Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Bringing Marxism to the Masses ; Young Publisher Forges an Unexpected Hit by Mixing Satire and Candor

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Bringing Marxism to the Masses ; Young Publisher Forges an Unexpected Hit by Mixing Satire and Candor

Article excerpt

Jacobin magazine, created by Bhaskar Sunkara, has been an improbable hit, helped by the Occupy movement and the publication's satirical but serious style.

When Bhaskar Sunkara was growing up in Westchester County, he likes to say, he dreamed of being a professional basketball player.

But the height gods didn't smile in his favor, so in 2009, during a medical leave from his sophomore year at George Washington University, Mr. Sunkara turned to Plan B: creating a magazine dedicated to bringing jargon-free neo-Marxist thinking to the masses.

He is the first to agree that this hardly seems less of a long shot at fame.

"I had no right to start a print publication when I was 21," he said in an interview in a cafe near his apartment in Brooklyn. "Looking back, I see it as a moment of creative ignorance. You have to have enough intelligence to execute something like this but be stupid enough to think it could be successful."

The resulting magazine, Jacobin, whose ninth issue just landed, has been an improbable hit, buoyed by the radical stirrings of the Occupy movement and a satirical but serious-minded style. Since it began in September 2010, the magazine has attracted nearly 2,000 print and digital subscribers, some 250,000 Web hits a month, regular attention from prominent bloggers, and book deals from two New York publishers.

It has also earned Mr. Sunkara, now 23, praise from members of an older guard who see his success as a heartening sign that the socialist "brand" -- to use a word he throws around -- hasn't been totally killed off by the Tea Party invective.

"Bhaskar's a really remarkable -- I want to say kid, but that sounds condescending," said Chris Hayes, an MSNBC television host who mentioned Jacobin in a Rolling Stone article last June before inviting Mr. Sunkara onto his show. "He's got the combination of boastful assurance and competence of a very good young rapper."

The praise isn't coming only from the left. The National Review blogger Reihan Salam, who has linked to numerous Jacobin articles, called Mr. Sunkara "an almost hilariously savvy character who knows how to deploy mockery and flattery to great effect." He added that the magazine's injection of a "vital left-of-left-of-center" viewpoint into the conversation "has been very fun to watch."

In his magazine, Mr. Sunkara uses both insults and comedy, whether the target is regular victims like the Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein ("a young liberal with a lust for properly punctuated policy memos") or the capitalist vampire squid itself.

In person, Mr. Sunkara is more earnest and quick to emphasize that the magazine he founded in his dorm room has evolved into a collective endeavor. Jacobin's success, he said, springs from the highly cohesive politics of the four co-editors he recruited and their shared commitment to advancing a critique of liberalism that is free of obscurantist academic theory or "cheap hooks."

Not that Mr. Sunkara, who is also the magazine's publisher, dismisses the value of pop culture come-ons (the new issue includes a radical analysis of the Onion's online reality-television satire "Sex House") or good visuals. The sleek design by Remeike Forbes, a student from the Rhode Island School of Design who e-mailed Mr. Sunkara out of the blue in 2011 offering to design a Jacobin T- shirt, has been essential to getting people to take the magazine seriously, he said. …

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