Monday, November 19, 2007

Marxists in Rearguard?

By joe sims

I recently spoke about the virtue of on-line publishing before a gathering of thoughtful, forward thinking revolutionary people and as I looked out into the audience, was startled at the doubtful stony faces at a table before me. I was making the point that a qualitative change has occurred with the coming together of several technologies: print, video, radio, tv, telephone etc, into one interactive platform that can be held in the palm of one’s hand: a veritable revolution in communication is at hand, a revolution in which the working-classes vanguard should lead the way. Clearly some in my audience were very unimpressed. A few days earlier, I received a note vigorously protesting PA’s plan to increase its on-line activity and eventually (sooner rather than later) go over to “treeless production,” that is, make a small contribution to stop killing forests. A dear friend and comrade wrote and said, “Say it aint so! Is the REAL PA going to disappear?

I was reminded of these incidents when reading this morning Newsweek magazine’s lead story on the future of books. I encourage everyone to read it (in print or online). Here again a revolution is occurring that has the potential to change the very nature of thought and action. In short, it appears that the book itself is being reinvented. According to the story, Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, says that the e-book is here and will soon be in everyone living room, bedroom and (yes) bathroom. The new e-book, enabled through a new handheld computer called “Kindle” (sorry but the story is well-done advertising puff piece for Amazon) brings together new technologies like E-ink to create an easily readable screen interface that closely resembles a book’s printed page. Not only that, but “Kindle” by utilizing new wireless technology used by cell phones, will have the advantage of being continuously online, allowing readers access to the internet and the possibility of engaging other readers, research materials and sources. This, combined with the rapid digitizing of books (Google is taking the lead with over 80,000 complete books online), is creating the conditions for the rapid transition of books from print to the internet and with it, completely new forms of thought, writing and interaction. And it will be extremely cheap, if not free. Even, the author suggests, the exalted place of the Author, as lonely autonomous isolated figure writing in isolation, is bound to undergo change, as writers and readers, interact on drafts and manuscripts through blogs, chats and other interactive features. New collective forms of intellectual and creative intercourse are emerging at starling speeds.

You would think that Marxists, advocates of “scientific” socialism as they are, would be on the cutting edge of these technologies and innovations. But somehow there seems to be an overwhelming Luddite weight on some, dragging the conversation down by alleging that somehow print (paper) is somehow more “material” and therefore more “working-class.” All manner of excuses are given: digital divide etc, for not wholly embracing and getting on board the digital train. This in spite of the fact that the majority of internet users are people with incomes of between $30,000 and $70,000.

I wonder what is the basis for such thinking? I’m worried that unless there is a change, the communist and socialist movement will end up like Tower Records, shuttered and boarded up, with a for sale sign blowing in the wind. But who will want to buy it? (For those who don’t know, New York’s famous Tower Record store went out of business, unable to compete with downloaded digitized music on the internet). What do readers think?

3 comments:

JamesC said...

Joe writes:

"I received a note vigorously protesting PA’s plan to increase its on-line activity and eventually (sooner rather than later) go over to “treeless production,” that is, make a small contribution to stop killing forests. A dear friend and comrade wrote and said, “Say it aint so! Is the REAL PA going to disappear?"

I think part of the reason a switch to completely digital is resisted is that being in print gives a sense of legitimacy. Surely simply being in print does not make the source legitimate or true (see the hundreds of bourgeois news sources), but I think that attitude continues to exist on a subconscious level.

Anonymous said...

Too bad the people who need to read this won't because it is not in print.

The People's Proclamations said...

I think we can take a lesson from history with the protest to switichng to complete e-print publication is valid. In the Elizabeathan period, only the wealthy upper and noble classes could afford printed books, either purchasing to read or having them printed. I think the goal of "saving a forest" is a noble thought but we still need a paper version venue. The attack on the working class by the Bush-Chaney New Age Tzarist has push us to think of cheaper yet not fully acceptable means of publications. I say keep a paper version, and offer a e-print version for more mass circulation of information.