By Bhaskar Sunkara
I’ve been working odd jobs and starting businesses all my life. It’s a hustler spirit fitting with my immigrant roots, a key part of my identity. Quintessentially American, even. Self-reliance is something I’m proud of – I’ve always loved Westerns. For an avowed socialist, it’s all a bit problematic.
At dawn, I wake up, put on something sharp and work as the publisher of Jacobin magazine – prominent by the slim standards of the American left – and as a freelancer at more mainstream outlets. I tried my hand at regular wage-labor once. It wasn’t for me.
In high school, I stocked shelves at a Key Foods Grocery Store in my hometown for all of nine weeks. My family was middle-class, but there was never enough money, even with two parents working 60-hour weeks. My mother eventually got a job at telemarketing firm. My father, a medical professional overseas, struggled to both support his family and get recertified. His diplomas meant little here. Fresh from Trinidad and Tobago, it was the price they had to pay to keep me and my four siblings in a district with a good public school.
In America, we actually do have something of a social democracy. But it’s localized and exclusionary, reliant on high property taxes. I was the youngest in my family, and by the time I was growing up, we were renting a small house in one of those cushy suburbs. I had access to public goods, a safe environment to grow up in, food, housing, books, recreation, and all the other necessities to flourish as an individual.
But my parents were hardly around. Childcare fell to the public library, where I lingered after school until they got off their shifts. My classmates were there for the first hour or so; after that, the stacks became my friends. I picked up Richard Wright, then Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky, and transformed into something of a leftist – connecting lived experience in an unequal society with broader structures of exploitation.