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Vijay Prashad: ‘Socialism Or Ruin’

Vijay Prashad spoke about the concept hyper imperialism.

And how the people of the world need to defeat it.

The following is a speech delivered by Vijay Prashad at the World Gathering for An Alternative Social Agenda in Caracas, Venezuela. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Monroeism is barbaric. It’s brutal. Sometimes the word imperialism doesn’t capture, emotionally, how brutal imperialism actually is, how brutal, how barbaric, inconsiderate it is towards the lives of ordinary people. 50,000 people have probably already been killed in Gaza. There are 7,000 people missing. Of them, 5,000 children, 15,000 children dead in Gaza – A generation lost.

That is the brutality, the callousness of imperialism. We have decided, in our text Hyper-Imperialism, to use the term hyper-imperialism to capture some of that brutality, that barbarism. You see the thing about hyper-imperialism, led by the United States, is that it is dangerous and it is decadent. It is both dangerous and decadent. I wanted to spend a few minutes on this before going into the alternative because I think it’s very important for us to recognize the danger. Decades of hyper imperialism – hyper imperialism is dangerous.

75% of the share of global military spending is spent by the United States, its NATO allies, and its close allies like Japan and South Korea. 75% of world spending is spent by the United States and its allies. Comrades and friends, I want you to think about that. When people say, well, China is a threat. When people say Russia is a threat, what are they talking about? China is a threat – that’s not a factual statement. China is responsible for 10% of world military spending. The United States and its allies respond to 75% of world military spending. How is China a threat? How is Russia a threat? How is Venezuela a threat? How is Cuba a threat? There is only one threat to the planet, and that threat is hyper-imperialism, a structure led by the United States and its close European allies. That’s the threat.

The only terrorist we have on the planet is the U.S. government and its close allies, including Israel. That’s the threat. That’s the only terrorist. That’s the major threat to the planet that we face today. But it’s worse than that. That’s dangerous. That’s why we call hyper-imperialism dangerous. But it’s worse than just being dangerous. It’s much worse than that. It’s also decadent.

Look at the people who are leading the West. Joe Biden, Olof Scholz, Rishi Sunak, Emmanuel Macron. Not one of these people has earned the respect of people anywhere in the world. How is it possible that these countries with their immense wealth cannot produce even one intelligent leader? How is it possible that every single leader of the global North is mediocre? He’s absolutely unable to finish his sentence. It’s not about Biden’s age. There are lots of people who are 80 years old, 90 years old and are extremely lucid. It’s not about age. It’s not about Donald Trump’s brutal manner. There are lots of brutal people in the world. They’re not all like Donald Trump. It’s not like Olof Scholz, who we don’t even see. When Olof Scholz comes on the stage, it’s almost like he’s a shadow. He doesn’t even exist. At least Angela Merkel has a personality. Olof Scholz doesn’t even have a personality. Emmanuel Macron. Come on. What is that? How did France produce Emmanuel Macron? The country of the French Revolution. The country of the Paris Commune. The country of philosophers like Jean Paul Sarte. Europe is not producing philosophers anymore. There is no Hagel in Germany today. There is no Sarte in France. There are no real intellectuals being produced in the United States.

The problem isn’t the age of Biden, the lack of personality of Olof Scholz. The problem is they don’t have a project. They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t understand the dynamics of humanity. They don’t understand how you need to transcend poverty. They don’t understand what it means – a real project to educate our children or help the world. We saw the complete collapse of the Global North during the COVID pandemic. But before the COVID pandemic, after the financial crisis of 2008 – and they have never recovered from that long-term depression – we watched the Global North struggle with things like homelessness, with things like racism, homophobia and so on. They don’t have a project. They don’t have any fresh ideas. In that sense, they are decadent. They are not only dangerous, but they are decadent. Hyper-imperialism is dangerous, yes. They don’t build bridges anymore. They know how to blow them up. Hyper-imperialism is dangerous, but it’s also decadent.

They can blow up the bridge. They don’t know how to build it. They have the money to build it. Between 35 and 40 trillion U.S. dollars sitting in illegal tax havens. They would have the money in public hands to build bridges. They don’t know how to build schools anymore. They don’t know what education is anymore. They don’t understand healthcare. The decadent aspect of hyper imperialism is very important for us. It’s important for us because they are trying to convince the world, because they don’t have a project, that there’s no future. They’re trying to convince the world that what you have is what you have. What you have now is what you will have forever. Nothing can be improved. You should be lucky to have what you have now because it can get worse.

Still austerity, still cuts. You go to school, you should be happy. Tomorrow, there may be no school. That’s not a future. That’s a permanent present. That might even be a giant u-turn to the past. It is because they don’t have a project. They’re decadent. It is because they don’t have a future to offer for people. It’s because of that that there is so much hopelessness in the world. There is so much toxic energy. So many movements of the right wing. Movements of their right wing grow in an environment where there is no project for the people, for us. Those of us who believe in the people, those of us who believe in the possibility of a future, it’s not enough for us to just criticize. It’s not enough for us to just criticize the danger and decadence of the world leaders in the Global North. It’s not enough to just criticize them. We are very good at criticizing. We are the best anti-capitalist critics. We know how to say no. We know how to fight them. We know how to say no to them. But if we want to build the biggest movement around the world, we have to have something to which people can say yes, we need to have a project. We need to have people feel optimism. We need people to be optimistic, not only for the future, but we need them to be optimistic in our project.

They need to believe that socialism is possible and necessary. It’s not enough to say another world is possible. We have to say socialism is necessary. Not only is socialism necessary, but socialism is possible. That’s what we have to struggle with. Many people believe socialism is not possible: “It’s a good idea, but it’s not possible. Comrade, you had your chance with the Soviet Union. Where is it now? You had your chance, comrade. Socialism was a good idea. Looks good on paper. It’s a great idea, but you can’t really do it in the world. People are greedy.”

We have to convince people with a concrete project. We have to convince people that socialism isn’t just a good idea, that we know how to build schools. We know how to build a bridge. We can finance all of this. It’s all possible that the money is there. Capitalism has developed enough. Now it’s time we socialized capitalism. Now it’s time to take it over. Now it’s time to go beyond it. Now it’s time to transcend it. Not only transcend capitalism, but transcend centuries-long problems that capitalism inherited and didn’t solve, couldn’t solve because of private property. Problems such as education inequality, problems such as health inequality. Capitalism inherited them. But it doesn’t know how to solve those problems.

We know how to solve them. We have the ideas. We have a plan. We have a project. What’s in your [conference] bag? This [document laying out a plan for an] alternative social world. This imagination of an alternative world with its many different aspects. This is a concrete plan. It is achievable now. See, people sometimes argue that you can’t build socialism while capitalism exists. That’s not true. You can make a start now, in fact people already have. During the Soviet Union, they were building socialism. You didn’t have to look at inflated housing markets, you didn’t have to live in the slum. There was housing for people. The Soviet Union achieved a great deal in its merely 70 years of existence. Look, at the Cuban revolution, the Cuban revolution educated everybody. Cubans, I think you are the ninjas of the revolution [laughter]. You are from another planet. You are such dignified people. Dignity, that’s what a revolution gives you. The Chinese revolution overcame mass poverty. Absolute poverty. Look at the difference between India and China. China is transcending absolute poverty. We haven’t done that in the rest of Asia. We have been unable to do that. It was the building of socialism now that enabled them to provide housing for people, that enabled them to vanquish the COVID pandemic and so on.

You don’t have to wait for some later period. You have to start building, now. In Venezuela, for instance, comrade Jorge [Arreaza] used to be the minister of Communes. Build socialism now. Build food sovereignty now. The MST [Landless Workers Movement] sent 30 tons of food to Gaza because of their socialism. Comrades, I want you to read this text [on an Alternative Social Agenda]. We need you to read this text. We need your ideas, your suggestions. This is a plan, a program that ALBA-TCP, the Simon Bolivar Institute and Tricontinental are producing only with your help. Without your inputs this will be just a piece of paper. We don’t want this to be a piece of paper. I don’t need these papers. This is not relevant. If we don’t put these things into action, what’s the point of having them? What’s the point of having a plan if nobody does anything with the plan?

We have to use the plan, build the plan with all your wisdom, all the wisdom of the movements that are in this room. Look at some of the points. See what has been forgotten. See what has been fully drafted and give us feedback. And once we have a plan that we are all proud of, let’s go out there and campaign with this plan.

Let’s go back to the people and say we are not decadent. We are optimistic. There is a future. Your child doesn’t have to be permanently illiterate. Your elders don’t have to have no health care. We don’t need rich people and their money making our lives miserable. We have to use this document not only for this or that reform. Health there, finance there – no. We use this document to change people’s understanding of our revolution so that people look at this document and they decide there are two forces in the world. There is of course the force of decadence. We don’t need the force of decadence. We are finished with the force of decadence. All that they have are bombs, all that we have is intimidation, the regime of sanctions, the regime of coercive illegal measures.

That’s what they are. They are dangerous. They are decadent. And we don’t need them. We need billions of people around the world to look at our project as a concrete way to reject the decadence. And not only reject the decadence, but embrace socialism. Embrace this project. Embrace the project that you are building in Venezuela and which we want to build around the world.

Comrades, there are only two choices. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote: either we advance to socialism or we will have the contending ruin of clashing classes. Either socialism or ruin. If you look at the world today, it looks a lot like a ruins. Gaza is a place in ruins. 28 million tons of debris in Gaza. If you put all that debris into the Mediterranean, you can make a whole new Gaza. That’s how much debris there is from this bombing. 28 million tons of debris. That’s a ruin. That’s what hyper-imperialism does. That’s what hyper-imperialism knows. In order for us to get millions of people to reject that, they have to believe in us, not just reject that. You can’t jump off a cliff if you don’t have a parachute or if you don’t have a paraglider. You can’t jump off a cliff without a paraglider. This comrades is our paraglider. We have to make it together. Let this meeting be the first step we take where we make this project and start capturing the imagination of millions of people around the planet.

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