Earlier this week, socialist magazine Current Affairs imploded as former staffers wrote that “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.”
But now, Robinson has offered another side of the story: His staffers were all white, and they objected to him hiring a woman of color. By asserting authority, rather than making decisions as a team, he could have remediated that.
In a lengthy open letter, Robinson details how the all-white socialists allegedly struggled with the decision of whether a new job should be filled with a white person or a minority.
“I became deeply frustrated that the business/admin staff did not grasp the importance of diversifying our staff. As a socialist magazine with an ostensible commitment to racial justice, maintaining an all-white staff when we had a choice to diversify would be unconscionable,” he wrote.
Robinson said staffers, including an unnamed business manager, tried to find ways to justify how to “hire the white person without feeling icky and racist.”
In a screenshot of an internal chat, Robinson said: “When we began this search we said very clearly that we had a strong preference for a woman of color for this position. If we have two candidates who are clearly both extremely qualified, and one is white and one is not, I don’t think coming up with a workaround in order to hire the white person is justified.”
Lyta Gold, the managing editor, replied in the chat that they had not seen enough objective data to know who was most qualified. “If [redacted] clearly does better than [redacted] then we have to figure out how much to weight diversity. [We] however do not know anything at all right now, in part because a certain editor in chief made decisions about qualifications even before receiving editing test 1.0… [I] would really caution everyone to relax and try not to form an opinion until we have the second editing test.”
In his open letter, Robinson said: “The manner in which the business manager attempted to use her position to block the choice of an exceptional woman of color for a full-time editorial position and maintain an all white staff caused me to entirely lose faith in her ability to remain part of the organization long-term, and was the point at which I realized the magazine was in significant risk of straying from its mission… my disagreements with staff had nothing to do with worker rights or labor conditions.”
Robinson did say that the egalitarian nature of the socialist magazine had led to it becoming inefficient and stagnant. “There was a serious ‘structurelessness’ problem, with people having unclear roles and unclear titles. There was a lack of any supervision of work, resulting in work not getting done. Current Affairs had become more of a club of friends than a fighting socialist magazine effecting change in the world. I am entirely responsible for the development of these problems, which resulted in large part from my negligence over the years in making clear who was expected to do what,” he wrote.
But the immediate issue at hand, he said, was that workers wanted an equal say in who to hire — and they seemed to want to hire the white person rather than the minority. He thought, as editor in chief, the decision should be his:
The major conflict between myself and the other full-time staff was not over labor practices but over whether our hiring practices sufficiently embodied a commitment to racial diversity. To the extent that my desire to maintain my leadership role in the organization played a role in my decisions, it was not because I was trying to maintain exploitative arrangements or resist worker rights, but because I wanted to make sure I can keep the editorial content of Current Affairs consistent with its original mission.
Was the magazine’s collapse a result of betraying its stated concerns for workplace rights or for social justice? It depends on who you believe.
Adrian Rennix, a Current Affairs editor who is gender nonbinary and previously went by Brianna Renix, wrote in their own letter that the issue is that Robinson had helped the minority candidate cheat by giving her advice on the editing test, causing its result to be unreliable.
“For all that Nathan now claims that he does not want total control and ownership over Current Affairs and wanted a board-owned nonprofit model for this reason, I would note that he… has locked all board members out of the company slack, the Current Affairs website, and Current Affairs social media.”
On Twitter, Gold wrote that “I do not recommend finding out that a close friend is a manipulative liar but if you do have to be in this situation, it honestly helps to have other friends + strangers who are all figuring it out at the same time too.”
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