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Introduction: why a political analysis?


If the 1960s were characterized by the great hope of seeing an irreversible process of development launched throughout what came to be called the Third World, and in Africa particularly, the present age is one of disillusionment. Development has broken down, its theory is in crisis, its ideology the subject of doubt. Agreement on failure in Africa is sadly general. Opinions are more varied in regard to Asia and Latin America. Some emphasize the economic successes of the newly industrializing countries, such as South Korea, Brazil and India, and conclude that the only possible development is one that intelligently succumbs to the increasing worldwide expansion of all economies on the earth. These examples should be followed, and the illusions of alternative paths to the transnational model abandoned, since, in the meantime, socialism is itself in crisis in the countries of the East, and the Third World countries who look to them for inspiration, and the socialist countries themselves are obliged to yield to a harrowing revisionism and are seeking reintegration in the expansion of a world economy.

In this book it is proposed to analyse this failure of development from a political stand-point, for discussion of the options in the framework of macroeconomic schema provides no more than commonplace and foreseeable findings. We must aim higher and integrate in the discussion all the economic, political, social and cultural facets of the problem and at the same time fit them into a local framework that takes account of interaction on a world scale.

We acknowledge that this aim comes up against major theoretical difficulties. Social reality as a whole has three facets: economic, political and cultural. The economic aspect is perhaps the best known. In this field, conventional economics has forged tools of immediate analysis and with greater or lesser success of management of an advanced capitalist society. Historical materialism has sought to plunge deeper and has often succeeded in illuminating the character and extent of social struggles underlying the economic choices.

The field of power and politics is relatively less known; and eclecticism in the theories advanced shows the inadequate scientific mastery of the reality. Functional political thought, like its former or recent ingredients (geopolitics, systems analysis, etc.) may sometimes be of immediate use in shaping strategies but remains conceptually impoverished and does not warrant the status of a critical theory. It is true that historical materialism provides a hypothesis as to the organic relationship between the material base and the political superstructure, and the hypothesis is fruitful if it is not too crudely interpreted. The Marxist schools, however, have not conceptualized the issue of power and politics (modes of domination) as they have the categories(modes of production). The propositions in this direction, by Freudian Marxists for example, have the undoubted merit of drawing attention to neglected aspects of the issue but have not yet produced an overall conceptual system. The field of politics lies virtually fallow.

It is not by chance that the first chapter of Volume One of Capital includes the section entitled 'The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret thereof. Marx intends to unveil the mysteries of capitalist society, and the reason why it appears to us as directly governed by economics, in the forefront of the social scene and the determinant of the other social dimensions that seem then to accommodate to its demands. Economic alienation thus defines the essence of the ideology of capitalism. Conversely, pre-capitalist class societies are governed by politics, which takes the forefront of the stage and provide the constraints that other aspects of the social reality - including economic life-seem bound to obey. If a theory of these societies were to be written, the work would be entitled 'Power' (instead of capital for the capitalist mode) and the opening chapter would deal with 'the fetishism of power' (instead of the fetishism of commodities).

But no such work has been written. There is nothing analogous to the clockwork precision with which the economic operation of capitalism has been described. Marxism has not provided a theory of politics for pre-capitalist society (and hence a theory of politics in general) as it has provided a theory of capitalist economics. At best there are concrete analyses of the relationship of politics and economics in such and such a capitalist society (in Marx's political writings devoted particularly to the vicissitudes of France) highlighting the degree of the autonomy of politics in these circumstances and especially the conflict that may arise between the logic of power and that of capitalist management.

As for the cultural dimension, it is an even more complex mystery, as empirical observation of this aspect of reality (of religious faiths for example) has so far yielded no more than intuitive forays. This explains why discussion of the cultural dimensions of history remains imbued with culturalism, meaning the tendency to treat cultural characteristics as trans-historical constants. Furthermore, culture has no generally accepted boundaries, since their definition depends precisely on the underlying theory of social dynamic that is being followed. According to the observer's interest in a pursuit of common ingredients in the social evolution of all peoples or conversely a rejection of such inquiry, emphasis will be placed on the analogous and shared characteristics of seemingly diverse cultures or alternatively on the particular and specific.

Finally, in such circumstances the mode of articulation of these three dimensions of the overall social reality remains a virtual unknown in regard to its operative dynamic as soon as the search goes beyond an a posterior) explanation or too broad an abstraction (such as an assertion of a determination 'in the last analysis' by the material base or the 'decisive' force of macro-economic strategic models). Furthermore so long as there is no significant advance in this area, the debate will continue to be encumbered by emotional responses, romantic visions and scholastic prejudices.

The analysis of the failure of development offered here must, therefore, explain the hypotheses on which it is based, particularly those concerning the theory of state and nation, the theory of inter-state system, and so on. Similarly, it must add historical profundity and a cultural dimension to the consideration of the contemporary crisis of development.

The first four chapters examine the various dimensions of this crisis of development: an economic survey, the drift of the 1975-85 decade; the crisis of state and society; Africa's vulnerability. Africa's backwardness has its deep origin in the fact that the continent as a whole has not yet begun what might be called the 'agricultural revolution' an essential precondition. Other aspects of backwardness flow from this initial one, especially the backwardness of an industry that is virtually blocked (except for the mineral exports sector) at a stage too elementary to warrant description as interwoven industry and industrialization. In such circumstances demographic growth and accelerated urbanization without industrialization take dramatic forms and accentuate the fragility of states and societies.

For reasons arising both in the history of the peoples of the continent and in the more recent patterns of their integration in the modern capitalist world system, the 'national question', that is, the complex ensemble of relations between state, nation and ethnicity, and civil society, takes particular shape in Africa that must be studied just as much as the shape of transnationalization and development strategies. So long as adequate political responses have not been found for these problems little enduring progress can be made in economic development.

The continent's fragility leads to more direct forms of external intervention being taken here than elsewhere. Such interventions, largely determined by the geo-strategic concerns of the superpowers and Europe, are a heavy burden on the options of the African states.

However, and perhaps even owing to the tragic effects of the fragility of the continent's states, Africa reveals numerous attempts to 'escape the rut', whether through national policies that are or were intended to be radical, or through regional co-operation. These attempts have scored only limited results, of a mediocre kind, or have simply failed.

The 1975-85 decade may be seen as one of drift from a plan of semi-autocentric development, conceived in the context of a readjustment of the world system to a perspective less unpromising for Africa and the Third World. At the end of the decade, the continent's states, weaker than ever, made desperate and disparate attempts to 'adjust' to demands that subordinated and marginalized them even more.

The second four chapters offer some ingredients for a response to the challenge of history. We are here putting forward a thesis with a political basis. The thesis is that 'alternative development' (alternative that is to a simple adjustment to the demands of the expansion of the world system) is not only necessary for the great majority of the Third World peoples, but also possible, including from a 'technical' point of view. This 'alternative development' is neither statism nor liberalization. The fact that statism yields only mediocre results (and we shall make an uncompromising critical analysis elsewhere) does not mean that liberalization offers a solution to the problem of development. Experience has repeatedly shown some things that should never be forgotten: that intervention in 'money supply', dubious enough in the developed capitalist economies, verges on the grotesque when transposed to most Third World economies; that high interest rates associated with unfettered international transfers encourage the flight of capital from the poor countries to the rich; that liberalization of prices substitutes artificial and damaging 'world market' prices (incorporating all the subsidies practiced in the developed world) for the so-called 'controlled' prices that are often nearer to the 'truth' (balance of local supply and demand) than the former; that the 'real' exchange rate is not that shown in transactions on a frequently marginal parallel market; that devaluation has little effect on balance of payments; that reduction of the social expenditure of the state is an ineffective substitute for reform in its mode of intervention; that wages cuts accentuate distortions in income distribution and resource allocation; that the 'open door' and removal of protection lead to de-industrialization and collapse of the first steps forward; that finally, 'adjustment' imposed in this way leads at best to a regressive and stagnant 'equilibrium'.

The content and internal political and social conditions for this 'alternative development', that we describe as national and popular, will be examined in order to foresee the external conditions that would favour its implementation, through South-South co-operation and through gradual evolution of the world system towards a better balanced political and economic polycentrism.

The political plan is precisely one for a polycentric world, not restricted to five 'great powers' (United States, Soviet Union, Europe, Japan, China) replacing the duopoly of two superpowers and continuing to marginalize the Third World, but a genuinely polycentric world providing Asia, Africa and Latin America with real scope for development. The profound differences between these regions, stemming certainly from their unequal economic development but also from their social options ('capitalism' or 'socialism') and their cultural roots, entail a variety of paths of development, complementary in character but not reducible to a 'universal remedy'. This vision of the future demands the establishment of regional spaces founded on close co-operation between national economies that are individually autocentric, and articulated on a relationship where adjustment is no longer seen in a one-way direction in which the weak surrender to the demands of the strong, but as interdependent in the true meaning of the word. This plan is the only prospective means of resolving the 'development issue' and ensuring world peace and security.

This book deals with problems specific to the Third World. Yet the very existence of the global system into which the South is integrated compels consideration not only of the predominant South-West relations, but also of the 'east' (eastern Europe, the USSR, China), which is an actor in international affairs and has also appeared as a historical experience inspiring national liberation movements in the Third World. But this book was written in 1988 (and published in French early in 1989), before the extraordinary acceleration of events in Eastern Europe. Yet reading again the references to the East made in the book, I do not feel that they are mistaken.

The thesis I have explicitly developed for several years, which is reflected in this book, is rather confirmed by the recent evolutions. The thesis is based on two closely related views. The first view is that the so-called socialist regimes have in fact been the product of national popular revolutions (not socialist ones) directed against the effects of polarization and peripheralization produced by the global expansion of actually existing capitalism. Therefore the conflict between capitalism and socialism continued to operate within these societies throughout their history. This objective contradiction should have been managed through political democracy and a mixed economy. Instead it was managed through statism, thus reflecting the reconstitution of privileged class interests. The outcome of the continuing social struggles will determine whether these class interests will get rid of the popular dimension of the systems and opt openly for capitalism or whether, on the contrary, this dimension will, through democracy, be reinforced.1 The second view is that actually existing capitalist expansion generates a polarization at the global level which it cannot overcome and that this contradiction -which has been overlooked, including by orthodox marxism - has been, and will remain for the foreseeable future, most explosive. It is this contradiction that is already responsible for both the 'socialist' revolutions and the national liberation movements. This contradiction not only remains in the forefront of the modern world, but is continuously growing more acute: the more the economic system globalizes, the more it generates frustrations in the peripheralized areas, thus constantly reanimating violent nationalistic responses, including, as we see now, in the countries of Eastern Europe and in the USSR.2

Of course if the book were to be written now, these theses, which remain correct, would be expressed slightly differently. I refer particularly here to two sets of problems. The first set deals with changes in the balance of international forces, particularly within Europe;3 the second set deals with the resolution of those 'regional conflicts' that, to a certain extent, might be facilitated by the USSR-USA rapprochement.4 Yet I maintain the view that polycentrism remains the only response which allows the necessary room for autonomy in the further development of progressive forces on a world scale.5

This book owes much to the discussions over five years in the context of two programmes 'African regional perspectives' and 'The Third World and world development' conducted in close co-operation by the United Nations University (UNU), the Third World Forum (FTM) and the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), with generous financial support from SAREC (Sweden) and Italian co-operation.

More than 200 African intellectuals and researchers, pondering ten main themes (for example, the crisis of agricultural modernization: industrialization and urbanization: state and democracy; the international and geo-strategical dimension; the challenge of South Africa; South-South co-operation; the Mediterranean in the world; the cultural dimension of the challenge) have participated in these discussions that have resulted in the publication of 15 books (listed in an appendix). This book, however, is not a 'summary' of the others, but offers a three-way discussion (Asia, Africa, Latin America) of the five 'themes' in the programme on 'The Third World and world development': the challenge of worldwide economic expansion, the crisis of state, the social movement, the cultural dimension of the challenge, connicts and regional and world security.


1. Cf, particularly chapter 6 section 2 on the national popular content of 'actually existing socialism'; also section 3 (the democratic issue) and 4 (the role of the intelligentsia). Cf. also chapter 5, section 2, on the delinking issue.

2. Cf. particularly chapter 8. The recent evolutions strengthen rather than weaken the thesis I had expressed long ago on this relation between class and nation (Cf. Class and Nation, historically and in the current crisis, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1980). I refer here also to chapter 3 section 1, on the Nation State (the 'Russian Empire' saved - for a while perhaps - by bolshevism, and the russification which had little to do with socialism); chapter 3, nationalism in the Eastern countries, the 'roll beck' strategy of the West.

3. Therefore, referring to chapter 8 (ref, above), I maintain the view expressed that the contradiction centre/peripheries remains fundamental (it is even more obvious now than at the time the book was written!), while additions should be considered with respect to intra-European relations and their various possible futures. On this last point I have expressed these new additional points in L'avenir du socialisme, forthcoming in the French-European socialist journal, L'évènement européen.

4. Cf. on the issue of conflicts, chapter 4 section 2, in which, of course with respect to the Middle East issue (as well as other issues of conflicts in the Third World) we should today consider the effects of the changes in the USSR-USA relations, as well as the adjustment that they command at the level of local actors. Yet some of these conflicts (Nicaragua, South Africa, Palestine) are certainly not the 'product' of the former East-West conflict, but are deeply rooted in the unequal North-South relation, which remains.

5. Cf. Chapter 2 section 2 on the end of the Bandung era and the need for polycentrism; and Chapter 8 on the North-South relations in the crisis.

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