Cockburn understands the appeal of communism. There are times when even he has dreamt of holding property in common — that ill-fated purchase of a timeshare in Cancun, for instance. So he understands the plight of the young idealists at Current Affairs, a magazine founded in 2016 with the mission to ‘help usher in a glorious era of democratic socialism’.
Like the Soviet Union under Stalin, Current Affairs is the private kingdom of one man, in this case the dandy communist Nathan Robinson. For five years, Robinson has been all over Current Affairs like a cheap suit, while a small team of deluded volunteers has labored in his salt mine, generating content for the greater glory of the revolution, and their leader, the Potemkin page-turner. But even five-year plans go awry.
Lyta Gold, who was hired to generate ‘Amusements’, is not amused. Gold claims that when the staff attempted to form a workers’ co-operative, Robinson fired them all. Current Affairs, Robinson told them in a now-leaked email, could no longer be an ‘egalitarian community of friends’. He’s the Maximum Leader. Disagree, and you get the Trotsky retirement package — an ice-pick to the cranium.
Robinson is said to have removed staff members from the company Slack, which is the modern equivalent of being airbrushed out of a photo. The staff accuse him of a pattern of ‘controlling behavior — surely the sort of thing the left likes — and ‘dishonest actions’, the sort of thing that the left usually justifies as the breaking of eggs to make the omelet of utopia.
‘I am not good at running an organization,’ Robinson confessed in a leaked email, like a party hack confessing to Vyshinsky at one of Stalin’s show trials. Robinson tried to hire a new staff, and promised the owners of Current Affairs that he’d ‘write even harder’ and possibly double tractor production to heroic proportions, too. But the Stakhanov of the salon left must now down tools.
Socialism always runs out of other people’s money in the end. In Current Affairs’s case, the money has run out in the middle. Five years in, and they’re out of cash. It can’t be long before Robinson takes a one-way ticket to Mexico City.
‘The board has attempted to find a suitable severance,’ Lyta Gold writes, ‘but all of Current Affairs’ assets are reserved to fulfill the obligations to our subscribers and creditors.’ The running dogs of capitalism have Robinson by the invoices. On Tuesday night, Current Affairs went into suspension, like Lenin in his tomb.
‘The left can be as lonely and vicious as anywhere on the earth,’ Lyta Gold concludes. And Cockburn, when he considers this sad tale of youthful idealism and cheap tailoring, can only agree. Life is full of such lessons in reality. Should he come across Lyta Gold at his club, he will pass her the port and tell her how he too was burned by the communist dream in his ardent youth, and how he never did recover his money from that timeshare in Cancun.