Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 13, 2020

Why Julius Krein was ready to pay $2,000 to Adolph Reed Jr. for a book review

Filed under: Adolph Reed Jr. — louisproyect @ 8:28 pm


Julius Krein

On September 9th, Useful Idiots podcaster Katie Halper featured Michael Moore and Adolph Reed Jr. as examples of cancel culture victimization. Only a Reed fan like Halper could have seen an equivalence between corporate Greens trying to suppress “Planet of the Humans” and Reed begging off a Zoom talk because some DSA members opposed to his views on BLM might stress him out.

A brief moment in Reed’s segment with Halper revealed a most peculiar incident. He said that he had been approached by Julius Krein, the editor of American Affairs, to write a book review for $2000, which is a hefty amount. Initially, Reed assumed that Krein was “a Jew” living somewhere out in Brooklyn who had been involved with Partisan Review. Pretty good stereotyping from a Marxist professor, no? Eventually, he learned that Krein was an 18-year old from South Dakota, who went to Harvard and was a “Nazi basically.” Odd that an 18-year old would be a Harvard graduate, let alone being the editor of a magazine in a position to pay Reed $2,000. It turns out that Krein is 34 years old and hardly a Nazi.

All Reed drew out of this encounter was that Krein was trying to sow discord on the left by seducing an “iconoclastic” Marxist to write for his magazine, just as he had done with Angela Nagle who wrote her infamous nativist screed on American Affairs in 2018, titled “The Left Case Against Open Borders”.

Reed evidently didn’t want to be associated with a magazine that published Nagle but did not dwell on why Krein set his sights on him. The answer is simple. Having Reed as part of his burgeoning stable of left-of-center contributors will deepen his influence. Despite Reed’s disparaging of Krein as a Nazi, his politics overlap with Bellows, a self-described Marxist magazine that published an article arguing “You can either have open borders or a welfare state. You cannot have both.” Krein is likely smart enough to recognize that if Bellows could do a softball interview with Reed and Walter Benn Michaels, he might be enticed into connecting with American Affairs, especially for $2,000.

It is not as if American Affairs has anything in common with a real neo-Nazi website like UNZ Review, where the only leftist articles are written by schmucks moving rapidly in Unz’s direction like Mike Whitney and C.J. Hopkins. A brief survey of American Affairs indicates the political breadth. There’s an article co-written by Peter Juul and Ruy Teixeira titled “Toward the Next Frontier: The Case for a New Liberal Nationalism” that starts off sounding as if it could have been written by Reed, whose main lesson for the left is that it took a wrong turn in the 60s by embracing Black Power rather than sticking with A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin:

When labor and civil rights leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin put forward their ambitious Freedom Budget for All Americans in 1966, they couched their political argument in the powerful idiom of liberal nationalism. “For better or worse,” Randolph avowed in his introduction, “We are one nation and one people.” The Freedom Budget, he went on, constituted “a challenge to the best traditions and possibilities of America” and “a call to all those who have grown weary of slogans and gestures to rededicate themselves to the cause of social reconstruction.” It was also, he added, “a plea to men of good will to give tangible substance to long-proclaimed ideals.”

To the detriment of the nation as a whole, the Democratic Party and left-wing political elites abandoned the successful and compelling idiom of liberal nationalism espoused by the likes of Randolph and Rustin, as well as by political leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Hubert H. Humphrey. Instead, party and intellectual elites have retreated into an ideological hall of mirrors that has left them adrift at a critical time in the nation’s his­tory. They lack the political language required to move the United States beyond the rolling crisis it finds itself in as it barrels toward the 2020 presidential election.

Juul and Teixeira are long-time liberal on the staff of the Center for American Progress, a leading liberal think-tanks. Like Reed and Walter Benn Michaels, they view “identity politics” as a dead end. They write:

Yet the multicultural Left somehow deludes itself into believing that it can cobble together a winning political coalition by encouraging identity-based segregation and deploying empty academic jargon. This is incorrect; strong majorities of Americans dislike political correctness and oppose extravagant demands associated with the multi­cultural Left, such as reparations for the descendants of slaves, de­criminalizing the border, and defunding the police.

The rest of their crappy article is a paean to FDR, using language associated with the Sanders campaign even though they showed disdain for “democratic socialism” in the article. The best way to understand Juul and Teixeira is as the advance guard of the Biden campaign trying to turn the wretched neoliberal candidate into potentially the most progressive president since FDR, a ridiculous notion that Sanders himself took seriously.

Like Ron Unz, Julius Krein is a man on a mission. He is no neo-Nazi, however. Politically, there’s not much to distinguish him from Bellows or Quillette, two other contrarian websites that endeavor to amalgamate left and right politics.

He launched American Affairs in 2016 to serve as an intellectual handmaiden to the Trump administration. At the time Krein, had some years behind him in finance, including for the Blackstone Group, run by the swinish Stephen Schwarzman. One supposes that he felt an affinity for Trump’s white nationalism like fellow financier Peter Navarro but bailed out in 2017 when it became obvious that Trump was not acting in the national interests of the USA despite his “America First” rhetoric. He wrote an op-ed for the NY Times on August 17, 2017 titled “I Voted for Trump. And I Sorely Regret It” that included conventional Mitt Romney type talking points.

Krein fancies himself some sort of intellectual. These financiers read a bit here and there, then spew their nonsense far and wide. You got that from George Soros and Felix Rohatyn before him. In an article titled “The Real Class War”, Krein dismisses the working class as being decisive in shaping politics for the foreseeable future despite its downward mobility. Instead, it will be up to the “elite” to shape policy. Those elites have nothing to do with Marxist class analysis, even if this birdbrain has read Marx. He writes:

The socioeconomic divide that will determine the future of politics, particularly in the United States, is not between the top 30 per­cent or 10 percent and the rest, nor even between the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The real class war is between the 0.1 percent and (at most) the 10 percent—or, more precisely, between elites primarily dependent on capital gains and those primarily dependent on professional labor.

This might sound familiar. What Krein calls the “elites”, other politically confused people refer to as the Professional Managerial Class or PMC, a term coined by John and Barbara Ehrenreich in the 1970s. They theorized a social class that through its control of production processes through superior management skills was neither proletarian nor bourgeois.

This crap is pretty familiar. I used to hear it all through the early 60s at Bard College that despite its radical reputation was no place to learn about Karl Marx. Ironically, the most sophisticated version of this theory came from someone with a past in the Trotskyist movement. In 1941, James Burnham wrote a book titled “The Managerial Revolution” that saw similarities between FDR, Hitler and Stalin. Like Burnham and countless other sociologists obsessed with the white-collar middle-class, Krein does not understand how capitalism works. The class struggle is muted because the working-class, unlike the ruling class, does not see itself as a class. The whole point of the socialist movement is to help serve as a midwife to the birth of that recognition. Krein writes:

At bottom, the economy that has been constructed over the last few decades is nothing more than a capital accumulation economy. As long as returns on capital exceed returns on labor, then the largest capital holders benefit the most, inequality rises, and wealth becomes more and more narrowly concentrated. Labor—including elite labor—is inevitably left behind. Marxian thinkers have been analyzing these dynamics for almost two centuries, but they have often misread the political effects of these developments, which play out primarily among the elite managerial class, rather than within the binary of capitalists and proletarians.

Well, he’s dead wrong. It is within the “binary of capitalists and proletarians”. This might have been easier to miss when he wrote this preposterous article but it is becoming clearer every day with mass evictions, hunger, destructive wild fires, floods, war, wage stagnation and unemployment. Someone like Krein, who must have made millions as a financier, must understand that this is a class-divided society. Like other magazine owners desperate to paper over class distinctions, he has to work much harder nowadays as the curtain concealing the Wizard of Oz drops to the floor. When he tried to line up Adolph Reed Jr., he pinned his hopes on using Reed as another prop, even more effectively than Juul and Teixeira. After all, there’s no greater authority on Marxism than Adolph Reed Jr. Just ask him.


  1. So Krein is three times guilty of 1.) class reductionism, 2.) class struggle denialism and 3.) what Michael Lebowitz calls “One-sided Marxism” (looking at social relations primarily at how capital behaves)? Looks contradictory at first but really it is the sort of schizophrenic theorizing that is necessary if one wants to orient their politics around the prejudices of the white middle class.

    “strong majorities of Americans dislike political correctness and oppose extravagant demands associated with the multi­cultural Left, such as reparations for the descendants of slaves, de­criminalizing the border, and defunding the police.”

    The type of verbiage these people engage in instead of flat out saying what they really want to say: “hey, you “multicultural” people need to shut up and take your place at our feet, while we pander to white bigots…shhhhh you are ruining our chances of getting the Democrats elected”

    Comment by New Afrikan Socialist — September 14, 2020 @ 5:16 am

  2. Burnham was not someone with just a past in the Trotskyist movement. The core of what became his argument in The Managerial Revolution was developed, first, while Burnham was still in the SWP; and then more fully by Shachtman, Joseph Carter et al. in the Workers Party which broke from the SWP largely because of the “Russian Question.” CLR James and Dunayevskaya opposed the emerging theory of bureaucratic collectivism with their version of a state capitalist theory. Burnham went with Shachtman and co. into the WP for a few weeks and then dropped out with hardly a whimper. But he took with him their theory of “bureaucratic collectivism” and turned that into his best seller, The Managerial Revolution. He went on to a fine career as an advisor to the new CIA as well as, of course, helping Bill Buckley found National Review. In any case, even Shachtman’s theory was not really that original, drawing heavily on the earlier work of Berle and Means on the elevation of a managerial class that had, allegedly, emerged as a new power center in the large public corporation. It is somewhat ironic that so many on the right have used the “manageria class” theory so often and it is interesting to note its return via figures like Michael Lind. One the left, Dumenil and Levy are using similar material.

    Comment by Steve Diamond — September 19, 2020 @ 5:25 am

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