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Replies to a reader: Part 2 of 3 (The Theory of Three Worlds)

Written by: CPA (M-L) on 11 June 2020


A reader has sent us three questions. Our responses required collective discussion with the Executive Committee of our Central Committee as there were details that are poorly remembered or were not personally experienced by some of us. After all, the questions relate to matters that stretch back four decades. The first deals with China’s Gang of Four and our past and current views on this group. The second deals with the Theory of the Three Worlds and our current view on that, whilst the third asks about the place of Australian independence in our revolutionary strategy.

In addition to replying personally to our reader, we are making our responses public as there may be a wider interest in these issues. The first reply was published on Tuesday 9 June.  Today we publish our reply to the second question, below. Question three will follow in the next few days.


Hi B,
Your second question reads:
2) The Three Worlds Theory: I have read past articles regarding the split within the party which resulted in the creation of the Red Eureka Movement. As I understand it, one reason for the split was that the REM opposed the Three Worlds Theory while the CPA (ML) accepted and advocated it. Does the party still support the Three Worlds Theory today or has it come to a different viewpoint in recent years?
Our reply: You are right that our Party endorsed the Theory of the Three Worlds at the time. What is less clear is the position taken by Red Eureka Movement: some members supported it, although they correctly denied that Soviet social-imperialism was the main danger or main threat in Australia, whilst others opposed it and were closer to the Albanian view that there were only two worlds – socialist and capitalist. We are unsure where their internal polemics on this led.
Why did our Party endorse the Theory, and what is its view today?
There is nothing unusual about a phenomenon, qualitative or quantitative, being divided into thirds. There are solids, liquids and gases. There are the old, middle-aged and the young, the rich, the middle class and the poor.
Communists are interested in the contradictions between things.  Stalin spoke in 1928 of a “classification of countries into three types – countries with a high capitalist development (America, Germany, Britain) countries with an average capitalist development (Poland, Russia before the February Revolution etc.), and colonial countries…” (Stalin, Collected Works Vol 11 p. 162).
Previously, in the Foundations of Leninism (1924) he had written that “the world is divided into two camps: the camp of a handful of civilised nations, which possess finance capital and exploit the vast majority of the population of the globe; and the camp of the oppressed and exploited peoples in the colonies and dependent countries, which constitute that majority.”
Was Stalin right in 1924 and wrong in 1928?  Or right in 1928, but wrong in 1924?  Actually, he was right both times. The fundamental division is the two camps, and the three types is a refinement of that. It is a basic tenet of materialist dialectics that one divides into two, and that contradictions exist in all things. In the decade of imperialist development that occurred after Stalin penned the Foundations of Leninism, the nations possessing finance capital had developed unevenly into those with a higher degree of capitalist development and those with a lesser degree of development.
In the 1930s and during WW2, there were the two basic camps of the Axis powers and the Allies. But the Allies consisted of the socialist Soviet Union and the capitalist bourgeois democracies, while the Axis consisted not only of its major partners (Germany, Italy and Japan) but also of minor allies in Finland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, with Franco Spain as a non-combatant fellow fascist state. There were contradictions between the Axis and the Allies, but also contradictions within each of the two major camps.
Mao’s Theory of the Three Worlds, developed with Zhou Enlai in a particular context, had a background in, and was a development of, the Marxist analysis of global social, political and economic contradictions. With forty years of hindsight, simplistically separating the theory from the practical context in which it arose leads to misunderstanding.

At that time socialist China was threatened by the aggressive, expansionist, heavily nuclear-armed and revisionist and social imperialist Soviet Union which had showed no hesitation in invading neighbouring countries (like Czechoslovakia in 1968). China and the USSR had a 4000+kilometre land border. In the years to follow, the USSR/US arms race produced enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world 24 times over. (The “brake” on their use, was the so-called doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, that if one side used them, both sides and all the rest of us, would be destroyed.)
To any rational person at that time, Mao was right. The two superpowers were in a category of their own, more powerful and more dangerous than any other country, imperialist or not, developed or developing. China was also a nuclear power, but far weaker, and with two much more power enemies.
For China, the Soviet Union was strategically a greater danger.
That underlying approach remains valid today. However, the booklet on Mao’s theory published after Mao's death by the Chinese in 1977 (Chairman Mao’s Theory of the Differentiation of the Three Worlds is a Major Contribution to Marxism-Leninism), elevated Soviet social-imperialism to the greater danger to world peace and the greater threat to revolutionary struggles throughout the world, and  became a source of a right-opportunist trend towards cooperating with US imperialism, not just in China, but in the revolutionary ranks worldwide. One Australian manifestation was to say, as some did, that we should no longer struggle against US bases in Australia as they were part of the united front against the main enemy - Soviet social-imperialism. This view was not adopted widely within the Party, but with hindsight, we recognise that it was a mistake, and a lesson for how we should approach the rivalry between US imperialism and Chinese social-imperialism in our current conditions.
Today, some members of the Party argue that aspects of the Theory of the Three Worlds still hold some relevance. Particularly, the view that Australia can be described as a part of the Second World, that is the countries that have advanced capitalist systems whether they are themselves imperialist powers (Britain, some of the western EU, Russia, China) or under the control of imperialist powers (Australia, Canada, NZ, others in the EU including former members of the Eastern bloc). On the other hand, some members argue strongly against the Theory of the Three Worlds. Today, adherence or rejection of the Theory of the Three Worlds is not a defining question for our Party's ideology and practice. Discussion of these (and any other) differing views are a welcome contribution to the ideological liveliness of our organization and will contribute in time to a better and more unified overall understanding.
Mao Zedong and the experience of the Chinese revolution strengthened, clarified and made many indispensable contributions to Marxism-Leninism. Among those are the theory of the continuation of the class struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the mass line, and his works on contradiction and dialectics. However, we would not argue that the Theory of the Three Worlds is an integral part of the ideology of Marxism-Leninism as we understand it.                     
Nick G. and the Executive Committee of the Central Committee



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