Originally published in the August/September 2019 issue of First Things.
The Socialist Manifesto
by Bhaskar Sunkara
Basic Books, 288 pages, $28
In the spring of 2019, even the staid old AFL-CIO began to dabble in guillotine imagery. The occasion was a dispute between Delta and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The airline had issued a flier reading: “Union dues cost around $700 a year. A new video game system with the latest hits sounds like fun. Put your money towards that instead of paying dues to the union.” The AFL-CIO responded by tweeting an image of a flier reading: “A guillotine only costs $1200 to build. Delta’s CEO made $13.2 million dollars last year. Get outside with your buddies, share some brews—sounds like fun.” Five days after sharing the guillotine meme, the AFL-CIO posted a video in which a self-described “marxist / roofer” gives a two-minute lecture about class and exploitation, which it tweeted with the comment: “We all need to seize the means of production.”
Bhaskar Sunkara has written a manifesto for our socialist moment, a moment he did much to create as founder of Jacobin magazine. He has not entirely succeeded in capturing the spirit of his influential quarterly between hardback covers, partly because so much of the Jacobin experience is visual. Its signature style is an eye-catching cross between an IKEA catalogue and a Brian Eno album cover. The front of the Spring 2019 issue, about the housing crisis, looks like a page of futuristic real estate listings with descriptions like “comrade citizens [rose emoji] register for summer beach house cozy & sunny” and “public pool ~~~gym [arm emoji] newly_expropriated.”