Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Collective

Statement on the ’Third World’


First Published: In two parts in Workers’ Press, Vol. 3, No. 8, August 1977 and Vol. 3, No. 11, November 1977.
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.

Almost a year ago, the Marxist-Leninist Collective (MLC) adopted a position on the concept of the “third world” which remained internal to the organization. We did not publish this view earlier because we did not want to lend support to the revisionists and opportunists who take every opportunity to attack China. At the same time, we did not want to isolate ourselves from other revolutionaries. We now recognize that this was neither a scientific approach nor an application of proletarian internationalism. We see how we have been affected by slavishness and liberalism, and how these weaknesses have affected the communist movement in general. Dogmatically adopting the viewpoint of the Peking Review, without independent analysis and regardless of changes within it, is just one example of the slavishness that characterizes much of the communist movement in this country. Communists must take up the weapon of criticism and self-criticism and must engage in active ideological struggle as the method for ensuring unity and resolving contradictions among the people. Mao Tsetung had a profound grasp of these ideas and cautioned comrades to guard against slavishness and liberalism. In the spirit of correcting these mistakes, we present our understanding of the “third world” concept.

We see the “third world” concept as a reflection of intense ideological struggle within China. The “third world” view has implications other than those we discuss here, but without a more thorough and extensive analysis, no further conclusions can be drawn. We want to emphasize that we have not concluded that the Communist Party of China is a revisionist party, nor are we criticizing the entire foreign policy of the People’s Republic.

One last point. The Communist Party of China and the Albanian Party of Labor have provided staunch and correct leadership in the world-wide revolutionary struggle of the peoples of the world against US imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism. Yet presently these two parties stand in contradiction around the question of the “third world”. Our view is close to that of the Albanian Party of Labor. All comrades should investigate, study analyze the complex questions involved, paying particular attention to the need for independent thinking.


On April 10, 1974, Teng Hsiao-Ping presented a speech to the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in which he said;

... judging from the, 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 United States and the Soviet Union make up the First World. The developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and other regions make up the Third World. The developed countries between the two make up the Second World.[1]

In various speeches and statements the Chinese use the term “third world”:

The numerous third world, countries are the main force in the fight against imperialism and particularly against superpower hegemonism.[2]

They (countries of the “third world”–ed) constitute a revolutionary motive force propelling the wheel of history and are the main force combatting colonialism, imperialism and particularly the superpowers.[3]

...the third world is rapidly awakening and has become the main force in the anti-imperialist revolutionary struggles of the people of the world.[4]

Further, the Chinese consider China to be a member of the “third world”. And since Mao’s death, the Chinese have attributed the strategy of “three worlds” to him. We think this question needs more investigation.


Past investigation shows that the idea of the “third world” was originally devised by the US, acting in collusion with British and French imperialism in 1955. It was their intention to use this political line to mobilize several anti-communist blocs; one headed by Tito of Yugoslavia, which would try to organize a “third force” among socialist countries to destroy the unity of the socialist camp, and one to be organized around Nehru of India consisting of “non-aligned” nations that were supposedly neither capitalist or socialist. Stalin exposed the Titoite bloc; the bloc of “non-aligned” nations made some headway and convened the 1955 Bandung Conference of Non-Aligned Nations Originally planned without China’s participation, the Conference took up the question of the “third world”. The Chinese attacked the idea and maintained that the world was divided into two camps – capitalist-imperialist and socialist – and the only way the new nations would be completely free from imperialism would be through socialist revolution. In place of the “third force” idea, the Chinese put forward the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence which were to be guidelines for the relations between states with differing social systems. The Five Principles were adopted at Bandung and the “third force” movement sponsored by US imperialism was defeated.

In the Chinese formulation in 1972, the superpowers and the socialist countries were acknowledged to be in contradiction. This is how it was stated:

Thus, between these two overlords (US and Soviet Union–ed) and the socialist countries there exist two broad intermediate zones. The first intermediate zone includes the Asian, African, and Latin American countries which have suffered from colonialist and imperialist aggression and oppression in the past and are today carrying on a valiant struggle against imperialism and colonialism and especially against the two superpowers. The second intermediate zone includes the major capitalist countries both in the West and in the East except the two superpowers. These countries, too, are subjected to the control, intervention and bullying of the two overlords to varying degrees and the contradictions between these countries and the two superpowers are daily developing.[5]

The “two broad intermediate zones”, later to be known as the “third” and “second” worlds, was a formulation used to unite all who could be united. It was basically a compromise with the national bourgeoisies in order to isolate the superpowers. In putting forth this concept, the Chinese were always clear to point to genuine models for these nations genuine national liberation movements (See Chiao Kuan-Hua’s speeches to the UN).


Teng Hsiao-Ping’s speech of 1974 is more than a tactical compromise.. It implies that the contradiction between imperialism and social-imperialism on the one hand, and the socialist countries on the other, has been eliminated. While the socialist camp may have disappeared, certainly there are at least two socialist countries which provide a reliable base area for the forces of national liberation and socialist revolution. Teng’s speech does not acknowledge this. China is put into the “third world” and is also considered a socialist country. A qualitative distinction is not made between socialist China and the “third world”. The inevitable deviation follows: the “third world” is considered the leading force in the revolutionary struggle against imperialism and social-imperialism. What happened to the world significance and leadership of the dictatorship of the proletariat? When the Chinese stated, in 1963, that “the international proletariat must and can unite all the forces that can be united. . .and establish the broadest united front against the US imperialists and their lackeys,”[6] or “this general line is one of forming a broad united front, with the socialist camp and the international proletariat as its nucleus...”[7] they grasped well the leading role of the socialist countries.

From at least 1954 to 1973, and perhaps later, the Chinese always pointed to the importance of the dictatorship of the proletariat, even in the course of uniting with the national bourgeoisies. This has not prevented these countries from uniting behind China, because it has been in their interests to do so. There is no reason to suppose that it would keep them from doing so now. There is no reason why the Chinese should refrain from acknowledging the leading role of the proletariat, and abandon a Marxist- Leninist analysis. Teng’s speech robs Marxism of its revolutionary essence by negating, omitting and belittling the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is quite true that all socialist countries are developing countries. This is one aspect, the aspect of unity in the world-wide united front against imperialism and social-imperialism. But the other aspect is that there are socialist countries, different from non-socialist ones, and to ignore this aspect, the aspect of struggle within the united front, is to practice all unity and no struggle – a right opportunist error.

The Report to the Seventh Congress of the Party of Labor of Albania, 1976, clearly grasps the errors in the terms “third world”, “second world”, “non-aligned” countries, etc. It exposes how these concepts obscure the class character of political forces and class struggle, create illusions, conceal the real situation, give false impressions, and mislead people. They point out that countries are grouped according to the social system prevailing in them, into bourgeois-capitalist countries and socialist countries. Unlike the Chinese, the Albanians see “the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, the great intensification of the liberation struggle of the peoples, the victories of socialism, all taken together” as the main force in the struggle against imperialism, not simply the “third world”.[8]


First, the concept of a “third world” is unscientific. There is no such thing as a “third force” in the world. Second, the stand by the Chinese in 1972, where they referred to two intermediate zones between the “two overlords and the socialist countries” was a necessary and correct compromise with the vacillating national bourgeoisies in order to isolate imperialism and social-imperialism. Third, Teng’s speech of 1974 is a deviation from Marxism-Leninism, excluding the ”world” of socialist countries and thus liquidating the leadership role of the socialist countries in the struggle against imperialism, social-imperialism and modern revisionism, and in representing the true interests of the proletariat. Instead, the “third world” is put in the leadership of the proletariat. Fourth, we need not and should not use the term “third world” when referring to oppressed nations and colonies in Asia, Africa and Latin America. But we do not reject the concept of uniting all who can be united against imperialism and social-imperialism.

* * *

Statement on the ’Third World,’ Part 2

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’, 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.


[1] Speech by Chairman of the Delegation of the People’s Republic of China, Teng Hsiao-Ping, At the Special Session of the U.N. General Assembly, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1974

[2] Speech by Chiao Kuan-hua at Plenary Session (29th) of U.N. General Assembly, October 2, 1974, Foreign Languages Press, Peking.

[3] op. cit. Teng Hsiao-Ping Speech

[4] Speech by Li Chiang at Seventh Special Session of U.N. General Assembly, October 2, 1975, seen Peking Review 37, 1975

[5] 0n Studying Some History of the National Liberation Movement, Peking Review 45, November 10, 1972

[6] The Polemic on the General Line of the International Communist Movement, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1965, p. 12

[7] ibid, pp 5-6

[8] Report Submitted to the Seventh Congress of the Party of Labor of Albania, Section V The International Situation and the Foreign Policy of the PEA, Tirana, 1976.