Monday, May 8, 2017

The fiction writer under 21st century capitalism

A Facebook friend asked,
...would you decry for-profit fiction as capitalist fiction? Or is the fact you don't need some "means of production" beyond your computer and internet connection mean it's not really about your control of capital at all but your personal perspective and persistence that's behind your work? I ask because a lot of freelancers are idealists out for the truth, selling into a marketplace. Sure, some buyers only want stories that line up with an agenda (and you can read stories those buyers offer you with an appropriate perspective, if at all) but one needn't depend in the age of the Internet on one of a couple of big print houses, no?
The answer could be a book. I apologize for making it a short, hasty blog post instead.

For-profit fiction falls into two categories, sincere efforts of people who want to make a living from telling stories and calculated efforts of people who want to sell stories that make a lot of money.  I've almost always been in the first group. Technically, both groups are producing capitalist fiction because capitalists who own publishing houses and distribution services are profiting from their work. But when I talk about capitalist fiction, I'm usually talking about fiction that's written to be commercial, the sort of fiction that wouldn't exist under socialism because writers would be writing with other concerns.

Traditionally, socialists classify writers as bourgeois or petit bourgeois because we own our tools,  I quibble with this. In Marx's time, all workers were effectively free-lancers: they could be fired at whim, and sometimes they owned their tools--for example, cowboys might own their saddles. Today, writers are not as dependent on publishers as once we were, but we're just as dependent on distributors like Amazon and the surviving chain bookstores. We have no negotiating power. We do our work and take what corporations are willing to give, or we accept that what we're doing is a hobby that we can never hope to live on.

So I think of writers as working-class. Since socialism is not identitarian in nature, this is purely an intellectual distinction and could be considered one of my quirks. What matters under socialism isn't your class, but your class allegiance. Mine's to the working class.