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Class Traitors Are Always Welcome

The movement for economic justice has plenty of room for people who come from privilege, pushing for change that would help others before themselves

Another day, another dimwit “gotcha” from a Murdoch-owned media appendage that clings to the zeitgeist by habitually spiking the blood pressure of red-faced Boomers. The latest comes to us from the pages of the New York Post, and it concerns the family of video producer and political activist Carlos Maza, who formerly ran the Vox video series Strikethrough.

As a queer socialist and the son of Cuban immigrants, with a substantial audience for his leftist critiques of American politics, Maza is a natural target for alt-right weirdos taking advantage of Big Tech’s unwillingness to curb harassment and hate speech on their platforms. The Post article strives for the air of a more legitimate attack: “YouTube Socialist Carlos Maza Slams the Wealthy but Lived in Luxury,” the headline reads — that use of the past tense revealing from the jump.

Even by the standards of bad-faith conservative thought (and yes, the piece was aggregated by every troglodytic website in that vein), “hey, that socialist never lived in a gutter!” is now a well-worn trope. We saw it in 2018, when reactionaries tried to smear Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for wearing clothes and growing up in a house. More recently, they held up an old creepshot of Bernie Sanders in a business-class plane seat as proof of a secret One Percenter lifestyle. The idea is that anyone suggesting we do something to flatten economic inequality — usually taxing the rich and their corporations — really wants the entire U.S. population starving in bread lines, and that a failure to act out this destitution themselves is tantamount to rank hypocrisy.

But, like AOC and Bernie, Maza obviously doesn’t want us all fighting for scraps in a brutalist dystopia, nor is he obliged to dress in rags to voice his progressivism. His latest YouTube video breaks down the “too far left” complaints levied at candidates like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren despite the broad popularity of their proposals. Basically, he’s saying reporters tend to misrepresent them as “radical” when they’re mostly aligned with public opinion. That, moreover, is the centrist-liberal version of the right-wing canard now being used against Maza — the projection of a colorless wasteland full of gulags as the given long-term goal of Marxism.

Well, let’s pull this argument a little further. For starters, a proximity to (and benefitting from) wealth doesn’t delegitimize calls for a more equitable system. If the class divide didn’t exist, Maza wouldn’t have to condemn it. His background also doesn’t negate his economic vision; indeed, when Donald Trump or Michael Bloomberg spouts some shit in defense of rapacious late capitalism, bootlicking Republicans defer to their “expertise” precisely because they have money.

Maza, too, is speaking from experience, though it’s split-level: His parents belong to very different financial strata, and while he has made the most of the privilege offered to him — not a circumstance under his control as a child, by the way — he is keenly aware of those who lack it. Of course, such a divided upbringing isn’t a prerequisite of revolutionary fervor. Trotsky was born to a wealthy farming family, and you don’t often see him labeled a “fauxcialist,” do you?

And here we get to the heart of the outrage-bait over leftists daring to let their parents pay for college and dental care: Instead of exposing them as unprincipled ne’er-do-wells, conservative media telegraph their own cynicism around power and status. It’s plainly inconceivable in their circles that a person would use these advantages in the fight against the system that produces them, because self-preservation and the consolidation of influence is all that matters.

They’re aware enough to see Maza’s project as a betrayal of sorts, but they can’t see who has been betrayed. Since they cannot brook the possibility of a genuine class traitor within the upper ranks, they say it’s the have-nots getting screwed — in keeping with their general ideology of punishing the less fortunate with additional misfortune. The result is that the Post writeup and similar hit jobs cast the socialist’s supporters as the victims of an alleged scheme, making for a story of rich-on-poor crime they’d never acknowledge if the perpetrator weren’t anti-capitalist. Yet for Maza’s fans, his disinclination to shield the family fortune is a badge of honor, and a measure of commitment.

It’s grossly naïve for journalism to behave as though individuals can’t develop rebellious politics in response to those observed in the generation that raised them, even as they retain familial bonds. That’s just… normal. If the children of the elite can’t be believed when they advocate for struggling workers, it’s down to the conventional wisdom — most prominent among the rich themselves — that the elite always dissemble to folks at the bottom, as when Trump pretends to give a rat’s ass about the plight of the average, debt-ridden American.

An indispensable notion of the progressive movement in this country is the need to charge into the fray for those who cannot, and push for changes that would help others before ourselves. Sorry it’s not a literal homeless guy making YouTube videos explaining why we should redistribute the oligarchy’s assets, but I’m sure you’d try to discredit him, too, adding that he should learn to code.

Besides, it’s not like the right would ever actually care that online leftists were getting scammed. The articles are a transparent form of concern-trolling, written for an audience that wants to laugh at hapless, trusting, idealistic “libs,” not for the edification of the group supposedly swindled. At no other time will the Post, Fox News or adjacent blogs be so eager to divulge this type of financial history as when it applies to someone threatening the ruling order.

Keep your millions in an offshore account, and they’ll run all the defense you want, since you have properly acted your part, obeying the code of a secret club. But a real class traitor? Someone poised to blow the doors off that age-old institution? It simply won’t do to engage their perilous ideas. Conservatives can only hope to dissolve their identity — to show that in practical terms, they do not exist at all.