Conferences and Meetings

Conferences and Meetings

Vision of Bandung After 50 Years Facing New Challenges (We owe a lot to Bandung)

We owe a lot to Bandung

Fifty years after the historic Bandung conference we live in a much changed world. The Soviet Union-led socialist bloc no longer exists, nor does the Soviet Union itself. The U.S. today is the sole superpower, with some of its leading politicians and ideologues planning, writing and propagating for a ‘new American century.’ Now that Bloc politics does not exist, and decolonization is almost complete, many in the North write off the Bandung conference at best as irrelevant history and at worst as an ill conceived adventure that misguided the foreign policy of much of the South depriving them the benefits of Northern aid, trade and capital. It is rewarding to recall what the leaders of the Five Sponsoring Countries said then in April 1955, to see how contemporary some of the key concerns in Bandung were.

Welcoming the delegates, the host President Sukarno warned: “I beg of you do not think of colonialism only I the classic form…Colonialism has also its modern dress, in the form of economic control, intellectual control, actual physical control by a small and alien community within a nation. It is a skillful and determined enemy, and it appears in many guises.” He went on to stress: “Wherever, whenever and however it appears, colonialism is an evil thing, and on which must be eradicated from the earth.” This is a prescient description on neo-colonialism, and would accurately describe the occupation in Iraq and Palestine. President Sukarno also called for peace warning: “No task is more urgent than that of preserving peace.” Acutely aware of the limitations of the South’s military and economic power, he called for the Asian and African peoples to “inject the voice of reason into world affairs,” to “mobilize all the spiritual, all the moral, all the political strength…on the side of peace.”

Premier Chou En Lai expressed similar sentiments and noted that “new colonialists are attempting to take the place of the old ones.” He spoke of the urge “to safeguard world peace, to win and to preserve national independence and, accordingly, to promote friendly co-operation among nations.” He laid down the principles of what came to be Known as the Panchsheel and stressed the need for the respect for the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of states based on non-interference in their internal affairs, and peaceful coexistence. The Egyptian delegation also expressed concerns that have contemporary relevance. While reaffirming their commitment to the UN the delegation noted the failure of that body because of Great Power conflict “to act in accordance with human rights, especially with regard to the countries of northern Africa and Palestine…” 

In keeping with these sentiments Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru also stressed “that moral force counts and the moral force of Asia and Africa must, in spite of the atomic and hydrogen bombs of Russia, the USA or another country, count…” He also raised his voice against any ideological imposition of any ideology and termed this as “most degrading and humiliating to any self-respecting people or nation.” Today we know that ideological impositions ranging from particular Western-oriented notions of democracy and human rights to neo-liberal economic reform are widespread, and the ideological justification for illegal international acts ranging from the invasion of Afghanistan, the occupation of Iraq and Palestine, and the threats against Syria and Iran, to cite just a few instances. 

Many other citations can be quoted from the speeches made in Bandung in April 1955 to demonstrate that the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary is not merely a matter of historical sentiment, but on the contrary a matter of great historical moment. Bandung is important today because its core concerns remain, and in the absence of a countervailing political bloc in the form of the erstwhile socialist bloc, are if anything more important. Neo-colonialism is a major threat. The flagrant US-backed attempt to overthrow President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is just a recent example. This is based on a strident ideological campaign based on an unprecedented control over the global media. This campaign is simply the imposition of “American values” or rather those of a section of the US power elite.

Backed by the troika of the World Bank-IMF-WTO, the G-7 countries headed by the US are trying to impose a particular economic model on other countries throughout the world in the name of neo-liberal economic reform. This term itself is ideologically loaded as the leaders of Bandung would have doubtless noted. There is nothing liberal in this reform, as its respect for individual and collective rights has nothing in common with the major liberal political thinkers, and its economics is in many ways the opposite of the great liberal thinker John Maynard Keynes. Decisions to privatize public holdings, deregulate the economy, and reduce labour rights are not just ‘economic’ decisions but are profoundly political. Likewise as the UNDP Human Development Reports and other documents have shown, these so-called reforms have aggravated existing inequalities, and led to a transfer of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the rich. The gap between the top 20% and the bottom 20% in the world has increased from 30:1 in 1960 to over 92:1 now. Yet this neo-colonial model is being sought to be imposed on the entire world. In this it is aided by an ideologization of education especially in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, where textbooks and learning materials published in, or influenced by, the North and particularly the US, increasing predominate. 

For us to build alternative models to this disastrous one, an economic solidarity is a must. Economic ties including exchange of technologies, scientists, experts, capital and trade flows should be matched by exchange of experiences about alternative, more equitable, self-reliant paths of economic development. Southern-based regional economic alliances which are genuinely independent and not penetrated by the US and its allies are indispensable. So are efforts to set up regional banks and financial institutions which would act as an alternative to the World Bank and IMF. This would require considerable political will, but there otherwise would be no alternative to US-led Northern economic domination, and the ultimate economic dependence of most of the South.

Post-1991, the crisis of the UN has grown. The US is consistently trying to convert the United Nations into the United States through a combination of coercive and subversive tactics. UN programmes it does not like are not funded and sought to be subverted in every way. UN personnel who are independent minded are sought to be removed or shunted to less important positions. For any genuine democratization of the UN, a unity of the South and its alliance with some of the European major powers like France and Germany, is absolutely essential. For that a return to the spirit of Bandung is imperative. For the Security Council to be democratized, powers of the UN General Assembly to be enhanced, the ECOSOC, Unctad, Unido and other bodies to bring back the powers usurped by the World Bank, IMF and WTO to the UN system, an assertive, unified South is absolutely necessary.

Most pressing is the issue of peace. Under the guise of proliferation of WMDs, Iraq was invaded and occupied, even though WMDs have never been found there, before or after the occupation. Iraq and North Korea [DPRK] are being threatened by the US now. There is a blatant hypocrisy at work. The Israeli nuclear technologist Mordechai Vanunu exposed the Israeli nuclear programme nearly a couple of decades ago. But despite the fact that it has a massive nuclear arsenal, an atrocious human rights record including the practice of apartheid-type policies against Palestinians, and the systematic violation of UN Security Council resolutions, there has been virtually no action against it. Instead it has been rewarded despite its apartheid and colonization. India and other countries of the South argued during the formulation of the NPT, that there should be safeguards against both horizontal and vertical proliferation. Countries should not be permitted to develop new generations of nuclear weapons, i.e. indulge in vertical proliferation. In stark contrast, the US is trying to develop WMDs in space the so-called ‘son of Star Wars’ programme.

The Iraqi people’s resistance has demonstrated the widespread rejection of colonialism and the universal yearning for freedom, and shaken the confidence of the US-led occupying forces. As has the sustained resistance of the heroic Palestinian people has forced the US to broker peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinians once again. But the fate of all such resistance, and the costs to the peoples there of such struggle, is greatly increased by the weakness of the Southern intervention. This makes a reassertion of the Bandung spirit and its upgradation including the inclusion of the Americas and Australasia crying need for a peaceful and equitable world. 

Millions of people marched in the US in Europe in the moths before the Iraq war. Something which had not happened even before the Vietnam war, as protests increased there after the war had begun. Yet in the absence of a assertive Southern alliance in the UN and outside to support France, Germany, China and Russia, there was an insufficient counter force against the US. Since assaults against Syria, Iran and then others are in the offing, a resurgent peace offensive requires the renewed commitment of the states, not just the peoples, of the South.

The challenges are manifold. Building a strong peace movement backed by and responded to the states of the South and their allies. Organically linking this peace movement to those in the North. Building a similar worldwide civil society-state alliance for a law governed egalitarian order, in which politico-ideological and military intervention in the internal affairs of states are banned.

To achieve this, not only will the Bandung agenda have to be amplified to meet the new challenges. But a basic political and social task that was earlier neglected will have to be given pride of place. Fifty years ahead in independent democratic existence, the politics of the countries of the South has irrevocably changed. Now these countries, in the main, have thriving, vibrant civil societies. The new agenda will not be confined to states. It will also have to be based on the needs and urges of civil society. This will make the whole revival of the Bandung spirit both more meaningful and powerful. For instance, where states resist as in the US and UK over the occupation of Iraq, the civil society interaction between that in US and UK, and the rest of the world may have a crucial impact and prove in time to be a corrective to an unyielding government. 

In these times there is much more that can be said about such a bold and sweeping effort to reorder the world as was attempted with such success starting in Bandung in April1955. The world has changed, so have the challenges. But the basic hopes and urges of our people have not. We owe a lot to Bandung. Most of all we owe our people the commitment and courage to carry forward the unfinished tasks, so that our freedom will flourish in peace and plenty.


By All India Peace and Solidarity Organization (AIPSO)