Afro-Asian solidarity is the basic idea that people from these backgrounds have struggled together against white supremacy and colonialism. This can be expanded to how both have influenced each other culturally in terms of music, food, and clothes.
I have felt this takes on a particularly important dimension in the United States where race/class tensions have existed between Asians and Africans. This has been most notably recognized in popular media through the Asian shop owner pitted against the Black community. Hopefully these dynamics will be explored in the upcoming months on the blog, but to frame that discussion properly we need to start from a seemingly distant point.
Here are some notes on Aijaz Ahmad’s chapter on “Three Worlds Theory” from his book, In Theory. While Aijaz explores the relationship of literature, socialism, nationalism, and anti-colonialism, I will primarily focus on the latter three. I am specifically trying to explore the relationship of “Afro-Asian solidarity” to Three Worlds Theory (When people say “third world” the underpinnings go back to TWT.), the Bandung Conference, and the Non-Aligned Movement. I am not saying they are the same thing, or that they originate from the same historical moment or people. I am trying to connect and separate concepts in the hopes of achieving some clarity. Fundamentally, I believe the question of Afro-Asian solidarity is about the class nature of such solidarity.
I believe this is important as in the last decade a host of works by Bill Mullen, Vijay Prashad, Robin Kelley and Fred Ho revive a legacy of African and Asian solidarity. I believe this attempt is vital, but has been underdeveloped theoretically and politically. Most notably it has taken on Stalinist and Maoist politics. I have taken Aijaz’s chapter as a key place to start thinking about the problems of any discussion on Afro-Asian solidarity. My interest is in thinking about Afro-Asian solidarity ‘from below’ from a class perspective. In this light Mullen’s connection of CLR James and Grace Lee Bogg’s collaborative efforts is vital. There is much more that can be explored from ‘from below’ recoveries in the context of national liberation and communist movements.
If my notes on Aijaz do not make 100% sense right now, my upcoming notes on the Darker Nations should clarify why Aijaz is so vital in the discussion of Afro-Asian solidarity. I believe that Vijay Prashad’s work is a long lament or tragic drama on why the national bourgeoisies did not have time or resources to develop the nation; or that they were not pushed to the left far enough; among other excuses justifying a history of national liberation and neo-colonialism rooted in the national bourgeoisies as the determining agents of social change.
a) Aijaz asks a fundamental question: “whose nationalism is it” (292)? What class interests are at play in any national configuration? Was Bandung or the Non-Aligned Movement reflective the interests of the oppressed layers of the newly independent countries or the national bourgeoisies?
Looking at Bandung or the Non-Aligned Movement as moments of Afro-Asian solidarity, we can ask what does the basis of such solidarity have to be? Is there a difference between a solidarity from above based on states and ruling classes, and one from below based on workers, peasants, and the unemployed?
b) Aijaz says the following about Three Worlds Theory, “The striking feature of the Three Worlds Theory as it passed through its many versions was this theory, unlike all the great modern theories of social emancipation—for democratic rights, for socialist revolution, for the liberation of women; indeed, anti-colonial nationalism itself—arose not as a people’s movement, in an oppositional space differentiated from and opposed to the constituted state structures, but, in all its major successive variants, as an ideology of already-constituted states, promulgated either collectively by several of them, or individually by one distinguishing itself from another” (292).
Here we can connect Three Worlds Theory to Bandung or the Non-Aligned Movement which posed as movements of liberation, but were movements of the national bourgeoisies. This is in contrast to all other movements of liberation which arose out of oppressed layers of society.
c) “…the agency of fundamental transformations was said to reside in the nation-state itself” (293).
d) “An ideological formation which redefined anti-imperialism not as a socialist project to be realized by the mass movements of the popular classes but as a developmentalist project to be realized by the weaker states of the national bourgeoisies in the course of their collaborative competition with the more powerful states of advanced capital.” (293) and “It was this sectoral competition between backward and advanced capitals, realized differentially in the world, owing partly to colonial history itself, which was now advocated as the kernel of anti-imperialist struggles, while the national-bourgeois state was itself recognized as representing the masses (293).
e) What was the Bandung Conference in a more historical sense: “Held in April 1955 in the Indonesian city of Bandung, it was a Conference strictly of the independent countries of Asia and Africa. South Africa and Israel were excluded for obvious reasons, the two Koreas were also excluded for reasons of controversy, but the Indochinese countries and three African colonies which had not yet become entirely sovereign were included because they were soon expected to gain their independence. No country was invited from Latin America. China was invited, and Zhou En Lai in fact played a considerable role, despite the fact that China was the world’s largest communist country; Paksitan (one of the hosts) and several such countries were also there, despite their military alliance with the United States” (294).
For some more basic information on the Bandung Conference check out the Wiki page.
f) Aijaz points out that the term “Third World” comes Europe for what its worth (294).
g) For Aijaz the larger global geopolitics is also pivotal in understanding the brinkmanship shown by China an India. The Korean War had just ended. China needed to normalize its relationships with its Asian neighbors not on the terms of the Communist menace. Nehru wanted to isolate Pakistan since it was being entangled in an American military alliance. Sukarno of Indonesia had to deal with the second largest Communist Party on the continent and was being pressured to reconsider his own position of neutrality towards the American military alliances in the region. Thailand and Philippines who were invited to the Bandung Conference were under the umbrella of American protection.
What emerges from Aijaz’s sketch is that geopolitics was a vital dimension to how some of the leading countries at the Bandung Conference saw things. Aijaz jabs at the idea that a unified Third World ever existed—one against US Imperialism and Communist domination.
i) “Since the Western media were less interested in regional realities and saw those realities through the prism of Soviet-American contentions, it was particularly keen to pick up this singular aspect and conjured up a tripartite division of the world, with the ‘Third Word’ being the world of military non-alignment. In this characterization, the American world was First not because capitalism was superior but because its interlocking military alliances, from NATO to SEATO, were more powerful, with fully global reach; the USSR was Second because it had only the Warsaw Pact, with a comparatively very inferior technological base; the Third World was composed of those countries which were militarily not aligned with either the United States or the USSR and could there be a force for peace. The fact that this key element of non-alignment did not fit half the governments represented at Bandung did not much bother the media, and it has not bothered the scholars who have inherited that tradition of representing Bandung” (296).
Aijaz points out that “Third World was simply another name for military non-alignment” (296).
Later in the chapter Aijaz argues that “Not socialism but nationalism has always been designated by the propagators of this term…as the determinate, epochal, imperative ideology of the Third World” (307). While I agree with Aijaz in this precise instance, but is national liberation and socialism counter posed to one another?
j) “We do not agree with the communist teachings, we do not agree with the anti-communist teachings, because they are both based on wrong principles,” Nehru is reported to have said at the Bandung Conference (297).
Aijaz asks “who is the ‘we’ in Nehru’s sentence” (297)?
Aijaz’s response is very important, “Nehru had been the first to underline the fact that it was a conference of governments. Nehru’s sentence, in other words, is a governmental sentence. The ‘we’ is, in the first sentence, the government of India. In this first instance, it presumes that it speaks on behalf of all of India; government, in other words, claim to be the nation” (297).
k) Aijaz also points out that Nehru was speaking to the masses of India who were between the Communists and Congress (the latter being Nehru’s party). Aijaz argues that he is fundamentally saying that it is anti-national to vote for the Communist Party.
l) Aijaz challenges the fundamental truth of whether Nehru was committed to non-alignment. He raises a dirty secret about Nehru, “had spent the first few years after Independence seeking an alliance with the Anglo-American bloc, and there was some anxiety in the country that he might revert to this position at any time, as indeed he did during the Galbraith ambassadorship, in the Kennedy years…” (299).
After independence, Nehru “Got India to join the restructured British Commonwealth instead, in April 1949, and even accepted the King as ‘Head’ of the Commonwealth, mainly with a view to cultivating the Anglo-American bloc” (301).
m) Aijaz says that each of the Presidents/ Prime Ministers came with their own internal/ national compulsions. He is not particularly clear on the internal dynamics which brought Sukarno to the conference (perhaps others can comment), but in the case of Nasser it is fairly obvious: he had just come to power in Egypt, he had a massive Communist party to deal with, the showdown with the British over the Suez canal was only a year away leading to the need to cement his own credentials as a world leader in the struggle against imperialism.
Hopefully several things emerge out of these notes. The first is that the Bandung moment is not reflective of Afro-Asian solidarity in the sense of one which involves hundreds of millions of people in their own self-emancipation. It was the politics and conference of a newly emerging elite of formerly colonized countries. The latter aspect which lends to so much nostalgia, romanticization, and sympathy for that era and those figures. This only obscures the self-activity of countless people whose blood and sweat freed their nations from colonialism, and instead throws up representative figures who at the same time had to crush the most militant dimensions of revolutionary socialist-nationalism to achieve power.
Second, is the publication of texts which discuss that era are politically important because they implicitly offer new ways of forging such an Afro-Asian solidarity. The question for future activists and militants is will that solidarity be forged through nation states or with the self-activity of millions of oppressed people. There is a clear line between the two which cannot be blurred.