This morning we’re at work with Bhaskar Sunkara, editor and publisher of US quarterly Jacobin. Bhaskar founded the magazine in 2010 at the age of 21, interested in creating an accessible platform that offered socialist perspectives on politics, economics and culture. We catch up with Bhaskar as he finishes up a stint of work in Berlin and prepares for the release of issue 20.
Where are you today?
This week is a bit unusual, since I’m working out of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung office in Berlin. It’s located in the eastern part of the city. The foundation is affiliated with Die Linke, the far left party in Germany, and houses over 200 staff. I’m working a project with them, guest editing an upcoming issue of their theoretical journal, but also staying up late to work New York hours remotely for Jacobin.
What can you see from the window?
I can see some big tenement buildings, and in the distant Ostbahnhof, one of the main train stations in Berlin.
Are you a morning or evening person?
I’m up early, but often don’t get my best work done until late — when I feel the urgency set in. It’s already 11:34 local time and I forgot about writing responses for this damn interview, for instance!
Which magazine do you first remember?
When I was a kid I used to read copies of Sports Illustrated and other sports magazine I could find. Not very original, but it did get me interested in the form.
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
Jacobin. It’s not perfect, but it’s closer to what I want to see in the world than any other publication. That’s why I founded it!
In austerity-era Europe we’re seeing a revival of support for socialism. What’s the general feeling about the left in the US today?
This is the best time to be a socialist in the United States since the 1970’s… which, you know, doesn’t say a whole lot. But things are moving in the right direction here. We’re seeing the reemergence of inspiring new social movements and now the Bernie Sanders campaign is showing that there is mass support for fighting back against austerity and inequality.
Tell us about the design of Jacobin and your ambition to create a new visual language for the left.
This is really the genius of Remeike Forbes, our creative director. I did want to make something that was professionally done — I don’t think there is a Left design or Right design nor more than there is Left accounting or Right accounting. There is just good design. Jacobin‘s design is good and I think that makes it more accessible and allows us to be taken more seriously.
How do you set out to popularise Marxism – a political ideology steeped in a lot of specialised terminology – and produce something that is accessible to a wide range of readers?
You edit and rewrite and then edit and rewrite some more. What’s important is having editors that are not only technically talented but are familiar with our politics and intellectual tradition.
What are the Jacobin reading groups, and why did you decide to set them up?
We have over 60 Jacobin reading groups around the world, with over 40 in the United States alone. We didn’t want people to interact with Jacobin as consumers would any other product. We wanted people to read Jacobin and subscribe because they thought of themselves as members of a distinct political tradition with a past — and hopefully a future. We’re ambassadors to a hard left tradition to a much broader audience.
As such we’ve created places where people can come and meet and enjoy themselves at a social level and ask definitional questions — not matter how basic — and debate socialist ideas. I’ve really been thrilled with the response, after less than a year and a half of them being around.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
I’ve been having some fun in Berlin, only working around 4 hours a day tops, so tomorrow I’m looking forward to catching up on my emails and getting to work more seriously.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
Finishing this interview.
What will you be doing after this chat?
I’m waiting on some final proofs from Remeike (who is coordinating with one of our illustrators), so we can send our latest issue to the printer. It’s almost midnight in Berlin, so hopefully they will come soon and I can get some sleep.