An Achievable Necessity

“It is easier to imagine the end of the earth than to imagine the end of capitalism.” Vijay Prashad reflects on the work of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research in developing a necessary worldview.  

Philip Guston, Canada, “Gladiators,” 1940.

By Vijay Prashad
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

In May 2021, the executive director of U.N. Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and the U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, wrote an article urging governments to cut excessive military spending in favour of increasing spending on social and economic development. Their wise words were not heard at all.

To cut money for war and to increase money for social development, they wrote, is “not a utopian ideal, but an achievable necessity.” That phrase — not a utopian ideal, but an achievable necessity  — is essential. It describes the project of socialism almost perfectly.

Our institute has been at work for over five years, driven precisely by this idea that it is possible to transform the world to meet the needs of humanity while living within nature’s limits. We have accompanied social and political movements, listened to their theories, observed their work and built our own understanding of the world based on these attempts to change it.

This process has been illuminating. It has taught us that it is not enough to try to build a theory from older theories, but that it is necessary to engage with the world, to acknowledge that those who are trying to change the world are able to develop the shards of an assessment of the world, and that our task — as researchers of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research — is to build those shards into a worldview. The worldview that we are developing does not merely understand the world as it is; it also takes hold of the dynamic that seeks to produce the world as it should be.

Marcelo Pogolotti, Cuba, “Siglo XX o Regalo a la querida” or “20th century or Gift for the loved one,” 1933.

Our institute is committed to tracing the dynamics of social transcendence and how we can get out of a world system that is driving us to annihilation and extinction. There are sufficient answers that exist in the world now, already present with us even when social transformation seems impossible.

The total social wealth on the planet is extraordinary, although — due to the long history of colonialism and violence — this wealth is simply not used to generate solutions for common problems, but to aggrandise the fortunes of the few. There is enough food to feed every person on the planet, for instance, and yet billions of people remain hungry. There is no need to be naïve about this reality, nor is there a need to feel futile.

In one of our earliest newsletters, which brought our first year of work (2018) to a close, we wrote that

“it is easier to imagine the end of the earth than to imagine the end of capitalism, to imagine the polar ice cap flooding us into extinction than to imagine a world where our productive capacity enriches all of us.”

This remains true. And yet, despite this, there is “a possible future that is built to meet people’s aspirations. … It is cruel to think of these hopes as naïve.”

The problems we face are not for lack of resources or lack of technological and scientific knowhow. At Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we believe that it is because of the social system of capitalism that we are unable to transcend our common problems. This system constrains the forward movement that requires the democratisation of nations and the democratisation of social wealth.

Hundreds of millions of people are organised into political and social formations that are pushing against the gated communities in our world, fighting to break down the barriers and build the utopias that we require to survive. But, rather than recognise that these formations seek to realise genuine democracy, they are criminalised, their leaders arrested and assassinated and their own precious social confidence vanquished.

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Much the same repressive behaviour is meted out to national projects that are rooted in such political and social movements, projects that are committed to using social wealth for the greatest good. Coups, assassinations and sanctions regimes are routine, their frequency illustrated by an unending sequence of events, from the coup in Peru in December 2022 to the ongoing blockade of Cuba, and by the denial that such violence is used to block social progress.

Renato Guttuso, Italy, “May 1968,” 1968.

In his introduction to philosophy in 1997, the German Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote, “I am. But I don’t have myself. And only therefore we become.” This is an interesting statement. Bloch is reformulating René Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” an idealist proposition.

Bloch affirms existence (“I am”), but then suggests that human existence does not flourish due to forms of alienation and loneliness (“But I don’t have myself”). The “I” – the atomised, fragmented and lonely individual – does not have the capacity to change the world alone. To build a process towards social transcendence requires the creation of a collective “we.”

This collective is the subjective force that must strengthen itself to overpower the contradictions that stand in the way of human progress. “To be Human means in reality to have Utopia,” Bloch wrote. This phrase resonates deeply with me, and I hope that it touches you, too.

In the new year, we at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research will reflect at length on the pathways to socialism and the barricades that seek to prevent the world’s billions from going beyond a system that extracts their social labour and promises greatness while delivering the barest minimum of life’s possibilities.

We walk into this new year with a renewed commitment to the simple postulate, socialism is an achievable necessity.

Milan Chovanec, Czechoslovakia, “Peace,” 1978.

As we begin the new year, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who works at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, a team that is spread across the globe, from Buenos Aires to Shanghai, from Trivandrum to Rabat. If you would like to assist our work, please remember that we welcome donations.

We urge you to share our materials as widely as possible, to study them in your movements and to invite members of our team to speak about our work.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations.  His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and, with Noam Chomsky,  The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of US Power.

This article is from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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6 comments for “An Achievable Necessity

  1. robert e williamson jr
    January 8, 2023 at 15:16

    Thanks Vejay for the upbeat positive message to usher in the new year.

  2. LeoSun
    January 7, 2023 at 11:47

    “To cut money for war and to increase money for social development,” is “not a utopian ideal, but an achievable necessity.”

    AND, basically, requires a Leader NOT a Political Corpse & his Board of Executioners whose talents are deception, destruction, & death. Said “skill set,” is required on The Hill. ALL “we” got to remember is The Party of War NOT Peace, is in The House. Brian Deese, Janet Yellen, Lloyd Austin, Jennifer Granholm, Gina Raimondo Pete Buttigieg, BIDEN-HARRIS, Blinken, Klain, Sullivan, Rahm, Psaki, Jean Pierre, Tanden, Kirby, Mayorkas, Garland, et al., are veterans of the OHBAMA admin. “Meaning they have extensive practice in lying to the American people and to the world about drone missile assassinations, illegal wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia; GLOBAL SPYING by the US intelligence apparatus; and, There’s NO Money for $ocial Services, etc., etc., etc.

    This pack of wolves, always “captured the minds and the hearts of the masses. This is how their actions are able to move forward, under the guise of good will.”

    It was NOT just the “War On Terror” OR the “Got to fight ’em over there vs. here,” IT IS their For F/Ever “WAR ON TERRA!!!” The Party of War provoking & poking the Russian Bear aka US/NATO vs Russia in Ukraine War, hoping that it will generate a sense of “national unity.”

    – “The EAGLE wants all the oil, natural gas, foreign resources,” cobalt, lithium, manganese, nickel, steel, it can plunder. “The BEAR and the DRAGON say – “NOT This Time, My Bald, Feathery, Friend!!!” (PEPE ESCOBAR) hxxps://

    Washington wants the bloodbath in Eastern Europe to escalate in this new year. I say, “F/Washington’s Economic Warfare/Social Murder here & over there!!!

    “El Capitalismo es el Viruz.” The RESOLUTION is Socialism; BUT, Let’s Call it: “A PLAN TO SAVE THE PLANET!!!” Multi-Polarity vs. UniPolarity “Peace on Earth/Paz en la Tierra.” B/C, “We should build a symphony of human civilization.” Vladimir Putin, October, 2022.

    Recently, PATRICK LAWRENCE enlightened the Universe w/“The Mortar” of BRICS:

    * mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,
    * mutual non-aggression,
    * mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs,
    * equality and co-operation for mutual benefit, and.
    * peaceful co-existence.

    Indeed! “WE, the People” need to promote, BIG TIME, The Tricontinental: Institute’s for Social Research vision to Make It Rain, “A Plan To Save The Planet.” TY, Vijay Prashad, CN, et al., KEEP IT LIT!”

  3. Rudy Haugeneder
    January 7, 2023 at 11:15

    It’s my money. Don’t you dare take it to give to somebody who doesn’t deserve it. Don’t you dare. It’s my money. I think, therefore I am.

  4. Common Sense
    January 7, 2023 at 09:14

    Let us make this urgently needed transition part of it ^^

    A reminder-

    It is a challenge to transition the giant industries including all the connected “jobs” from a destructive towards a constructive process/ progress.

    There is really a lot(!) to do to “repair”- looking at the human/ industrial made huge social and environmental damage in history and at present around the planet (including the oceans).

    Let’s shift (almost in the first place) the military budget (~ 2 trillion dollars per year) in a step by step international binding agreement within a 12 year time-frame to regenerating nature and social balance.

    The attached industries will follow consequently.

    Let our (military) guys and girls be good “forces”/ stewards for a healthy and as far as possible resilient planet, and a socially stable global society including all wonderful creatures sharing the world with us.

    By training the staff correspondingly and thoroughly.

    That would be really great & smart for national and global security!

    And lets make them finally undertake the long overdue clean up of all the highly dangerous, poisonous and tremendous mess, the military and their industries have been leaving or dumping about everywhere around the planet during and after past (world) wars.

    Including the deadly nuclear waste time bombs rotting somewhere.

    Dangerous work for decades.

    There is only one garden Eden we very likely are ever able to reach ^^

    The entire weapon industry (military- industrial complex) must become state owned and controlled for no monetary profit.

    Just maintained for the really necessary defence needs.

    Not more than that!

    And this can be probably done very well with just ~10% of the present budget/ cost in about every country.

    In the hands of a shareholders dictated industry they always will be looking for more profit every single day and year by year.

    And if there is no conflict/ crisis they will create one at its “best”. They even are in for multiple conflicts/ crisis if maximum profit is on the horizon.

    Again and again, always based on malicious propaganda, spread by “government” agencies, evil willing „think tanks“ and allied media.

    Accepting/ causing millions of civil deaths and natures destruction.

    There is a choice for what to use global yearly military spendings…
    … of now more than,. $ each year.

    We got to want it and insist on it!

  5. Steph Jonsey
    January 7, 2023 at 01:30

    “It is easier to imagine the end of the earth than to imagine the end of capitalism.”

    Mainly because it does not require imagination. Capitalism is a relatively recent invention in human society. Its only a couple of hundred years old. A relative newcomer in human ideas, only about 1/10th the age of Christianity. And, there have been places already on this earth that have abolished capitalism, and not that long ago. It has happened before. It can happen again. Why is repeating something that has been accomplished in the past is now completely un-imaginable?

    It is very easy to imagine a world without capitalism. All one needs to do is read history. There are plenty of examples of societies that are not arranged around capitalism. It does not take imagination. It does take will power, and a willingness to struggle.

    The modern left has no idea how to struggle for their goals. They appear to believe that if they hold a press conference and ask nicely, then the rich and powerful will of course just give them everything they want. History says that this is what is un-imaginable.

  6. Bill Todd
    January 6, 2023 at 15:48

    It’s tempting to observe that the ideological struggle between capitalism and socialism hasn’t progressed very well for the latter over the past century against the propaganda which capitalism has at its command – arguably in large part because ideology can seem so abstract to so many people when compared to focusing on their specific life challenges and how poorly their governments concentrate on them.

    Over the past 7 years Bernie Sanders achieved (and has continued to hold) significant U.S. prominence by doing the latter rather than presenting socialist ideology as ‘the answer’. This does not seem specific to the U.S. when one considers Jeremy Corbyn’s success based on similar opposition to the U.K. establishment. The fact that neither has yet become their country’s leader does not detract from their ability to inspire significant opposition to their countries’ capitalistic establishments, unlike those who rely upon ideology and typically wind up preaching only to the already converted (not to dismiss the latter as irrelevant, but the differences have practical consequences under current conditions).

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