I am not an admirer of the original Jacobins, and for this reason I cannot support any media venture that derives its name from that movement. The magazine has on occasion shown itself to be a lucid defender of truth and justice, as for example in a recent defense of serious social-scientific critique of capitalism, against the frivolous academic-blogger culture’s displacement of our attention to the all-pervasiveness of gender, and that same culture’s vain dream of fixing the associated problems by compelling everyone, pretty much, to just watch their language, and to make regular public performances of preparedness for privilege-checking, of ‘radical humility’. “Give me a card-carrying brocialist over one of these oily ‘allies’ any day” is surely among the most refreshingly exasperated pleas from the left I’ve read in a long, long time.
But still, shame on Jacobin for helping to turn a murder weapon into an icon of urban radical fashion. I understand that from a certain point of view it is the same desire for ‘realness’ that motivates them both to publish lovely screeds against silly liberal moralizing and dead-end identity-mongering, on the one hand, and on the other hand to insist that what they are really pushing for is revolution, and that revolution means heads are going to roll, etc. But in truth I strongly suspect that most educated urban twenty-somethings who flirt with the symbol do so in the secret hope and expectation that it is never in fact going to come to that, that they will never be called on to pull the lever on a Goldman Sachs CEO, or on the small child of a Goldman Sachs CEO (nipping inheritance structures in the bud), or on a former comrade now accused of harboring too many deviations.
Jacobin, it seems to me, suffers from the same flaws as its critics, though not necessarily through any fault on the part of its editors or contributors. The problem is this: what does it mean to be left wing in an era when, despite the global economic crisis, there is, in the Western world at least, no organised working class, and no class consciousness to speak of?
…Jacobin‘s demands are, for the most part, squarely social democratic: universal basic income, environmental protection, universal healthcare and so on. There is nothing wrong with being a social democrat, but it is not Marxism. Perhaps it is more realistic than Marxism, but the mixing-up of the two traditions is a serious error, one committed continually throughout the last century by left and right alike. Marxism’s legacy is more than just a pile of corpses. That said, many of today’s youthful soi disant Marxists do appear to have a worrying fetish for Stalinism and should perhaps have a quick flick through Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler—a man whose work cannot be written off, despite his being a truly despicable human being: a misogynist, philanderer and alleged rapist, as it happens. If that’s too much, try Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, or my personal favourite The First Circle. At least as far as I know Solzhenitsyn’s only crimes were to be a Russian nationalist and beard-owner.