|Relatives||Brinda Karat (aunt)|
Vijay Prashad is an American-based Indian historian, author, journalist, political commentator, and Marxist intellectual. He is the executive-director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Editor of LeftWord Books, Chief Correspondent at Globetrotter, and a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. For Tricontinental, he writes a weekly newsletter. Ideologically a Marxist, Prashad is well known for his criticisms of capitalism, neocolonialism, American exceptionalism, and Western imperialism, while expressing support for communism and the global south.
Previously, Prashad has been the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and a professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, United States, from 1996 to 2017. Presently, he is an advisory board member of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, part of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, co-founder of the Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL), and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Prashad has provided reporting and political commentary for several publications, including Monthly Review, The Nation, and Salon.
In addition, Prashad is often invited to give talks, lectures, and presentations (virtually or in person) all over the world, like at The People's Forum. He is also frequently interviewed by a variety of news sources, such as Democracy Now!, The Real News Network, and BreakThrough News.
The son of Pran and Soni Prashad, Vijay was born and raised in Kolkata, India. He attended The Doon School (an Indian residential boarding school for boys ages 12–18). In the United States, he received a BA from Pomona College in 1989 as well as earning a PhD at the University of Chicago in 1994—writing a dissertation under the supervision of Bernard S. Cohn. He is the nephew of Marxist Indian politician Brinda Karat.
|Part of a series on|
Vijay Prashad is a fervent proclaimer of democracy, Marxism, socialism, and communism. One partial summary, in his own words, was provided in a talk at the People's Forum NYC in 2021:
I'm a marxist. I'm a communist. I believe in women's emancipation. I believe in gay rights. I believe in everything good, decent, and sensitive in the world.: 11:13
Criticism of capitalism is recurrent theme throughout all of his work; one summary of such criticisms can be found in his 2002 book Fat Cats and Running Dogs. In addition, criticisms of imperialism, colonialism, neocolonialism and other such topics are regular themes.
Prashad's political views are paired with frequent calls for people to become activists, struggle, join movements, protest, organise in political parties, form trade unions and other such related activities. He has argued progressive forces typically have very good ideas, but no power—without power, good ideas have little consequences; socialists must organise as well as theorise. Addressing the same People's Forum in NYC, 2021, he stressed:
You have to ennoble democracy. It doesn't happen by existing; it has to be made. Democracy has to be produced—it's a lot of hard work. [...] I want you get involved. It's not enough to believe things, guys. We have to build democracy. The bourgeoisie is not going to donate democracy to you. You have to take democracy. The Soros Foundation isn't going to give you a grant for democracy. You have to seize democracy.: 35:13 [...] 38:39
Elsewhere, he has stated that American leftists, specifically, are not as effective as they could be in situations where they win influence through community organising, such as in local governments, because they often do not appreciate ideas originating from other parts of the world. He also calls on leftists, in general, to have a long-term view of social struggle rather than a focus on short-term results; this short-term focus often results from an economic system where companies are incentivised to demonstrate quarterly profits.
Prashad is an outspoken critic of American hegemony and imperialism. He debated historian Juan Cole on the 2011 US-French-NATO military intervention in Libya. Cole was for it, Prashad against. Prashad argued that the genuine Libyan rising had been "usurped" by various unsavory characters, including some with CIA connections. Prashad wrote the 2012 book Arab Spring, Libyan Winter AK Press on the topic.
The Communists don't give people fish, so they might eat for a day; the point of Communism is to teach the masses how to fish, so that they might eat forever. Each day, Calcutta's Communists – as real nameless Mother Teresas! – conduct the necessary work towards socialism, for the elimination of poverty forever.— Mother Teresa: A Communist View, Vijay Prashad, Australian Marxist Review No. 40 August 1998
Prashad offered his analysis of Mother Teresa's missionary work in Calcutta, designating her as a representative of the collective "bourgeois guilt" of Western nations. He argued that people like Mother Teresa obscure the tragedies of capitalism. For instance, "During the night of December 2–3, 1984, the Bhopal disaster poisoned thousands of people". He states that the Bhopal disaster, which was caused by Union Carbide, was the most flagrant example of a transnational corporation's disregard for human life in defence of its own profit. In 1983, Union Carbide's sales came to US$9 billion and its assets totalled US$10bn. Part of this profit came from a tendency to shirk any responsibility towards safety standards, not just in India, but also in their West Virginia plant. After the disaster, Mother Teresa flew into Bhopal and, escorted in two government cars, she offered Bhopal's victims small aluminium medals of St. Mary. "This could have been an accident," she told the survivors, "it's like a fire (that) could break out anywhere. That is why it is important to forgive. Forgiveness offers us a clean heart and people will be a hundred times better after it." Pope John Paul II joined Mother Teresa with his analysis that Bhopal was a "sad event" which resulted from "man's efforts to make progress."
In the same article he also commented on Mother Teresa's alleged links with Charles Keating and Michele Duvalier (wife of Haitian dictator Baby Doc Duvalier). Denouncing the "cruel rule of capital" he also offered the view that the communists of Calcutta were the "real nameless Mother Teresas who conduct the necessary work towards socialism, for the elimination of poverty forever".
Prashad has written extensively about the removal of Evo Morales as President of Bolivia in 2019 and the 2020 Bolivian general election. He described Morales' removal as a coup d'état and said the Organisation of American States had "legitimised" the coup with unsubstantiated conclusions in its preliminary report. In March 2020, he wrote that Morales' removal from office was the result of his government's "socialist policy toward Bolivia's resources" which required that returns from mining resources such as lithium "be properly shared with the Bolivian people". He said that the government of Jeanine Áñez had extended a "welcome mat" to Tesla to establish a factory in Bolivia to manufacture lithium batteries from Bolivia's reserves.
In 2010, as Prashad was appointed to head the newly formed Trinity Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies at Trinity College, a group of professors wrote a letter protesting the appointment based on "the prominent role he has played in promoting a boycott of Israeli universities and of study abroad in Israel". After initially refusing to meet with them, Trinity President James Jones eventually met with representatives from Jewish organisations, including the Connecticut Jewish federation, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford on 14 September 2010. One participant reported a "veiled threat" to have Jewish donors "weigh in". The university backed Prashad and rejected attempts to rescind his appointment.
The historian Paul Buhle writes, "Vijay Prashad is a literary phenomenon."
The writer Amitava Kumar notes, "Prashad is our own Frantz Fanon. His writing of protest is always tinged with the beauty of hope."