With the popularity of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Americans are embracing the class politics of socialism. But what, exactly, is socialism? And what would a socialist system in America look like? Bhaskar Sunkara explores socialism's history since the mid-1800s and presents a vision for its future.
...the core audience for the Manifesto is swing voters who prefer their critiques of capitalism unsullied by identitarian cant about racial divisions ... who can fault Sunkara as he deigns to appeal to the people as they are? ... A stickler for concision, Sunkara packs into its 288-page frame, alongside the inaugural speculative fiction, a condensed history of prior socialist movements across the world ... No sentence is difficult to diagram; the imposing analytic thickets typical of Western Marxist writing have been leveled down to the simplicity of grass ... Sunkara presents an encyclopedic knowledge of various American anti-capitalist parties ... By the end of the recital a lamenting tone creeps into his measured prose ... The Socialist Manifesto is restrained, almost apologetic; it is haunted by the specters of pessimism and belatedness, the knowledge that socialism has already been tried, already been found wanting ... a sustained and penetrating analysis of present-day America—its economy, society, culture, and politics—is as absent from The Socialist Manifesto as the hard accounting of how much risk one runs in seeking to improve America for its most oppressed citizens. Not only does this book begin with make-believe, its unrealness never ends.
Like all socialists, the author vastly underestimates both man’s inclination to increase his own wealth and his concomitant penchant for freeloading. But unlike the ordinary socialist, Mr. Sunkara writes with a self-effacing cheerfulness ... What distinguishes the manifesto of this 29-year-old Brooklyn-based editor of Jacobin magazine is its open admission that the future could go either way ... We should probably be encouraged to see socialists drop the conceit that the future is theirs and admit the reality that unhappiness awaits us no matter the size of our welfare state, but surely the allure of socialism was always its glorious inevitability. Without that, it’s left with aesthetics and attitude.
...[an] erudite call to action ... The whimsy fades away, however, in the second section ... Sunkara does not attempt to seem unbiased; he draws more positives out of the socialist-turned-authoritarian movements in Russia and China than most history textbooks do. Still, his recommendations for today’s socialists are logical and well-informed.