Swans 10th Anniversary
by Louis Proyect
(Swans - May 8, 2006) In the 1450s, Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press. For the first time in European history, books could be mass produced. This led to significant scientific and cultural breakthroughs that were critical for the rise of capitalism and the scientific revolution. The printing press also made it possible for the ordinary citizen to have an impact on the great political dramas of the age. As an owner of a printing press, Benjamin Franklin's skills were critical in the political awakening that would lead to the American revolution of 1776. Pamphlets such as Thomas Paine's Common Sense could be produced cheaply and in the massive numbers necessary to challenge the status quo.
In the 1960s scientists working at ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) developed a new technology that allowed communications across a network. As the name implied, they were interested in military research. Within a few years ARPA evolved into the Internet and would be responsible for the same kind of empowerment of the ordinary citizen as Gutenberg's press was for an earlier age.
When I first encountered the Internet in 1992, not long after taking a job at Columbia University, I became convinced immediately that this could be a tool for social change. Only a few years earlier I had been president of the board of Tecnica, a volunteer program that sent engineers, programmers, and other skilled technicians to work in Nicaragua, the frontline states in Southern Africa and with the African National Congress. Even before any of us had come across the Internet, we were using Peacenet -- a private network -- to exchange communications.
Although I had reached a point in my life where activism would no longer occupy the same central role as it had earlier, I was determined to use the Internet to bring socialists together in order to try to make sense of world politics and to create a new kind of political culture that would be free of the dogmatism and sectarianism that had destroyed the 1960s movement. The Marxism mailing list celebrated its 8th anniversary on May 1, 2006.
Another anniversary is being celebrated now. Swans.com is 10 years old. I began writing for Swans in 2003 and am proud of the work that I have done there. Although Swans is not identified explicitly with the Marxist tradition, it is singularly devoted to the pursuit of the truth. Therefore, as a Marxist, I find it hospitable to my ideals.
Although technology has evolved, the basic agenda since the time of Gutenberg is the same. Humanity needs culture and ideas that are untainted by the control of the privileged few, whether they are the Catholic hierarchy of Gutenberg's age or modern-day capitalists. But no matter the format that ideas arrive in, there is still a need for precision and for rigor. On that count, Swans has never disappointed me. Although Gilles d'Aymery is a volunteer, he adheres to the highest editorial standards that would put professional journals to shame. Not only is he engaged with the ideas of an article, he is a perfectionist with respect to style. It has been a pleasure to work with him for the past three years and I look forward to a continuing relationship.
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