The “Three Worlds Perspective”

Even during the 1970-1973 period, the CCP’s view of the international situation had serious problems. Its position was that the two superpowers (the U.S. and the Soviet Union—“the first world”) were the principal enemies on a world scale; the Western imperialists and Japan (the “second world”) were part of an international united front against the superpowers; and the “peoples and countries of the third world” were the most reliable revolutionary force in opposing the superpowers.

As a perspective for the world’s revolutionary movement, this analysis was flawed. It detached the U.S. and Soviet Union from the imperialist system as a whole; it downplayed the reactionary nature of the other imperialist countries in Western Europe, Japan , Canada and Oceania; and it advanced a classless conception of nationalism by lumping together the oppressed peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America with their rulers, who had limited contradictions, if at all, with one or another imperialist power.

Some of the problems with the “three worlds perspective” were reflected in a widely quoted statement attributed to Mao, “Countries want independence, nations want liberation, and the people want revolution.”  Mao’s eclectic statement, which tended to place struggles of Third World countries for national independence on a par with revolutionary movements, shared some aspects of the Bandung line associated with Zhou in the 1950s and 1960s.

Thus, even during the 1970-1973 period, China’s overestimation of the contradictions that the reactionary rulers of a number of Third World countries had with imperialism led the Chinese to send representatives to the Shah of Iran’s celebration of 2500 years of monarchical rule, and to continue to send economic and military support to the government of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) when it was faced by a Trotskyite-led rebellion in 1971.  Elsewhere in South Asia, China correctly opposed India’s invasion of East Pakistan in 1971, but it also denounced the formation of Bangladesh as a puppet state of India and the Soviet Union.  These positions objectively lent support to the comprador regimes of Iran, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and undermined the work of genuine revolutionary and Maoist forces in these countries.