Suffering in the First World: Greece and the European Crisis

To all those out there who follow the Maoist (Third-Worldist) tendency; who uphold the belief that the developed world – Europe, Russia, North America, and certain parts of Australasia and East Asia – is a realm of the wealthy, free of any real oppression, this entry is for you.

Very recently, the European Union offered a hopeless, desperate Greece its latest proposal for a bailout deal, which, whilst potentially easing the crisis in which the country is currently submerged, would carry strict measures in the way of austerity. The referendum as to whether or not the country should accept called for a rejection, with the population (now largely irritated with the EU and the straining demands they imposed on Greece’s already-disastrous economy) probably feeling they’d been down that road before. Yesterday, however, Prime Minister Tsipras announced that Greece would accept the deal regardless, undoubtedly sparking tensions among civilians and party members alike. Whether he had any confidence in the decision or simply yielded to the demands from Brussels we’ll never know, but either way, one thing is profoundly clear: the country is truly in dire straits.

There are, however, those who claim claim otherwise; a significant number entertain the illusion that the developed world, of which Greece is a member, is, by nature, wealthy. They claim that, unlike those in great swathes of countries like India or Bangladesh, who do experience genuine hardship, the populations of Europe or America lead comparatively luxurious lives. In short, they believe that whilst developing nations do suffer exploitation and poverty, developed countries like Greece know nothing of the sort.

This belief is upheld largely, though not exclusively, by those who adhere to the philosophy of Maoism (Third-Worldism), this being a particular branch of Maoist communism which values the idea that capitalist exploitation no longer takes place within the confines of national borders, that the first world countries have effectively become bourgeois nations which thrive off the exploitation of other, poorer parts of the world. The theory enjoys significant popularity among the communist movement today, partly because it can explain why the working classes in the first world are now shrinking in numbers while the third world proletariat is not, and it is, to some degree, accurate. It is obvious, for example, that the first world does profit from the exploitation of the third, with a great deal of our clothes and gadgets now produced overseas, yet the fact that developed economies exploit undeveloped ones is not to say that these economies do not cause suffering at home; Just look at the poverty experienced by many in Russia, or even America, – the heartland of wealth and capital – in which 49 million people, or one in four children (according to the documentary ‘A Place at the Table’) don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Today, Greece is our example, and the recent disaster in the country certainly demonstrates similar horrors to those listed above; I’ve heard stories of how many have been forced to leave their modernised lives and work the land to survive, whilst the unemployment record in the country reached a record of 28% in November 2013, (to put it into context, the proportion of unemployed Americans during the Great Depression was lower than 25%), and homelessness, once a foreign concept to the Greeks, rocketed. Sadly, the rise in what BBC News describes as the ‘New Homeless’ coincided with the particularly harsh winter of 2011-12, leaving many exposed to the freezing temperatures with little more than a blanket to conceal them from the cold.

Greek Unemployment, 2004 - 2015

Greek Unemployment, 2004 – 2015

There is, of course, the argument which states that such hardship is a result of a recession, as opposed to the capitalistic exploitation of the Greek people, and thus, whilst capitalism ruins many lives in India or China, it is not responsible for this particular disaster. Yet a similar situation undoubtedly exists among what the advocates of Maoism (Third-Worldism) cite as the revolutionary proletariat in these aforementioned countries, for not everybody in this part of the world lives under the shackles of first-worldist exploitation, but the poverty experienced by the majority of the population (including these people) is still reflective of the unequal distribution of wealth caused by the former, and thus, the economic system can be held responsible for their impoverishment. The same can be said for the Greek population, as the crisis which ruined these people is rooted directly in the capitalistic economies of Greece and Europe, so threfore capitalism is still the force which reduced them to poverty.

Additionally, I believe that whilst refuting Maoism (Third-Worldism) is important, the crisis also serves a more general purpose in reminding us of just how vulnerable we, the capitalist world, actually are. It would be easy to assume, from the bubble of ignorance provided by a comfortable western lifestyle, that this kind of thing doesn’t occur in our neck of the woods; that capitalism today cannot bring about such misery, yet it’s important not to let yourself fall into this trap, for such a crisis could happen to you too. If nothing else, treat the event as a news story, one informing the planet that misery and suffering do, and will continue to exist in the first world.

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