationalism, failing to put the overthrow of reactionary nationalist elites in “third world” countries on the revolutionary agenda; and

4. the “three worlds” theory gives a non-class, anti-Leninist view of the international question, “covering up . . . the class character” of political forces acting in the world today. (See “The Theory and Practice of Revolution,” Workers’ Advocate, July 22, 1977, or read Theoretical Review, Jan.-Feb., 1978 issue’s lead article on “The Albanian Critique,” available from Modern Times.)

Serious Questions Involved

To some non-aligned socialists, the “Three Worlds” debate has seemed overdone, compared to important issues locally or nationally that need to be dealt with. Yet, the “Three Worlds” debate raises issues vital to our local, as well as our international work, and this debate has only just begun, at least in Hawaii.

The premature split in the Red Flag Bookstore staff afforded a good example of how this discussion shouldn’t be conducted. The recent I Wor Kuen-sponsored forum at Liliha Library on the “Three Worlds ” analysis, on the other hand, presented a good model and catalyst for further debate, research and struggle.

The IWK forum was preceded by two other similar efforts. The Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee (MLOC) sponsored a forum earlier this year on Albania and its positions on issues. About a month ago, the Communist Party (ML)’s national chairman was here and conducted a forum on the “Three Worlds” theory.

Although the MLOC forum was not on the “Three Worlds” theory explicitly, naturally the issue came up– since Albania was the initial and strongest critic of this theory. MLOC’s approach was to uphold the Albanian position but refuse to really explain it concretely. The MLOC speaker also questioned late CCP chairman Mao Tse-tung’s authorship or support for the Three Worlds theory–which appeared to many to be a lame and unproven refutation of the theory, and besides the point. (It seems clear that Mao agreed with this analysis, so its critics must deal with this fact and stop attempting end runs; Mao never claimed to be infallible.)

The CPM-L speaker at the Communist League of Hawaii forum laid out the “Three Worlds” theory and seemed open to discussion, but little real discussion occurred. The forum was disrupted temporarily by forces from the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), including their Hawaii spokesman, who rushed into the room and ranted against the CPM-L for printing a sensational news article in their paper (The Call) about the recent serious split in the RCP nationally. (The RCP termed the article “a lie” and called The Call “the National Enquirer” of the Left.”) The RCP people left right after their strange outburst, refusing the CPM-L speaker’s invitation to them to stay and discuss their charges or their view of the international situation.

The 1WK forum apparently drew a larger crowd and the questions raised brought out the differences more clearly. The IWK speakers’ attitude toward questioners with dissenting views was a real plus; they made more of an effort to understand the points raised and tried to answer them. Their attitude toward uniting activists and aspiring Marxist-Leninists, through common work and principled struggle, was refreshing. They admitted that most activists in the U.S. today do not agree with the theory of “Three Worlds” or China’s (or the IWK’s) stand on Angola, having honest questions and reservations. According to several persons who had attended all three forums, the IWK people made one of the clearest explanations of the “Three Worlds” theory, and their forum was the best run and most productive.

One of the aspects of the discussion, at both the CPM-L and IWK forums, was the tendency to term positions critical of the Three World’s Theory as “anti-China” (IWK termed MLOC’s conduct and posturing on the Three Worlds questions as “anti-China” but refused to call Albania’s position that–although one is the carbon copy of the other). Most disturbing, though, was the CPM-L’s and IWK’s agreement that an “appeasement trend” among the U.S. ruling circles in the U.S. toward the Soviet Union was a grave danger to world peace.

A CPM-L speaker cited the anti-B-1 Bomber campaign as an example of uniting with this harmful “appeasement trend,” implying, it would logically seem, that the production of the B-l Bomber should have been supported by Marxist-Leninists!

The IWK speakers also spoke of the danger of this “appeasement trend,” echoing China’s concern. But when questioned, they were vague on how to combat this “appeasement.” Should the U.S. send troops against the Soviet Union in the Ogaden desert of Ethiopia? Should we support a stronger NATO alliance in Western Europe? Is it in the interest of the U.S. working class to support a “stronger U.S. position in Europe and Asia,” as China supporter Dr. Paul Lin recently urged during a press conference in Hawaii? The answer is obviously “no”–but not to the Chinese leadership or its strongest adherents in the U.S. Peking Review and Chinese leaders in various interviews have openly advocated a stronger NATO alliance and greater or at least continued U.S. military posture in Japan, East Asia and especially Europe, speaking favorably of the hawkish, pro-arms-spending anti-Soviet views of Sen. Henry Jackson. Secretary of Energy Schlesinger, and others in the U.S. war lobby.

The IWK speakers supported these views, claiming that the best way to avoid war is by standing up to Soviet aggression, citing appeasement of Nazi Germany before World War II as their case in point. The idea that confrontation could also lead to world war sooner never seemed to occur to them. They saw a progressive aspect about Third World rulers like Chile’s murderer, Pinochet, and the Shah of Iran, in that they might be “weaned” from U.S. tutelage arid made more independent, supporting the demands of their own national bourgeoisie against “superpower” demands. But the IWK agreed, these repressive rulers must still be overthrown for true liberation to be realized.

Others argued that countries like Chile and Iran are appendages of the U.S. imperialist system, and their rulers are instruments of U.S. control, not worthy of any support. They felt that two basic camps exist, one socialist, the other capitalist or imperialist, and that the Three Worlds theory confuses that distinction and blurs the central idea of class struggle and revolution in the Third World. How helpful, after all, they argued, is a theory that lumps revolutionary countries like Vietnam into a “Third World” category with Chile and Iran, despite fundamental socioeconomic differences?

At one point, IWK said that arms for Somalia or Iran might be supported, but only if they were purchased from Second World (Europe, Japan) countries. But the multinational companies go across national borders, especially the major arms manufacturers and dealers. This kind of logic made little sense–and to thousands of Iranians, murdered by the Shah and his police, it no doubt makes less sense. IWK did indicate that they do not agree with past stands by groups such as O.L. (now CPM-L) refusing to protest against the Shah of Iran.

Key to IWK’s and the CPM-L’s position is the unproven thesis–that the Soviet Union is not only capitalist, and social imperialist, but is the most dangerous, fascist menace to the world’s people. Therefore, China, and groups in the U.S. supporting the Three Worlds line, seem willing to unite with all, including the U.S. ruling class, to oppose “appeasement” and support U.S. war preparations and confrontation politics against the Soviet Union. Brezhnev is Hitler. Moscow is Berlin, and the year is 1939–or is it?

(The next issue of Modern Times will try to lay out briefly problems with Albania’s critique of this theory. We will also continue with some reviews and articles on the nature of Soviet society today.–ed.)