Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Theoretical Review

The Albania Critique of the Theory of ’Three Worlds’

First Published: Theoretical Review, Vol. 1, No. 3, January-February 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The recent struggles that have developed in the communist movement around the break between Albania and China on the theory of “three worlds” provides us with yet another example of the absence of unity in the world communist movement. But though this disunity has served to split the US dogmatist communist movement even further, it allows anti-dogmatist, anti-revisionist communists the potential of deepening the struggle around our own political line and demarcating our own positions on China and the Soviet Union still further from the flunkyism of the dogmatists.

Before embarking on a discussion of the subject of this article, Albania’s critique of the theory of “three worlds”, it will be useful to begin with a brief history of the origin of this theory in the new communist movement in the USA and its subsequent domination of virtually all anti-revisionist forces. This is an aspect of the problem which may not be sufficiently well known to forego a brief digression concerning it.

For US Marxist-Leninists the theory of “three worlds” first became widely recognized as a result of the widely publicized speech of Teng Hsiao-ping, then Vice-Premier of the State Council of China and Chairman of its UN delegation, to a special session of the UN General Assembly in April, 1974. Before that time the Chinese use of terms such as “superpowers” and “third world” was well known, but the specific theory of “three worlds” had yet to make its appearance (see for example the Guardian pamphlet, Unite the Many, Defeat the Few, by Jack Smith).

However, at the UN session Teng put forward the “three worlds” theory in an unambiguous manner:

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 of Asia, Africa, Latin America and other regions make up the Third World. The developed countries between the two make up the Second World.[1]

Within a very short time this new theory was embraced by virtually the entire anti-revisionist communist movement in an entirely uncritical manner. This was the same manner in which all things Chinese had been previously adopted by the new communist movement. And when one organization, the Communist League, challenged the “three worlds” theory, it war the object of unanimous abuse.

In a May Day address in Chicago in 1974, in a speech which foreshadowed the recent Albanian critiques, a leading member of the Communist League challenged the view that the world war “in a new era, an era of the sundering of the world into three separate worlds...” and characterized this as a “disorientation” comparable to the Tito-ist theory of non-alignment and the “third camp.”[2]

No sooner was this speech published that the attacks on it began. Carl Davidson in the Guardian called it “warmed over revisionism and Trotskyism”, and pointed out “the CL is directing its fire at the general line of the Chinese Communist Party.”[3] Davidson’s remarks were not unusual. They were repeated by the October League, the Revolutionary Union, and the rest of the anti-revisionist movement. The CL’s line found no echo elsewhere (due in no small part to the vulgar non-scientific character of the CL’s Marxism) and the theory of “three worlds” passed into the general ideological arsenals of the new communist movement.

So much so that when, much later, sections of our movement were forced to break with the line being put forward by China on the international situation as it pertained, in particular, to the Angolan civil war, the resultant debate never called into question the theory of “three worlds.” Instead, debate centered on a subsequent corollary of that theory which stated that the Soviet Union was the greater danger to the second and third worlds than the USA.

The critique of China’s position on Angola, then, was not based on a rejection of the theory of “three worlds”. Quite the contrary, it was based on a reaffirmation of its original presentation in which the two countries of the “first world” were equal dangers to the world’s peoples. The anti-dogmatist, anti-revisionist communist movement, which was only beginning to consolidate itself in the aftermath of the Angolan situation, continued to talk about the “third world”, about “superpowers”, and about “social-imperialism”. Among the reasons for the continued use of these terms, particularly the all-pervasive “third world”, by anti-dogmatists was the reluctance to break with Chinese thought in the absence of a theoretically articulated alternative. Moreover, equally serious were the vestiges of the anti-war and student movements, out of which many of the new communist forces emerged, and their continued reliance on notions of “third worldism”.

And it was not only In the USA, for the entire world anti-revisionist movement (with some notable exceptions in Western Europe) aligned with the Communist Party of China in its affirmation of the theory of “three worlds”. Foremost among them was the Party of Labor of Albania. Only now, some three years after it was first advanced, has the theory of “three worlds” been challenged from within the international anti-revisionist movement. In a series of articles which followed the Seventh Congress of the Party of Labor of Albania (PLA) held in November, 1976, the Albanians have cautiously begun to critique this theory.

What is the significance of the Albanian critique? This is not an academic question, nor is it only a question concerning the international situation. Rather, it goes to the heart of the question of the future character of the party building movement in the United States. Already forces in the dogmatist camp have dropped the discredited banner of the Communist Party of China, and have hailed Albania as the new leading center of the world communist movement. Even within the anti-dogmatist, anti-revisionist movement, which reluctantly and with considerable misgivings gave up its belief that there was some leading socialist state to which US Marxist-Leninists could look for guidance, some forces are again talking of the leading role of the Party of Labor of Albania in the phrases of yesteryear. Is Albania offering (please excuse the phrase) a “third world”, a common ground between revisionism and the Chinese position, where dogmatists and anti-dogmatists can reunite?

This article will attempt to analyze the Albania critique in its context and also to express some tentative theses on the character of Albanian theoretical production. First, however, let us examine the theory of “three worlds” as ably stated by Teng Hsiao-ping:

A large number of Asian, African and Latin American countries have achieved independence one after another and they 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. 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.[4]

Clearly Teng is accurate in portraying this estimation of the world situation as a “drastic division and realignment.”[5] In every case, the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the socialist countries, and the developed capitalist states are seen to be undergoing transformations and contradictions. Previous to this, the world communist movement formulated these contradictions in terms of two main worlds, one capitalist and one socialist, with some observers arguing for a third world consisting of the so-called “under-developed” countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

What is new in this assessment, however, is the construction of the “first world”, which includes states defined as “superpowers”, and the splitting of what was before considered the ”socialist camp”. Now the Soviet Union is relegated to the “first world”, while China is placed in the “third world.” The countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America remain where they were, and the developed capitalist countries (minus the USA) are renamed the “second world.”

The critical concepts here then are “superpowers” and “social-imperialism.” In fact, the central principle guiding Chinese (and Albanian) thinking on the international situation since the late 1960’s has been the notion of capitalist restoration in the USSR and Eastern Europe and the transformation of the Soviet Union into an imperialist superpower.

The main conclusion drawn from this was that the socialist camp was thereby destroyed and that the principal contradiction in the world was between the first world on the one hand, and the second and third worlds on the other. Inasmuch as China was part of the “third world”, this meant(among other things) that its foreign policy required it to oppose the MPLA in Angola as an agent of social-imperialism, and to praise NATO operations against Eastern Europe.

Albania’s attack on the theory of “three worlds”, and particularly its ramifications for the foreign policy of a socialist state, has the following major components;

1) It asserts that the socialist camp continues to exist;
2) It asserts that the theory of “three worlds”, as put forward by China, is no different than the bourgeois theory of non-alignment, or the revisionist theory of the “third camp” put forward by Tito;
3) It asserts that the “three worlds” theory subordinates the class question to the national question) that it capitulates to bourgeois nationalism;
4) It affirms that the theory of “three worlds” presents an anti-Leninist, non-class view of the international question.[6]

In fact, the Albanians are correct on all counts.

If Lenin in 1919 was correct in putting forward the thesis that proletarian revolution in Russia had fundamentally divided the world between socialism and capitalism, certainly the presence today of a number of states whose socialist development is further along than Russia’s was in 1919 enables us to say that a socialist system continues to exist.

As to the second point, that of an identity between the theory of “three worlds” and theories of non-alignment and the “third camp”[7] one has only to be familiar with Peking Review’s frequent praise for the proponents of non-alignment to observe that the supporters of the theory of “three worlds” recognize in it such an identity. Even more enlightening is Hua Kuo-feng’s speech in honor of Tito upon the visit of the latter to Peking in August, in which Yugoslavia is praised for its “non-aligned policy.”

In terms of the subordination of the class question to the national question in the theory of “three worlds”, this has been the most widely recognized of its aspects. As practiced in this country by the former October League with regard to Iran, and by the international dogmatist movement with regard to the struggle in Zaire (to cite only two examples), it has come in for widespread criticism. For a country to break with the Soviet Union is a progressive act in the eyes of supporters of the theory of “three worlds”, even if the reasons have to do more with reactionary nationalism than with “anti-imperialism.”

Finally, the Albanians are correct when they insist that such terms as “first”, “second” and “third” worlds are presented in a non-Leninist way; they are terms which, in the words of Enver Hoxha, “cover up and do not bring out the class character” of political forces acting in the world today.[8] And by placing states with differing social systems in the same “world”, they compound the error even more. What is the value of a concept which encompasses Chile and China, Brazil and Vietnam?

Clearly these are the strengths of the Albanian critique. Together they constitute a sharp and telling indictment from within of the international line of the world dogmatist movement. But what are the weaknesses of the Albanian critique? What prevents it from serving as the basis for a fundamental reappraisal of our line on the international situation?

First and most obviously, the Albanians are inconsistent in their position. If the term “first world” is classless and non-Marxist, is not the term “superpower” equally so? Can the Albanians successfully reject the one while continuing to rely on the other? Moreover, this inconsistency is symptomatic of a deeper problem. The Albanians, like the Chinese, have never produced the rigorous theoretical proof to substantiate their insistence that capitalism has been restored in the USSR and Eastern Europe, or their allegation that the USSR is an imperialist state in the Leninist sense. The scattered and confused pieces of empirical data which they have instead presented from time to time have only served to retard the theoretical treatment of this important question.

At the same time the treatment of the question of capitalist restoration raises another question, that of the character of Albanian Marxism-Leninism. Here it must be admitted that Albanian Marxism-Leninism presents itself in two aspects: a) a predominantly ideological side, and b) a predominantly dogmatic backward looking side. Taken in their inter-connection, these two characteristics determine the absolute limits of Albanian theoretical production.

Both these aspects are not new with the Albanians, nor are they only limited to them. They were present from the beginning in the Chinese polemics against Soviet Revisionism in the early 1960’s, which is one of the main reasons why the critique never went beyond the stage of ideological polemics and a significant anti-revisionist communist movement never developed internationally.

The ideological character of Albanian theory presents itself in the conceptual system employed in their work and which is presented as having a rigorous theoretical value in a scientific sense. Phrases such as the already mentioned “superpowers” or “social-imperialism” are typical of this practice. For Lenin “social-imperialism” had an ideological value in the struggle against the social democratic betrayal of the working class before and during the first world war. The Albanians like the Chinese before them have mechanically transferred this term into a different context, that of the debate on the character of the Soviet social system. Furthermore, they have used the term in this context as if its scientific value for this purpose was self-evident.

Coupled with this ideological use of this concept is its dogmatic, backward looking character; backward looking in the sense that it looks to the classics for timeless and absolute answers to current questions. Nowhere do the Albanians correctly confront the substantive changes in the world situation since the time Lenin and Stalin wrote, nor the consequent substantive changes required in Marxist theory and its analysis of the world situation.[9] Instead, they constantly strive to fit the situation and revolutionary tasks of the peoples of the world into ready quotes from Lenin and Stalin, to refute the erroneous theory of “three worlds” not on the basis of developed Marxist-Leninist theory, but because it deviates from what Lenin and Stalin said.

In this way the major document of the Albanian critique, the Zeri i Popullit editorial “The Theory and Practice of Revolution,” is structured entirely around a series of quotes from Lenin and Stalin, and the contrast between them and statements derived from the theory of “three worlds.”

Now clearly, the study of Lenin and Leninism is essential for any communist revolutionary. Yet this very same study will demonstrate that Lenin’s method and that of the Albanians differs in a significant and indeed critical respect. Lenin practiced Marxist theory; the Albanians do not. For Lenin, Marx’s work was the starting point, the “cornerstone” from which to begin to analyze the world situation at any particular conjuncture. Any such analyses would be the result of theoretical practice, the application of Marxism to produce new knowledge corresponding to new developments. This was, and is, the theory of Leninist political practice.

For the Albanians, on the contrary, Lenin’s work is the final word on any question, a timeless statement which is inviolable. The Albanians do not need to practice Marxism-Leninism, they need only to read Lenin, for they believe the answer to any contemporary problem can be found in the immediate reading of Lenin and Stalin’s writings. Here there is no theoretical practice, only the claim of orthodoxy.

The Albanian critique openly argues:

The attempts to analyze situations allegedly in a new way, differently from Lenin and Stalin, to change the revolutionary strategy which the Marxist-Leninist communist movement has always upheld, lead in devious anti-Marxist ways, to abandoning the fight against imperialism and revisionism.[10]

Now, of course, revisionists and opportunists have always claimed to be making a “new” contribution to Marxism-Leninism, and the world communist movement has been justifiably suspicious of their claims. But to deny the necessity of Marxism-Leninism itself to constantly develop and change is to perpetuate a static conception of Marxism-Leninism which is as great a danger to our theory as the deviations it attempts to oppose.

All these remarks are not intended to single out the Albanians, nor to belittle their critique of the theory of “three worlds.” Their kind of Marxism is typical of the dogmatism which has dominated anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism in the recent period. What we do want to insist upon is the fact that, while the Albanians (and their followers) have broken with a particular theory (that of the “three worlds”) they have not broken with the static conception of Marxism out of which it was produced and continually reproduces itself.

The Albanian critique of the theory of “three worlds” gives us some useful insights, but it cannot serve as a model for an all around critique, either of the theory of “three worlds”, or of the dead end into which dogmatism has led the anti-revisionist communist movement. Yet it is that latter task which presents itself to our movement with increasing urgency.


[1] Peking Review, April 12, 1974

[2] People’s Tribune, May 1974 or Western Worker, June 1974

[3] Guardian, June 12, 1974

[4] Peking Review,op. cit.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “The Theory and Practice of Revolution,” Workers’ Advocate, July 22, 1977.

[7] The policy of non-alignment arose after World War II from the efforts of India, Yugoslavia and other countries to create a system of states which claimed a refusal to take sides between the socialist world and the capitalist one. In fact, it functioned as an ideological cover for building capitalism with anti-imperialist phrases.

[8] Peking Review, September 2, 1977.

[9] The obvious exception is the question of capitalist restoration, which as we have stated they have not attempted to deal with theoretically.

[10] “The Theory and Practice of Revolution”.