Problems with First Worldism
First Worldism is a long-standing trend within ‘left-wing’ politics which preferences or exaggerates the role of First World workers to the effect of considering them friends or allies of revolution. First Worldism is a problem of class analysis. It sees the First World lifestyle not as a parasitic one involving the circulation of superprofits extracted from the Third World but simply as another form of the condition of economic exploitation. It is the failure on the part of nominal radicals to correctly answer the questions, “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?”
First Worldism, which is often based on sentimentality or dogma, is fundamentally incorrect in terms of understanding the world. However, there are also several practical problems with the theoretical error.
In the First World
The most visible result of First Worldism in the First World is that those engaged in it are “spinning their wheels without ever going anywhere.” That is to say the most salient result of the work of First Worldist ‘leftists’ in the First World is the marginal existence of a First Worldist ‘left.’ Furthermore, as the First World left continues on in a comatose state, with occasionally just enough signs of life to give hope to some, reactionary trends and movements emanating from the First World have only increased in numbers, size, and strength. In essence, while crackerish Trots, crypto-Trots, and Democrats blather on about how exploited their First World cohorts are, an increasing number of their First World “proletarian” brethren are settling in and accepting (if not supporting) some of the most reactionary aspects of First World society.
Obviously the life of a First Worlder First Worldist is ‘tough.’ As is become clear that the First World so-called working class lacks the qualities that it is believed to hold and as organizing efforts remain stagnant, the idealism of nascent First Worldism typically gives way to frustration and cynicism. One out is extreme opportunism: increasingly tailing the mythical First World ‘proletariat’ and settling with its political leadership. Another is receding further into one’s own ideas while ignoring the outstanding fact these ideas are as isolated and unpopular as ever among those whose class interests they are claimed to represent.
In the Semi-periphery and Third World
The problems of First Worldism in the Semi-periphery and Third World are more fundamental. In essence, promoting the false understanding that First Worlders are exploited under capitalism creates a kind of false consciousness among non-First World actual proletarians. First Worldism is dangerous because it promotes capitalism in the Semi-periphery and Third World. By claiming that First Worlders are simply exploited in qualitatively different ways, the struggle of oppressed and exploited peoples becomes not for national liberation, socialism, and communism, but to build the basis for a similar capitalist system and to be ‘exploited like First Worlders.’ First Worldism has an obvious impact in that dissuades the masses from staying on the long road of revolutionary struggle. Instead, First Worldism in the Semi-periphery and Third World steers activity into reactionary class collaborationism and/or that which is inspired by the false hope of support from First Worlders. While First Worldism generally wishes to see a “bourgeoisie without a proletariat” and largely operates with this regard, as long as capitalism exists the exploited labor of work-worn proletarians will be the basis upon which the rest of society lives.
The revolution must be one of the Third World-centered proletariat against the system of structural theft. It must challenge and defeat not only the “1%” but also the 15-20% of the world at large which benefits and reproduces itself through capitalist-imperialist exploitation of Semi-peripheral and Third World countries.
Solution to First Worldism
Revolutionary struggles must be carried on not simply without the First World ‘masses,’ but against them. This is because surplus value extracted from the labor of Third Worlders in part sustains the living conditions of First Worlders.
That is not to say that a small percentage of First Worlders will not find dissatisfaction with their lives; nor that First Worlders on an individual level will not find cause to side with Third World peoples struggle and become genuine allies of revolution. But overall, this is the result of alienation or oppression, not exploitation. As such, there is no immediate basis for consistent unity between First World-centered net-exploiters and the Third World-centered proletariat. The world can not wait for the First World ‘masses’ to get on board.
Because of the outstanding problems with First Worldism, i.e., those associated with the longstanding failure to correctly answer “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?,” revolutionary movements must reject and struggle against it. No longer can First Worldism be allowed to impede revolutionary struggles.
Now more than ever we must raise our voices, speaking with vigor, clarity and comprehensiveness, and drown out the siren song of First Worldism.