On October 11, 2021, delegations representing the governments of more than 105 nations, nearly all of the global South, met in Belgrade, Serbia to commemorate the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement sixty years ago in the capital of the former Yugoslavia.
By Charles McKelvey
Published on the author’s own Stubstack column, Oct 22, 2021
“Humanity has a tremendous thirst for social justice” – Fidel
On October 11, 2021, delegations representing the governments of more than 105 nations, nearly all of the global South, met in Belgrade, Serbia to commemorate the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement sixty years ago in the capital of the former Yugoslavia. The commemorative Summit was addressed by President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, the current president of the Non-Aligned Movement; Aleksandar Vucic, President of Serbia, which hosted the event; Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, whose nation played an important role in the founding of the Movement; UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; among others. Several speakers criticized the accumulation of COVID-19 vaccines by rich Western countries, calling for more solidarity and a fairer distribution.
The classic period, 1961 to 1983
The Non-Aligned Movement was founded in 1961, during the era of decolonization of many African and Asian countries. The founding was led by Yugoslav President Josip Tito, President Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Prime Minister Jawharlal Nehru of India, and President Ahmed Sukarno of Indonesia. Kwame Nkrumah, Prime Minister of Ghana, and Osvaldo Dorticós, President of Cuba, also were present. The Founding Summit called for the democratization of the United Nations, and it called upon the nuclear powers (USA, Soviet Union, Great Britain and France) to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. Moreover, it declared support for the armed struggles of national liberation movements in Algeria and the Portuguese colonies in Africa.
The Non-Aligned Movement constituted the organizational expression of the “Bandung spirit,” which was stimulated by the 1955 meeting in Bandung, Indonesia, convoked by Sukarno. This initial meeting was attended by representatives of twenty-nine newly independent Asian and African nations. Zhou En-lai of China was among the participants, which also included Nehru and Nasser. The Bandung conference declared the importance of Third World unity in opposition to European colonialism and Western imperialism. It advocated economic cooperation rather than exploitation as the base of international relations. Seeking to end the assigned role of their economies as exporters of raw materials and importers of manufactured goods, the Bandung conference called for the diversification of their economies and the development of their national industries. It supported the regulation of international capital flows. It advocated international control of arms, the reduction of military forces, and the prohibition of nuclear arms. It denounced cultural imperialism and the suppression of national cultures.
In 1973, at its third Summit in Algiers, the Non-Aligned Movement declared that the international order continues to promote the underdevelopment of Third World nations. The Summit supported the creation of public cartels to transfer power to raw materials exporters; it called for a linking of the prices of raw material exports to the prices of imported manufactured goods; and it affirmed the principle of the sovereignty of nations over their natural resources, including their right to nationalize property within their territories. The Summit endorsed a document on the New International Economic Order, which had been in preparation by Third World governments for a decade.
In 1974, the UN General Assembly adopted the document on a New International Economic Order, which was supported by the Non-Aligned Movement, the G-77, and the socialist nations. The document affirmed the principle of the sovereignty of nations over their natural resources. It advocated: the creation of raw materials producers’ associations to give raw materials exporting states control over prices; a new international monetary policy that did not punish the weaker states; increased industrialization of the Third World; the transfer of technology from the advanced industrial states to the Third World; regulation and control of the activities of transnational corporations; the promotion of cooperation among the nations of the Third World; and aid for Third World development.
In 1979, at the Sixth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana, ninety-three countries of the Third World reaffirmed their commitment to national sovereignty, economic integrity, cultural diversity, and nuclear disarmament. They declared: “The Chiefs of State and Government reaffirm their deep conviction that a lasting solution to the problems of countries in development can be attained only by means of a constant and fundamental restructuring of international economic relations through the establishment of a New International Economic Order.”
Cuba, representing the Non-Aligned Movement as its President from 1979 to 1982, called upon the United Nations to respond to the desperate economic and social situation of the Third World. It proposed: an additional flow of resources to the Third World through donations and long-term low-interest credit; an end to unequal terms of trade; ceasing irrational arms spending and directing these funds to finance development; a transformation of the international monetary system; and the cancellation of the debts of less developed countries in a disadvantageous situation.
The derailing of the Non-Aligned Movement
By the late 1970s, the Non-Aligned Movement had lost its influence in the world. The governments were trapped in what Nkrumah called an “economic stranglehold,” and as a result, the movements of Third World national and social liberation had been unable to deliver on their promises to their peoples. Sukarno had been removed from power, as had Nkrumah. Nasser had lost influence as a result of Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 war. The Non-Aligned Movement proposal for a New International Economic Order was ignored by the global powers. Confronting the first signs of the sustained structural crisis of the world-system, the global powers were gearing up for a decisive move in a direction opposite to that proposed by Non-Aligned Movement, toward a reduction of the role of the state in the economy, which meant a decline in the capacity of Third World governments to defend their sovereignty, their natural resources, and the human rights of their peoples. In this pessimistic global context, the Third World project was derailed from within, a process that was led by the “Asian tigers.”
From the beginning of the emergence of Third World anti-colonial movements, there was a sector of the Third World national bourgeoisie that had an economic interest and an ideological orientation to develop national independence in a form that preserved the economic structures established during the colonial period. This sector included, for example, those members of the national bourgeoisie who owned enterprises dedicated to the exportation of raw materials or the importation of manufacturing goods. In addition, significant numbers of the national bourgeoisie had been educated in Western institutions, facilitating the dissemination of ideas that justified the established world-system.
Thus, in reflecting on the Third World project, we consistently have to maintain a distinction between accommodationist and revolutionary leaders/intellectuals of the Third World. During the transition to independence and the subsequent evolution of the neocolonial world-system, the global powers continually gave support to the accommodationists and attempted to undermine or assassinate the revolutionary leaders. Many newly independent Third World governments tried to maintain a balance, making concessions to revolutionary aspirations and popular demands, but trying to maintain friendly relations with the global powers. Some political leaders adopted the balancing act out of genuine concern for the people and the nation, but others became skilled at cynically presenting themselves as defenders of the people as they protected the particular interests of the national bourgeoisie. In contrast, in those nations that developed a clearly revolutionary project, there emerged exceptional leaders with a capacity to explain the necessary transformations to the people, to delegitimate the accommodationists as representatives of colonial and neocolonial interests, and to lead the nation in the development of a radical national liberation project. Such leaders included Fidel, Ho, Nasser, Sukarno, Nkrumah, and Nyerere, who in the eyes of the people became heroic figures in the formulation and defense of the Third World project.
The 1979-1980 ideological turn of the global power elite provided the opportunity for accommodationist Third World leaders to take advantage of the weakened international position of the revolutionary leaders and to derail the radical Third World project. At the 1983 Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in New Delhi, moderate accommodationists gained the upper hand, led by Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Singapore. Rajaratnam maintained that the world had entered a “systemic crisis” in the 1970s, and as a result, each Third World nation needed to be motivated primarily by national interest. The best policy, he maintained, is the elimination of state-directed development and the reduction of the role of the state to that of protecting people from extreme inequalities by redistributing income, but “without deadening competitive spirit.”
Rajaratnam spoke on behalf of a Third World national industrial bourgeoisie that had been born after colonialism and the anti-colonial movements. The members of this class had benefitted from the protective measures of the national liberation state, but they now experienced the structures that had enabled them to flourish as shackles. They formed a self-confident class that was emboldened to defend its particular interests rather than the interests of the people as a whole. They envisioned the development of new information technology in the Third World, through their expertise and entrepreneurship, thus taking advantage of opportunities provided by the technological development of the world-economy. They rejected the radical Third World project and adopted an anti-Soviet, pro-USA stance. Many of the accommodationists to neoliberalism had been socialized in the international organizations, such as the IMF and the World Bank, or in transnational corporations. And they were especially well represented by the national bourgeoisies from the better-off Third World nations, such as the “Asian Tigers.”
Fidel addressed the 1983 New Delhi Summit in his capacity as outgoing president. Standing against accommodation, Fidel powerfully defended the historic project of the Non-Aligned Movement. His speech, “The World Economic and Social Crisis,” was enthusiastically and emotionally received by the delegates, many of whom felt attachment to the historic Third World agenda, even as the world political and economic situation and the political conditions in their own countries compelled them to adapt. An expanded version of Fidel’s historic speech was published in English by the Cuban government as The Economic and Social Crisis of the World: Its repercussions for the underdeveloped countries, its dismal prospects, and the need to struggle if we are to survive. It is at once an advanced scientific analysis and a prophetic moral call.
The Bandung spirit lives
The prevailing view among intellectuals and journalists is that the Third World project and the Non-Aligned Movement no longer has importance. They view the impressive efforts of 1961 to 1979 as representing a historic period of political creativity and hope for the Third World, which came to an end with the imposition of neoliberalism by core governments and international finance agencies.
The prevailing view does not take into account what has been occurring in the Summits of the Non-Aligned Movement during the last fifteen years. Nor has it taken into account the continuation of structural global inequalities in power and wealth, based in the colonial era. The inability of the neoliberal capitalist world order to transform these objective conditions makes the Non-Aligned Movement necessary, as the organizational expression of Third World interests and hopes. The continuing existence of these objective conditions has given rise, not only to the endurance and growth of the Non-Aligned Movement, but also to a return by the Movement to its historic founding principles.
Third World project began to experience renewal in the late 1990s. The renewal was rooted in rejection of the neoliberal project by the people, who experienced the negative consequences of neoliberal policies, such as: the devaluation of their currencies; increases in the costs of water, electricity, natural gas, and buses; reduction in government programs and services; the undermining of local agricultural production; and higher levels of unemployment, crime and violence. Drawing upon decades of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements, leaders emerged who were able to reformulate the specific grievances and concrete demands of the people into a broader political and social critique of neoliberalism, imperialist policies, and the neocolonial world-system. Thus, there emerged a popular movement across Latin America, the Movement for an Alternative World, proclaiming that “A Better World is Possible.”
The Alternative World Movement spawned new political parties that sought to take power away from the traditional political parties that had cooperated with the global powers and transnational corporations in the imposition of the neoliberal project. The new popular parties were able to win presidential and/or parliamentary elections in a number of Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Paraguay. In addition, Leftist and progressive governments played a leading role in developing regional organizations of economic, political, and cultural cooperation, challenging U.S imperialist policies and seeking to develop alternatives to the structures of the neocolonial world-system. The leaders of four of these nations (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua) proclaimed that they were seeking to build “Socialism for the Twenty-First Century,” and leaders from throughout the region affirmed their admiration for Cuba as a “model of Latin American dignity.”
The new Latin American political reality impacted the Non-Aligned Movement, which was evident by 2006, when Cuba assumed the presidency of the movement for the second time. The Non-Aligned Movement’s 2006 Declaration of Havana, endorsed unanimously by the 118 member nations, speaking in the name of three/quarters of humanity, called for a “more just and equal world order;” and it lamented “the excessive influence of the rich and powerful nations in the determination of the nature and the direction of international relations.” It rejected the neoliberal project as promoting global inequality and “increasing the marginalization of countries in development.” It affirmed the principles of the UN Charter, including the equality and sovereignty of nations, non-intervention in the affairs of other states, and “the free determination of the peoples in their struggle against foreign intervention.” It proclaimed that “each country has the sovereign right to determine its own priorities and strategies for development.” It called for the strengthening and democratic reform of the United Nations, and it proposed South-South cooperation as a complement to North-South cooperation. It rejected the politicization of the issue of human rights, and the double standard used by the global powers, as a pretext for intervening in the affairs of a nation of the Non-Aligned Movement. It proclaimed its support for the peoples of Palestine, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Iran in their conflicts with the global powers.
Since 2006, the Non-Aligned Movement has maintained its rejection of the established world order, consistent with its founding principles formulated in Bandung in 1955 and Belgrade in 1961. The most recent summit was hosted by Azerbaijan in 2019 in its capital city. In anticipation of the Baku meeting, foreign ministers of the Movement met in Caracas, Venezuela, where they approved a 241-page document on July 21, 2019, which “reaffirmed the Movement’s irrevocable political and moral commitment, and determination to and full respect for the Bandung Principles and those adopted at the Havana Summit in the Declaration on the Purposes and Principles and the Role of the NAM in the Present International Juncture, the Bali Commemorative Declaration on the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the UN Charter.”
The document released by the Ministerial Meeting asserted that the attainment of a peaceful, prosperous, just, and equitable world order confronts obstacles, such as the lack of resources of the developing countries, unequal terms of trade, lack of cooperation by the developed countries, coercive and unilateral measures imposed by some of them, and the use of force or the threat of the use of force. They noted that “the rich and powerful countries continue to exercise an inordinate influence in determining the nature and direction of international relations, including economic and trade relations, as well as the rules governing these relations, under the pretext of ‘Democracy’, ‘Human Rights’ and ‘Anti-Terrorism.’”
The ministerial document affirmed the principle that nations have the right to control their national resources. “The Ministers emphasized the need for enhanced policy space for developing countries to allow them to undertake their own development strategies and policies, in accordance with the principle of national ownership and leadership of the development process.”
It expressed the need for a New Global Human Order. “The Ministers reaffirmed the need for a New Global Human Order aimed at reversing growing disparities between rich and poor, both among and within countries including through the promotion of poverty eradication, full and productive employment and decent work, and social integration.”
The Foreign Ministers meeting in Venezuela declared:
The Ministers noted with concern that highhandedness and arbitrariness are rampant while justice and truth are ruthlessly trampled underfoot; the core principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs in international relations are overtly disregarded on the international arena; the sovereignty and rights to existence and development of the NAM Member States are severely infringed upon; and political upheavals, armed conflicts, escalation of disputes and humanitarian disasters such as refugee flow occur in an unabated manner due to aggression, intervention, sanctions and pressure by the imperialist forces.
The document reaffirmed the principles expressed at the Fourteenth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana in 2006:
the Movement will continue to uphold the principles of sovereignty and sovereign equality of States, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of any State or Nation; take effective measures for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of peace to defend, promote, and encourage the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means; . . . develop friendly relations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples in their struggle against foreign occupation; achieve international cooperation based on solidarity among peoples and governments in solving international problems of a political, economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character; and promote and encourage the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.
The document lamented the “increasing tendency and deepening by certain States to resort to unilateralism, arbitrariness and the imposition of unilateral coercive measures, to the use and threat of use of force.” It expressed its opposition to “unilateralism and unilaterally imposed measures by certain States which can lead to the erosion and violation of the UN Charter.” It declared that “every State has, and shall freely exercise, full permanent sovereignty over all its wealth, natural resources and economic activity.”
The document devoted considerable space to the issue of the democratic reform of the United Nations. It cites Article 24 (3) of the UN Charter in defense of its interpretation that the General Assembly has authority as “the chief deliberative, policy-making and representative organ of the United Nations.” Accordingly, the Security Council acts on behalf of the member states that are represented in the General Assembly; such that the Security Council ought to submit timely explanatory, comprehensive, and analytical reports to the General Assembly, explaining its resolutions and statements. Such a balance among the principal organs of the United Nations requires a revitalization of the work of the General Assembly. The members on the Non-Aligned Movement ought to continue their ongoing efforts to strengthen the central role and the authority of the General Assembly, which ought to be the organ that establishes the priorities of the United Nations.
The Security Council itself, the document declares, ought to be made more democratic through greater representation of the nations of the world, particularly Africa. And the document criticizes sanctions that have been imposed by the Security Council, maintaining that the Council is addressing issues that do not necessarily pose a threat to international peace and security, “with the aim of achieving the political objectives of one or a few States to stamp out the rights to sovereignty, existence and development of the Member States of the Movement.” Through such actions, the Security Council is not serving the general interest of the international community.
The Ministerial document approved in Caracas in 2019 rejected the politicization of the issue of human rights. It stresses that the UN Human Rights Council “should not allow confrontational approaches, exploitation of human rights for political purposes, selective targeting of individual countries for extraneous considerations and double standards in the conduct of its work, which should comply with the UN Charter, international law and relevant UN resolutions.” It reaffirmed “the need to defend the principles of non-selectivity, non-politicization, objectivity and impartiality in the consideration of human rights situations, as well as to ensure that human rights are not used for political purposes and adopting politically motivated decisions.”
The document defended the right of the Islamic Republic of Iran to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. “The Ministers reaffirmed the inalienable right of developing countries to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination. They continued to note with concern that undue restrictions on exports to developing countries of material, equipment and technology, for peaceful purposes persist.”
The document approved by the Foreign Ministers in Caracas condemned terrorism in all its manifestations. “The Ministers condemned all forms of incitement to terrorism, under whatever guise of justification, resulting in the loss of life and the destruction of private and public property. The Ministers emphasized the need to combat the violent extremist ideology inciting terrorism irrespective of its origin.” It explicitly condemned as terrorist the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Al-Qaida, ISIL/Da’esh and its affiliates and other extremist and illegal armed groups.
The document praised the work of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre at the United Nations Headquarters. It called for the “convening of an international conference under the auspices of the UN to define terrorism, to differentiate it from the struggle for national liberation and to reach comprehensive and effective measures for concerted action.”
The NAM 2019 Ministerial document declared that democracy is universal, but there is no single model of democracy.
The Ministers reiterated that democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives. They reaffirmed that while all democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy, that it does not belong to any country or region, and further reaffirmed the necessity of due respect for sovereignty and the right to self-determination, and their rejection to any attempt to breakdown constitutional and democratic orders legitimately established by the peoples.
The document affirmed that North-South cooperation should be firmly rooted in mutual respect, mutuality of benefits, dialogue with the goal of generating greater understanding and narrowing the development gap between the North and the South.
Most of the media ignored the Non-Aligned Movement commemorative Summit in Belgrade. Those that reported on the Summit presented the Non-Aligned Movement has a historic phenomenon that lost power and influence with the death of its founders. This is what the powers-that-be want the people to believe.
In reality, the Non-Aligned Movement is more powerful than ever. Its declarations are based on a deeper analysis and greater understanding of the contradictions and unsustainability of the world-system. In addition, through the formation of regional associations and with the cooperation of China in providing favorable investment and trade, the Third World project today is advancing more than it was in its classic period in the practical implementation of its goals. Moreover, with the accumulation of experience, the nations constructing socialism are advancing toward a socialist model that includes space for a market and for private enterprise, under the direction and control of the state. This socialist third way is demonstrating its capacity to advance human productivity and distribute its fruits toward the fundamental human needs of the people; and it is finding political space in the Non-Aligned Movement.
The powers-that-be do not want the people to know that the Third World and China are constructing in practice a more just and sustainable world-system that tolerates a pluripolarity that includes Chinese socialism, Latin American socialism, Shiite Islam, and a renewed African socialism, all of which have respectful and mutual relations with each other. Consciousness of the humanist achievements and increasing productivity of these alternative poles is the most important arm in the battle of ideas against the New Cold War.