By Emma Teitelman
Just one day after Bernie Sanders confirmed his first presidential candidacy in spring 2015, Jacobin posted an essay by its founding editor, Bhaskar Sunkara, who imagined what the Sanders campaign could mean for socialist politics in the United States. Sunkara acknowledged that outsider electoral runs sometimes had the effect of weakening leftist political capacities. With cautious optimism, however, he proposed that if Sanders gained steam, it might present a “sign”: the constant squeeze of the post-recession economy and a steady stream of tepid centrist politicians had, perhaps, created possibilities for a new politics to emerge from the American masses. Electoral victory was unlikely, but Sanders’ run was an opportunity for socialists to “regroup” and articulate a political vision that spoke to the working-class majority. Just as important, Sunkara wrote, the campaign might “begin to legitimate the word ‘socialist’, and spark a conversation around it, even if Sanders’ welfare-state socialism doesn’t go far enough.”1
Bernie Sanders has indeed helped to revive socialist ideas in mainstream politics, and Jacobin has supported this development every step of the way. Since its founding in 2010, the magazine has become an important hub for leftist writing. The breadth and pace of the digital production is striking; there are sometimes three, sometimes five posts a day, covering topics ranging from electoral politics to history to movies and literature. Sunkara has been central to this growth and, in the process, has established himself as an entrepreneur for the left and a key voice in the campaign to establish socialism in mainstream Anglo-American politics. In addition to launching Catalyst: A Journal of Theory and Strategy in 2017 and purchasing the U.K.-based Tribune in 2018, he has participated in public debates with an array of capitalism’s professional ideologues, from right-wing intellectuals such as Yaron Brook to centrist-liberal pundits like Jonathan Chait. In front of a packed room at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, Sunkara faced off against the libertarian economist Gene Epstein, an affiliate of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, to make the case that capitalists’ ownership of private property generates unfree conditions for the majority of people living today. Sunkara has now channeled these eclectic experiences into his latest book, The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality, which aspires to make a more sustained case for socialism than a Jacobin editorial would allow.