29 votes

The current affairs at Current Affairs is that everyone has been fired

20 comments

  1. [10]
    nothis
    Link
    I'm about as left as you can get without actively printing leaflets but it's headlines like that which make me think the left is eating itself alive. Mr Robinson sure comes off as an asshole in...

    I'm about as left as you can get without actively printing leaflets but it's headlines like that which make me think the left is eating itself alive. Mr Robinson sure comes off as an asshole in this but I'd love to actually see the point by point "organizational restructuring" his employees were planning as that, too, sounds like it had limitless potential for disaster.

    My theory, for a while now, is that in recent years the left has achieved something like actual power in parts of the US (big cities, college campuses, the media) and struggles to actually make sense of it. You hear "fight the power" rhetoric from groups in actual power and it sounds wrong and awkward and ultimately serves as ammunition for the right. You have a successful left magazine and you're burning it to the ground from the inside because its organization wasn't direct democratic enough or something.

    16 votes
    1. dubteedub
      Link Parent
      I mean, this was Nathan's own words on the topic on the reorganization from the linked staff letter: He stated outright that he simply wanted full control and did not want to share in any...

      I mean, this was Nathan's own words on the topic on the reorganization from the linked staff letter:

      This organization has been heading slowly for some sort 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.

      He stated outright that he simply wanted full control and did not want to share in any leadership of the magazine. I don't blame any of the workers for wanting a greater voice in an organization that is founded on democratic and socialist principles. Nathan is the one that had a meltdown, deactivated the slack accounts for his staff, and fired them.

      I am mostly just frustrated that so many thought of Nathan as a leftist thought leader rather than the grifter that he clearly is.

      20 votes
    2. [4]
      novov
      Link Parent
      The generally accepted definition of socialism is a system where the "workers control the means of production". Most socialists, including Robinson in the past, have interpreted this to mean a...

      The generally accepted definition of socialism is a system where the "workers control the means of production". Most socialists, including Robinson in the past, have interpreted this to mean a fully democratic workplace. This is is hardly the left eating itself, or some new crazy frustration; this is Robinson going against basic socialist principles that have been established by Marx and others.

      15 votes
      1. [2]
        wycy
        Link Parent
        To me, workers controlling the means of production applies mainly to production critical to society, not literally every possible means of production and every tiny employer. To me, it means...

        To me, workers controlling the means of production applies mainly to production critical to society, not literally every possible means of production and every tiny employer. To me, it means public ownership of infrastructure, healthcare systems, food production, critical manufacturing, etc.

        In my view of socialism, private ownership of non-critical infrastructure, restaurants, entertainment, small biz, etc is fine so long as workers can unionize. I'd have a problem if NJR was preventing the formation of a union. I don't really have a problem with him preventing the loss of control of his tiny entertainment company.

        9 votes
        1. vord
          Link Parent
          I've always understood that one core of socialism is the idea that you don't earn wealth by owning stuff, you earn wealth by doing work. So if you have a business, the only way to insure that...

          I've always understood that one core of socialism is the idea that you don't earn wealth by owning stuff, you earn wealth by doing work.

          So if you have a business, the only way to insure that keeps happening is to have full democracy. Or the 'owner' can just hire enough people to do all the work for them and just collect a check. If you want total control of a workplace, keep it a sole proprietorship. If Robinson wants such tight control, he should stick to blogging.

          Drawing a parrallel to Stallman...many argued he was irrelevant to the FSF anymore (given his controversial nature) and he was ousted from an org he created.

          Why should founders of companies be exempt from this same kind of ousting via workplace democracy?

          8 votes
      2. AnthonyB
        Link Parent
        What exactly are the means of production when we're talking about a magazine? While I'm disappointed by this news, I can understand his reluctance to cede control over the creative direction of...

        What exactly are the means of production when we're talking about a magazine? While I'm disappointed by this news, I can understand his reluctance to cede control over the creative direction of the magazine since the majority of the staff in question aren't writers. I'm not sure how much of that was ever at risk, though. Unfortunately, all we have for context is a letter and a series of tweets - neither of which go into details of what the restructuring would actually look like. I feel like I'm missing something.

        5 votes
    3. NaraVara
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Well there's the people who are involved in politics and policy and there's the people who are involved in media. The former are focused on getting and wielding power. The latter are focused on...

      My theory, for a while now, is that in recent years the left has achieved something like actual power in parts of the US (big cities, college campuses, the media) and struggles to actually make sense of it.

      Well there's the people who are involved in politics and policy and there's the people who are involved in media. The former are focused on getting and wielding power. The latter are focused on getting and holding peoples' attention. Nothing gets attention like controversy and, since Leftist media mostly exists on social media platforms that specifically optimize for controversy, you can see where this is going.

      The key, I think, is to just drop these people whose primary forms of activism and political engagement comes through podcasting, publishing explicitly leftist zines, streaming, or begging for supporters on Patreon who need to make a living by attracting traffic and eyeballs. That's a case of trying to use the One Ring against its own master. It will not work, it will corrupt any who try.

      Better to focus on the boring ones who actually do useful work in the real world. Podcasts and such are fine for education and entertainment, but not for activism.

      11 votes
    4. [3]
      Flashynuff
      Link Parent
      I'm curious what you consider to be "the left", because I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that socialists, communists, or anarchists have any sort of actual power right now.

      I'm curious what you consider to be "the left", because I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that socialists, communists, or anarchists have any sort of actual power right now.

      10 votes
      1. [2]
        nothis
        Link Parent
        Democratic socialism and anarchism (or true communism, for that matter) are so far away from each other in terms of real-life feasibility that they barely compare. I'm thinking of "left" as about...

        Democratic socialism and anarchism (or true communism, for that matter) are so far away from each other in terms of real-life feasibility that they barely compare. I'm thinking of "left" as about the policy of a leading social democratic party in a rich European country. That's where "left" policy is real, established and successful. Goals like good universal healthcare, recognizing minority rights, regulating the market within reasonable limits. Nothing particularly utopian.

        I'm also deliberately picking key niches where I believe "left" policies are becoming mainstream in the US: Big cities, college campuses and the media (also, Bernie Sanders is the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, that's gotta count for something, right?). Country-wide, that is still a minority, sure. But it's hard to argue that there aren't key positions in which "the left" (not anarcho-communists) are in a position of power.

        IMO there's a real chance now of enacting sensible policies (decriminalizing drugs, limiting police power, investing in green energy, taxing the rich) while looking like the calm, new normal. Instead, we still have slogans like "abolish the police". I recognize slogans like that from my college days and back then it often seemed like you had to exaggerate everything so at least half of your demands even get recognized. But what if your demands suddenly become mainstream?

        Current Affairs probably isn't the best example of this, sure. But I'd be surprised if their weird "uprising" drama wasn't at least partially related to their success. I think they got bored. I think the left needs to at least look for a new hobby, other than finding new sources of outrage.

        6 votes
        1. Flashynuff
          Link Parent
          These seem like two very different parts of "the left". I think it's unsurprising that socialists, communists, and anarchists would continue trying to fight the power when they don't have it, and...

          You hear "fight the power" rhetoric from groups in actual power

          I'm thinking of "left" as about the policy of a leading social democratic party in a rich European country.

          These seem like two very different parts of "the left". I think it's unsurprising that socialists, communists, and anarchists would continue trying to fight the power when they don't have it, and Current Affairs was hardly a social democratic magazine.

          Big cities, college campuses and the media

          Would you mind expanding on the leftist policies you think are becoming mainstream in these niches? My impression is that these three groups have all adopted much of the rhetoric of left policies without any of the actual implementation

          Instead, we still have slogans like "abolish the police". I recognize slogans like that from my college days and back then it often seemed like you had to exaggerate everything so at least half of your demands even get recognized. But what if your demands suddenly become mainstream?

          ...The world would be a better place? Why would you demand something you don't want?

          4 votes
  2. [2]
    EgoEimi
    Link
    I find in my adult life experiences that in whatever system human nature can't help itself in being self-interested, self-preserving, and self-aggrandizing — and it's through those tendencies...

    I find in my adult life experiences that in whatever system human nature can't help itself in being self-interested, self-preserving, and self-aggrandizing — and it's through those tendencies power intoxicates and corrupts.

    Whenever someone tells me that their organization is flat I hear, "here lie fiefdoms with little chieftains."

    14 votes
    1. Flashynuff
      Link Parent
      This is why it's so, so important to build systems that diffuse and distribute power, even in small informal groups. Most people don't feel like they have power over their lives so the instant...

      This is why it's so, so important to build systems that diffuse and distribute power, even in small informal groups. Most people don't feel like they have power over their lives so the instant they get experience it they'll do anything to hold on to it. I think it's why the boundary between "we all have a say" and "there's no formal rules but the most charismatic person calls all the shots" is very small.

      4 votes
  3. [2]
    Kuromantis
    (edited )
    Link
    If I may quote the introduction to the article: If this is what they're saying it is, this is a massively disproportionate response to something that isn't a problem to anyone but whoever is in...

    If I may quote the introduction to the article:

    They announced the news in a public statement Wednesday morning. Here’s how it starts:

    We, the former full and part-time staff, write to you with deep sadness and disappointment about recent events that have occurred at Current Affairs, On August 8th, editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson (author of Why You Should Be A Socialist) unilaterally fired most of the workforce to avoid an organizational restructuring that would limit his personal power. Yes, we were fired by the editor-in-chief of a socialist magazine for trying to start a worker co-op. (emphasis theirs)

    The statement, which you can read in full here (Google drive link), goes on to describe how the staff gathered for a Zoom meeting on Aug. 7 to discuss the new work model.

    If this is what they're saying it is, this is a massively disproportionate response to something that isn't a problem to anyone but whoever is in charge is the kind of behavior that a leftist would associate and expect from the right-wing and capitalism, which makes this the kind of event that can massively weaken someone's confidence in leftism and boost someone's confidence in conservative and various 'moderate' beliefs. This is not just a stain in his record, reputation or whatever, to many people who see this news, this is a stain on 21st century socialism and leftism.

    12 votes
    1. dubteedub
      Link Parent
      There is definitely some dark humor here. Nathan Robinson has always presented himself as a trust fund socialist that seemed more like an aesthetic to him, rather than something he sincerely...

      There is definitely some dark humor here. Nathan Robinson has always presented himself as a trust fund socialist that seemed more like an aesthetic to him, rather than something he sincerely believed. I mean we are talking about the same guy who wrote the children's book "The Man Who Accidentally Wore His Cravat to a Gymnasium".

      It is also funny to me that not two months ago Nathan Robinson wrote this tweet:

      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!

      Apparently when it came to the organization he founded, it was in fact a horror.

      8 votes
  4. [2]
    Kuromantis
    Link
    Nate has posted a apology on Facebook which is worth posting: (It's a pretty long apology) Unfortunately, a lot of the claims here aren't really verifiable without him posting some sensitive stuff...

    Nate has posted a apology on Facebook which is worth posting:

    (It's a pretty long apology)

    I'm trying to produce a more formal statement about it but bottom line is: I screwed up badly and did not live up to my values. I feel bad because I think I've generally done a good job for five years of making Current Affairs a pretty ethical organization and in a single day I bungled it and disappointed a lot of people. I've got a lot of work to do to rebuild trust, but I'm not sure if CA will survive, as subscribers rightly feel betrayed and we're getting cancelations. I don't blame people who cancel, all I can say is that I tried hard for five years to do right by people who worked for us and I'm really sad that I undid it in a single week. Even though I screwed up, the truth is more complex than the 'fired the staff for wanting democracy' narrative. 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. The organization had become very inefficient, I wasn't exercising any oversight, and we were adrift. I did feel that it badly needed reorganizing. Our subscription numbers had not been doing well lately and I felt I needed to exert some control over the org to get it back on track, asking some people to leave and moving others to different positions. Unfortunately, I went about this in a horrible way that made people feel very disrespected, asking for a bunch of resignations at once and making people feel like I did not appreciate their work for the organization. The charge made in the statement by staff is that I didn't want CA to be a worker cooperative. I think this is complicated, or at least that my motivations are somewhat explicable. A worker cooperative had been floated as one of the possible solutions to the structurelessness problem. I am not sure my position on this was defensible, it might have been deeply hypocritical and wrong and selfish, but I will at least explain how I felt. 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. 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. 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. But I do not think I tried to fix that problem in the right way at all. I have never ever tried to own CA or make a profit from it. This was not about money, or keeping people from getting their rightful share of the proceeds. I am not a capitalist, I do not expropriate surplus value. I have never taken more money for myself than anyone else on the full-time staff got, and want to do everything possible to ensure fair working conditions. What I did want was the ability to remain the executive director of the organization and be able to have staff report to me so as to make sure stuff was getting done. That may have been wrong. But that is how I felt. I am open to believing that this cannot be justified. I can say where the feeling came from which is: for years I made the magazine basically alone in my living room, and I have felt like it is my baby and I know how to run it. It was hard to feel like I was slowly having my ability to run it my way taken away. I think that it's easy to talk about a belief in power sharing but when it comes down to actually sharing power over this thing I have poured my heart and soul into, it felt very very difficult to do. I found it easy to impose good working conditions and equal pay. Giving up control over running CA was a far harder thing for me to accept. This is a personal weakness that ran up against my principle. I am sorry to all of you and to the staff of CA who did so much to make it what it is today. It's my sincere hope that CA makes it through this because I think we have much more great work to do in the future. I will try my very best to make sure this is done in accordance with sound leftist values. This was not that.

    Unfortunately, a lot of the claims here aren't really verifiable without him posting some sensitive stuff out there but, taking his word for it, paints it more as a "I just wanted some minimum oversight over the thing to make sure people are doing their jobs" and a "father wants to keep child" situation. I give this apology a 6/10, which to me is "it's okay, really." His reaction to the event was still quite disproportionate (at least tell people what you think should be done instead of threatening and then firing them, gee!), but it does give much-needed context to the situation.

    7 votes
    1. AnthonyB
      Link Parent
      This makes sense. I mentioned in another comment above that the majority of signatures on the vague google doc were from people who held non-creative/non-editorial positions at the magazine. IMO,...

      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. I had been frustrated at what I saw as encroachments on my domain (editorial) by recently-hired business and admin staff.

      This makes sense. I mentioned in another comment above that the majority of signatures on the vague google doc were from people who held non-creative/non-editorial positions at the magazine. IMO, taking that control away from Robinson and putting it into the hands of people who can't seem to draft a coherent letter or series of tweets is a terrible idea. Imagine going to a restaurant where the bussers and hosts have the same control over the menu as the head chef. That's not a recipe for success. This doesn't absolve him completely, but it does give some important context that justifies his decision.

      5 votes
  5. skybrian
    Link
    One thing I wonder about is to what extent work needs to be a power struggle. Consider someone paying you to give them advice. That doesn’t mean they do what you say. It’s advice. You may have...

    One thing I wonder about is to what extent work needs to be a power struggle.

    Consider someone paying you to give them advice. That doesn’t mean they do what you say. It’s advice. You may have influence, but it’s based on how persuasive you are and their willingness to listen, so it’s not really under your control.

    I think a lot of contract work starts out like that. (With the problem that often people aren’t paid unless they get the bid, which I think is unfair.) When I was doing contract work it was about fixing the customer’s problems as defined by them, though we would have to agree on working conditions and payment.

    It seems like there is often confusion between influence and power. When I was working, I always considered it to be about having influence, not power. There seem to be people who go into things with an activist mindset and they are looking for power?

    If socialists assume that when they go to work for someone that it’s about demanding and holding real power, yeah, I can see conflicts like this happening a lot.

    But I still find it a bit strange that there would be power struggles over who runs a likely money-losing magazine. If you want complete control, wouldn’t a substack make more sense?

    4 votes
  6. [3]
    mrbig
    Link
    I thought Gawker didn't exist anymore.

    I thought Gawker didn't exist anymore.

    5 votes
    1. petrichor
      Link Parent
      I thought that too. It relaunched less than a month ago, apparently. I read through some of their front-page articles. Can't say I'll be rooting for their success.

      I thought that too. It relaunched less than a month ago, apparently.

      I read through some of their front-page articles. Can't say I'll be rooting for their success.

      5 votes