It’s been more than five years since I met Bhaskar Sunkara, the founder and editor of Jacobin Magazine, in a coffee shop in a basement somewhere in Bed-Stuy. He was in his 20s, I was in my 20s and I had no idea he’d write American history.
Back then, I’d been on a trip down the east coast to meet the editors of a resurgent scene of little magazines who published their cultural criticism the (very) old way: With black ink on white paper, with little or no photos or fancy layouts, in a language free of jargon and academese. Serious people. Smart people. People who seemed rather out of place in the 21st century.
After all, newspapers and magazines were dying left and right and experts talked about the wonders and inevitability of a form of digital publishing that was geared towards social media. Which meant: Short pieces. Short sentences. Don’t provoke people to think. Trigger them, so your shit may go viral.
Talking to the editors of n+1 (in New York), The Baffler (in Cambridge and DC), The Point (in Chicago) and Jacobin (also in NY) was inspiring. Here were people who demanded the right to treat their readers like grown-ups. I loved it.
But my trip also felt like a rather nerdish pursuit. I’d written about n+1 for Spex, but when I embarked on my journey, I had no idea whether I would find a German publication that might be interested in my exploits. Eventually, DIE ZEIT offered a whole page for me to introduce their readers to n+1, The Baffler, The Point and Jacobin. My piece was called „Klare Sprache, schwarze Tinte“. Someone even translated it into English, guerilla-style.
Fast forward five years and I pull this book from my mailbox. It’s an anthology of German translations of pieces taken from Jacobin, published by Suhrkamp Verlag.
It makes sense to read and to re-read Jacobin pieces now. After all, on both sides of the Atlantic, the left is struggling to find it’s purpose. Jacobin, in the meantime, has been part of the revival of socialist thought in the US, one of the many unexpected surprises on the American political scene in recent years.