My name is Vijay Prashad. I'm a historian. I'm also a journalist. We are very interested in communicating with people across boundaries and borders.
I came to China first 40 years ago. I was a 16-year-old boy. I came to rural China and went on a tour, of the countryside. I was impressed by the fact that the peasantry in China, the farmers, and so on were not people who were embarrassed. They looked you straight in the eye when they spoke. This is what the Chinese Revolution did. You know, before 1949, the Chinese peasantry in the countryside was embarrassed to look at people. They would look down when they walked. They were scared of landlords. They get beaten. People had to bind their feet. The Chinese revolution changed that attitude in the countryside. This attitude still exists in many parts of the world: hierarchies, landlordism, and so on. That’s what the Global South is. It’s the condition of countries that had been in a position of relative colonialism, one way or the other.
Well, these countries simply were not able to develop because they didn’t have investments. So they had to borrow money from the countries that used to colonize them. But look, let’s be quite frank. When colonialism ended all the wealth that had been taken from these societies like India, many African countries, and so on, had gone to enrich the countries of the north.
So in England, for instance, the English industry was financed by the Indian peasantry. All the profits were taken from India and invested in England. In India, there was no industry. When the British were thrown out of India in 1947, the literacy rate was merely 13%. British had ruled India for 300 years, they left the country with no finances, no infrastructure, really no wealth, no education system. Everything was pretty much destroyed and the economy was still geared to exporting primary goods to the west.
So India went to the Western countries and said: “Lend to lend us money. You took all our wealth and now lend us money to develop.” They borrowed money, but they went into debt and into a catastrophic debt crisis after the debt crisis. Many countries, they continue to pay the debt till today for decades of having borrowed money.
So, why did neoliberalism fail? Why did any development project fail? Well, because most of these countries simply don’t have capital. They don’t have the human resources; they didn’t make a revolution. People in China should never forget that what the Chinese Revolution gave this country was it gave the people of this country a sense of dignity. That’s the key thing. They gave the people a sense of dignity, they dignified people.
This is not something that the rest of the Global South was able to do. Cuba did it. Cuba fought off US colonialism, got rid of the Mafias and the casinos and the people are dignified. This is not the case in most of the world. So you can try any economic policy you want. It’s gonna be hard to succeed if you don’t have sufficient capital if the people aren’t dignified, if they’re not educated, if they don’t have health care, and so on. So, what’s the Global South? It’s that then why hasn’t it succeeded? It’s still suffering from the legacy of colonialism.
This is a photograph of the five principal founders of the Non-Aligned Movement as they were meeting in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1961. Yugoslavia no longer exists, but it existed then. There was Josip Broz Tito, Tito was the head of government, head of state in Yugoslavia. There was Bung Sukarno, the president of Indonesia, a very interesting man, Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of Egypt, and Kwame Nkrumah, the president of Ghana, the prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.
What’s interesting about the picture is that the five of them came out of… Tito and Nkrumah were not Bandung conferences in Indonesia in 1955, but the Asian and African countries had a conference in 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia where they talked about the importance of creating a project of the south, a third world project. Zhou En’lai came from China to that conference and he was a star of the conference, very interesting history. So 6 years later, they met in Belgrade and they created the Non-Aligned Movement.
Now the Non-Aligned Movement is very important because they were making the argument that the West, United States mainly, but Western Europe and the Soviet Union had to cut back on the arms race and not waste all his money on weapons and also threaten the destruction of the world, but use that wealth to effectively create a development project for the South. So they wanted to move guns into bridges, guns into school books, guns into hospitals, and so on. And that was a part of their message, but they united almost the entire South into this project. So soon after these countries won independence from colonial powers.
After World War two, these young states came together to say: we want to stand on our own feet. We want you to look at us with respect plus we’re not fooled. The old colonial system continues.
The concept Global South like many concepts is misleading. because you think it has something to do with the South, the southern hemisphere, the North being the richer countries, and so on. It was a little bit like in an earlier period you divided things by east and west. The West is Europe and the United States. The East is the Soviet Union or China or whatever. The South really refers to countries that came out of colonialism, that had been colonized and came out of colonialism.