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Socialism and print

The latest New Left Review leads with a dazzling article by Régis Debray, lamenting the end of print, and of socialism: the one death implies and necessitates the other. Debray discerns three stages of communication history: the logosphere (from the invention of writing to the coming of the printing press; the graphosphere (from 1448 to around 1968); and the videosphere, the realm of the image – which we now inhabit.

In a set of theses that could launch a hundred PhDs, Debray points to the intimate connections of the socialist movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with printing. ‘Typographers [he means compositors and printers], intellectuals and teachers were the three supports of the socialist movement, each corresponding to one leg of the mediological tripod.’ He suggests an equation in which socialist ideology equals the party which equals the party newspaper. Towards the end of his article, Debray considers the videosphere in scathing terms. Where Marx and Engels worked out their ideas in letters (‘and virtually all their political activity had to pass through a pillarbox’), now we chat on the phone. ‘The cellphone, internet, laptop and plane are good for internationalization, but they render solidarity less organic – lethal for internationalism. They enlarge the sphere of individual relations but privatize them at the same time; they particularize even as they globalize. The cellphone is a permanent one-to-one. It drives the universal from our heads.’