Going Fourth: George #Manuel Thought in Mexico City

So much of academic teaching is introducing whatever the current jargon around key concepts is - the necessary signposts into contemporary debates. Development politics is fraught - we run through the dismissal of terms like third world, global south, and are left with a welter of current definitions provided by the UN, the World Bank, yadayadayada, LICs and MICs, developing, advanced, mature democracies…

I was grateful to Sabina Singh (2019) who returned the term Third World to its proper place on her way to unpacking George Manuel’s Fourth World. She presented a paper at the BC Political Science Association Conference in May 2019 that began by reminding us that “Third World” was a term chosen by decolonizing states who didn’t want to get sucked into choosing between East and West ideological blocs - Third World = more properly, the Non-Aligned Movement.

But states is states, and many newly decolonized states proved to be as oppressive, rights-denying, corrupt, inept and dictatorial as the previous guy.

And because states is states, people without states, who “only” had nations, still lacked a mechanism. She revisited George Manuel’s meeting with Tanzanian political theorist, prime minister & president Julius Nyerere in 1975, where they began to rethink sovereignty and colonialism so nations could enter the world of states, where all the real shit happens.

Singh (2019) writes:

what they learned from each other was substantial. The Third World, as former colonies, could expect a seat at the United Nations General Assembly but the Fourth World was not united…. All over the world, "indigenous" nations were subsumed by states be they First, Second or Third World. In Africa, more than 2000 tribes were swallowed into 54 states and India's 22 official languages do not do justice to it's [sic] diversity.

In 1975, the Nuu-chah-nulth nation hosted the first World Council of Indigenous People (#WCIP) and began the solidarity work that has eventually brought us to #UNDRIP.

Going Fourth

I’m in #Mexico City, thinking such things through. The zocalo, the massive square in front of the National Palace, is constant host to indigenous groups and their banners. The mercados are full of diverse folky handicrafts, even dream catchers. The further I delve into the experiences of Latin America, I find struggles over land, fights with multinationals, environmental desecrations, court battles. Every indigenous community and group, wherever it is, has issues with the state, and terms like indigenous and state flatten out the differences, so I am wary here. Caution is important: as Singh (2019) reminds us, as we must constantly remind ourselves,

Colonialism is an intellectual exercise as much as it is a military, strategic or economic one.

Where are the connections and how does power move through them, and can the power be redirected from the world of states and its sheeple-citizen voters in a era of broken democracy (broken? I expect Trump, Putin, Scheer, Facebook, Xi Jinping, Google, think it is working exactly how they need it to), and recirculated through the world of nations and people?

The job we have ahead of us is to find a way through - where is solidarity, where is difference, how do we think in an uncolonial way and in a world of states, can #sovereignty be the way in, and can it be expressed in a Fourth World way that manages the paradoxes of difference and universality?

Taiaiake Alfred says, “Canada is a strong reality”. As Canada the Colonial State moves ahead on its termination frameworks, a trick of legislation (I follow Diabo here) that proposes a Fourth Level of government for indigenous peoples, that is dividing them in order to conquer, what is the alternative?

This morning I read Goodfriend’s (2019) review of Solidarity: Latin America and the US Left in the Era of Human Rights (Pluto Press, 2019) by Steven Striffler, which exposes some of the mind-traps. The potted history of imperial engagement gets into how the emphasis on human rights moved the left away from fighting the state and the international system, depoliticizing and (I would suggest) individualizing and atomizing demands. The focus on neoliberalism turned our attention to fairer trade and better jobs, just a more humane way of screwing people in a market economy. More atomization.

Goodfriend (2019) quotes Marx: "between equal rights, force decides."

The #Zapatistas, Goodfriend (2019) notes, were “not seeking to spark a nation-wide insurrection for State power [but was an] uncompromising demand for autonomy from a repressive State” that perhaps made all fights too local.

The prognosis for finding a way through, based on Striffler’s book, and Goodfriend’s critique, is not great: Striffler’s sobering account is one of diminishing horizons of struggle, in which the Left is progressively reduced to marginal autonomous spaces, professional NGOs, or consumer choices. (Goodfriend, 2019).

But that we are cautiously groping in the dark right now is not going to help. We need to figure this out. Now. Canada 2019 could be a time, a place.


Goodfriend, H. (2019). A hundred years of solidarity: Review of Solidarity: Latin America and the US Left in the Era of Human Rights (Pluto Press, 2019) by Steven Striffler. The Jacobin. https://jacobinmag.com/2019/04/latin-america-us-solidarity-steven-striffler

Singh, S. (2019, Mar 31). Sovereignty in the Third and Fourth World. Personal blogpost @ sabinasingh.com

My best guess - people who lost everything in the 19 September 2017 earthquake are still waiting for government help. Alcaldia iztapalapa is one of Mexico City’s largest boroughs, and one of its most neglected. Los olvidados means “the forgotten”. Photo: John Hill, May 2019.

Monday morning in Mexico City, and the flow of demonstrators and their causes heading to the seat of federal power, the National Palace, is constant. Photo: John Hill, May 2019.

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