Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations; A People's History of the Third World (New York: The New Press, 2007), 237pp.
In 1927, two hundred delegates from thirty-seven states and regions gathered in Brussels and formed the League Against Imperialism. In doing so they gave an institutional voice to the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the vast majority of the people in the world who eventually found their countries sandwiched between the "first" world of the United States and the "second" world of the Soviet Union. Not wanting to align with either empire, from that meeting onward the "third world" (a word coined in 1952 by Albert Sauvy) became a prolonged international project and not just a place of misery. The setting was fraught with irony, for Belgium was then led by King Leopold II, whose shameless pillage of the Congo had few peers. In this history of the majority of the world's peoples, Vijay Prashad traces their elusive quest, its problems and pitfalls, and the causes and consequences of its failure.
Prashad's organization takes one on a global tour; each one of his eighteen chapter titles is a major city of the third world project. In Part 1 he considers the quest (Paris, Brussels, Bandung, Cairo, Buenos Aires, Tehran, Belgrade, and Havana); in Part 2 the pitfalls (Algiers, La Paz, Bali, Tawang, Caracas, and Arusha); then in Part 3 the "assassinations" of the project (New Delhi, Kingston, Singapore, Mecca). The third world sought three goals, he says: political independence and self-rule; peaceful co-existence and non-violent international relations; and using the United Nations as the means to push its agenda, all in contrast to the militarism, economic dominance, and ostensible superiority of the American and Soviet spheres. Along the way Prashad tackles most every aspect of this struggle, including education, bureaucratism, land reform, suffrage, religion, revolutionary violence, foreign aid, transnational corporations, the "villigization" of millions of people, the debt crisis, natural resources, and women's discrimination.
The third world project failed badly for many complex reasons. After freeing themselves from the shackles of imperial overlords, countries tended to centralize power in the state instead of establishing effective social democracies, stifled dissent, ignored rule of law, plundered national treasure, and set up military regimes ruled by dictator-thugs ("Nothing good comes from a military dictatorship."). The predator first world continued their economic plunder thanks to the threat of overwhelming military, political, and economic means (globalization, the IMF, etc.). And thus the "catastrophic demise" of the third world project. Crushing debt and widening income gaps between rich and poor nations are only the most obvious signs that most people in the world remain marginalized by their own states and exploited by the first world. But at least they now have a history of their struggle, thanks to Prashad.