“Militant” Socialists Advocate to University Students

With the end of the semester in sight, students of Ohio State were confronted by one last lesson. The event was advertised to students by promising a “strategy for ridding society” of believers in the free-market. During the conference attendees hinted at, alluded to and in some cases explicitly laid out the need for political violence.


The program explicitly stated the goal of the hosts, the International Socialist Organization. The ISO’s self-proclaimed agenda to the students of Ohio State: “To achieve socialism, the most militant workers must be organized.”


The “Midwest Marxist Conference” was the final stop on a tour of pro-Marxist sessions held by the ISO. Ohio State’s participation was coordinated by Professor Pranav Jani of English and Comparative Studies along with Haley Swenson of Women’s Studies.

Professor Pranav Jani. Photo credit:


Professor Jani, who was clad in all black beside a red armband, frequently turned the discussion to race relations. “The ISO is the leading organization on anti-Zionism,” he proclaimed during one session. The professor had been preparing for the conference for weeks in advance. On the event’s facebook page, he wrote encouraging statements to students who had reservations about attending a socialist conference.


Although 159 attendees were listed on the facebook page, approximately 120 people showed up. Nametags included guests’ city or school, and outsiders appeared to outnumber Ohio State students two-to-one.


The event was also advertised through Democratic Underground, a site dedicated to bringing together supporters of the Democratic Party.


Among the speakers Jani invited to address students was Tom Alter, who writes for The Militant, an online socialist publication. Alter has been writing for The Militant since at least the mid-1990s. His articles advocate for the construction of a “propaganda axis” that would be used to persuade not just college students, but high schoolers as well, to join the International Socialist cause.


Alter’s session was titled “How to Build Stronger Branches.” He was introduced by fellow ISO member Shaun Harkin. Harkin is a “community organizer” based in Chicago. A video found on youtube shows Harkin attacking an individual for attempting to film him at a public event in a public park. He grabs the camera from a woman and throws it to the ground as she pleads for him to stop.


Shaun Harkin (in green) approaching the woman he attacks.

Despite assurances of future equality among all, the socialist suggested that students could assume leadership roles if they joined his cause.


Alter told the students, “I can’t go out there on my own and fight,” pointing to a scar on his face he allegedly got fighting fascists. From the second row, Alter’s scar was not clearly visible. “We need to take advantage of the situation,” he said of discontent youth, “and be armed.”


The Ohio State Code of Student Conduct prohibits “Taking or threatening action that endangers the safety, physical or mental health, or life of any person, or creates a reasonable fear of such action.”


When a Question and Answer portion was opened to the crowd, several other contributed ideas to Alter’s talk.


Aaron from the Detroit branch of the ISO admitted, “the biggest barrier for us is that none of us are students,” which made recruitment of students more time consuming.


Swenson responded, “every branch struggles with this… Capitalism makes us busy. Right? Like if we just had tons of time, this would be way easier. ” She suggested that Aaron create “a sense of urgency” among potential future socialists.


The issue of race was brought up repeatedly. Many members voiced discontent over the fact that white men were the majority of the ISO. Gary, a white male member from Cleveland, suggested that the ISO could appeal to African Americans if “we send members to liquor stores and barber shops.”


Jani later added to the racial discussion, “it doesn’t make sense to be a black nationalist.”


Dissatisfied that the allotted time had run out for the session, the group agreed to extend it half an hour.



Pranav expressed conflicted views about the coercive nature of socialism. “What the fuck kind of revolution says working class people can lead their own lives but also says we’re right about everything?” he asked the crowd.


As the session neared a close, the structured discussion broke down. Several speakers and participants voiced general frustration.


“We need to be reflective of the working class. We are not right now,” said Jani, who holds a Ph.D from Brown University.


Tithi Bhattacharya, a professor of “Oriental Studies” at Purdue said, “we went to the Purdue anti-racism conference and what we argued was shit.”


Harkin conceded, “I went to ISO meetings for months and I didn’t understand anything they were saying.”


During “Race and Class” with Bill Mullen, one participant stated, “I’m not comfortable approaching comrades of color.”


One session was led by “Marilena Dirusso,” which is presumably a pseudonym, as a google search turns up only a twitter account.


Professor Jani lists “resources” on his official Ohio State webpage, such as Counter Punch, which advocate for international socialism. During his stated office hours, Jani could not be reached either at his office or by phone for further comment.


The ISO made a total of eleven stop, pressing students from Harvard to Portland State to get involved in the militant elimination of capitalism.


Correction: Marilena Dirusso is a member of the Chicago Teachers’ Union

Posted in: Campus, Headlines

Leave a Comment (3) ↓


  1. tim December 8, 2012

    fuck dem der socialsts hurr durr

  2. Haley Swenson December 10, 2012

    To the editors of The Rubicon,

    As organizers of the recent Midwest Marxism Conference at the Ohio State University’s campus, we would like to express extreme disappointment with the Rubicon’s report on the conference.

    The conference itself, organized by a long-standing, recognized student organization at Ohio State, brought together activists from around the region who desire to see a world centered on human need not profit, who are challenging racism, sexism, homophobia, and war in their communities, and who stand up for the rights of the 99%.

    We recognize that these principles cut sharply against your political ideals. But the Rubicon’s article falls far below any recognizable standard of intelligent reporting or debate. It is outrageous when it is not utterly laughable, recycling Cold-War stereotypes and trying to paint faculty of color as demons. Indeed, the article is malicious, misleading, and, in some cases, absolutely false. In cases of the deliberate targeting of individuals, indeed, we may investigate whether your report constitutes libel.

    We demand an immediate retraction and apology. We are offering some detailed examples to explain why, and to show the egregiousness of your report:

    1-At no point was this conference pitched as “promising ‘strategy for ridding society’ of believers in the free-market,” as the anonymous author of this report surmises. The conference was, in fact, advertised on fliers as promising “strategy for ridding society of exploitation and oppression.” This is perhaps the most astonishing case of outright fabrication found in this article. To interpret the actual statement in the way the author does would be as ridiculous as to conclude that the writers of The Rubicon support, not free-market principles, but ridding society of anyone who does not. To attribute such a horrific idea to this conference is outrageous and unethical.

    2-The report’s discussion of Tom Alter’s speech was one of many instances of quotations having been cherry picked from their context and overall message in order to create the frightening picture this reporter so clearly sought to find. Alter did not, at any point, call for violence as a strategy, but was in fact offering his experience as an example of how a violent response did not work. He described an instance in the past when he and a friend had tried to confront skinheads, but were outnumbered and got beat up instead. Alter’s anecdote was intended to show that socialists needed to organize effectively to protect themselves from such violence. Alter presented the push for greater organization as a more effective and safer alternative to physical confrontations.

    3-The writer’s paragraphs on Shaun Harkin are so false as to constitute libel. The article suggests that Harkin made threats of violence, when in fact, even the quotes included in the article contain no such thing. To arm oneself is a common figure of speech, which rarely, these days, refers to actual weaponry. Harkin spoke repeatedly during the day about how change is created, and emphasized that the most powerful political tools for change are an organized working class which can go on strike, and strong political ideas and arguments that can convince more people about the problems of capitalism. Any reasonable attendee at the conference would affirm that the need to arm oneself with both ideas and mass support were the major arguments of the conference as a whole, and of both Harkin’s and Alter’s contributions.

    4-Had the reporter for this story stayed for more than one session of an all-day conference and actually attended the session in which Marilena Dirusso spoke, it would have been clear that Dirusso is not a pseudonym for someone hiding her true self, but the name of an employee of Chicago Public Schools and a member of the Chicago Teachers’ Union who reported on her experience with that union’s recent, successful strike. That an individual is not easily identifiable after one Google search hardly seems enough evidence to suggest she is hiding her true identity. This is but one of many moments that reveal not just the bad faith in which everything was construed and interpreted in this article, but also the very lazy journalistic practices used to write it.

    The other instances of misleading analysis, context-free quotation, and poor journalism are too many to count and respond to individually. In general, we believe the bias of this publication led this reporter to attend the conference with the goal of finding calls for violence, in order to besmirch the conference organizers and attendees. When the reporter found that this was in fact a non-violent event about bringing about massive change through protests, strikes, and mass movements, he/she was forced to manipulate quotations and messages in order to achieve that goal.

    With this report, The Rubicon has revealed that it is not a credible or trustworthy publication. Moreover, it has crossed the ethical and perhaps even the legal line between disagreement and defamation. We demand, once again, that this report be immediately retracted, and that the editors issue an apology to the individuals slandered here and the organizers of the conference.


    Haley Swenson
    Pranav Jani
    Tithi Bhattacharya

  3. Karl Marx December 11, 2012

    To the Editors:

    I think Haley Swenson, Pranav Jani, and Tithi Bhattacharya are doing a fabulous job.

    With their continued work organizing militants, perhaps world revolution is yet possible. Then we can kill the bourgeoisie and finally control the means of production, as we have done in Russia, China, Cambodia, Cuba and other communist paradises.

    Our victory is only possible by being armed, and through the liquidation of ‘wreckers’ who would further oppress workers.

    Workers of the world unite!

    -Karl Marx


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