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From global to local and back: the ‘Third World’ concept and the new radical left in France*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 February 2017

Christoph Kalter*
Freie Universität Berlin, Friedrich-Meinecke-Institut, Koserstr. 20, 14195 Berlin, Germany E-mail:


In the second half of the twentieth century, the transnational ‘Third World’ concept defined how people all over the globe perceived the world. This article explains the concept’s extraordinary traction by looking at the interplay of local uses and global contexts through which it emerged. Focusing on the particularly relevant setting of France, it examines the term’s invention in the context of the Cold War, development thinking, and decolonization. It then analyses the review Partisans (founded in 1961), which galvanized a new radical left in France and provided a platform for a communication about, but also with, the Third World. Finally, it shows how the association Cedetim (founded in 1967) addressed migrant workers in France as ‘the Third World at home’. In tracing the Third World’s local–global dynamics, this article suggests a praxis-oriented approach that goes beyond famous thinkers and texts and incorporates ‘lesser’ intellectuals and non-textual aspects into a global conceptual history in action.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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The author would like to thank the following for providing criticism and helpful comments on earlier versions of this contribution: Sebastian Conrad (Berlin), Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann (Berkeley), and the editors of the Journal of Global History, as well as two anonymous readers of this journal. All quotes originally in French in this article are translations of the author.


1 Carmichael, Stokely, Black power and the Third World: address to the Organization of Latin American Solidarity in Havana, Cuba, August 1967, Thornhill, Ontario: Third World Information Service, 1967 Google Scholar, unpaginated.

2 On Carmichael’s journey, see Seidman, Sarah, ‘Tricontinental routes of solidarity: Stokely Carmichael in Cuba’, Journal of Transnational American Studies, 4, 2, 2012, pp. 125 Google Scholar (quotation from p. 7).

3 Quotes from Carmichael, Black power.

4 This contemporary understanding of the Third World also guides Prashad, Vijay, The darker nations: a people’s history of the Third World, New York: The New Press, 2007, p. xvGoogle Scholar: ‘The Third World was not a place. It was a project.’

5 Berger, Mark T., ‘After the Third World? History, destiny and the fate of Third Worldism’, Third World Quarterly 25, 1, 2004, pp. 939 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, quote p. 36.

6 Lentin, Albert-Paul, La lutte tricontinentale. Impérialisme et révolution après la conférence de La Havane, Paris: F. Maspero, 1966 Google Scholar. On the Non-Aligned Movement, see Jürgen Dinkel, Die Bewegung Bündnisfreier Staaten. Genese, Organisation, Politik (1927–1992), Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2015.

7 Recent studies on this question include Slobodian, Quinn, Foreign front: Third World politics in sixties West Germany, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wu, Judy Tzu-Chun, Radicals on the road: internationalism, orientalism, and feminism during the Vietnam era, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013 Google Scholar; Dorothee Weitbrecht, Aufbruch in die Dritte Welt. Der Internationalismus der Studentenbewegung von 1968 in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Göttingen: V&R unipress, 2012; Gordon, Daniel A., Immigrants & intellectuals: May ’68 and the rise of anti-racism in France, Pontypool: Merlin Press, 2002 Google Scholar; Kuhn, Konrad J., Entwicklungspolitische Solidarität. Die Dritte-Welt-Bewegung in der Schweiz zwischen Kritik und Politik (1975–1992), Zürich: Chronos, 2011 Google Scholar; Christiansen, Samantha and Scarlett, Zachary A., eds., The Third World in the global 1960s, Oxford: Berghahn, 2013 Google Scholar; Malley, Robert, The call from Algeria: Third Worldism, Revolution, and the turn to Islam, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996 Google Scholar; Byrne, Jeffrey James, Mecca of revolution: Algeria, decolonization, and the Third World order, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a detailed study of the French context, see Kalter, Christoph, The discovery of the Third World: decolonization and the rise of the New Left in France, c.1956–1970, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 For important discussions on the conceptual history of the Third World, see Pletsch, Carl E., ‘The three worlds, or the division of social scientific labor, circa 1950–1975’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 23, 1981, pp. 565587 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tomlinson, B. R., ‘What was the Third World?’, Journal of Contemporary History, 38, 2, 2003, pp. 307321 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tängerstad, Erik, ‘The “Third World” as an element in the collective construction of a post-colonial European identity’, in Bo Stråth, ed., Europe and the other and Europe as the other, Brussels: Presses Interuniversitaires Européennes, 2000, pp. 157193 Google Scholar; Dirlik, Arif, ‘Three worlds or one, or many? The reconfiguration of global relations under contemporary capitalism’, in Arif Dirlik, ed., The postcolonial aura: Third World criticism in the age of global capitalism, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998, pp. 146162 Google Scholar; Berger, ‘After the Third World’; Chassé, Daniel Speich, ‘Die “Dritte Welt” als Theorieeffekt: ökonomisches Wissen und globale Differenz’, Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 41, 4, 2015, pp. 580612 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Given France’s importance for the phenomenon, astonishingly few studies reflect on Third Worldism in France. Those that do – such as Neuner, Thomas, Paris, Havanna und die intellektuelle Linke. Kooperationen und Konflikte in den 1960er Jahren, Konstanz: UVK Verlagsgesellschaft, 2012 Google Scholar; Wolin, Richard, Wind from the east: French intellectuals, the cultural revolution, and the legacy of the 1960s, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, or Kristin Ross, May ’68 and its afterlives, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2002 – address Third Worldism only as part of a broader argument about French–Cuban relations in the 1960s, an intellectual history of French Maoism, or the memorialization of May 1968, respectively. An attempt at a broader understanding is Kalter, Discovery. For the English term ‘Third Worldism’, see Berger, ‘Third World’. For a historicization of the French term tiers-mondisme and the polemics surrounding it, see Szczepanski-Huillery, Maxime, ‘“L’idéologie tiers-mondiste”: constructions et usages d’une catégorie intellectuelle en “crise”’, Raisons politiques, 18, 2, 2005, pp. 2748 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 My focus on the radical left does not imply that East–West contacts channelled through the communist parties as well as less markedly leftist Catholic circles or development NGOs were not important for Western–Third World solidarity. That they were has recently been stressed by Christiaens, Kim, ‘From the East to the South, and back? International solidarity movements in Belgium and new histories of the Cold War, 1950s–1970s’, Dutch Crossing, 39, 3, 2015, pp. 215231 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 For inspiring perspectives on global intellectual history, see Moyn, Samuel and Sartori, Andrew, eds., Global intellectual history, New York: Columbia University Press, 2013 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 Sauvy, Alfred, ‘Trois mondes, une planète’, Vingtième siècle, 12, October–December 1986, pp. 8183 CrossRefGoogle Scholar (first published in 1952).

13 Rist, Gilbert, The history of development: from Western origins to global faith, New York: Zed Books, 2002, pp. 7273 Google Scholar. See also Escobar, Arturo, Encountering development: the making and unmaking of the Third World, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995 Google Scholar.

14 Georges Balandier, ed., Le ‘tiers monde’. Sous-développement et développement. Préfacé d’Alfred Sauvy, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1956.

15 It was published under this heading until 2006.

16 The first were Robert Descloitres, Jean-Claude Reverdy, and Claudine Descloitres, L’Algérie des bidonvilles. Le tiers monde dans la cité, Paris: Mouton 1961; Bonnefous, Marc, Europe et tiers monde, Leyde: A.W. Sythoff, 1961 Google Scholar; Chambre, H., Saltiel, J.-P., and Nowicki, A., Tiers monde et commerce des pays de l’est, Paris: I.S.E.A., 1962 Google Scholar; Lacouture, Jean and Baumier, Jean, Le poids du tiers monde. Un milliard d’hommes, Paris: Arthaud, 1962 Google Scholar.

17 Tängerstad, ‘Third World’.

18 Fanon, Frantz, The wretched of the earth, New York: Grove Press, 2004, p. 238 Google Scholar.

19 See Dinkel, Bewegung; Kunkel, Sönke, ‘Zwischen Globalisierung, internationalen Organisationen und global governance: eine kurze Geschichte des Nord-Süd-Konflikts in den 1960er und 1970er Jahren’, Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 60, 4, 2012, pp. 555577 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 For a more detailed discussion, see Kalter, Discovery, pp. 66–104. Essential readings on the left in twentieth-century France are Winock, Michel, La gauche en France, Paris: Perrin, 2006 Google Scholar; Judt, Tony, Marxism and the French left: studies on labour and politics in France, 1830–1981, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986 Google Scholar; Khilnani, Sunil, Arguing revolution: the intellectual left in post-war France, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993 Google Scholar; Horn, Gerd-Rainer, The spirit of ’68: rebellion in western Europe and North America, 1956–1976, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007 Google Scholar.

21 On the SFIO and Algeria, see Evans, Martin, Algeria: France’s undeclared war, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012 Google Scholar. On the PCF, see Ruscio, Alain, Les communistes français et la guerre d’Indochine, 1944–1954, Paris: L’Harmattan, 1985 Google Scholar; Danièle Joly, The French Communist Party and the Algerian War, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991. On the French left and colonialism more broadly, see Liauzu, Claude, Histoire de l’anti-colonialisme en France. Du XVIè siècle à nos jours, Paris: Armand Colin, 2007 Google Scholar; and the journal issue ‘Les gauches et les colonies’, Vingtième siècle, 131, 3, 2016. On the watershed year 1956, see Evans, Algeria; Horn, Spirit of ’68, pp. 131–55.

22 House, Jim and MacMaster, Neil, Paris 1961: Algerians, state terror, and memory, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006 Google Scholar; Shepard, Todd, The invention of decolonization: the Algerian War and the remaking of France, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006 Google Scholar.

23 Connelly, Matthew, A diplomatic revolution: Algeria’s fight for independence and the origins of the post-Cold War era, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002 Google Scholar.

24 On Maspero and his publishing house, see Hage, Julien, ‘Une brève histoire des librairies et des éditions Maspero: 1955–1982’, in Bruno Guichard, Julien Hage, and Alain Léger, eds., François Maspero et les paysages humains, Lyon: A plus d’un titre/La fosse aux ours, 2009, pp. 93160 Google Scholar; and the autobiographical François Maspero, Les abeilles & la guêpe, Paris: Seuil, 2002.

25 Hamon, Hervé and Rotman, Patrick, Les Porteurs de valises. La résistance française à la guerre d’Algérie, Paris: Seuil, 1979 Google Scholar.

26 A short introduction to Partisans is Julien Hage, ‘Sur les chemins du tiers monde en lutte: Partisans, Révolution, Tricontinental (1961–1973)’, in Philippe Artières and Michelle Zancarini-Fournel, eds., 68. Une histoire collective. 1962–1981, Paris: La Découverte, 2008, pp. 86–93.

27 Vercors, ‘Nous sommes des partisans’, Partisans, 1, 1961, pp. 3–5.

28 See Kalter, Discovery, pp. 104–87; Martin Evans, The memory of resistance: French opposition to the Algerian War (1954–1962), Oxford: Berg, 1997; Rothberg, Michael, Multidirectional memory: remembering the Holocaust in the age of decolonization, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009 Google Scholar.

29 House and MacMaster, Paris 1961.

30 On Maspero’s role in the French unrest in May 1968, see Hage, ‘Brève histoire’.

31 For the transnational issues, see Partisans, 44, 1968: ‘Le complot international’; Partisans, 59/60, 1971: ‘Le domaine national’, pt 1; Partisans, 61, 1971: ‘Le domaine national’, pt 2.

32 Interview with Jean-Philippe Bernigaud-Talbo, Paris, 18 January 2007.

33 Partisans 40, 1968: ‘Le peuple vietnamien et la guerre’. Études Vietnamiennes and Partisans produced a second special issue together, this time including contributions by American intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky: Partisans, 48, 1969: ‘Le peuple vietnamien à la veille de la victoire’.

34 Elisabeth Hodgkin, ‘Obituary: Nguyen Khac Vien’, The Independent, 26 May 1997.

35 Kalter, Discovery, p. 198.

36 Gérard Chaliand, ‘La France et sa décolonisation’, Partisans, 6, 1962, pp. 51, 50.

37 Young, Robert J. C., Postcolonialism: an historical introduction, Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001 Google Scholar.

38 All quotations relating to the 1962 colloquium are taken from ‘Colloque de Milan: gauche européenne et tiers-monde’, Partisans, 6, 1962, pp. 3–12.

39 Unfortunately, most of the conference’s participants were only introduced by surnames in Partisans.

40 Quotation from an Algerian contribution to the colloquium reproduced in the preceding issue: ‘La gauche européenne et l’avenir de l’Afrique’, Partisans 5, 1962, pp. 122, 125.

41 Maspero, François, ‘Nous précisons’, Partisans, 3, 1962, p. 169 Google Scholar.

42 Dhoquois, Guy and Grumbach, Tiennot, ‘La coexistence pacifique, arme révolutionnaire adaptée à la lutte contre l’impérialisme dans le Tiers Monde’, Partisans, 3, 1962, pp. 8397 Google Scholar.

43 Ibid., pp. 95, 96.

44 Gierds, Bernhard, ‘Che Guevara, Régis Debray und die Focustheorie’, in Wolfgang Kraushaar, ed., Die RAF und der linke Terrorismus. Vol. 1, Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2006, pp. 182204 Google Scholar.

45 On Grumbach, see Hervé Hamon and Patrick Rotman, Génération, Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1987–88.

46 Young, Postcolonialism, p. 213.

47 François Maspero, ‘Amérique latine – solidarité – guérillas’, Partisans, 38, 1967, p. 3.

48 See Geneviève Dreyfus-Armand and Jacques Portes, ‘Les interactions internationales de la guerre du Viêt-Nam et Mai 68’, in G. Dreyfus-Armand, J. Portes, R. Frank, M.-F. Levy, and M. Zancarini-Fournel, eds., Les Années 68. Le temps de la contestation, Brussels: Éditions Complexe, 2000, pp. 49–68; Jalabert, Laurent, ‘Aux origines de la génération 68: les étudiants français et la guerre du Vietnam’, Vingtième siècle, 55, 1997, pp. 6981 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Nicolas Pas, Sortir de l’ombre du Parti communiste français. Histoire de l’engagement de l’extrême-gauche française sur la guerre du Vietnam 1965–1968. Mémoire de DEA, Paris: Institut d’études politiques, 1998.

49 Reflections on the absence of the Third World in May ’68 appeared in Bridier, Manuel, ‘Mai 1968 et le Tiers-Monde’, Bulletin de liaison du CEDETIM, 2, 7, 1968, pp. 711 Google Scholar. For the contemporary critiques of Third Worldism, see Jean Daniel and André Burguière, eds., Le Tiers monde et la gauche, Paris: Seuil, 1979.

50 On the PSU, see Vincent Duclert, ‘Le PSU, une rénovation politique manquée?’, in Artières and Zancarini-Fournel, 68. Une histoire collective, pp. 152–8; Fay, Victor, ‘Les vingt ans du Parti socialiste unifié: un échec?’, Politique aujourd’hui, 5–6, 1980, pp. 8592 Google Scholar.

51 Archives Nationales, Paris (henceforth ANP), 581AP/35, dossier 151, ‘Projet de plan de travail pour la Commission des Affaires internationales, 19.09.1967’.

52 ‘Orientation du Cedetim’, Bulletin de liaison du CEDETIM, 1, 1, 1967, pp. 2–3.

53 See their biographies in Kalter, Discovery, pp. 311–18.

54 Interview with Gustave Massiah, Paris, 21 June 2007; Éric Agrikoliansky, ‘Du tiers-mondisme à l’altermondialisme: genèse(s) d’une nouvelle cause’, in Éric Agrikoliansky, Olivier Fillieule, and Nonna Mayer, eds., L’altermondialisme en France. La longue histoire d’une nouvelle cause, Paris: Flammarion 2005, pp. 43–73.

55 On the fight against imperialism, see ‘Rapport d’ouverture à l’Assemblée Générale’, Nouvelles du CEDETIM 1972, pp. 1–3; ‘Introduction: impérialisme français et coopération’, Bulletin de liaison du CEDETIM, 5–6, 20–21, 1971–72, pp. 2–8; ‘La plateforme du Cedetim (extraits de la résolution générale d’orientation adoptée le 3 février 1973)’, in Le CEDETIM, pour quoi faire?, Paris, n.d. [1973]; Cedetim, L’Impérialisme français en 1977, Paris: Maspero 1978. On reaching out to migrant workers, see ANP, 581AP/35, dossier 152, ‘PSU Commission Internationale: compte rendu de la réunion du samedi 18 avril 1970, 23.04.1970’

56 Spire, Alexis, Étrangers à la carte. L’administration de l’immigration en France (1945–1975), Paris: Grasset 2005, p. 9 Google Scholar. On French immigration policies in this period, see also Vincent Viet, La France immigrée. Construction d’une politique, 1914–1997, Paris: Fayard, 1998.

57 Interview with Michel Capron, Paris 29 June 2007. A similar sentiment was expressed in an interview with Elisabeth Courdurier, Paris, 30 June 2008, who remarked that ‘They were our Third World arriving at our home.’

58 The Cedetim’s first and very short statement on migrants in France is in Bridier, ‘Mai 1968’.

59 The most important and recent discussion of the links between May ’68 and immigration is Gordon, Immigrants. See also Dreyfus-Armand, Geneviève, ‘L’arrivée des immigrés sur la scène politique’, Lettre d’information ‘Les années 68: événements, cultures politiques et modes de vie’, 30, 1998, pp. 110 Google Scholar; Gastaut, Yvan, ‘Le rôle des immigrés pendant les journées de mai–juin 1968’, Migrations Société, 6, 32, 1994, pp. 929 Google Scholar.

60 Manghetti, Pierre, ‘Les travailleurs immigrants dans la société industrielle’, Bulletin de liaison du CEDETIM, 3, 8, 1969, pp. 1114 Google Scholar.

61 Les Travailleurs immigrés, PSU documentation no. 16, Paris: Service formation du P.S.U., 1970, pp. 6, 7.

62 For a case study of these dynamics, see the 1970 example of migrant protests in Ivry-sur-Seine as related in Gorz, André and Gavi, Philippe, ‘La Bataille d’Ivry’, Temps modernes, 26, 284, 1970, pp. 13881416 Google Scholar; also analysed in Kalter, Discovery, pp. 386–90.

63 Manghetti, ‘Travailleurs’, pp. 12–14, advocated their political education, but did not demand their right to vote or to receive the same pay as their French counterparts. He also stated that they should not receive French citizenship. However, the Cedetim soon moved beyond this early position. From 1973 on, demanding the right to vote for migrants became the Cedetim’s and the PSU’s distinctive policy. See Lacalmontie, Séverine, ‘De la recherche à l’invention d’une cause: les militants du PSU et le droit de vote des immigrés’, in Tudi Kernalegenn, François Prigent, Gilles Richard, and Jacqueline Sainclivier, eds., Le PSU vu d’en bas. Réseaux sociaux, mouvement politique, laboratoire d’idées (années 1950–années 1980), Rennes: Presses Universitaires, 2010, pp. 317326 Google Scholar. On the PSU, see also Gordon, Immigrants, pp. 176–9.

64 Quote from ANP, 581AP/36, dossier 159, Gustave Massiah, ‘Note préparatoire à la réunion du 26/11/70 sur “l’Ecole de formation”, 24.11.1970’; ANP, 581AP/36, dossier 159, untitled [Evaluation of the Ecole de Formation Travailleurs Immigrés’ first teaching cycle], ‘24.09.1971’.

65 Interview with Gustave Massiah, Paris, 30 June 2008, in which Massiah claimed that the School was operative from May 1971 until July 1973. While there is no reason to doubt this assertion, it must be stressed that I could only access written documentation of the first teaching cycle, which ended in July 1971.

66 ANP, 581AP/36, dossier 159, Jean-Yves Barrère, ‘Commission Internationale – Ecole de formation des travailleurs immigrés, 28.12.1970’.

67 Ibid.

68 [Evaluation of the Ecole de formation], pp. 3–4.

69 Ibid.

70 Cedetim, Les Immigrés. Contribution à l’histoire politique de l’immigration en France, Paris: Stock, 1975.

71 Ibid., p. 13.

72 Ibid., pp. 11–13.

73 ’Histoire entrecroisée’ in the original.

74 Ibid., p. 13. According to Massiah (interview, 30 June 2008), chapter drafts were discussed at the Formation School.

75 Cedetim, Immigrés, pp. 315–77.

76 See (consulted 25 February 2015).

77 Massiah, the Cedetim’s co-founder, was the vice-president of the French Attac branch (2003–06), and continues to be a member of the organization’s Scientific Committee, as well as of the International Committee of the World Social Forum. See also Agrikoliansky, ‘Tiers-mondisme’.

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