Fundamental to contemporary discussions of imperialism and anti-imperialism are the First-Worldist and Third-Worldist tendencies, which have distilled as the magnetic poles around which the two-line struggle is fought. However, as is true in all other struggles of political line, we must clearly define what these two poles represent in order to focus comrades’ understanding of the problem we are faced with. Consciously and unconsciously, this struggle has been raging for decades now, but it is a fairly recent development that the terms “First-Worldism” and “Third-Worldism” have been used to describe it. In the past, those who laid the foundation of the Third-Worldist tendency as it exists today tended to lump the rather specific deviation of First World chauvinists into the broad category of “revisionism.”
Yet, it does not suffice to say that First-Worldism, as a deviation, is simply “revisionist” and then move on. There are many tendencies and deviations which inevitably lead down the capitalist road and toward the liquidation or fatal interruption of conscious class struggle. It is true that First-Worldism pulls the communist movement inexorably toward the liquidation of fundamental Marxist principles through a failure to correctly identify the exact nature of modern capitalism-imperialism. However, neither First-Worldism nor revisionism are monolithic categories. Not all revisionism is equal, and our approach to these mistaken ideas and deviations must be built according to their nature. This means that we must first understand First-Worldism on a deeper level, not only to counter its rightward pull, but to better understand our own position and tasks.
What is First-Worldism?
Before we can move forward, we must clearly define First-Worldism, its features, and its nuances with respect to the First World communist movement. First-Worldism is a broad tendency that undermines the analysis of the labor aristocracy, colonialism and global value transfer, and obscures their role in the context of modern capitalism-imperialism. Within this tendency are many errors specific to this mode of thinking, all broadly located under the the First-Worldist deviationist tendency. For instance, one common error is the notion that the labor aristocracy exists as a marginal formation or does not exist at all, and in either case is functionally irrelevant to class struggle in the First-World. This error prevents communists from correctly analyzing the political geography of class struggle in the First World, and leads them to unprincipled alliances with, or liquidation into, labor aristocratic struggles under the impression that they are proletarian in character.
One example of this erroneous thinking was in the 2016 verizon telecommunication workers’ strike, where the political discourse of many communist organizations, especially those in the surrounding area who, rather than engaging critically on the strikers’ demands, felt that uncritical and ultimately uninvolved “solidarity” was sufficient. There was neither any significant effort made to neutralize reactionary slogans and narrow nationalist tendencies, nor to agitate against the AFL=CIA’s stewardship in the strike. Although the response to the strike was marred principally by rightist tailism, this deviationist attitude was rooted firmly in an opposition to real concrete analysis of demands and conditions stemming from a First-Worldist tendency among those involved. A similar tendency is making itself felt regarding the recent teachers’ strike in West Virginia. These struggles are allowed to continue in the absence of communist intervention and, despite their labor aristocratic character, are analyzed as if they are consciously proletarian.
In both of these situations a serious analysis of the labor aristocracy and the role of global value transfer could inform communist intervention in class struggle. The labor aristocracy exists, defined by its broad and conscious character imposed by the history of reactionary labor bureaucracy, now as a majority sector of the well-paid First World workers. Their struggles are not identical to, and are in fact in opposition to, that of the global proletariat on the basis of their anti-internationalism. One of the major slogans of the telecom workers’ strike was a jingoistic “buy amerikan” slogan that actively called upon people’s disdain for foreign telecom workers as a point around which they could unite. Yet, rather than challenging these reactionary ideas (which are rooted in a sense of superiority cultivated by their class institutions and structural position in the world today) the First-Worldist tendency is to double down on these slogans, and to rationalize them as correct and proletarian ideas.
This issue is further magnified by the overall question of minimum wage struggles, which has actively opposed any analysis of global value transfer and its effects on the wages and conditions of workers in the First World. The problem is not the demand for higher pay, although certainly the embarrassing tailism and right-wing workerism of the First World communist movement shines through here, but the fact that the call for higher wages in the First World is never pushed to any internationalist conclusion. In fact, quite the opposite. Calls for international minimum wages, or active struggles in solidarity with the world’s workers are dismissed by these factions, who insist that while a 15 dollar minimum wage in the united $tates is reasonable, a 3 or 4 dollar minimum wage worldwide is preposterous. They insist that nothing can be done on this matter, despite using the evidence of the overwhelming wealth locked up in the First World as a foundational argument for wage increases here. This is an error which has reinforced other jingoistic and narrow national chauvinist slogans thrown out by the labor aristocrats and their unions.
Where they are not in outright support of these chauvinist positions, they remain silent on them. A notable example is the absolute silence on the majority position of LiUNA regarding the Keystone XL pipeline directly attacking the lives and sovereignty of native people—or rather, what pittance of so-called “sovereignty” has been afforded to them—wherein they claimed that attacks on this project were attacks on workers themselves. We would not insinuate that this lead the left to a wide-scale support for the pipeline, it certainly did not, however the lack of serious discussion on where these statements were coming from was indicative of the general torpor among the First-Worldist tendency in dealing with the question of settler-colonialism and the land issue, as well as its relationship to the labor aristocracy. In a way, LiUNA was correct. It is outside the capability of the First-Worldist imagination that an attack on monopoly capital, and solidarity with native people, could possibly be an attack on the workers of the oppressor nation. Which comes upon yet another error of the First-Worldist type: the assumption of settler sovereignty, either through emotional obscurantism in the form of a “metaphoric” reading of anti-colonial authors, or a national-chauvinist position that settlers as a nation have a right to land because to deny it would mark us for interminable defeat.
Correcting First-Worldist Errors
It is true that we must carefully consider how to connect the disparate struggles in north amerika together for the sake of furthering worldwide proletarian revolution, and the destruction of imperialism here once and for all. Yet, the default support for settler sovereignty as a vehicle for this not only assumes, generally, that the working class possesses a proletarian character, but obscures or outright denies all of the complexity of the colonial situation in favor of a “simpler” and more traditional approach—one, we must add, that has lead consistently to the liquidation of whatever proletarian movements have been assembled on this continent into the leagues of the labor aristocracy, and, in the final instance, have confronted and frustrated proletarian power throughout the world.
Although it is true that middling classes can often become allies in class struggle, and this is as true for the labor aristocracy as it has been for the petty bourgeoisie and even sections of the bourgeoisie historically, we must understand that firstly these do not represent the foundation of revolutionary forces, and secondly that our hegemonic infiltration into these classes will not come through unconscious and unprincipled alliance, but must be born out of a realistic analysis of their conditions and the class basis of their politics. It is a First-Worldist and ultimately liquidationist error to superficially substitute labor aristocratic class interests and politics for proletarian ones, and to reduce our failures to poor attitudes among the masses, rather than serious errors of analysis and practice on the part of communists.
This was the case for the recently deceased “Richmond Struggle” organization, who, noble for their attempts at pushing forward proletarian politics, erroneously attributed their failure at least in part to “alien ideological trends which as a result of the historic defeat of our class are almost universally predominant.” We do not pretend to know the exact conditions of their dissolution, however this is a common gripe among communists who struggle to build inroads among the working class in the united $tates. They mistakenly believe that much of these chauvinist, reactionary and bourgeois trends among the working class are “alien” and have come about as a response to their historic defeats when, to the contrary, these are all internal to their class logics.
This is not an issue of “false consciousness” but consciousness constructed under the conditions of labor aristocratic vanguardism in class struggle. Having placed these ideas outside the internal logic of the working class, many of these organizations doom themselves to further errors concerning the real directing factors of class struggle, succumbing to either sectarian isolation or rightist tailism of labor aristocratic leadership. Recognizing the presence of the labor aristocracy allows us to make informed determinations on our relationship to them in whatever context we find ourselves, and pushes us to seek the “lower and deeper” elements of the oppressed masses as a source of strength against the structured opposition they face among the labor aristocratic workers and their institutions. Even further, we must always concretely push an internationalist strategy against the narrow nationalist one currently guiding the First World working class.
The Task for Third-Worldists
The reason that we say First-Worldism is not “simply revisionism” is the same reason we do not say that Third-Worldism is “simply anti-revisionism.” Third-Worldism is a response to First-Worldism, representing a set of principles around which our political bloc must be constituted. The Third-Worldist tendency has a history and contemporary political character that we cannot claim is all our own. Our Third-Worldism, Maoism (Third-Worldism), naturally poses very specific solutions, and a concrete political program of its own. However, as far as the broader, revolutionary Third-Worldist tendency is concerned, we find ourselves primarily juxtaposed to the First-Worldist deviations weighing down the First World communist movement.
Our resolution on the question of First-Worldist errors is not toward sectarian isolation for the sake of “purity” or useless nit-picking. On the contrary, our intentions are toward the further systematization of our ideas, and the elucidation of First-Worldism for the sake of consolidating an independent political bloc. We must be willing to think strategically, to cultivate and align ourselves with those good ideas present within the revolutionary movement for the sake of isolating and combating bad and reactionary ideas. There will be struggle within this bloc as well as without, as we struggle against all deviations which would collapse or frustrate the progress of our movement. However, Third-Worldism, as in the common opposition to eurocentric and First-Worldist deviations within the communist movement, serves as the basis for our unity on these matters.
In the context of building the revolutionary center, not all deviations are equal, and we must prioritize the non-negotiable elements of our program in establishing a bloc which cannot be excluded from the revolutionary communist movement. We must prioritize the consolidation of MTWs and other Third-Worldist communists, on principled grounds, with the intention of aiding in establishing a wider revolutionary center with all who can be united for the sake of revolution against capitalism-imperialism. Difficult political concessions will have to be made, but ultimately we must develop and consolidate our bloc so as to ensure the success of our movement, and the permanence of our politics in whatever formations arise from it. We cannot strike out in all directions, but work diligently to constantly evaluate and reevaluate our friends and enemies in the development of the revolutionary movement.