Socialist magazine founder fires staff for socialist organizing, confesses he felt ownership of what he'd made

I love this story so much that I want to move in with it and live happily ever after. Seriously this is just one of those moments when a leading proponent of leftist politics reveals himself to be a complete flaming hypocrite. It’s not even contested at this point because, as of two hours ago, he has admitted as much.

If you’re not familiar with Nathan J. Robinson, he has a doctorate in sociology from Harvard but is probably best known as a writer who had a long sting as a socialist columnist for the Guardian. In 2015 he founded his own site called Current Affairs, an online political magazine that promotes his socialist views.

I feel like I should provide an example and I swear this was the first thing I came across on his site with Robinson’s name on the byline: “Manatees Are Better Than Us.” The subhead reads, “Is a utopian pacifistic society possible? The lives of manatees show that it is possible to live without violence or the state.”

Well, it turns out that manatees are definitely better at utopian socialism than Nathan J. Robinson. We know this for certain because today a group of his former employees announced they had all been fired after they tried to form a worker’s co-op. Apparently doing socialism at the socialist magazine was grounds for termination.

“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.”…

“When we finally got around to discussing organizational models during a Zoom meeting on August 7th, Nathan became agitated. He instated that in our attempt to set shared internal values, we were disregarding his vision for the Current Affairs as published in the first issue,” the letter said.

“The next morning, he started removing people from the company Slack, and sent letters requesting resignations, eliminating positions, and in some cases offering new ‘honorary titles’ which would have no say in governance.”

The full letter was posted on Twitter. It states that 24 hours after saying he’d lost all faith in the staff, Robinson reversed course and admitted he just didn’t want his magazine to be “a democratic workplace.”

“We are sad, aghast, betrayed, and of course, angry to realize that this person we trusted has been lying to us for years,” the former employees state. They note that Robinson eventually wrote an email to them admitting “I am not good at running an organization.” Well, not a socialist one, anyway.

As mentioned above, Robinson has written a long mea culpa on Facebook which admits his handling of this was awful and that his magazine may not survive the fallout:

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…

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.

What Robinson is describing is completely normal. This really was his baby and he really did put more into it than anyone else, so of course he wanted to continue to guide it and shape it and have some measure of control over it. But that idea is clearly at odds with his own stated views and, more importantly, those of his like-minded readers. But it’s worth saying that the problem here isn’t Robinson’s feelings about his own magazine; it’s his dumb ideology which insists he shouldn’t feel ownership of anything, even his own magazine.

Finally, Lee Fang from the Intercept had a pretty strong reaction to this story even though he’s coming from a very different perspective. Fang sees Robinson’s downfall as a long overdue public unraveling of a wealthy socialist cosplayer.