Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research is an international institute guided by popular movements and organisations. We seek to bridge academic production and political and social movements in order to promote critical thinking and stimulate debates and research with an emancipatory perspective that serves the people’s aspirations.
What We Do
At Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, our work is about building knowledge from the experience of social and cultural transformations wrought by popular struggles. The main epistemological basis for such an approach to knowledge is derived from Karl Marx’s ‘11th Thesis on Feuerbach’: ‘philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it’. Our understanding of this axiom is that those who are trying to change the world have a sharp assessment of its contradictions, vulnerabilities, and possibilities. The movements and struggles for social transformation teach immense lessons about the character of power, privilege, and property and about the possibility of building a different kind of world.
One of our key concepts, derived from Antonio Gramsci, is that of the ‘new intellectual’, which refers to organic intellectuals of working people who observe the conditions of their class, interpret them against the ruling ideas, and produce a radical understanding of the world. Their views emerge but might dissipate unless they are rooted in a social or political movement, preferably in a political party of some kind. Gramsci calls these intellectuals the new intellectuals: those who throw themselves into ‘active participation in practical life, as constructor, organiser, “permanent persuader”’. The ‘permanent persuader’, or new intellectual, Gramsci notes, is the person who is devoted to working to alleviate the grievances of the people, elaborate popular consciousness, push the suffocating narrowness of thought outwards, and make more and more space for popular struggles to sustain themselves and win. Our intellectual production aspires to meet Gramsci’s standard.
Two phrases capture the essence of our work: to bridge gaps and to amplify voices. We struggle to bridge the gaps between movements and intellectual institutions and to bridge the gaps between movements spread out across the planet. We amplify the voices of the new intellectuals who lead these movements and work to elaborate the movements’ theories. As part of the work of amplifying voices, we seek to reclaim our histories of socialism and national liberation.
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research produces a weekly newsletter, monthly dossier, and various studies and other periodic publications.
Our work is rooted in the principle of hope: we believe that we do not have the right to be pessimistic. Our work is rooted in both a theory of exploitation and the reality of class struggle, in the experience of suffering but also in the insistence of struggle. To that end, our research is rooted in the dialectics of the human experience.
Our texts are collectively produced. We accompany social and political movements to conduct our research and analysis, and then we write, edit, translate, and design our materials as a team. We strive to produce accurate, credible, and accessible materials. In our texts, we do not distinguish between form and content; we build them with a firm belief in the importance of style and aesthetics, illuminating our pages with art and design that provides a sense of the hope inherent in human struggle. Our aesthetic practice is rooted in three concepts:
- That the working class, peasantry, and impoverished millions enduring wage-less life (the labampofu, or ‘the poor’, as the South Africans put it) exist as historical actors.
- That our readers must be able to breathe with joy as they read our texts.
- That our readers leave our texts with hope from both the analysis in the texts but also in the range of human emotions conveyed by the art.
Our Research Agenda
Our work is focused on three main axes:
- Contemporary Capitalism
Much of our work closely studies developments in the contemporary capitalist economy, with a special focus on the unproductive growth of the financial sector, the rise of rentier forms of near monopoly firms, the expansion of a precarious working class, and the social effects of capitalism’s structural imbalances.
Our work develops a theory that the wretchedness of contemporary capitalism has been produced by proponents of both right-wing free market conservatives and liberals and of social democracy.
The future will be shaped out of what we do now. That’s the slogan with which we operate, which means we must track the various forms of socialism that are being developed in our time.
As our work has developed, it has become clear that we must illuminate and defend our past heritage. This includes two aspects, also represented by our publishing agenda: archiving and analysing the histories of national liberation and elaborating and promoting the advances made by the range of theories of national liberation Marxism.
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research is a network of research institutes in the Global South. We have institutes in Argentina, Brazil, India, and South Africa, as well as an inter-regional office with members in many parts of the world. Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research is part of an international process of creating a network of dozens of research institutes, whose first fruit is A Plan to Save the Planet. We are also part of the International Union of Left Publishers, made up of more forty publishers from over twenty countries to advance left ideas, produce collective books, and initiate the annual Red Books Day.
We are a partner organisation of the International Peoples’ Assembly, a growing network of more than 200 political and social organisations from around the world.
The Inspiration behind Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
The name of our institute draws upon two sources: the Tricontinental Conference held in Cuba in January 1966 and the Institute for Social Research set up in Frankfurt in 1923.
The Tricontinental Conference brought together a range of revolutionary movements from across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. They brought with them the orientation of national liberation, non-alignment, and socialism. It is this tradition – national liberation Marxism – which anchors the work of our institute.
The Institute for Social Research, also known as the Frankfurt School, developed during the Weimar Republic in Germany to understand the European working class’s failure to take advantage of the revolutionary situation on the continent at the time. The institute’s scholars studied the crisis of capitalism, the limitations of working-class struggle and ideology, and the rise of fascism.
We seek to further their legacy.