- Planting a Flag for Socialism:An Interview with Bhaskar Sunkara
In just a few years, Jacobin magazine has gone from a DIY published from a student dorm room to a major voice on the left, speaking especially to a rising generation, with more than 30,000 print subscribers and 1,000,000 online views per month. It was founded by Bhaskar Sunkara in 2010 while he was an undergraduate at George Washington University (BA History, 2011), and he aimed to distinguish it from an earlier stratum of leftist magazines, such as Dissent, New Left Review, and New Politics, making ready use of bold headlines (such as "Burn the Constitution" in an early issue), a snappy style, and high-design, brightly-colored graphics. In his own writing as well as his editing, Sunkara eschews academicism and traditional party-line quarrels and brings an uncommon sense of humor and straightforward advocacy of socialism to current political discussion.
Alongside his work on Jacobin, Bhaskar Sunkara has published widely in venues such as Dissent, The Guardian, In These Times, The Nation, and elsewhere, and he frequently tweets @sunraysunray. He composed a kind of manifesto, "Letter to The Nation From a Young Radical" (Nation [22 Mar. 2013]), calling for contemporary radicals to work openly for socialism as an alternative to liberalism. There and elsewhere he critiques liberals for not appealing to the American working class and for "disconnect[ing] policy from politics." He also sometimes writes on sports and popular culture (for example, "Jeremy Lin Isn't Greedy, You're Just Stupid," Vice 18 July 2012). In addition, he edited the book collections The Future we Want: Radical Ideas for the New Century (with Sarah Leonard; Metropolitan Books, 2016), The ABCs of Socialism (Verso, 2016), and Europe in Revolt (2016). From its base, Jacobin has seeded several other initiatives, notably a network of Jacobin Reading Groups in cities in the U.S. and internationally, and a new magazine, Catalyst: A Journal of Theory and Strategy.
Born in 1989 to Indian-Trinidadian immigrants, Bhaskar Sunkara grew up in Westchester, New York, and New Jersey, joining Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) while in high school, eventually editing their blog. As he discusses here, he hustled to make ends meet, and one journalist, observing his success with Jacobin, called him "the most naturally adept capitalist [End Page 507] I've ever met" (Dylan Matthews, "Inside Jacobin: How a Socialist Magazine Is Winning the Left's War of Ideas," Vox [21 Mar. 2016]). Among various notices, Bhaskar Sunkara was interviewed in New Left Review (Nov. 2014), and profiled in the New York Times ("A Young Publisher Takes Marx Into the Mainstream," 20 Jan. 2013).
This interview took place in Pittsburgh, PA on 26-27 March 2017. It was conducted and edited by Jeffrey J. Williams and transcribed by Victoria Glavin and Charles Gunn, both MA students in the Literary and Cultural Studies program at Carnegie Mellon University.
People know you through Jacobin, which you started as an undergrad and now has more than 30,000 subscribers. In a nutshell, what is the project of Jacobin?
The project of Jacobin is simply to do two things: One is to propagate socialist ideas to an audience that includes many people who have not previously been exposed to them, people who were not very politicized or didn't consider themselves liberals.
Another thing is, within the left, to engage in an inter-left project asserting that the left should return to socialist politics, embracing that label and everything that comes with it. Also, we believe in the primacy of class and the need for organizing on a class basis. We believe in creating the infrastructures of dissent to rebuild the capacity for class political action, even if it might seem distant, eventually to put the question of socialism on the table in American politics. That's the purpose: it's driven by nothing else than socialist politics.
How did you come to socialism?
I came to socialist politics at a pretty young age, in an era when socialist politics seemed to be in the dustbin. I was born in 1989, the...