While preparing to launch Tricontinental, I'm listening to Tania sing, reading Alex and Gaye as well as Barthes and Lenin

Submitted by Vijay Prashad on Wed, 02/28/2018 - 16:10
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research


Today is Wednesday - at the edge of March. I am getting ready to launch Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. It has been a hectic few weeks - building the infrastructure for our offices in Argentina, Brazil, India and South Africa. We have an incredible team - dedicated to our inter-movement research institute. We believe that these are radical times and that in these times we need both radical theory and radical militancy. We hope that Tricontinental will be a useful part of our global movement.

Meanwhile, and this is what I wanted to write in this brief note, I have been taking refuge in the work of my friends - creative people who are building new visions for our socialist horizon.

I've been listening to my friend Tania Saleh's powerful new album Intersection. which Tania calls an 'intersectional experiment'. This is music, but also art and poetry. There is Tania's own poetry, but also the great verse of Mahmoud Darwish, Khalil Gibran, Bayram al-Tunsi, Nizar Kabbani, Joumana Haddad and others. There is a short video that gives you a sense of the expansive nature of the project:



Tania had designed the cover for my book Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution. It is a story of the collapse of Arab nationalism. This album shares that political vision. There is the voice of the Yemeni poet Abdullah Al-Baradouni,

'Who am I, where am I from?

Don't I have a nationality?

My ancestors are red flags

And golden liberation wars'.

So much has changed. This is an album of great feeling, captured perhaps by this wall painting by Tania of a man who reaches for 'PEACE' but can't seem to get to it. Something is holding him back. 


Man reaches for peace


The album is available at iTunes and elsewhere (including at Tania's website).




Meanwhile, I've been drifting along today reading from three books - the edited collection by Alex Lubin and Gaye Theresa Johnson on Futures of Black Radicalism (Verso). It collects essays by the very top thinkers - Nikhil Singh, Françoise Vergès, George Lipsitz, Robin Kelley, Ruthie Gilmore, Jordan Camp, Christina Heatherton, Cedric Robinson, and on and on. It is a reflection on Cedric Robinson's Black Marxism, which I had just re-read and found to be both very stimulating and very astonishing (for reasons that I am still thinking about).

Also reading - as if in bursts - the essays of Roland Barthes that have been collected by Chris Turner with the provocative title, The 'Scandal' of Marxism (published by our friends from Seagull Books in Kolkata). It is a book of bon mots, witty sayings, insightful comments. Here is one of them: 'Marxism isn't a religion but a method of explanation and action; that this method demands a great deal of those who claim to practice it; and that, as a result, calling oneself a Marxist is more about self-importance than simplicity' (1955).

Finally, someone who did call himself a Marxist, but really out of conviction: Lenin. I am re-reading Lenin's State and Revolution. It is a brilliant book, written in the dust of 1917, not published till the next year, a warning shot about bureaucratic suffocation, the inheritance of old state structures into a socialist society. It is such a tonic. Lenin is so brutally honest in the way he frames his argument, so much without evasions. It is a book that I'd like to have heard Barthes talk about. Or someone sing about.