Conferences and Meetings

Conferences and Meetings

Vision of Bandung After 50 Years Facing New Challenges (The era of Bandung (1955-1975) An assessment)

The era of Bandung (1955-1975) An assessment

More than 30 years ago the principal heads of state of those Asian and African countries that had regained political independence met for the first time at Bandung. The experience of the new authorities they represented was still slight: India and Indonesia had been independent for fewer than ten years; Communist China for only five, and it was only three years since the Egyptian monarchy had bowed out of history. The battle for the achievement of the historic task of independence was not over: the first Vietnamese war was only just finished and the second was already in prospect, the Korean War ended with the status quo, the Algerian war was in full flow, decolonization of sub-Saharan Africa was not even yet foreseen, and the drama of Palestine was in its first phase.


The Asian and African leaders meeting in Bandung were far from resembling one another. The political and ideological currents they represented, their vision of the future society to be built or rebuilt and its relations with the West all provoked different attitudes. But a common plan brought them together and gave their meeting meaning. On their minimum common programme was the achievement of political decolonization of Asia and Africa. Moreover they all appreciated that regaining political independence was a means and not an end, the latter being winning economic, social and cultural liberation. On this, two views divided the Bandung guests: there was a majority view of those who believed in a potential “development” within “interdependence” in the world economy, and a view of the communist leaders who believed that a withdrawal from the capitalist camp would lead – with, if not behind the USSR – to the building of a world socialist camp. 

The leaders of the capitalist Third World who did not expect to “leave the system” or “delink” did not all have the same strategic and tactical view of “development”. But in varying degrees they did think that the building of an economy and an independent developed society (albeit within global interdependence) entailed an element of “conflict” with the dominant West (the radical wing regarded it as essential to put a stop to control over the national economy by foreign monopoly capital). In their further concern to preserve the regained independence, they refused to join the planetary war games and serve as bases for the encirclement of socialist countries that US hegemony was seeking. However, they believed too that refusing to join the Atlantic military pact did not imply a willingness to come under the umbrella of its adversary, the USSR. Hence “neutralism” and “non alignment”. The then secret history of relations between China and the USSR, whose crisis was to become public knowledge two years later, was to show that this position was not really very different from the one taken by China in the 1960s. It was also the position in which Yugoslavia found itself after the break of 1948. The formation of a non aligned front had, therefore, Tito’s active sympathy from the very start.

The drawing together of the Afro-Asian states had already begun with the establishment of the Arab- Asian group in the United Nations, in order to defend the cause of independence for the struggling colonies. Bandung reinforced this drawing together and gave the struggle a fillip. Three years later, in liberated Accra, Kwame Nkrumah declared “Africa must unite”. But once independence was gained and Nkrumahist pan-Africanism failed and there was the demonstration of the impotence of the two camps constituted around the Congo issue (the Casablanca bloc and the Monrovia bloc from 1960 to 1963) African unity was to take the minimal form of the establishment of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. 

During the 1960s and the 1970s at one summit meeting after another “non-alignment” was gradually to slide from the stand point of a political solidarity front geared to support for liberation struggles and rejection of military alliances to a posture of “a trade union of economic claims on the North”. The battle for a “new international economic order” engaged upon in 1975 after the Middle East war of October 1973 and the adjustment in the price of oil was the apotheosis of this evolution only to sound its death knell.

Neither at political nor economic level was the West light heartedly going to accept the Bandung spirit. Was it mere chance that one year later France, Britain and Israel would try to overthrow Nasser by the joint aggression of 1956? Imperialist capital’s rejection of the Bandung political vision was shown by the real hatred the West manifested for the Third World radical leaders of the 1960s (Nasser, Soekarno, Nkrumah, Modibo Keita), who were nearly all overthrown in the same period, from 1965 to 1968, which included Israel’s aggression of June 1967. It was, therefore, a politically hamstrung non aligned camp that was to face the global economic crisis from 1970-1971. The West’s non acceptance of the proposed NIEO showed the genuine connection between the political and economic aspects of the Afro-Asian initiative crystallized from Bandung. 

What may nowadays be called “development ideology”, in a crisis that may be terminal, had its “moment of glory” between 1955 and 1975, but never gave rise to an interpretation shared by everyone and understood in the same way? 

The traditional communist camp was also not prepared to accept the aims that emerged from Bandung. In 1948 Jdanov proclaimed the division of the world into two camps – capitalist and socialist – and, in advance, condemned as illusory any attempt to stand outside them, and hence to wish to be “non aligned”. Within this spirit the communists could not envisage any winning of independence by a national liberation movement they had not led. India’s independence was marked by the Indian Communist Party as a “day of national mourning” ; in South-East Asia the Chinese and Vietnamese models were thought desirable to be extended to Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Burma. It was only after the first “stabilization” of the 1950-1955 period (the victory in China, armistice and partition in Korea and Vietnam, the admitted defeat of guerrillas elsewhere in South-East Asia), after the Third World “bourgeois” new regimes had proved their viability, after the start, albeit under “bourgeois” leadership, of their conflict with the West, and after Stalin’s death (1953) and Khrushchev’s ideological overtures, that the notion of the possibility of a “viable third camp” and a “third path of development” began to be appreciated. 

The non-communist Third World leaders did, however, believe in a “third path of development” that would be neither “capitalist”, nor an imitation of the socialist models of the USSR and China. Their rejection of Marxism was tempered with considerations of varying kinds: they sometimes saw Marxism as the descendant of European culture and incompatible with their own people’s value systems (and religious conviction, Islam, Hinduism or the peculiarities of negritude); sometimes they were merely fearful of losing their independence (Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, denounced by Tito, was on show to fuel their fear); sometimes they were more drawn by the Western model of efficiency and consumption, or freedom (although the latter was less highly valued), than by the Soviet and Chinese models (less efficient or too austere and so on). Out of these ambiguous attitudes were to emerge perhaps the ideologies of “particular socialisms” (for example, African, Arab). 

“Particular socialism” or “particular paths to socialism of universal application”? This is the locus of debate. The question is not yet settled and may be more open today than ever. The –now open – crisis of “existing socialism” may in fact cast doubt on the model of a supposedly achieved socialism. But this crisis has gone through stages and indicates only the interaction of different levels of critique.

The Sino-Soviet dispute certainly had two aspects: one national and the other in regard to the social and political view of a plan for society. It cannot be doubted that China, as a potential great power, was not going to leave Moscow the sole responsibility of deciding the strategies and tactics of confrontation with the United States. It suspected the USSR of being too susceptible of sacrificing the interests of other peoples for its own, whereas Peking was convinced that the “socialist revolution” was on the agenda in the “storm zones”, that is, the Third World. At the same time, Maoism felt bound to make a critique of the Soviet model of development and embark on an alternative path and an approach that would not reproduce the models of labour organization, consumption and the Western capitalist way of life, by replacing capital ownership with state ownership. 

The subsequent arguments, polemics, realities and evolutions make it possible now to have a clearer picture of the divergences and diagnostics of the problems. But opinions and theorizations will go on producing different pictures of the Soviet and Chinese systems that call themselves socialist, of the genuine problems encountered in historical construction (development of the forces of production and new social relations), the emerging gap between the results achieved so far and the idea of socialism (especially Marx’s idea), the ideological roots of these evolutions (the historical limitations of Leninism and Maoism as regards the state, the relationship with an avant garde party, the avant garde and the people, and so forth), and the effects of these evolutions on  the world socialist movement and its integration in world politics and so on. 

These realities call for a consideration of the hiatus in the leftist nationalism of Bandung, for subtle judgement and a refusal to utter “condemnations” in the name of some absolute values supposedly achieved in nearly perfect or truly perfect models. But they call, too, for a critical approach to the propositions of “particular socialism”. The latter have not proved themselves to be a step forward in the solution of problems facing the so-called socialist societies. On the contrary, they have reproduced the shortcomings of the latter, sometimes to the point of caricature: the single party (sometimes with only a paper existence), absolute power, contempt for democracy and basic human rights, without such faults bringing any compensation in terms of economic (or military) efficiency. The ease with which such efforts are overturned revealed by experience justifies some severity on this score. 

There was a Bandung plan, albeit implicit and vague, that might be described as the “bourgeois” national plan for the Third World in our age. Although it has particular forms and national characteristics it could be defined as follows: (i) the desire to develop the forces of production and diversify products (namely industrialize); (ii) the desire to ensure for the national state direction and control of the process, (iii) the belief that “technical” models provide “neutral” data that can only be copied, albeit by mastering them; (iv) the belief that the process does not primarily require popular initiative but merely popular acquiescence in state action; (v) the belief that the process is not essentially in contradiction with participation in exchanges with the world capitalist system, even if the process does provoke occasional clashes with it. 

The context of capitalist expansion in the 1955-1970 period to some extent encouraged crystallization of the plan. But by what criteria is the success of the bourgeois national plan to be judged? Certainly not the apparent criterion of per capita income. 

The implementation of the national bourgeois plan implies a series of controls by the hegemonic national bourgeois class, through the state, at least over the following processes: (i) control of reproduction of labour power, which entails a fairly complete and balanced development such that local agriculture can supply the essential ingredients of this quantitative reproduction and at appropriate prices to bring a return on capital; (ii) control of national resources; (iii) control of local markets and the capacity to penetrate the world market on competitive terms; (iv) control of financial machinery to ensure centralization of the surplus and a say in its productive use; (v) control of the technologies in use to the relevant level of development of the forces of production. 

On this basis the Third World experiences can be classified under two headings: countries that have attempted no more than to speed up growth without worrying about the foregoing conditions (Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, among others) and the long list of countries that have attempted to fulfil these conditions (for example: Nasser’s Egypt, Algeria, Tanzania, India, Brazil, South Korea   ). As can be seen the classification does not necessarily distinguish regimes concerned for a measure of social justice and reform, especially land reform ( such as Nasser’s Egypt  or South Korea) from those which have had no hesitation in accepting widening social inequalities (Brazil for example). It does not necessarily distinguish attitudes in regards to transnational capital (Brazil and Kenya are both open to it but the former seeks to relate the capital to its national policy, whereas the latter is happy to adjust to capital’s demands), nor even the issue of political relations of contestation or alliance with East and West. Some correlations can be found but the make up in terms of conjunctures makes each Third World country a special case.

Putting aside the variety of the experience it can be seen that the most coherent achievements have occurred when an acute nationalist combat is combined with a powerful social movement. Nasser’s Egypt was certainly one of the best examples of this.

It is no longer possible to ignore the short comings of these attempts that have not withstood the vagaries of fortune. The agricultural and food crisis, the foreign debt, the mounting technological dependence, the poor capacity to withstand military aggression, the arrival of the capitalist models of conspicuous waste and the effect of this on ideology and culture are all signs of the historical limitations of the attempt. Even before the current crisis brought an opportunity for a “Western offensive” to reverse the changes, the shortcomings had already brought things to a halt. This is not to say that the experiences were bound to stop short where they did and that their “failure” was inevitable. We should argue that to go any further, a genuine “revolution” was crucial, one that would destroy the double illusion of national development unless it arose from genuinely popular authority and the possibility of any such development without “delinking” from the world system. It is not to say that some evolution in this direction was possible in this or that instance, in Egypt for example. It did not happen and now history has moved on.

It is in this sense that we say the plan warrants the description as a bourgeois national plan: and meanwhile it has been found to be impossible. In the same way history has shown that in our day the national bourgeoisie is incapable of achieving what it has done elsewhere, in Europe, North America and XIXth century Japan. This thesis is no novelty and it is not the first failure of the attempt in question. Again to give just one example, Egypt’s history since Mohamed Ali is one of a succession of bourgeois national attempts smashed each time by the combination of their internal fragility and imperialist aggression: in their own way Mohamed Ali, Khedive Ismaïl, Orabi (if his revolution has been successful), the Wafd achieved a great deal, in the context of their times, with the means that the modalities of formation of the Egyptian bourgeoisie offered within the framework of the overall capitalist system of the day: their imprint remains strong and in some respects the changes they made are irreversible. But it has to be acknowledged that their failure opened the way each time to a “compradorisation” of Egypt in the style of the time. 

No more needs to be said. A study of other Third World countries and regions would in our opinion illustrate the same thesis: an unbroken succession of national bourgeois attempts, repeated abortions and surrender to the demands of the subordination that has followed each time in Latin America since the XIXth century (to mention only the most recent examples of the Mexican revolution in the 1910s to 1920s and Peronist Argentina), in India (whose evolution from Nehru’s “first plan” to the return of the right to government after Congress’s first failure is eloquent), and in numerous Arab and African countries. 

The post Second World War circumstances were unusually favourable. At the economic level the North’s strong economic growth made “adjustment” in the South easier. At the political level the peaceful coexistence emerging from the growth of Soviet industrial and military power (from the first Sputnik space flight to the “strategic balance” achieved in the 1960s to 1970s) in combination with the decline of the former British and French colonialism and the upsurge of the Afro-Asian independence struggles gave the Soviet alliance real effectiveness. 

Successes are always crowned with disappointment. An illusion of “gradual” and virtually painless evolution towards socialism was fostered by the formulation of the theory of the so-called “non capitalist road”. Of course this theory did not convince everybody. China denounced it forcefully in the 1960s as an opiate intended to lull the peoples to sleep and damp down the explosions in the “storm zones”. Che Guevarism tried to counter it with immediate military revolution. 

History has now moved on again. Since the early 1970s, the West’s economic boom has been smothered to give way to the structural crisis under way, while competition between Europe, Japan and the United States took over from reconstruction under American protection. In the Soviet Union, Khrushchev’s promises – to overtake American living standards in 1989 – and the attempts at rapid democratization in the wake of the XIXth Congress gave way to Brezhnev’s stick-in-the-mud, timid and ineffectual reforms to overcome the management crisis of a system faced with the challenge of moving from extensive to intensive accumulation. Gorbachev’s initiatives may mark a new departure, but it is early days to judge their extent and effectiveness. In China, the about turn following Mao’s death showed that neither the issue of economic efficiency nor of democracy have found their “definitive” response. Throughout the Third World the food crisis (to the extreme of chronic famine in Africa), the foreign debt crisis and the standstill of imported technology have brought a series of surrenders to the dictates of transnational capital, organized around the Paris and London Clubs, the IMF, the World Bank and the consortium of the large Western banks. In the radically inclined countries, coups d’état and military aggression (the 1967 war was no chance) have largely contributed to halting the experiences under way. The Bandung era is past. 

The axis of the new world conjuncture is Western capitalist aggression against the Third World peoples, with the aim of subordinating their further evolution to the demands of redeployment of transnational capital. Is this a painful but passing phenomenon that must necessarily be followed by a new blossoming of “national bourgeois” advances? Or is it a historical turning point that will no longer allow the following of these successive national bourgeois plans characteristic of at least a century of recent history? This is where the real debate on the character of the challenges and the options for the future lies.


Samir Amin