The Darker Nations



By Vijay Prashad; The New Press, 2008, 384 pp.

According to Vijay Prashad's The Darker Nations, in the aftermath of WWII anti-colonialism gave birth to a Third World which briefly promised a model for transcending capitalism. Prashad sets out to offer a people's history of the Third World that illuminates this brief but exciting post-war period.

If we haven't heard much lately about Third World liberation movements that exploded on the scene in Africa, India, and Asia in the 1940s it's because, according to Prashad, they came with a "built in flaw." The working class and peasantry of these countries got "a compromise ideology called Arab Socialism, African Socialism, Sarvodaya, or NASAKOM that combined the promise of equality with the maintenance of social hierarchy." None need look far beyond former Zimbabwe independence leader Robert Mugabi's never-ending authoritarian rule, or the ANC's rightward drift to embrace privatization and structural adjustment, to see the reverberations of those flaws. The Third World project was a morass of contradictions. "The class character of the Third World leadership constrained its horizon, even as it inflamed the possibilities in its societies," writes Prashad.

For Prashad the maintenance of social hierarchy, or capitalist relations of the so-called "underdeveloped" resource-rich countries, has more to do with the rapid redirection and outright usurpation of many of these newly independent left-leaning post-colonial governments into the global economic system. This system happened to be managed by the IMF and the World Bank under the "Washington Consensus" of export driven growth, structural adjustment, debt, privatization, rampant extraction and export of natural resources, and a weakening of capital controls. Across the spectrum, newly independent countries—from conservative pro-U.S. Singapore to Marxist-inspired Ethiopia—submitted. They were subsumed and destabilized as they abandoned the principles of liberation for which they fought successfully to end colonialism. To the extent that these governments embraced or succumbed to these forces, they ultimately faced the double-headed hydra of internal opposition and external domination.

The Darker Nations is a meticulously documented account of the rise of the post-colonial Third World Project and its rapid disintegration and subversion. As Prashad describes, this project rapidly turned into a force of repression. "The IMF-driven globalization of the 1970s ravaged the main pillars of state sovereignty. As it undermined the idea of nationalism, conservative social forces and various powerful social classes gathered together to offer an alternative vision of what it meant to be patriotic, indeed what it meant to be nationalistic."

In a mere three decades, Prashad counts 60 nations paying out $550 billion in principle and interest on loans worth only $523 billion. This redistribution of wealth upward in the global hierarchy means that "the Third World, in other words, has been dissolved."

In the final account, "The Third World, then, is not just the voice of the leaders or their political parties, but also their opposition," Prashad assures us. However, unlike the other entries in Howard Zinn's series of "people's histories," The Darker Nations is focused on documenting the struggle among the elites of the newly de-colonized countries. There is still a history from below of the people who made history distinct from the liberation elites that is yet to be written.

The Darker Nations' subtitle, A People's History of the Third World, is unfortunately inaccurate. Nevertheless, the book should not be missed for anyone who wants to understand how the IMF and World Bank sabotaged the promise of anti-colonialism. By doing so, they softened the ground for the rapid expansion of what we now know as corporate globalization and set back a global movement to build what anti-colonialist writer CLR James called the "future in the present."


Robert Ovetz has a PhD in sociology from the University of Texas-Austin and teaches at College of Marin. He also works with the marine conservation non-governmental organization Seaflow.