Bookend to Bandung: The New International Economic Order and the Antinomies of the Bandung Era

The opportunity to rethink the historical record of the 1970s from the perspective of the developmentalist aspirations of the global south is welcome. A decade often cast as a historical exception and interruption—wedged between the development orthodoxy of the 1960s and the neoliberal turn of the 1980s—the 1970s now increasingly appear to mark the dawning of a sustained crisis of accumulation in the capitalist world system. Undoubtedly, the 1970s witnessed utopian aspirations for the developing world, as evidenced by the “Third Worldist” tenor of the 1974 New International Economic Order (NIEO henceforth) with its calls for aggressive redistributionist policies and increased national autonomy. It can be tempting to read such aspirations as a novel political experiment in international power-from-below, undercut, lamentably, by the turn to neoliberalism at the end of the decade. However, despite the important currents of ambition and innovation within NIEO (rightly elaborated in many of the other contributions to this issue), I argue that the NIEO is better understood as the final expression of a period that might be called “the Bandung era.”Such a periodization, I contend, enables us to consider the dynamic relationship between the state and capital in the era of decolonization and during a period of considerable capitalist expansion.

The 1974 UN Resolution declaring the establishment of a New International Economic Order envisioned a rebalancing of global power relations and a reconstitution of the institutional role of the United Nations. Flushed with enthusiasm from the wave of decolonizing independence movements throughout Asia and Africa, the state managers from across the so-called Third World understandably turned to the UN as a site where a new internationalism might emerge. I will argue below that a contemporary critical reexamination of the NIEO and the 1970s can offer, among other things, a complicated example for theorizing the relation between capital and the state. For now, however, let me simply say that although an economic order of the sort envisioned by the NIEO would have certainly been new, the proposal outlined in the resolution was not; both the framework and the specific demands itemized in the NIEO Declaration passed by the UN General Assembly should be understood as an evolution and more precise articulation of a Third Worldist program that can be traced back to the 1955 Asian-African Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia, if not earlier.2

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