Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Statement on the Third World, Part 2

First Published: Workers’ Press, Vol. 3, No. 11, November 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In our statement on the ’third world’ (Workers’ Press, Volume 3, Number 8), we concluded that (l) the concept of ’three worlds’ is unscientific, (2) the Chinese reference to two intermediate zones between the ’two overlords and the socialist countries’ was a necessary and correct compromise with vacillating national bourgeoisies to isolate imperialism and social-imperialism, (3) Teng Hsiao Ping’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1974 is a deviation from Marxism-Leninism, and consequently (4) we should not use the term ’third world’, although we certainly do not reject the concept of the united front against imperialism and social-imperialism. In this article we will discuss some of the implications of the theory of ’three worlds’.

“The Theory and Practice of Revolution”, an editorial from the Albanian newspaper, ’Zeri i Popullit’, July 7, 1977, presents a generally correct analysis of the theory of ’three worlds’ and we suggest that it be studied. As the Albanians point out, we live in the era of imperialism, which is on the one hand capitalism in decay and decline, and on the other the eve of socialist revolution. In this period of transition from capitalism to socialism, there are four major contradictions on which the proletariat’s strategy for revolution is based: (l) between labor and capital, (2) between the oppressed nations and colonies and imperialism and social-imperialism, (3) among the various imperialist powers, and (4) between the socialist and capitalist systems.


Proletarian revolution is based on the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. In the era of imperialism, this is the fundamental contradiction, at the center of which stands the international proletariat. Both the need to overthrow capital, and the leading role of the proletariat and its party are minimized by the theory of ’three worlds’. While it may be true that “the ’third world’ countries... are the main force combatting imperialism, colonialism and hegemonism”, they are not the leading force. During the revolution(s) in China, the numerically greater Chinese peasants were the main force, the Chinese proletariat and its party were the leading force. Led by the Chinese working class and its communist party, China is a country that has taken the correct road of overthrowing foreign imperialism and native capitalism to build a socialist society. It is the outstanding and definitive model the workers and peasants of the ’third world’ have to look up to. But the theory of ’three worlds’ negates all of this by saying that the ’third world’ countries are already the main force, never mentioning the leading force, belittling the role of the communist party and the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Take Chile as an example. Chile remains part of the ’third world’ in spite of the fascist, militaristic junta of Pinochet. But even under the Unidad Popular government of Salvador Allende, an honest, liberal, bourgeois patriot, who opposed US interference in his country, the leading role of a genuine communist party, the leadership of the working class and the dictatorship of the proletariat, were liquidated. What were the results? Thousands of workers and students exterminated, and a neo-nazi government in power, because the correct road was not taken. The theory of ’three worlds’ fails to point out these lessons.


The theory of ’three worlds’ obscures and belittles the specific relationship between the imperialist countries and their colonies and between oppressor and oppressed nations by using the terms ’first’, ’second’, and ’third worlds’ instead of more scientific terms. In the contradiction between the ’second world’ countries and ’their’ colonies, the theory of ’three worlds’ implies that the people of the ’third world’ should not struggle against the ’second world’ countries or oppose their policies, because the struggle against the superpowers is more important. This gives the impression that ’second world’ countries are true allies of the ’third world’. The theory of ‘three worlds’ is based not on a united front against (all) imperialism and reaction, but only against the superpowers.

As for the people of the ’third world’, the workers and peasants, they are discouraged from overthrowing their ’own’ bourgeoisie for the sake of struggle against the superpowers. Internal class struggle is neglected in favor of class peace and class collaboration.


As imperialism develops, the contradictions between imperialist powers intensify. The fact that capitalist and imperialist powers stand in contradiction to the superpowers doesn’t mean that these countries are essentially different from them. In fact, their differences are only of degree. In general, the ’second world’ countries actively support and defend the superpowers by allying with one or the other in competing blocs (e.g. NATO and the Warsaw Pact). But the theory of ’three worlds’ characterizes these ’second world’ countries primarily as allies of the ’third world’, confusing quantity and quality, and putting smaller capitalist and imperialist countries in a different ’world’ from the larger ones. Further, the theory of ’three worlds’ belittles the identity of interests of the classes in power in the ’first’ and ’second worlds’. Western European countries have the same basic economic system as the superpowers and the same bourgeois class holds state power. The contradictions between them and the superpowers, such as the struggle for markets and spheres of influence, are strictly of an inter-imperialist nature. The theory of the ’three worlds’ distorts the real world by putting them in separate ’worlds’ altogether. The Chinese say:

We support the second world countries and people in their struggle to oppose superpower control, intimidation and bullying and defend their security and national independence. We support their efforts to improve relations with third world countries on the basis of equality. We appreciate the efforts of the West European countries for unity against hegemonism. (Peking Review No. 41, 1977, p. 38)

Rather than weakening the whole imperialist system by isolating the superpowers, stressing the differences while ignoring the similarities strengthens imperialism by obscuring the inter-imperialist nature of the contradictions between the various imperialist powers and shoves proletarian struggles into the background.

The theory of ’three worlds’ puts countries with the same social system in entirely different ’worlds’3 yet puts countries with entirely different social systems in the same ’world’. So while France, Holland, England, Japan and Canada are in a world apart ’ from the US and USSR, socialist China is put in the ’third world’ with countries like Chile, Iran and India.


The theory of ’three worlds’ negates, confuses and obscures the fact that in the era of imperialism there are basically only two social systems, the moribund and decaying capitalist system and the rising and developing socialist system, outside the bounds of imperialism. The theory of ’three worlds’ divides countries not according to their social system, or the class holding state power, but according to their level of economic development, regardless of whether they are capitalist or socialist. Some countries are also considered ’non-aligned’, or pursuing a “policy of independence, peace and neutrality”. But in the present era no country can be independent of both capitalism and socialism.

The theory of ’three worlds’ fails to acknowledge that socialist countries are fundamentally different from capitalist ones, and puts them in the same ’world’ as colonies and oppressed nations, as though they are still under the domination of their former colonial masters.

China is a socialist country. China and the other third world countries share a common experience and face common fighting tasks. China belongs to the third world. We stand firmly with the other developing countries and people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and other regions. (Peking Review No. 41, 1977, p 38)

What is missing here? China and Chile both belong to the ’third world’. Both have suffered the ravages of imperialism, and could even be considered to have a similar level of economic development. But their social systems are qualitatively different. There is an aspect of similarity, but the aspect of difference is much greater, and it is this that is consistently glossed over. There is nothing wrong with ’standing firmly’ with these countries; in fact, it is the duty of a socialist country to support revolutionary and liberation movements in other countries. The problem is that this unscientific theory obscures the differences between them.

The theory of ’three worlds’ is undialectical and contrary to Marxism-Leninism. It minimizes the leading role of the proletariat in the revolutionary struggle against capital, obscures the relationship between the imperialist countries and their colonies, distorts the relationship among imperialist powers, and confuses the fact that there are two social systems in the world. We urge everyone to study the “Theory and Practice of Revolution” and to analyze the questions raised independently and critically.

We are in the process of developing a proposal for joint study of such questions which we see as part of the complex struggle revolutionary theory.