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Socialist 'Current Affairs' Founder Takes the Red Pill After His Socialist Staff Makes Socialist Demands

(Current Affairs YouTube screenshot)

I’m going to admit from the start here that until a few days ago, I had no idea who Nathan J. Robinson, nor his publication Current Affairs, were. As a survivor of the late ’60s and a student of history, it would be a surprising “democratic socialist” publication that said anything, well, surprising.

Until today, when Nathan J had to swallow the red pill and admit that a good socialist workers collective doesn’t actually do good work.

The photo above shows Nathan J in his full freaking glory.

Forest green blazer, lavender dress shirt, purple tie, fuchsia boutonniere, a v-neck sweater-vest, and a white Panama hat with a wide black band. Not a tiny bit affected.

Not that writers making affected clothing choices is new. Ray Bradbury usually wore a white suit, and Tom Wolfe was famous for his dapper white suits and walking stick.

Author and journalist Tom Wolfe, Jr. appears in his living room during an interview. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

Nathan J makes it look like a Technicolor movie from the first days of Technicolor, full of oversaturated colors and odd color choices that pop on film.

A quick glance at the front page of Current Affairs makes it clear it wasn’t going to be that surprising socialist publication. For example, here’s a front-page article by Nathan J himself: Manatees Are Better Than Us. Here’s the glib little excerpt:

Is a utopian pacifistic society possible? The lives of manatees show that it is possible to live without violence or the state.

In other words, Nathan J is holding up as a model for human society a nearly-extinct species of corpulent sea sloths subsisting on seaweeds.

But then… Technicolor Tom Wolfe took the red pill. On August 18, lyta gold [sic] published a letter on Twitter.

She and a number of others had been fired, or “asked to resign,” after they had tried to exert control over Current Affairs through a “worker’s co-op.”

It seems that Nathan J discovered, after long discussions with the workers, that he “wanted to remain in control of the organization.”

It’s clear that the other members of this worker’s co-op feel he’s being a really bad person for wanting to maintain some control over his creation.

Nathan J did publish a lengthy defense on Facebook. In it, he says:

I’ve done many egalitarian things with Current Affairs. I don’t earn any more than anyone else (we all get $45k a year). I gave up ownership over it, and don’t make any kind of profit from it. Anyone can tell you I don’t order people about. Everyone works when they like. I’ve hardly ever exerted authority over it internally at all. Partly as a result, the organization developed a kind of messy structurelessness where it wasn’t clear who had power to do what and there was not much accountability for getting work done.

No one who ever lived in a commune in the ’60s will find that unfamiliar.

Since starting CA, I have resisted making Current Affairs ‘owned’ by staff not because I want to own it myself but because I don’t want it to be owned at all, I want it to operate as a not for profit institution that does not belong to particular people. Now, I don’t want to be a workplace dictator, and I think nobody can say that before this I acted like one in my day-to-day work, but I do feel a strong sense of possession over the editorial vision and voice of the magazine, having co-founded it and worked at it the longest.

Translation: “I started this, dammit, and I want to see it work.”

I had been frustrated at what I saw as encroachments on my domain (editorial) by recently-hired business and admin staff. I had also been frustrated that people were in jobs that clearly weren’t working.

In other words, at some point, the work needs to get done.

Plans that were discussed for making the organization more horizontal in its decision-making seemed like they would (1) make it impossible to fix the structurelessness problem and exacerbate the problem of lack of oversight/accountability/reporting structure (2) make it less and less possible for me to actually make the magazine what I think it can be. I felt that without making sure we had the right people in jobs, this was going to result in further disorganized chaos and slowly “bureaucratize” CA into oblivion.

The history of “worker’s co-ops” certainly would predict this, however. Look into the history of kibbutzes, for example. He goes on:

But I do not think I tried to fix that problem in the right way at all.

Here I think he’s wrong: If you don’t want to do what the boss thinks is best for the company, then you should be expected to be asked to seek other opportunities. So I guess it means he hasn’t totally taken the red pill. Yet.

Robinson deleted his original Facebook post (but the Internet is forever, I have a copy) and replaced it with a detailed Google doc. It may or may not survive but I have a copy of that as well.

But here’s the point: Nathan J discovered that his socialist staff wanted to be socialists and didn’t want to do the things that would make the publication successful. And he disagreed.