Progressive Spotlight: Bhaskar Sunkara.

Jacobin Proves Left Media Can be a Powerful Force.

A photo of Bhaskar Sunkara sitting on the stage, next to the Jacobin logo Image Description: A photo of Bhaskar Sunkara sitting on the stage, next to the Jacobin logo

Summary: Sunkara, who founded the socialist magazine when he was in college, is a leader in independent media, and has provided the blueprint for successfully elevating progressive messaging.

Besides mega profits, there are few things corporate America loves more than gushing over the next innovative young mind destined for greatness.

Of course, the art of mass-producing sycophantic puff pieces about rising Silicon Valley stars takes a community. These over-the-top profiles wouldn’t be possible without the mainstream media, which never misses an opportunity to help propel purported prodigies into the cultural stratosphere, including those later exposed as charlatans or crooks.

Someone who never enjoyed such celebrity is Bhaskar Sunkara. And it’s probably for the best. Sunkara is an avowed socialist whose politics would more quickly be distorted and ridiculed rather than celebrated.

The New York-born child of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago is best known for bringing Jacobin magazine into the world—an independent and unapologetic socialist news magazine that often drives the conversation about progressive issues of the day. With a circulation of more than 70,000 and an accompanying website that generates millions of monthly views, Jacobin has proven to be quite successful despite the challenging indie media landscape.

It’s not difficult to understand why.

The magazine publishes deep dives about critical social and political issues. These articles often challenge those on the left to push for a fairer society while simultaneously critically examining the failings of modern capitalism. Jacobin has also solidified its standing among progressives by building an impressive roster of contributing journalists and writers who offer unique perspectives on everything from the climate crisis and corporate monopolies to criminal justice and geopolitics.

Sunkara founded the magazine when he was a 21-year-old student at George Washington University—the kind of story you’d expect the corporate media to have a field day with.

Sunkara himself is an accomplished writer and author. Perhaps his most influential work is “The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality.”

Testament to his ability to build an independent socialist magazine from the ground up, Sunkara in 2022 was tapped to serve as president of iconic left-leaning magazine The Nation.

Katrina vandal Hovel, the magazine’s longtime publisher, credited Sunkara for growing “some of the most significant institutions on the left today.”

Speaking to the Democratic Socialists of America’s blog a few years ago, Sunkara talked about the importance of a left-leaning outlet to communicate to people socialist circles.

“[I]t was important to create an outlet that could not just interact with other members of the existing Left, but that could interact [with] a broader public and lay out socialist responses and analyses of problems,” he said.

“So for example, we’ll put down the flag for public housing at a time that that’s extremely unpopular,” Sunkara continued. “Even today among the liberals who might be moving left on other issues, on housing, they’re still very much market-oriented as a whole. We defended teachers and public education at a time early on in Jacobin when that was quite unpopular, and a lot of mainstream liberalism was moving towards charters, advocating forms of education reform. We’ve been advocating for Medicare for All and for greater state involvement in health care and other sectors, which have kind of waxed and waned in their broader popularity.”

And that’s the biggest challenge for progressives. Not only identifying common ground on issues that have long been ignored but are important for future generations but navigating around establishment forces that reflexively dismiss such ideas as extreme or unrealistic.

Having Sunkara and other left-leaning journalists push the boundaries goes a long way. We just need more of them.

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Rashed Mian is the managing editor of News Beat. Mian previously covered civil liberties and the Muslim American community for Long Island Press. Mian graduated with a degree in journalism from Hofstra University. Mian is interested in under-reported stories that impact disenfranchised communities as well as issues related to civil liberties.