Decaying Socialism: Good For Struggling Writers?

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Craig Fehrman’s post earlier today, The Freelance Life, got me thinking about something interesting I read in The Wreck of the Henry Clay last week.

In a post from April 2003, entitled Marx’s Neurosis About Money, Caleb Crain quoted Edmund Wilson to the effect that “Karl Marx’s social theories suited his psychological needs as an ambitious writer who was chronically broke and less than honest with himself about money.”

This passage reminded Crain of a “half-baked idea” he’d had while living in Prague, at a time when “socialism had been so recently overturned that capitalism had not yet set in.”

Namely, the idea was that socialism presents, to the struggling writer, an “awfully convenient arrangement”: under capitalism, if a writer takes a low-paying, intellectually undemanding job in order to reserve something for his writing, he is subject to self-doubt (owing to the lack of success implied by a lack of money); whereas under socialism, jobs that are intellectually demanding don’t pay much more than undemanding ones, and moreover they make you complicit with the regime, so a writer is free — perhaps even obligated! — to take the undemanding jobs without the burden of self-doubt attached.

Crain’s original post, which contains more than just the idea sketched above, can be found here.


Jeremy Hatch is a writer, musician, and professional bookseller leading a cheerful, aimless life in San Francisco. He is the Junior Literary Editor of the Rumpus and has a blog which he updates once in a while. More from this author →