by Will

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.

10 thoughts on “Afro-Asian Solidarity from Below or Above?

  1. interesting post and most pertinent at this time when many of us in the 1.5 – 2nd postcolonial/diaspora generations are rethinking the efficacy of ‘the national’ in emancipatory struggles.

    i’ve added this blog to my list and will be following it up.

  2. Nice post. Could you mention the books by Bill Mullen, Robin Kelley, and Fred Ho that you’re talking about that are representative of Stalinist and Maoist politics? Could you also clarify in what way they are representative of those politics? Does it have to do with one of your main points, which is the fact that Bandung was more about the liberation of nation-states than the millions of oppressed involved in anti-colonial movements, and that those elites represented at Bandung were involved in putting down those movements of millions because they challenged their rule? In other words, they couldn’t consolidate their own bourgeois rule while the unruly masses were running around the streets, so they smashed those mass movements themselves.

    This post also made me think about Fanon’s evolving conception of the national bourgeoisie from “Black Skin, White Masks” to “The Wretched of the Earth.”

    In some ways, BSWM looks at the reaction of the national bourgeoisie to its oppression at the hands of European colonizers. It’s saving grace is that it is not only a look at this layer, but is applicable to people of color in general in relation to white supremacy.

    What is significant about “Wretched” is that by the time it’s written, Fanon had become much more critical of the national bourgeoisie. Essentially, he is saying that if potential or aspiring members of this national bourgeoisie are not using the education they’ve received under colonialism to dismantle the master’s house or fight against colonialism, they are selling out. This sounds like a similar critique to what you’re laying out here. Fanon has seen the same dynamics at play after independence time and again – the national bourgeoisie comes to power at the cost of the mass mobilization of the oppressed, and in fact crushes that mobilization in order to consolidate its own rule.

    Counterposed to this, Fanon tells these aspiring members of the national bourgeoisie to go to the people, become organic intellectuals, “serve the people.” Check out pages 126-27 for Fanon’s discussion of this process.

  3. Yo Mikey

    The books which come to mind are Vijay Prashad’s The Darker Nations; Robin Kelley’s essay Black Like Mao; and Bill Mullen’s Afro-Orientalism; the book Afro-Asia; Afro-Asian Encounters by Shannon Steen; and Gerald Horne also has a bunch of books on Afro-Asian solidarity. (I have seen no works which include Walter Rodney or Fanon.)

    The point you raise about Fanon is very important and especially what his relationship to the national bourgeoisie is in Wretched of the Earth. My understanding of it is that Fanon appears to be counseling the national rulers to be better rulers. While he is critical of them–who isn’t critical of the rulers–he still cannot see the role of an independent peasants and workers government in the “post-colonial” period. To me this is the same narrative of Vijay Prashad’s work, The Darker Nations. The lament over the bourgeoisie failure has to be transformed into a precise political analysis and strategic course of action towards the liberation of oppressed people, which Prashad, I do not believe offers at all. His vision ends up being push the rulers left using the working class as a battering ram.


  4. Remy,
    Glad you like the blog. I’ll be following yours as well.
    In terms of the relevance of the nation in anti-colonial struggles, we’ve been discussing this in greater depth here: and also here:, especially in the comments sections. If you get a chance we’d love to hear your thoughts.

  5. Will,

    I’m not exactly sure what Aijaz is saying here having only read it once. Is he saying that the failure of Afro-Asian solidarity is the tragedy of non-aligned statesmen or that of independent mass movements? I get where you’re coming from (I think), but I’m a bit puzzled by Aijaz’s ultimate point.

  6. I think Vijay Prashad’s politics ought to be distinguished from those of Fred Ho, Robin D.G. Kelley, Bill Mullen, and others grappling with Maoism. This is clear if people are familiar with Prashad’s apologetics for the CPI(Marxist)’s repression of the anti-displacement struggle of peasants in Nandigram, which was supported by Maoists in India. There was a controversy in 2007 regarding an open letter on the matter signed by Prashad, Chomsky, Zinn, and others.

    It is common for those writing in the Trotskyist paradigm to seek to understand Maoism as a subvariant of “Stalinism,” but things are a bit more complex. For example, even though Maoists would not necessarily embrace this distinction, from Hal Draper, of a politics “from above” versus a politics “from below,” I think the history of the Cultural Revolution shows that Maoism cannot easily be lumped with the politics of Bandung Conference, which were indeed oriented towards the existing neocolonial states. The significance of Maoism in its own right has been recognized by thinkers such as Badiou, who sees in the Cultural Revolution an end to the politics of the party-state and an opening for a re-examination of the Paris Commune.

  7. Hi Krisna

    Aijaz is not attacking Afro-Asian solidarity per se, but a conception of it put forward by the Bandung Conference which is solidarity through nation-states/ national bourgeoisie. Aijaz smashes this idea of solidarity. That is his main point.

    I agree with Boris that the books I listed are coming from very different places.

    I also agree throwing Maoism in the same box as Stalinism is off. Although I do not know much about Badiou so will not comment.

  8. Will, thanks for the clarification.

    Hey boris,

    I wanted to respond briefly to your second paragraph.

    Without getting into a more protracted debate about Maoism itself, though I think we should dedicate the time to having that conversation, I will take up a few things related the Cultural Revolution.

    But before I do that I just wanted to clarify that there are other currents outside the Trotskyist milieu that use the concepts of “from above” and “from below,” and currents that some around GF find much closer affinity with (though Hal Draper definitely has an influence), particularly the Johnson-Forest Tendency, but would also include Western Marxists, Left Communists, Anarchists, and non-denominational (to use a religious term) leaders like Stan Weir or Staughton Lynd. Personally, my understanding of the Cultural Revolution comes mostly from Cajo Brendel (a council communist) and Raya Dunayevskaya (JFT).

    Raya saw the Cultural Revolution as part of the Sino-Soviet split and seems to think there’s a closer relation to Bandungism than you suggest. Bandung instituted China’s “peaceful coexistence” with Russia. It wasn’t a year later that a CCP Congress had decided that China was a state capitalist society with the implication being that the Chinese state has its own interests independent of Russia (as well as the working class and peasants of China). That same year, in exchange for helping to suppress the “from below” rebellion of the Hungarian workers and peasants in ’56, Russia promised to share critical nuclear information and knowledge, but when this never went down, a split with Russia was pursued by Mao. So when the US launched attacks upon Vietnam, many Chinese made calls to solidarity with the Vietnamese which implicated a united front with Russia. The Red Guards were Mao’s answer to ensure that China remained the center of world revolution by repressing solidarity with Vietnam (and thereby preventing the entering into fraternal relations with Russia) and their resistance in production and in the field.

    Domestically, the Red Guards were attempting to repress the self-activity of the workers and peasants against the mandates of the CP factory and field bureaucracy and sought to substitute themselves as new leaders. Mao had painted the revolting workers (like many Stalinists paint the Kronstadt rebellion of 1921 and Hungary 1956) as under the influence of Russian revisionism and new class economism (see below) when they fought off the Red Guards through armed revolt and mass strikes. They weren’t just repelling the RG out of loyalty to the then-existing rulers, but for their own self-organization and control.

    I believe Brendel argued that the Cultural Revolution was fundamentally an intraparty struggle where the older ideologues were attempting to subvert the new “non-ideological” management technocrats who believed they could better organize production independent of all the orthodox Marxist rubbish. This revolution-from-above is what transpired in Russia where the new factory management saw the party dogmatists as a break on the forces of production. But the new class didn’t win in China because they were too small in number. Its been a hot minute since I read Brendel so I’ll need to refresh again.

  9. I agree that Stalinism and Maoism aren’t the same thing, and this difference does matter especially in India where the Stalinists are in state power in some Indian states and the Maoists are involved in popular struggles against them. Good point calling out Prashad for this.

    I agree generally with Brendel and Dunayevskaya’s critiques of the Cultural Revolution and I do think that the CCP was state capitalist well before 1978. However, I think these critiques also need to be nuanced. Yes, the Cultural Revolution was partly a result of a faction fight in the Party-State bureaucracy, where Mao mobilized workers, students, and peasants against rival bureaucrats. However, there were cases where workers, students, and peasants took it much further than Mao wanted to go and started to set up popular councils and committees on a more direct democratic basis (analogous to the Paris Commune – I also haven’t read Badiou but I’m curious to see what he has to say about this). But what did Mao do to these popular councils and committees? He sent the military to crush them because they challenged his authority.

    As far as I understand, this more direct democratic tendency in Chinese politics is sometimes called the “ultra-left”. An anarchist friend living in China said that Maoism is basically the only revolutionary discourse present in China right now for folks who are trying to oppose Chinese state capitalism. I’m not sure if that’s true but if it is I wouldn’t want to just dismiss any revolutionary forces that emerge in China today if they call themselves Maoist or praise the Cultural Revolution. I’d rather look at what they are actually calling for and doing…. are they calling for a progressive state and ruling class or are they calling to smash the state and replace it with workers, farmers, and students councils? Tendencies advocating the latter are folks we should try to support and be in conversation with.

    So while I agree that Maoism poses a different form of Afro-Asian solidarity than Bandungism, I think we need to critique both for being top down. At the same time, I think we should be looking for chances to build united fronts with revolutionary forces today that might be trying to reinterpret their legacies from below.

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