11.07.2016

Why We Publish

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It’s the best time to be a socialist in the United States since the 1970s. The bad news is that it’s still not a very good time to be a socialist in the United States.

But things are certainly better than when Jacobin launched six years ago. Back then, I knew next to nothing about editing and publishing. Not surprisingly, the initial rollout was a failure: a few hundred visitors to an ugly website the first day, mostly people already on the Left or friends and family.

The turn to print shortly after was an act of desperation — maybe people would notice us if we were competing with a smaller pool of publications. We got a hundred or so subscribers, enough to help finance the first print run. We needed a couple hundred more between its release and the second issue to keep things going. Things were looking so bleak that the third Jacobin volume, just as thin as the first two, was billed as a double issue.

If the early execution was wanting, the core purpose was always clear. Before we understood publishing, Jacobin had politics. Granted, our contributors didn’t always agree, but they shared a desire to win a tiny, fragmented left back to fundamentals: a class-based analysis of the world that knew (if not exactly how) that the Left’s task was to rebuild working-class organizations capable of capturing and transforming state power.

But we didn’t just want to convince a few thousand people already on the Left. Our ideas were marginal, but they captivated us: the dream of a society without exploitation or oppression, without unnecessary suffering, where every person could reach their potential. A world with our animal problems solved, so we could start dealing with our human ones. This was a vision that once stirred hundreds of millions around the world. And we knew there was still an audience for it beyond the Left’s ghettos.

The second purpose of Jacobin, then, was to be an ambassador for socialist ideas. We wanted to be plain spoken and bullshit free. At our best we’ve done this, reaching thousands through our reading groups and print publications and millions online.

After a rocky start we’ve grown faster and more sustainably than we ever expected. But we have no illusions about how marginal we still are. Going from a few hundred to twenty thousand subscribers in a few years is a nice story, but it only matters if our political mission is advancing.

What that mission is, however, has never been clearer. We publish pieces that reveal the truth about capitalism: a system based on exploitation and the degradation of the human spirit. Most of our daily online posts don’t seem to go deeper than that. But we also have a vision of a world after capitalism, one built from the wealth and abundance around us. We want to radically extend democracy into spheres liberalism has always shied away from — the social and economic realm — and challenge private property in order to foster the type of collectivism that can truly create conditions for individual flourishing.

But most importantly, we have some idea about how to get from our miserable here to that lofty there. We, like many before us, see the working class as an agent of change. While working people are as different and divided as ever, they are still positioned to rattle the capitalist cage and win real gains. As socialists we believe the short-term struggle for reforms can not only help millions suffering today, but also put workers in a better position to win more radical demands in the future. This doesn’t mean that struggle happens at a steady pace or in a straight line — there will be great upheavals and ruptures en route to a socialist society — but it does mean that we’re serious about meeting people and movements where they are and engaging with them.

Of course, even amid a small revival of socialist thought and practice, this abstract vision seems just that. William Morris wrote in 1885 that the real business of socialists is to convince workers that they are a class, whereas they ought to be a society. Today, we might have to convince about that class part too.

Still, I hope this note provides some clarity about our aim: helping in small part to foster class consciousness and build the institutions that can tame and eventually overcome capital.

Socialism is the name of our desire, but it may not be what the movements that will one day transform the world will use. In the meantime, we hope we can continue to play a role keeping alive the dream of liberty, equality, and solidarity.

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