The Next Left: ‘America’s Wittiest Marxist’ Wants the Ear of Mainstream Liberals. Will They Listen?
It’s tough to be a true socialist nowadays. The right wants nothing to do with socialism, equating it to the devil’s work incarnate and the left wants to distance themselves from an orthodox ideology which has pretty much failed. Very few if any. are willing to openly embrace an ideology which has been made an orphan.
That is changing. Socialism- or what portends to be socialism- is making a comeback. This newest incarnation of the ideology isn’t quite as confrontational or adversarial. Today’s socialism is indeed Marxist oriented to be sure, but focused more on quality of life and character rather than on the evils of capitalism. That is an important distinction. The emphasis is on the moral and not the material. The call is for vision and not violence.
In other words the ingredients are the same but the recipe has changed.
Will this new version of socialism take hold? Only time will tell.
Outside of the odd bout of scare-mongering, socialism is a term with little currency in American political discourse. Only one member of Congress openly embraces the term. The Socialist Party itself was already a spent force by 1936 (when it barely outpaced the Prohibitionist Party). Since the end of the Cold War, America’s radical left has been marginalized by the Democratic Party and policy elite, and turned instead to anarchism and a vague kind of anti-corporatism.
However, socialism’s reputation is making a comeback, at least among the young. If Millennials need any pointers, the avowedly socialist editorial board of Jacobin is happy to oblige. Founded two years ago by Bhaskar Sunkara (then 21 years old), the magazine aims to reinvigorate America’s left with writing that is practical, accessible, and very radical. The enterprise so far has been surprisingly successful. Today, its Web site gets around 250,000 unique views a month. Sunkara decided the project would get boring if left entirely online and so financed a print magazine from a handful of subscriptions and $2,000 from his own pocket. Today the magazine has more than 2,000 subscribers, including influential activists, labor leaders, and some of the very mainstream media figures it occasionally targets. (Full disclosure: I periodically contribute to Jacobin.) The press is paying attention.
Last week, Sunkara and I spoke in a non-descript Manhattan office building overlooking the statue of the Wall Street Bull. Read on for the secrets of Sunkara’s origins, Jacobin’s engagement with liberals, and the political legacy of Michael Harrington, the last socialist to make a stir in the intellectual scene.