With a paid subscriber base of 40,000 and millions more online views, Jacobin is arguably the most influential non-party socialist institution in the world right now.
From its origins as a small DIY magazine launched around the time of Occupy Wall Street, it now has a wider audience than more mainstream left-wing publications such as the New Statesman and Dissent.
The SEARCH Foundation was lucky enough to host Jacobin’s founding editor Bhaskar Sunkara, in Sydney Trades Hall in April. To a crowd of over 180 attendees, one of the largest events held by SEARCH, Bhaskar spoke about the situation in the United States with Bernie Sanders, in the UK with Jeremy Corbyn and the lessons for the wider Left globally.
Bhaskar spoke about the hollowed-out nature of politics in the United States with many self-described moderates and independents rejecting both parties but more supportive of Sanders. He argued that Sanders showed how oppositional politics can work by combining anti-establishment rhetoric with concerted demands.
Though Sanders won over the country, he did not win over the Democratic Party. He noted that since the election, Sanders has been forced to front for the Democrats to avoid being politically isolated, and there might be a danger that his anti-establishment appeal may dissipate by 2020.
At the same time, young people are moving leftwards. He explained that those politicised who once would have gone to green politics or into NGOs are now moving towards socialist politics. There is now broad support for key parts of the socialist agenda like Medicare for all.
Bhaskar also stated that while Trump has emboldened the Right, the real danger is a populist Right, not a far Right. The challenge, however, won’t be defeating Trump, but rather building something better that will lead to more radical change.
He argued that the role of the Left is to present a different sort of politics by changing conditions, not just implementing better policies by renovating parties like the Democrats. The existential question is not whether the Left can win government.
While fighting for left-wing governments, he urged that we think about what the Left can do in power, as it is hard to imagine what a new working-class oriented political economy would look like.
He pointed out that Sanders and Corbyn are not pushing something more radical than social democratcy. The challenge is to figure out how to use the state to strengthen working-class power and open rather than foreclose more radical transformations.
While occupying government, he suggested the Left can prevent conservative rollbacks and can use the platform to help rebuild the extra parliamentary Left as Corbyn has, and advocate for a broader social democratic agenda.
Finally, to build the working-class power needed to make those radical changes possible, he stressed the need for radical unions and to imagine new and different forms of working-class organisation.
The strong interest in the forum shows there is a hunger for an alternative, a transformative program. The explosive growth of Democratic Socialists of America, the rise of Corbyn and Momentum show across the globe there is an ongoing resonance of our values and analysis but without the shadow of the Cold War hanging over. There does, however, need to be hard thinking about what the Left can realistically achieve in power and to figure out how to achieve the radical changes required. We need to have pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.
Rather than sticking to old orthodoxies for the sake of it, the success of Jacobin shows the importance of a forward and outward looking pluralism and accessibility. Being open and approachable, engaging with key issues of the day rather than just abstract theory, avoiding jargon, and sectarianism are all necessary for the Left to succeed. All are lessons that we here in Australia should learn from and embrace.
Published in SEARCH News, Volume 5, Number 1 (May 2018)