Saturday, August 08, 2009

More about Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations

I mentioned last night that I thought The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World by Vijay Prashad would be a good book for students of transnational rhetoric (or rhetoric and transnationalism). The reason for this is that the Third World "project" that Prashad depicts in his book was arguably a rhetorical project, one in which the leaders of newly (and some not-yet) independent states worked together to try to craft an alternative to domination by US or Soviet power and ideology. As Indonesian President Sukarno argued at the 1955 Bandung Conference, the newly independent states' lack of economic and military strength left them with few alternatives for resisting imperialism. However, he argued, "[w]e can inject the voice of reason into world affairs. We can mobilize all the spiritual, all the moral, all the political strength of Asia and Africa on the side of peace" (qtd in Prashad 34).

Prashad makes extensive use of the documents that came from meetings and conferences run and attended by leaders of the non-aligned movement in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The deliberations done at these conferences were important to the rhetorical project of the Third World.
The Afro-Asian meetings in Bandung and Cairo (1955 and 1961, respectively), the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement in Belgrade (1961), and the Tricontinental Conference in Havana rehearsed the major arguments within the Third World project so that they could take them in a concerted way to the main stage, the United Nations. In addition, the new states pushed the United Nations to create institutional platforms for their Third World agenda: the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was the most important of these institutions, but it was not the only one. Through these institutions, aspects other than political equality came to the fore: the Third World project included a demand for the redistribution of the world's resources, a more dignified rate of return for the labor power of their people, and a shared acknowledgment of the heritage of science, technology, and culture. (xvi-xvii)
Prashad is quick to note, though, that taking speeches like Sukarno's at face value "can be gravely misleading. Most of the documents and speeches are triumphal, and few of them reveal the fissures and contradictions within the Third World" (13). Sukarno's articulation of what came to be called the "Bandung Spirit" was an attempt to assert moral strength in the absence of any other form of power, and despite the moral argument made for disarmament, participants in the Bandung Conference "continued to horde weapons--a fact that led many to charge them of hypocrisy" (43). The rest of Prashad's book is a close look at how "the fissures and contradictions within the Third World"--with the help of organizations like the IMF and the World Bank--undermined the ideals that were represented by the Bandung Spirit. It's a complicated story, but it's well-told in this book. For students of of rhetoric, the book suggests both the possibilities created through discourse and the limits on what rhetoric can do by itself.

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