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Looking at Our Nations' Roles

Second World countries generally have well-educated populations but few resources. They are pushed to occupy, in world terms, the position middle-class people take in the class structure. At any moment they could be relegated to the status of Third World countries, countries that the global system keeps in a constant struggle for survival while they produce much of the world's wealth.

The First World countries are mainly the industrialized countries of Western Europe and North America. They can be compared to the owning class. They own much of the world's wealth but have increasingly relied on natural resources and under-paid labor from other countries to build up this wealth.

I am a Second-Worlder living in a First World country. Some other Co-Counsellors here and I decided it was important to start addressing the effects of the Second World oppression on First World people -- effects that are largely invisible because of the dominant position of First World countries.

Four of us -- one Gentile Second-Worlder, one First World Jew, one First World black Gentile, and one First World white Gentile -- came up with the idea of a First World and Second World workshop in London. The combination of us seemed perfect for tackling the subject. We needed all of our perspectives (and more) to get the full picture of First and Second World liberation. (For example, because Ashkenazi Jews have experienced severe oppression in Second World countries, many of them have taken refuge in the First World; black people living in the First World have a Third World heritage.)

The workshop was translated into Romanian and Hungarian, the two languages represented besides English. Everyone at the workshop needed mini-sessions on how the translating slowed things down. The Second Worlders needed to discharge on how difficult it was to keep translating when they felt like a minority and it seemed like nobody 'needed it.'

We talked about the terms First World, Second World, and Third World. Although these terms may be oppressive, they reflect the current economic reality of the world. First World countries have more resources than they need, while Third World countries struggle for survival. Second World countries are 'stuck in the middle' and could go either way at any minute, depending on the interests of global capitalism. (Some Eastern European countries are scrambling for membership in First World organizations, such as NATO and the European Union, so that they don't end up marginalized by the market economy.) More discharge and discussion is needed in order to come up with better terminology.

At one point we divided into groups of Second World Gentiles, black Gentiles, Jews, and white Gentiles. People in each group took turns on their identities in relation to the First and Second Worlds. Then the whole workshop listened to reports from the group leaders, who also took time to discharge. The black people were able to discharge early on these issues and generally had a much better grasp of the economic and political situation than others at the workshop. It was difficult for the others to understand what was going on outside of Europe and North America. Second World people struggled with feeling that they had nothing to say, or that it would not make any difference if they said it. I felt like I wanted to shield First Worlders from my thoughts and feelings. I couldn't imagine they would be able to hear my thinking, take it seriously, or do anything to redress the situation, because of their guilt. Another Second World woman found it difficult to use her own language during her demonstration. She felt she would only be understood, or taken notice of, if she spoke English. Second Worlders speaking up in a First World environment directly contradicts the silence and powerlessness that are major ingredients of Second World oppression. It also offers useful information for First World people.

Jewish people have a complex relationship with the Second World. They seemed to need to first connect with how they had been oppressed in Eastern Europe before they could look at the oppressor role they took on when they moved to the First World. Both First and Second World people need to acknowledge and clean up the anti-Semitism that puts Jews in this difficult position.

In coming together as First Worlders, the white Gentiles could see how living in the First World has left them feeling and acting subdued, hopeless, and joyless. A young adult woman told the workshop how she had been forced to take on middle-class values when she went to college and how disconnected she had felt from her working-class family. She fought hard to oppose that separation, and it was clear how vital that struggle had been to her enjoying life and holding on to her own thinking. I suspect First World people go through something similar in being separated from the rest of the world. It could make a big difference for them to realize that many of the difficulties they experience in their societies don't come from an inherent hopelessness of life but from an historical process that has left them isolated and in an oppressive role in relation to the rest of the world.

I would like to hear from other people about living in the First, Second, and Third Worlds. I am particularly interested in learning about Third World countries.

Violeta Vajda
London, England 

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00