Amber A'Lee Frost, American Affairs Journal, November 2019
Editor’s Note: Below are a few of the more interesting anecdotes found in the author’s much lengthier essay, “The Characterless Opportunism of the Managerial Class.” The author, Amber A’Lee Frost is a very dedicated socialist, but is unafraid of making observations about race, and equally unafraid of criticizing theatrical “woke” politics and the Left’s “cancel culture.” Indeed, I have posted her writings to the AmRen newsfeed before, and consider her one of the more notable figures in the always interesting “anti-anti-white Left” — which of course lands her in plenty of controversy. Before diving in, a bit of context: The essay’s focus is in analyzing the “professional managerial class” which Miss Frost abbreviates as “PMC” and it draws heavily from the works of Barbara Ehrenreich and Hans Magnus Enzensberger.
Is There Aught We Hold in Common with the Greedy Parasite?
What does the professional middle class have to gain, or perhaps to lose, in a more egalitarian future? The problem with middle-class liberalism—perhaps the worst problem—was that it never asked the question. It assumed that American affluence was sufficient to embrace all those in poverty without any loss to those who were not. And it assumed that any gains to the middle class itself would be purely spiritual, leaving the way open for right-wing theories of the liberal elite’s “real” motives and agenda. —Barbara Ehrenreich, Fear of Falling
I am a longtime member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a curiously wholesome anti-capitalist organization founded in 1982 by Cold War–era social democrat Michael Harrington, just before liberals like Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the “end of history.” The DSA has been for some time the largest socialist organization in the United States, and it has been a strange, sometimes joyous, and often distressing experience watching the membership explode and the organization change after Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign. (Funnily enough, Barbara Ehrenreich was once an honorary chair of the DSA, though that position was abolished at the 2017 National Conference in a fit of Oedipal exuberance.)
I am still at times asked to speak at DSA events, including a recent one for the DSA Tech Action Working Group—a decidedly PMC collection of DSA members working in tech. Inspired by Google software engineer James Damore’s infamous “anti-diversity memo,” the subject I was to speak on was “diversity in tech.” The friend who asked me to speak rightly recognized that the tech industry is no longer a small cabal of entrepreneurial specialists but is increasingly expanding into a global labor force of workers—from petit bourgeois to prole, if you will.
I cannot, however, say I found many examples of such workers at this event. Multiple representatives from HR departments spoke up, one to say that “it’s all about hiring practices,” and to urge the attendees to come to HR whenever they had a problem. One woman wanted to read a long academic article about a typesetters’ union fighting automation and other changes that would open the floodgates for underpaid, largely female scab labor. She was under the impression that this exposed the sexist nature of trade unions.
The crowd was very “diverse” in all the Ikea commercial ways that warm our Coca-Cola liberal hearts, but some of the most insightful observations came from the bearded and (presumably) cishet white males. One timidly put forth that “HR actually works for management,” while another recognized that the biggest source of “diversity” in the tech industry is highly exploited third-world call-center workers.
At first glance, the superior class consciousness of the beardy white male tech bro may appear counterintuitive, but it is a function of tech industry managerialism that he has a better view of class conflict. As an industry, tech has thoroughly absorbed “diversity” into its corporate culture and HR programming, for both legal liability and liberal credibility reasons. If you’re a woman and/or minority working for Google and your job is miserable, you are told by the whole world—and by your employer itself—that this is because you are a woman and/or minority. But, you are also told, your employer is here with sensitivity trainings, diversity initiatives, and at-will firing practices (you know, for the bad employees) to remedy all of that and to build a better work environment and, thereby, a more egalitarian world. If, however, you are a straight white man working for Google and your job is miserable, you know it’s because your job is miserable, and the company isn’t there to help you. Liberal identitarian HR obfuscations don’t work as well on exploited and precarious dude-bros.
The evening culminated during the Q and A, wherein a woman earnestly asked, “What do I do if some alt-right guy wants to be in the union?”
Visibly vexed, I replied that if an alt-right guy wants to be in your union, you won.
This statement was met with noticeable consternation, so I went on to explain that you want everyone in the union because the end goal is a closed shop. I explained that this is the very premise of a union: it is not a social club for people of shared progressive values; it’s a shared struggle, and collective politics are the only thing that can actually break down all that office bigotry you’re so concerned about. She did not appear convinced.
I use this particular anecdote to illustrate the obstacles to building a socialist PMC, but I have many others (particularly in the recent spate of white collar unionism), and herein lies the tragic irony of the great middle class exodus: even when they fall, and even when they find themselves in “Left spaces,” they are still too proximal to management—or at least believe themselves to be—to imagine much beyond human resources liberalism. Very frequently, they view blue-collar workers as inherently illiberal antagonists. (Just look at the response to the failed Clinton campaign by prominent members of the liberal media and academia, who have finally answered their favorite old canard of “Why do the working class vote against their own interests?” with accusations of innate bigotry and misogyny.)
This also points to the weaknesses of non-worker-led left-wing organizations themselves. Membership in the DSA, for example, is no longer a black mark on a Google search; it is a respectable middle-class organization where young, educated go-getters can demonstrate their leadership skills, work ethic, and commitment. As such, it attracts downwardly mobile yet aspirational members of the PMC, who can very easily trade on their participation in an ostensibly socialist organization for the sort of progressive bona fides that get you that corner office. Unlike a functioning union, DSA, for all its alleged antagonism to capitalism, isn’t particularly antagonistic to capitalists. It does however produce innumerable segregated “working groups,” hyphenated interest clusters, extensive grievance policies, and long lists of priority-less political demands, all of which appeal to the anxieties of the PMC, many of whom have fallen—and can’t get up. Conveniently enough, this tendency within the organization reflects the ethos of the good “company man” in its commitment to a low-stress human resources department and a talent for Enzensberger’s aforementioned “adaptability.”
Earlier this year, Ehrenreich, a longtime critic of American empire, made an offhand joke on Twitter: “I will be convinced that America is not in decline only when our de-cluttering guru Marie Kondo learns to speak English.” The response from the liberal PMC Twitterati was not merely ungenerous; it was ruthless. Accusations of racism and xenophobia were hurled at one of America’s most brilliant and committed leftists, a woman who kept the fires burning for socialism well after it was fashionable. It begged the question, who was actually hysterical and who was merely cynical? Who was genuinely deluded enough to believe that Barbara Ehrenreich had been racist, and who was just parroting the accusations and condemnations for clout, retweets, and content (and maybe a freelance byline)?
It wasn’t just a Twitter controversy, either. The “story” was picked up by major news outlets, where Ehrenreich’s “racism” was treated as a foregone conclusion. At the New York Daily News, the headline was “Author Barbara Ehrenreich Slammed for Racist Marie Kondo Tweet.” At USA Today, it was “In Since-Deleted Racist Tweet, Author Barbara Ehrenreich Attacks Marie Kondo” (though they later swapped out “racist” for “xenophobic”).
Over at Fast Company—the bloodless liberal magazine that bills itself as “the world’s leading progressive business media brand, with a unique editorial focus on innovation in technology, leadership, and design”—millennial Brooklynite writer Cale Guthrie Weissman (yes, “Cale”), took a moment to shamelessly and simultaneously self-pity and self-promote, with perfect PMC media aplomb:
Overall, we’re faced with yet another milkshake duck situation—where the people we thought to be good and pure end up showing an ugly side. This is especially sad for me because Ehrenreich is an alum of my alma mater, Reed College, and I always proudly proclaimed that fact. Now I’ll have to find a new graduate’s coattails to ride.
I’ve said before that expropriating Yale and Harvard and converting them into public institutions would be a victory in the class war. But the small liberal arts colleges of the PMC—the Reeds, Wesleyans, and Oberlins—they may actually need to be burned down.
Luckily, as Ehrenreich herself observed, generational warfare tends to be a middle-class pathology, and the ironic comeuppance of such cruel, disloyal, and unbelievably sanctimonious liberal cancellers is all but assured. May they have a bounty of strong, healthy children to whom they transmit their own parricidal tendencies.