Money and the Economy

Current Affairs Torn Apart By Ownership Dispute Between Co-Founder Nathan J Robinson and Fired Staff

Socialist enterprises are not typically known for being efficient and well-run. So, it’s not exactly surprising that drama and dysfunction are consuming the openly left-wing, anti-capitalist magazine Current Affairs—and may well tear the publication apart.   

The drama started Wednesday, when former high-level employees took to Twitter with lengthy complaints claiming they had been fired for pursuing collective control of the magazine. Former Managing Editor Lyta Gold—whose Twitter profile name is now “Lyta Gold, fired for doing socialism”—wrote in a tweet that she was sacked by Current Affairs Co-Founder Nathan J. Robinson.

“[He] effectively fired me & most of the [Current Affairs] staff because we were trying to organize into a worker’s co-op.”  

“This isn’t a bit,” she added. “I wish it was.”  

Attached to Gold’s post was a formal statement from her and four other former Current Affairs employees. 

“On August 8th, editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson… unilaterally fired most of the workforce to avoid an organizational restructuring that would limit his personal power,” the statement reads. “Yes, we were fired by the editor-in-chief of a socialist magazine for trying to start a worker co-op.” (Emphasis mine). 

In a footnote, the authors note that they were technically asked to resign, but locked out of work platforms prior to agreeing to do so. They characterize this as a de facto termination and claim that Robinson told some of the employees directly that they were being fired. 

This claim—that employees of a socialist magazine were canned for wanting collective ownership—has made headlines across the media for its seeming rank hypocrisy and comedic value. But the story runs deeper. 

In a lengthy Facebook statement responding to the backlash, Robinson wrote that “the truth is more complex than the ‘fired the staff for wanting democracy’ narrative.” 

The editor noted that he is “not a capitalist,” “do[es] not expropriate surplus value,” and has run the organization according to “egalitarian” principles. Robinson said that all the full-time employees at the organization were paid the same, $45,000 a year, and that he had “never ever tried to own [Current Affairs] or make a profit from it.”

“Anyone can tell you I don’t order people about,” he wrote in the statement. “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.”

Robinson went on to explain that the reason he opposed “democratic” ownership or control of Current Affairs was not that he was a capitalist, but because he feared that such control “was going to result in further disorganized chaos and slowly ‘bureaucratize’ [Current Affairs] into oblivion.”

While defending and explaining his position, Robinson’s statement does include a direct apology and a fair amount of groveling.

He writes that “it’s my sincere hope that [Current Affairs] makes it through this because I think we have much more great work to do in the future.” Robinson then promises he “will try [his] very best to make sure this is done in accordance with sound leftist values.”

But therein lies the problem.  

As of now, the magazine is on hiatus for one month and employees are receiving pay through September. I hope for the sake of Robinson, Gold, and the other employees that things turn around and they are able to work out a situation where their livelihoods are preserved. But doing so “in accordance with sound leftist values” will likely prove impossible, because those values—not just one dispute over becoming a worker co-op—are what have turned the organization into a failed venture torn apart by woke dysfunction. 

Robinson describes an organization with no management structure or accountability, overcome by bureaucracy and inefficiency, and warns that their subscriber numbers are suffering. While anti-capitalist journalists might not realize it, these are the defining characteristics of socialist enterprises devoid of the profit motive. 

As I’ve previously written

Private businesses are driven to efficiency by the profit motive. A company-wide system that is broken and bleeding money is, in short order, fixed—or if it cannot be, that company will soon be driven out of business by more efficient competitors. This influences the behavior, not only of the business’s owners, but of its hired managers, and thus all its employees.

Fundamentally, in private enterprise, everyone involved has skin in the game. So, while mistakes still certainly happen, there’s a strong incentive to correct them and push for as much efficiency as is possible.

So, if the staff of Current Affairs really want to salvage their organization, forget forming a “worker cooperative.” Instead, they should try running the socialist magazine like a business. That will surely work much better, and the experience may lead them to question their socialist assumptions.

Like this story? Click here to sign up for the FEE Daily and get free-market news and analysis like this from Policy Correspondent Brad Polumbo in your inbox every weekday.




This article was originally published on FEE.org

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