In [April 18–24] 1955, a conference was held in Bandung, Indonesia that was attended by representatives from twenty-nine nations.* “The leaders of Asian and African countries gathered in this historic meeting … included Premiers Chou En-Lai of China, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, U Nu of Burma, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt besides President Sukarno of Indonesia, and leaders from Liberia, Sudan, Gold Coast, Jordan, Iran, Ceylon, Nepal, Pakistan and Philippines. The meeting of these leaders was a key point in the history of developing countries that gave rise to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the concept of the Third World or the South. At the start of the Cold War between the West and the former Soviet Union, the leaders of the developing countries gathered in Bandung asked for an alternative way of just global governance and global justice, to achieve greater social and economic development for their people, and to continue the process of political and economic decolonization.
In his opening speech at the first Asian-African Conference, President Sukarno of Indonesia recognized that the gathering of the leaders of the 29 Asian-African independent countries was a result of the sacrifices made by their forefathers and by the people of their own and younger generations. ‘The hall was filled not only by the leaders of the nations of Asia and Africa but also contained within its walls the undying, the indomitable, the invincible spirit of those who went before them,’ he said. Their struggle and sacrifice paved the way for this meeting of the highest representatives of independent and sovereign nations from two of the biggest continents of the globe. In a historic event, Asian and African peoples were meeting together to discuss and deliberate upon matters of common concern to them.
Sukarno stated that the burden of the delegates attending the Conference was not a light one. ‘For many generations our peoples have been the voiceless ones in the world. We have been the unregarded, the peoples for whom decisions were made by others whose interests were paramount, the peoples who lived in poverty and humiliation. Then our nations demanded, nay fought for independence, and achieved independence, and with that independence came responsibility. We have heavy responsibilities to ourselves, and to the world, and to the yet unborn generations.’ [….]
The Final Communiqué of the 1955 Bandung Asian-African Conference provided the basis for South-South cooperation with concrete proposals for promoting economic, political, technological, cultural spheres. It declared full support of the fundamental principles of human rights as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations and took note of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations in a moment in history when many South nations were still under Western colonial rule.
The communiqué deplored all forms of racial segregation and discrimination. In declaring support for the cause of freedom and independence for all peoples it also deplored colonialism, in all its manifestations.
The communiqué took note that several States had still not been admitted to the United Nations, and that for effective cooperation and world peace, membership in the United Nations should be universal. The leaders also considered that representation of Asian and African countries in the UN Security Council, in relation to the principle of equitable and geographical distribution, was inadequate, as it is today. The right to self-determination, stated the communiqué, should be enjoyed by all peoples. The Ten Bandung Principles enunciated in 1955 continue to be as relevant today as it was 60 years ago and in the decades since. These are as follows:
- Respect for fundamental human rights and for the purposes and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
- Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.
- Recognition of the equality of all races and of the equality of all nations large and small.
- Abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country.
- Respect for the right of each nation to defend itself singly or collectively, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.
- (a) Abstention from the use of arrangements of collective defense to serve the particular interests of any of the big powers, (b) Abstention by any country from exerting pressures on other countries.
- Refraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country.
- Settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means, such as negotiation, conciliation, arbitration or judicial settlement as well as other peaceful means of the parties’ own choice, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.
- Promotion of mutual interests and cooperation.
- Respect for justice and international obligation.’
The 1955 Bandung communiqué concluded by expressing its conviction that friendly cooperation in accordance with the 10 Principles of Bandung would effectively contribute to the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security, while cooperation in the economic, social and cultural fields would help bring about the common prosperity and well-being of all.”
* “The twenty-nine countries that participated at the Bandung Conference represented nearly one-quarter of the Earth’s land surface and a total population of 1.5 billion people, roughly 54% of the Earth’s population at the time. The conference was organised by Indonesia, Burma, Pakistan, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and India and was coordinated by Ruslan Abdulgani, secretary general of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
Richard Wright (September 4, 1908 – November 28, 1960) attended and wrote about (The Color Curtain) the 1955 Bandung Conference. He secured funds through the Paris office of the Congress of Cultural Freedom,1 “making sure to establish his terms in advance:
“In order to ensure that his statements on colonialism and the Third World would in no way be controlled or censured, he would attend the conference as an independent journalist. The Congress would have the option to use any of Wright’s articles in its various publications, and, in return, he would receive $500 in addition to travel expenses and retain the right to publish his entire report as a book at a later date.” — Michael Fabre, The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright (University of Illinois Press, 2nd ed., 1993): 417.
Because I’ve begun reading (on occasional breaks from other things) Richard Wright’s The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference (New York: World Publishing Co., 1956),2 I thought I’d share a few words of wisdom from “the unadulterated genius of Richard Wright” (Cornel West—a philosopher, political activist, and public intellectual—is prone to rhetorical hyperbole, but does not indulge it in this instance). I concur with West’s description of Wright as “first and foremost a cosmopolitan intellectual, a global man of letters, a Promethean figure in the life of the mind with international scope.”
- “Although the discovery that the organization was indirectly financed by the CIA as a means of combating Communist propaganda from the liberal Left was not made until some years later, most of the great names associated with the Congress were unaware of this at the time.”(Fabre)
- This book is conveniently available together with Black Power (1954) and White Man, Listen! (1957) in paperback edition published by HarperCollins in 2008, the introduction to which is by Cornel West.
- “Goddamnit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain’t. They do things and we can’t. It’s just like livin’ in jail.”
- “Anything seemed possible, likely, feasible, because I wanted everything to be possible... Because I had no power to make things happen outside of me in the objective world, I made things happen within. Because my environment was bare and bleak, I endowed it with unlimited potentialities, redeemed it for the sake of my own hungry and cloudy yearning.”
- “Literature is a struggle over the nature of reality.”
- “Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread. (I would add: they must be free from starvation to have the knowledge that they are suffering from the negation of self-realization; or, to put it differently, freedom from starvation is a necessary yet not sufficient condition for awakening to the fact that one is being denied the opportunity for self-realization. Gandhi more or less captured this insight, despite not speaking about self-realization as such, when he said, ‘There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.’)
- “Love grows from stable relationships, shared experience, loyalty, devotion, trust.”
- “Whenever my environment had failed to support or nourish me, I had clutched at books ... ”
- “Their constant outward-looking, their mania for radios, cars, and a thousand other trinkets made them dream and fix their eyes upon the trash of life, made it impossible for them to learn a language which could have taught them to speak of what was in their or others’ hearts. The words of their souls were the syllables of popular songs.”
― Richard Wright
- Eslava, Luis, Michael Fakhri, and Vasuki Nesiah, eds. Bandung, Global History, and International Law: Critical Pasts and Pending Futures. Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press, 2017.
- Fabre, Michel. The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2nd, 1993.
- Lee, Christopher J., ed. Making a World after Empire: The Bandung Moment and Its Political Afterlives. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press (Center for International Studies), 2010.
- Roberts, Brian Russell, and Keith Foulcher, eds. Indonesian Notebook: A Sourcebook on Richard Wright and the Bandung Conference. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.
- Rowley, Hazel. Richard Wright: The Life and Times. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
- Tan, See Seng and Amitav Acharya, eds. Bandung Revisited: The Legacy of the 1955 Asian-African Conference for International Order. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2008.