In a wide-ranging conversation, we talk to Pranav Jani about Marxism and colonialism. Pranav is an associate professor of English at Ohio State University and a long-time activist and organizer with the International Socialist Organization (ISO). Pranav describes his evolution from an apolitical college student to his first encounters with the writings of Marx on India—and how he went beyond a few selected excerpts to a deeper engagement with Marx’s thought and its evolution. We also talk about postcolonial theory, and Pranav explains what insights he gained from that field of study as well as the limitations he ran up against working within it.
Another theme running throughout our interview is the importance of combining activism and theory for Pranav’s understanding of and commitment to socialism. He talks about how it was the anti-colonial revolt against the British that began to shift Marx’s own ideas about India. In Pranav’s own life and political outlook, the importance of struggle is paramount. We talk about his experience as an Indian revolutionary moving from the East Coast to Columbus, Ohio, and what he learned from helping to build a strong presence for the ISO in Ohio.
One of the themes of our discussion about his work in Ohio is a critical examination of some of the punditry about “red-state America” and the 2016 elections. Pranav describes the political picture in central Ohio and the importance of a more nuanced understanding of the working class as well as the socialist commitment to fighting both exploitation and oppression.
In our opener, we talk about a major opus on climate change published recently in the New York Times Magazine, titled "Losing Earth," whose conclusions we deem essentially reactionary. The author, Nathaniel Rich, has compiled a dense history of a decade of climate summits, high-level boardroom meetings and political hearings, but somehow concludes that human nature—and our failure to sacrifice for long-term needs—is to blame for the failure to act to prevent climate catastrophe. We reach a different conclusion: that capitalism is to blame.
Links for our interview with Pranav Jani:
*Pranav developed his ideas on Marxism, revolution and colonialism more deeply for a talk he presented at Socialism 2018. You can listen to the audio at We Are Many: bit.ly/PranavS18
*Pranav also wrote a feature article for Socialist Worker describing in more detail “What the Indian rebels taught Marx” (bit.ly/MarxIndiaSW)
*The International Socialist Review (ISR) review of Vivek Chibber’s book on postcolonialism can be found here: (bit.ly/PranavISR)
Links for our intro on climate catastrophe:
*The NYT Magazine piece on Losing Earth (bit.ly/LosingEarth)
*Naomi Klein had a good rejoinder to this article in the Intercept (bit.ly/KleinLosingEarth), and we engage with her material in this episode as well. We also recommend listening to our interview with Klein in episode 14 of this podcast (bit.ly/Ep14Klein).
Music in this episode
The Boy & Sister Alma, “Lizard Eyes” (Dead Sea Captains Remix)
Beck, "Gamma Ray"
Junoon, “Meri Awaz Suno"
MIA, "Paper Planes"
Karmacy, “Blood Brothers”