Yesterday we examined a recent New Republic piece in which a writer named Malcolm Harris, who’s connected with an online rag called New Inquiry, strove to pull off a one-man rehabilitation of Communism.
Who, we wondered, is this audacious fool? And what, for that matter, is New Inquiry? Well, the New York Times provided an answer to the latter question back in November 2011, when (for reasons we cannot begin to fathom) it ran a full-length profile of the “scrappy” Upper East Side “literary salon” cum online journal whose members, all recent college grads, uniformly came off as obnoxious, privileged brats. One of them whined about not getting a job “at a boutique literary agency”; another (“an aspiring novelist who graduated magna cum laude from Cornell in 2009”) resented having to work at a real job (sweeping movie theaters); yet another had actually secured a job at the New Yorker only to walk away from it in boredom. Harris, then 22, was described as a young man who’d been “sifting through grad-school rejection notices a year ago” but had since “written for N + 1 and Utne Reader.”
The Times didn’t mention it, but to many observers Harris is best known not an aspiring littérateur but as an early leader of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In a September 2012 postmortem on OWS, Mark Ames, a veteran of MSNBC and The Nation – in other words, a solid left-winger – waxed cynical about the movement, whose failures he attributed largely to Harris, whom he mocked as a self-seeking “twenty-something hipster” and poster boy for a certain “brand of marketing-concocted ‘anarchism.’” Wrote Ames: “one look at Malcolm Harris – his anarcho-hipster sneer, his marketing-guy hipster glasses – and you’ll be reaching for the nearest can of pepper spray.”
Ames provided some bio: Harris’s father was a “Silicon Valley corporate lawyer turned State Department diplomat.” As for Harris himself, he “was one of the very first to capitalize on the marketing possibilities of Occupy, and how he might exploit the marketing and messaging to quickly build his own brand.” Only a month after OWS got off the ground, it turns out, Harris signed up with a speakers’ agency; when a California branch of the movement, Occupy Redlands, asked him to come address its members, Harris’s agent replied “that if they wanted to hear Malcolm Harris talk about anarchism and the 99%, they’d have to pay him a $5,000 speaking fee. Not including travel and hotel expenses.” The news that an OWS “anarchist” was trying to squeeze five-grand payments out of allied groups around the country spread like wildfire, apparently, and did not exactly make Harris a movement hero.
Then came the lawsuit. In December 2012, after denying for over a year that he and other OWS activists hadn’t been warned by police to stay off the Brooklyn Bridge during an October 1, 2011, march – and hinting through his lawyer that, on the contrary, police had deliberately lured protesters onto the bridge – Harris’s own tweets from that day, which he’d fought to keep secret but which Twitter had provided to the court, showed that he was lying. Facing trial on a charge of disorderly conduct, he pleaded guilty. Even his lawyer was reprimanded for having played fast and loose with the facts.
Harris has continued writing prolifically – and in a thoroughly predictable vein. In January he contributed an article to Al Jazeera’s website entitled “Wealthy Cabals Run America”; in February the same site ran a piece of his entitled “Hooray for Cultural Marxism.” He’s also contributed plenty of articles to Jacobin, “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.” That there are nasty corners of the Internet prepared to give space to this mendacious young stooge is hardly surprising; but it’s depressing that The New Republic, once known for its staunch liberal anti-Communism, should welcome him into its pages.