Socialist Editor Crushes Labor Organizing Effort at Leftist Magazine

Karl Marx monument in Chemnitz, Germany (Matthias Rietschel/Reuters)

A group of full and part time employees at Current Affairs, a leftist political and cultural magazine founded in 2016, were terminated for attempting to organize a worker co-op.

Editor-in-Chief Nathan J. Robinson, author of Why You Should Be A Socialist, fired the staff members for pushing for organizational restructuring that would limit his power over the company, the dismissed employees alleged in a statement Wednesday.

According to the co-signers, the staff had workshopped the idea of restructuring for nearly two years, and all, including Robinson, had indicated a real interest in fostering a more “democratic workplace where all voices were equally valued.”

“We discussed it informally, we tried piecemeal reforms, we did a full-organization survey and one-on-one interviews with editors and staff to try to find a consensus on a collective vision,” the letter affirmed.

The “Operating Structure” section of the website reiterates the company’s goal to establish a culture that empowers its workers. “With a small staff (five full-time employees as of Jan 1, 2021), a part-time pod-master, and a volunteer editorial board who are all very passionate about the project, we are working on becoming a truly democratic workplace,” it says.

Once the restructuring conversations shifted from brainstorming to implementation, however, Robinson’s tone changed. On a Zoom call on August 7 in which the reforms were being discussed, he became agitated and started accusing the employees of discarding the creative mission he outlined in Current Affairs’ first issue.

The next morning, Robinson requested that a number of employees resign and removed their access to the company communication channels, pledging to hire new staff members to replace those he had expelled “without warning.” He also eliminated a few positions, including that of freelance contractor Aisling McCrea.

When Managing & Amusements Editor Lyta Gold reportedly called Robinson and asked “Are you firing me?,” he replied, “Yeah,” according to the statement.

The left-leaning outfit prides itself on being a whimsical, eclectic collective of writers and thinkers dedicated to Marxist ideals of class struggle, workers’ resistance, identity politics, and radical social change, among other progressive values.

The digital version boasts a “Labor” category with commentary on the minimum wage, communist philosophy, unionization, exploitative capitalist practices as well as interviews with labor organizers. In April 2020, the outlet’s former Poet-at-Large Cate Root wrote a guide for disaffected workers and sprouting activists seeking better conditions from their occupations called “How to Organize.”

Despite his magazine’s outward commitment to socialism, however, Robinson appeared to have abandoned the cause when it challenged his own authority over Current Affairs.

While Robinson first claimed he had “lost faith” in the discharged employees’ “ability to work together,” he later sent follow-up emails reversing his reasoning, stating instead that he didn’t want Current Affairs to be run as a democratic project.

“This organization has been heading slowly for some kind of reckoning where it was going to have to be made clear once and for all what kind of authority I wanted to have over it. And I was in denial about the fact that the answer is I think I should be on top of the org chart, with everyone else selected by me and reporting to me. I let Current Affairs build up into a sort of egalitarian community of friends while knowing in my heart that I still thought of it as my project over which I should have control,” Robinson explained in an email.

The statement drafted by fired employees blasted Robinson’s ineptitude in managing the company and his “controlling and dishonest actions.”

“We are sad, aghast, betrayed, and of course, angry to realize that this person we trusted has been lying to us for years,” the employees’ statement reads. “When it comes to running an organization, he simply isn’t up to the task.” The employees cited an another email from Robinson in which he admits as much.

“I think you saw yesterday that ultimately I just felt Current Affairs slipping slowly away from me and I took an insane course of action to do what I thought would get it back. I am not good at running an organization. I freely admit this,” Robinson reportedly wrote.

The editor-in-chief did not respond to request for comment.

The fired employees left no ambiguity as to the hypocritical undertones of Robinson’s actions, declaring, “Yes, we were fired by the editor-in-chief of a socialist magazine for trying to start a worker co-op.”

Robinson has long praised socialism as a system that allows workers to control how money is spent and who leads their company.

He has mocked the ideology’s critics in the past, dismissing Ben Shapiro’s qualms on Twitter in June 2021, “Imagine if you controlled your workplace and could decide how the money was spent and your boss was an elected leader rather than a feudal tyrant. what horror!”

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