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Cybercommunism and the Gift Culture 196

A number of readers alerted us to the latest Andrew Leonard piece over at Salon. He's covering the latest Richard Barbrook book "Cybercommunism". One of the salient points of Barbrook's latest arguement is that all of this free-software/open-source is "superseding capitalism". For those who remember, Barbrook was the author of The California Ideology, a 1996 screed.
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Cybercommunism and the Gift Culture

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  • "We distribute our gifts to other members of this elite class of intellectuals"

    I knew there was something snobby about those Mexican school children...

  • The world views that they describe no longer exist. Communism and capitolism are too often confused for the political systems that advocated them. The old USSR would be just as incapable of making (or even comprehending) something like Open Source as Microsoft. To call it communist is disingenious.
  • the fact is people contribute for their own self interest. ego is a prime motivator.

    Ayn Rand []
  • No they don't yet. But, according to RMS, ultimate goal is to do away with copyright laws and thus forcing everybody to release under GPL.
    Read his stuff, if you don't belive me.
  • Yes and no. The basic idea of capitalism is private ownership of the means of production (in other words capital). It is NOT that anyone can own capital (it is nowhere as noble as that), but rather there should not be public capital. This was the assumption the classical economists base their arguments on. That went down the drain during the great depression. Now we are seeing a resurgence of this theory.
  • The open source community that is giving away its hard work is not an indication of some internet based marxist revolution. Essentially it is an extension of the basic notions of charity which exist in current culture.

    Why do we give to charity? Because it makes us feel good. Because it makes us look cooler amongst our peers. Because it makes our company look like it cares (although usually a marketing gimic). It is the same thing here. Some people decide that they will use their hacker talents to create software only for the satisfaction of doing so.

    Overall this in not changing the fundamental economic model, it is just shifting it slightly. Now companies are looking to give away code and sell the support, or are selling proprietary closed solutions that make use of the underlying open software.

    This is not the revolution, just the evolution...


  • Garbage-in, garbage out. The paper wasn't that good. The resulting /. argument wasn't much good, either.

    I think Richard Stallman said it best: Carl Marx didn't invent helping your neighbor.

    Bruce Perens

  • Those are two different things.
    And if you don't want to reinvent the whell, you are free to buy my algorithm complete with the source code.It is just another product.
  • Of course you forget that the final stage of the communism ideology (at least for the non-stalinian) was the 'applied communism' which is basically a form of anarchy. (the masses are in control)

    The person who live thru the use of free software let his interests be fulfilled (and controlled) by an oligarchy of programmers.

  • Open Source software relies on people who do other things for money. Most of these people write code for money. The fact that they don't need to be paid for everything they do in no way detracts from the fact that they need to be paid. How can participants in the capitalist system kill that system?

    OSS exists outside the political spectrum. You could have it in a communist system, a capitalist system, or complete anarchy. But in each of these, the participants need a means to feed themselves first, or they won't feel so giving.

    Using Microsoft software is like having unprotected sex.

  • Let's see... exactly how does the popularity of free and open source software equate to mass ownership and control of the means of production?

    What are the means of production in this case? The programming languages? The compilers? The hardware? The knowledge and experience of programmers, documentation writers, designers, and software engineers? A $20/month Internet connection? MAE-East? Cisco?

    If he'd framed his thoughts in the "Intellectual Property vs. Human Achievement" debate, perhaps he'd have some modicum of a point.

    Otherwise, you're stuck on the slippery slope that says that derivation and trigonometry tables are communism, self-help books are communism, do-it-yourself videos are communism....

    I think the moral of this story is: Just because you aren't getting paid or receiving other benefits from open source/free software doesn't mean that no one else is -- or that everyone else would turn it down out of political or economic principles.

    QDMerge [] 0.21!
  • Well, that and the fact that the way it's distributed can add value. And that it is done because of the profit motive, which (theoretically) doesn't exist in communism.
  • Communism is a political system devised to try and make socialism work in practice. It's failure is not to be found in the nationalistic mumbo jumbo of most of the americans who complain about communism. It's failure lies in the fact that it is unstable. It is unstable because it uses government in crappy ways, i.e. to repress everyone and keep them working. IMHO the free software world is more stable then the commercial software model for basically the same reason that a free market beat out communism---just replace the government with MS. Now, we can argue about wether it is socialism till we are blue in the face, but I don't think that question matters much. The only importent questions are A) is it really a better way for people to interact with one another and B) is it stable. I personally believe the answer to both of these questions is ``add more freedom.''

    If you think about the RMS arguments for the GPL (and reladed stuff) you will find it is positivly dripping with stability. Example: We may assume someone will write the software anyway.. then the GPL just gives them a way to get stuff added to it for free. Remember Linus started Linux for fun.. and then think of how much less useful Linux would be to Linus if he had not given it to people.

    I gues a point I wanted to make is don't worry about the word socialism.. what you do may or may not fit it's definition.. worry about more importent aspects of what you are doing. Like wether you are really helping yourself (you are not waisting your time.. fun is a good enough reason to do soemthing) and if you are hurting anyone in the process.

  • Yes, but doesn't anarcho-capitalism undermine the principles of both ideologies? Some sort of a naming game?
  • > This is why I always hated "teams" in school.
    >You get assigned a project and then assigned a team to work in.
    >It always worked out that I did all the work and everyone else
    > in the "team" stole my work and profited from it(receiving a team score of grade A etc).

    Your writing seems to indicate that you consider monetary compensation the only reward for a contribution to a larger project. Group projects can be lop-sided in school. However, once you are a professional in the real world, I think you will grow to realize that effort for others without obvious compensation can in fact be very valuable. This is a difficult thing to clearly describe, but in short, what goes around, comes around.
  • free software is free. aka open , there are many software companys that make money with free software , but i take it as a gift of freedom . open sorce and free wear gives us the users a say in the development and emplimntaion of such , free software has been around for many years copy left and the whole deal , as a community i think we are an odd mix of communism but is it a communism that works or not , it is more an outlet for freedom. freedom to do what we want with the info we have where we want it . i just dont like the stigma that you get with the label of communism . over years of the cold war we have been tought to hate it , but the thing is with this form of sead communism is that it doesnt rely on every one pitching in it relys on the ppl that want to do some thing . not the ones forced to , we dont force any one to do any hting nor does any one go in with the illuion that they are getting more then gratitue with freeware , it is a gift and i take it as such , and if i can help i will.

    protect the right to say "its a gift"
  • Doesn't matter. It might be voluntary but once you GPL your software you pretty much surrender your rights.
  • by el_ted ( 61073 ) on Friday September 10, 1999 @07:02AM (#1690099) Homepage
    Open Source is about Freedom and capitalism is not. So Open Source is anti-capitalist.
    And I like to think that it is a lot anarchistic (in the sense of lack of power and lack of authority, not chaos), mainly because of it's principles of liberty, equality and solidarity. ). It is not communism because communism is autoritharian, and Open Source projects seens to be very descentralized (except for Linux where Linus Torvalds seens to be a mini-dictator). Everyone can participate, everything is free and people work on it for joy and solidarity.

    Sorry but I don't speak english very well, I would talk about it a lot better in my own language (Portuguese).

    I would like to note that thery is a very very very interesting article about this topic on this site, please read it even if you do not agree with anarchism or open source, it is worthy:

    And for more reference about anarchism, you can get the package "anarchism" in the debian distro, or read a online faq at:
  • by PsychoSpunk ( 11534 ) on Friday September 10, 1999 @07:05AM (#1690100)
    Not to rain on parades here, but freedom of information is nearly an ideal of communism. Albeit a roundabout way, no one really "owns" information if it is in the general public. Communism (True communism I should say) does not allow anyone to own property, thus the root word commune, or communal.

    Take this a step further and if we (at least our govt.) says people can own ideas (IP Law...) then in a communistic sense, no one can claim ownership of ideas, thus if ideas are in the general public, they are free.

    The problem with Americans (in general, cause I am an American and I have learned what communism is about) is that they look at the great socialist experiment that took place in the former Soviet Union (United Soviet Socialist Republic, anyone see that???) and mislabel it since generally Lenin was a Communist reformer. Unfortunately, Stalin wasn't, and we all see where that led Trotsky (a red fellow of Lenin's).

    Now, furthermore, I have never found a communist dictator in history.

    To share my own opinion about the article, personally I have to agree with the previously stated post that this community works more in the nepotistic sense (check that previous post for full details). We take in those who can, pardon the expression, hack it and generally exclude those who choose not to. How many articles have we read where the focus is usability, not cool gizmos, being the key to domination? How many "But can my mom use it...?" articles?

    The sheer truth is that even though we may pride ourselves (and why Barbrook picks up the term???) as a gift community, we actually work to comprise strict division lines like "Oh, you use Windows..." and look down upon them. My fellow CS majors think I'm crazy (since our school is primarily on an NT network) cause I don't have a single box that does windows. They even dual boot. So obviously, there is some line that is drawn between us, even though I don't recall being an OS bigot and putting it there.

    So, in all honesty, it's a big in-joke. We get it, people like Barbrook try to get it (and sometimes Katz can fall in that category), and then there's the people who don't even try. They don't care.

    Plain and simple, it's not communist because the community is not truly inclusive of the whole population, not even the whole population of computer users.

  • Somebody reasonable moderate it up. This guy presented perfectly reasonable view.
  • That is nice and dandy but ignores some basic human instincts. It is completely unjust too, as it does not reward excellence.
  • I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that.

    There are other powerful motivating forces out there (within us?) besides greed or fear. Curiosity, for one. Some of us push ourselves to achieve more for the sake of the sense of accomplishment we get when we reach our goals. Frankly, if the only reason the human race can find to get out of bed in the morning is fear, perhaps we should just climb back into the trees and forget the whole thing.

  • by Aaron M. Renn ( 539 ) <> on Friday September 10, 1999 @06:22AM (#1690104) Homepage
    The ironic thing about that piece I thought was that he was describing the hacker "gift culture" at the same time his own paper is limited to "non-commerical" use only. In other words, it's not DFSG compliant!

    I don't agree that the hacker culture is a "communist" one. Voluntary associations and donations are very much a feature of such anti-communist systems as anarcho-capitalism as well as anarchy/communism. However, I did love the way he compared the current proprietary software industry to Stalinism.

    Did I get enough -ism's in there?
  • I hope you are being sarcastic....

    or maybe you're not.

    Belushi was in Animal House, not Animal Farm. Animal Farm is by George Orwell and is brilliant. Animal House is base humor (but hey, I still laugh until I cry when I watch the movie.)

  • I'll believe it when I see it, it's hard to find an ethos more primal and unbeatable than one based on greed.

    KSR's Antarctica had a philosopher talking about an idealogical battle between science and capitalism, about the only new idea in the whole book (the rest being a find and replace of the Mars trilogy). He said scientists presently ruled the economy, setting it up to make enough to do science and find life enjoyable, though I don't believe it.

  • Anyone who likens the gift culture to communism clearly has not had enough experience with it. The currency is a little different, but the programmers are well-paid in it, and the best and brightest among them can write their own ticket with just about any company they want.

    You'd be hard pressed to find a more elitist culture than the free software community on the planet, and elitism is the anthesis of everything that communism (supposedly) stands for. The irony of that being that every communist government invariably degenerates into "From each according to his ability, to each according to his status in the ruling class." But I digress... Anyway, the upshot of that is that everyone participating doesn't really care that it's elitist (Except for the windows lamers but we don't really care about THEM do we?) since they're out to get some of the status for themselves.

    Don't think there's plenty to go around either. For every Linus or Rasterman (Who was apparently able to drive over to VA Research and sit down at a desk despite saying assorted nasty things about his previous employer in a very public forum) there are a hundred RMSes out there with their HURD software languishing while the press lauds GNU/Linux. But everyone wants some, so they don't care.

  • this gentleman is quite a stirring writer,as seen by the threads so far.however,i find it to seem like ranting held up by a framework of fuzzy first clue was the innacurate history of tom jefferson. granted,he was a slave a time when the country was new,land needed heavy clearing and many to farm it,the slaves were here anyway with no end to their import in sight. it is easy to see tom meant that he abhorred slavery when you understand that his slaves were treated far better than their contemporaries. it was more a case of a "schindlers list"scenario.but that doesnt make good copy for todays the history.dont be a victim of the P.C.(pollitically correct) so when you are called communist slave-owning elitests bent on anarchy by a rant and roll star at salon,dont take it too personally. wonder instead,what motivation salon has in stirring up the open source community. now relax,stop by and get right with Bob before the conspiracy takes all your slack.
  • by FascDot Killed My Pr ( 24021 ) on Friday September 10, 1999 @06:27AM (#1690110)
    I know this is going to kill my karma, but I'm past caring.

    How can someone who uses the words "salient" and "screed" ALSO misspell "argument" and "supercede"?

    Put Hemos through English 101!
    "An armed society is a polite society" -- Robert Heinlein
  • M. Barbrook appears to be a critic of the sort who makes money by selling to lit-crit fans material which would, if posted to Slashdot or USENET, be dismissed as flamage, trolling, or miscellaneous nonsense.

    For another example of his postmodern "brilliance", see this Brain Tennis debate [] between him and Aaron Lynch (also not my favorite guy) on the subject of memetics.
  • They lost the cold war because there was no money in it (communism.) It was bound to happen, really...
  • by kyanite ( 73015 ) on Friday September 10, 1999 @06:31AM (#1690113) Homepage
    I don't think so. Free sofware is about freedom. Many companies make a good bit of money off of free software in a totally democractic way. Free Software just makes sure that others have the freedom to do what they want with it. It is also the freedom of information that is sought by free software. If it wasn't for open source software, what would young computer scientists look to for real world examples. Freedom of information and freedom to customize what you own doesn't sound like a communistic ideal. In fact, the last I checked, freedom of information was something communism tried to suffocate. Plus, it is voluntary. When was the last time a communist dictator politely asked the people if he could volunteer to run their lives?

    Words of Wisdom:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    but neither does the current stock market economy. OR at least, it doesn't really reward well (directly or indirectly/deferred) those who are doing the work.
  • I think that Marx assumed that an economy (thanks to capitalism) capable of basically taking care of everyone would be a neccesary precursor to Communism. So you would need a culture of abundance, not scarcity. So I'm not sure that your argument applies.

    I think when we are really free, then we can gradually afford to be generous and willingly give away the products of our minds and efforts.
    But this process will develop naturally, has to be entirely voluntary and can't be forced in any way. This is where all the so-called communists dictators got it wrong.

    We're anarcho-libertarians. The exact same thing as Communists.
  • Boy, one would think this guy knew his Marx and Lenin better...
    AFAIK, Communism is rooted in the idea that the working man would rise up and overthrow the ruling class, distributing the fruits of labor equally to fellow proletariat. This man thinks the free software culture is communism?
    Bah! Humbug!
    The Internet is STILL a tiny club of culturally-elite, rich (compared to the rest of the world) burgoise representing everything despised by Marx. Despite our burgeoning population, we represent a tiny fraction of priveleged humanity trodding upon the backs of the repressed masses. We distribute our gifts to other members of this elite class of intellectuals.
    The Free Software culture is far from Communism. It more resembles Nepotism, with the talented, rich few giving away to the less-talented rich few -- yet all members of the same, elite club. Maybe if we could bring the Internet to the huddled masses with no concept of computers...
    But we can't even feed most of them.
    I must agree with the comments noted in the review from others: The idea that the "gift culture" is communism is hogwash.
  • AFAIK, Communism is rooted in the idea that the working man would rise up and overthrow the ruling class, distributing the fruits of labor equally to fellow proletariat.

    I don't claim to be an expert on Marxist theory, but I believe that your nutshell version of Marxism is overly simplistic. For example, one of the Marxist ideals is that the means of production would be owned by those doing the production. In other words, in a typical factory, a worker comes to the plant that s/he does not own, works on equipment that s/he does not own, and, thusly, the end product does not belong to the worker. To a degree, there are certain elements of the GPL and other of the licenses that are usually described as Open Source that fit this ideal. When Joe Byte writes a program, that program can not be claimed by some "factory owner", e.g. Bill Gates and Microsoft. Relative to society at large, a programmer might not be the archtypical proletariat worker. However, in the computer industry, the programmer is the worker. In addition, I don't believe that Marx tried to limit his economics to the procution based economy of the industrial revolution but to imagine a post-industrial economy and so pointing out that the typical programmer does not fit the "blue collar" proletariat labor mold does not in-and-of-itself remove the possibility of a Marxist analysis. I'm not trying to posit that the fit of Marxism and Free (Ideas) Software is exact, but near enough the mark to merit discussion and thought. Worth at least more than a dismissive "Bah!" or a incredulous "Humbug!".

    I must agree with the comments noted in the review from others: The idea that the "gift culture" is communism is hogwash.

    That is begging the question. ESR (and others) claim that Free (Ideas) Software is gift culture. The counter claim is that Free (Ideas) Software is Marxist. To posit that "gift culture" is not Marxist is like saying that libertarians are not Marxist. While this is a true statement, it is also a no-op. Or are we all supposed to see that it is so obvious that Free (Ideas) Software is gift culture that we treat the double quotes as some kind of interpolation operator and replace "gift culture" with its obvious substitution, 'Open Source'? Well, you should've written that as "$esr->{GIFT_CULTURE}" or else how are we to know?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    While I would not agree that free software is a kind of communism (though redbaiting proprietary software vendors would certainly have you believe so), it does undermine a key component of neo-conservative thought on economics: that the greatest efficiency results from competition in the pursuit of individual financial gain.

    Free software's superior efficiency is achieved through the collaborative pursuit of a given project's goals, which are as diverse as the project's participants. While this does not necessarily go against the idea of the free market, it definitely calls to question the rule of capital.

    What's really subversive about free software is its anti-authoritarian nature. Transcending domination by both the carrot and the stick, it is a threat to both the Stock Market and the Gulag mentalities.

  • when compared with capitalism. America is a disgrace to mankind, I wouldn't give a shit less if we got taken over by some more powerful country. The "democracy" we have today is an illusion, do you really think your vote counts for anything when you go to the polls? No, it doesn't.

    We need an "open sourced" government, where laws are written by the people and for the people,reviewed by peers and voted on by the people.

    Our government is getting so large eventually its just going to collapse, they just keep adding layers upon layers of bullshit laws and regulations that its a miracle you can even wake up in the morning without breaking a law.

    "Capitalism! Freedom! It's the american way!" My ass it is, if we are so free, why in the hell is 3% of our population in jail? The largest of any industrialized nation i believe, but, it's ok though cause all those people in jail are dirty, bad people and have no place in society right?

    fuck america and everything it stands for
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Take the definition from

    communism 1b) "a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed."

    That sounds very much like what the Free Software (beer & speech) idea stands for. And take specifically the example given earlier about the SCSI driver. With free (speech, not beer) software, we are encouraged to fix bugs and make the fix "available to all as needed."

    Communism doesn't require totalitarianism or dictatorship (but see definitions 2a-d at

  • Communism as well a capitalism are both ideologies founded on the concept of material ownership, while Open Source (or Free Software) is based on the immaterial properties of software, which enables me to use my neighbor's program *without* taking it away from him an thereby excluding him from using it. Therefor (without the artificial framework of copyright including its enforcement) software can neither serve as a power-preserving means of production (whose governmental control communism is demanding), nor as a commercial medium of exchange in the capitalist sense.

    While OSS opposes the artificial "materialization" of software by licensing-regulations and publicly enforced copy protection which are dominating the software industry for the last 20 years, its support for the universal availability of "means of production" (i.e. sourcecode, compilers, etc.) is in direct opposition to Marxism, which demands their total control by the proletarian government, which would likewise require a "materialization" through artificial copy-regulations. (the registration of typewriters, copiers, printing presses, etc. which is common in most communist states, illustrates this practice in the field of non-computational "software")

    A comprehensive political and economic system, which extends the Open Source gift-culture to "real world" affairs, im IMHO impossible unless, of course, someone finds a cheap means to losslessly copy material goods (replicators, anyone?). Until then, comparing the OSS phenomenon to communism or capitalism is trying to answer the wrong question.
  • Communism could be summed up by the phrase "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs". It has nothing to do with freedom or the lack of freedom according to any of the definitions often used on this board (speech, beer civil)

    I remember in the eighties when the mass media potrayed communism as something outright evil. We even get them now on some X-files episodes. The ones communism pose a threat to are the mega-corporations. They are not willing to let their properties controlled by the states, so they spent billions to spread FUD on communism, associating it with unpopular things that has nothing to do with communism. Not that I am in favor of the ideology but I think they are getting more beatings than they deserve.

    Capitalism won. With Communism, the state is control. With capitalism, the mega-corporations are in the control. The danger to individualism and freedom has not changed, only the rules of the game. If one entity is not in control, another entity will.

  • Because communism does not work. The whole idea is unworkable , regardless of implementation.
  • profit, the foundation of capitalism

    Just a little nitpick, but property is the foundation of capitalism. "Profit" exists in any arrangement where some investment of resources yields more value than the resources in their previous state.

    Regarding intellectual property, "open source" software is very communistic, in that it distributes ownership to the community (or removes ownership altogether, which is the same thing if the community includes everybody).
  • Again, no. This is a standard argument, but it.........

    But, if you consider that the value of software increases exponentially as the number of users increases, then 'gifting' that software is a reasonable way of increasing it's user base. Then you may also receive 'investment' by those users in the form of patches/features/etc. Thus, you have received a ROI... just not in cash.

    So, the original opportunity cost may not be that great of a concern. And, I might point out.... quality of software != value of software. 'Quality' is a programming issue, 'Value' is based on demand (user base + marketing)
  • Very good. But the key is what you typed in bold,
    "NON-COERSIVE." That is the test that proves that free software or OSS is neither communism nor its subsuming category, fascism.
  • No matter how much some of you would like to equate the two, it won't happen. As previously commented -

    Democracy assists in the preservation of freedom, but doesn't not ensure it

    The US is already stepping in the direction of mob rule. More politicians are concerned with various issues rathen than be concerned with the most fundamental issue of all - the preservation of individual freedoms.

  • providing services, consulting, shit like that
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I always found anarcho-capitalism to be a contradiction in terms. Capitalism cannot survive without a government to enforce it. Most anarcho-capitalists believe in a very minimal government (with police) in order to protect their privileges. Poverty will increase dramatically in a pure free-market, making the people hard to control. You need a government, with a indoctrined school system and national media to control the people. Such things could ofcourse be handled by private companies but in a real "anarchy" the capitalist economy would not survive because poeple would create their own communist/syndicalist (worker's own the production tools) economy based on fair trade. Such a system would be preferred by the poor.
  • > Marx lived in an age in which all economics were
    > based on the economics of scarcity. The second
    > half of the little equation implied the use of
    > force.

    I don't know that this is true. One of the things that Marx said would have to happen before his apocolyptic "uprising of the proletariat" (besides instantanious, world-wide communication & workers barely able to live on their income) was that the level of production per amount of work must go up -- i.e., that scarcity must cease being (as much of) an issue. And hey, it's concievable yet that this might happen. Imagine a world out of Asimov where everyone has thousands of personal robots to do their work for them.

    So it's not surprising that people who don't really understand OSS would compare it to communism -- it does have some very strong, albeit superficial, resemblances. And what's more, it definitely does bring up the issue of (lack of) scarcity, which according to my understanding of marxism, is essential to communism. Not, I think, that things are really going in the direction Marx predicted.

    BTW, it's been a few years since I've read Marx, so I could be wrong in my interpretation....
  • We're anarcho-libertarians. The exact same thing as Communists.

    Sorry. This is a stretch. "Communist" contains the word "Commune", or a group of people who all work to create software for each others' computers, and not voluntarily at that. I and other "techno-literate libertarians" write my own software, and (because it doesn't hurt me) give it away as an afterthought.

  • It drives me absolutely friggin' nuts when I see people say things like "It's not communist; it's democratic" and vice versa.

    Communism is an *economic* system, like capitalism. Democracy is a political system, like totalitarianism.

    That said, I have problems with any comparison of a "gift culture" to communism. One of the basic tenets of communicsm is "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." It's a two-way street, and a gift, by definition, is a one-way deal. Nobody is making sure that writers of open-source software are given *anything* in return, and that's where any comparison to communism will fall apart.
  • I don't know about that. Eric Raymond is an anarcho-capitalist, so obviously he doesn't think that is incompatible with a gift culture. Anarcho-capitalism is not even necessarily in conflict with the GNU/FSF view of free software, if you assume that software is something that is not subject to property rights. (There's a big schism among libertarians (US sense) on this one).

    The key to both anarchy (or anarcho-communisim or simply communism if you prefer) and anarcho-capitalism is that both are based on voluntary associations. As long as force or private property rights aren't involved (which generally they aren't with free software), both of them explain the free software phenomeon adequately. Another thing they have in common is that neither of them exist in the real world.
  • You mean it doesn't work in a world based on scarcity. In cyberspace scarcity does not exist, it costs nothing for me to share ideas or software, therefore communism can work, just not in the "real world".

  • by Anonymous Coward
    at Barbrook's piss-poor understanding of what he [Marx] thought. Look at his obvious confusion of work and labour, for example. Marx did, after all, write The German Ideology for a reason. Too bad Barbrook missed it.

    Add to that all the nonsense about the "Americans" doing this (Does that mean USAmericans only, or does it include their OpenBSD comrades de la revolution in Canada and the GNOME compatriot in Mexico and the Window Maker brother-in-arms in Brazil? Does that mean the Germanic KDE isn't part of the movement? Does that....).

    And then the fluff about "Californian" ideology.

    And then the nonsense about net collectivism.

    And then....

    To be blunt, Barbrook's essay is crap.
  • If hackers were truly communist, they would choose to write programs "for the greater good". Instead, most tend to write programs they are interested in. In this, open source programming is no less a selfish activity then programming for a "capitalist" boss. The only difference is that in one the coin of the realm is cool software while in the other it is cash.

    People work with systems like Linux because for most of them, this is the easiest they can work on on the sorts of projects they want to work on. If they love what they do, this, in and of itself, is the motivating factor. Money doesn't enter into it.

    The giving away of the software afterwords is a sort of global deal that allows hackers to work on such projects. No single hacker could build an OS. A bunch of them together can. If your goal is to build an OS, and you don't have a job at Microsoft, pretty much the only way is to share code with your buddies.

    That's what drives open source, not altruism. And in that, it is as fully "greed" oriented as capitalism. Which is, of course, why it works while communist systems, relying on altruism, mostly fail.

    In software there is no cost to the owner to give it away. People like the above author don't understand this and thus confuse it for communism.
  • There is nothing inherently capitalist or American about the open-source movement. To me, freely contributing for the good of the greater community smacks of socialism; focusing on one's own preservation, productivity, and success seems more aligned with capitalist ideologies.

    What it comes down to is this: open-source contibutors write code for different reasons. Some do it for personal satisfaction, name recognition, or because it is a challenge. Others decide to use their skills to help those who aren't as well trained or gifted, or because the enjoy being part of a massive revolutionary movement. This combination of self-satisfaction combined with actively participating in a interdependent social structure does not fall very neatly into either the socialist/communist or capitalist paradigms. And it definately is not unique to America or its people.
  • Actually you are still the copywrite holder of the software. The GPL isn't like releasing something into the public domain (which by doing you actually do lose all rights). You can release the same version of the same software with another license. If somebody else takes your GPL'ed code they must release under the GPL(this is the virus like nature of it), but you don't have to. Your next version could be under the WSL(warmi Software Lisence). You do surrender some rights, but you should probably know exactly what your rights under any software lisence you use.


  • If isn't really "From each according to his ability..." because developers develop what they want to rather than making the best use of their ability.
  • They are not forced, participation is entirely voluntary, and the original author maintains ownership of that property, to do with as they please. Sounds an awful lot like capitalism to me.

    I don't think you quite grasp that the idea that "property" denies others control over some resource, it does not enable the owner to do what they will with it. Your ability to use property is obvious and implicit. By the same token, I can steal your property and do whatever I want with it, too. That doesn't mean I own it.

    By giving code away [1], you have removed control over that property. Sure, you can do whatever you want with it, but so can everyone else. Nobody owns it, because its infinitely reproducable. It isn't really property any longer.

    And what's with this "non-forced, voluntary participation" == capitalism stuff? Tell that to sweatshop workers with no education. I'm sure they'd love to tell you about their freedom.

    [1] Yes, I know there are usually license restrictions. They exist to prevent exploitment. I think most of us would agree the ideal license is no license (public domain, or BSD and its like)
  • If this was satire, I'm afraid you forgot that there's lots of people who hold this exact opinion in all seriousness. As Usenet discovered long ago, you can't parody the real loonies.

    If you actually meant it... well, there's not much I can say to a blithering bigot like that.

  • I don't know what you call the free software movement. The problem with labeling it as an -ism is that there are too many assumptions made with the various -isms. So to avoid obvious bias, let's not call the free software movement any -ism, okay?

    But another question I have is if the free software movement should be labeled as an -ism? I mean it is arguable at best to describe the free software movement an economic system. And I truly doubt it is political.

    Software is a unique product where there is infinite supply and the total cost is research and development. So it is basicly create once copy forever. I don't think there is an economic system that deals with this. Most economic systems assume there is finite supply and sale is because of necessity. If you can't copy it freely you need to charge for it because not everyone can own the same product at once.

    I think that software should developed by people who get paid by the government because the software benefits everyone else.


  • by Anonymous Coward
    come on people RED hat .. RED!! think about it!! red hat is a communist operation thats only a plague on us americans!!
  • Ah, but libertarian capitalist or libertarian socialist?


  • "Communist" contains the word "Commune", or a group of people who all work to create software for each others' computers, and not voluntarily at that.

    Where do you get that? That's not implied in 'pure' (whatever that means) Communism at all. And I think your modern use of commune and semantic definition of communism kind of miss the point.

    But I agree that attitude or intention is important, if you will. And I don't think that most people give software away just as an afterthought. I think its actually motivating and nice to be able to just give something away, knowing that other people will find it useful, don't you think. Perhaps some people really do just realease freeware as an afterthought, but for a lot of folks its a real statement, not just of alturism, but ideals.

    In any case, it does take some of you rtime and energy to give software away. Even if its just to ftp it somewhere, that's some effort that you're putting in that is providing no incremental benefit to you at all! In reality, you probably put more care and features into it knowing that other people will see and use it.

    IMO, a lot of people have taken Ayn Rand, who had a lot of good things to say so much to heart that they're ideoligcally offended by basic genoristy. I don't think this is or should be the real libertarian ideal.

  • I wrote an article on this before... This is just a sticking point with me ;-)
  • Magically, software just gets "created" by programmers who do this on their spare time. There is however one crucial thing missing - how the heck are they going to feed their families ?
    Work for commercial companies ? Good idea, but then what's the point of advocating free software anyway, since this model is obviously unable to support programmers.
    Eh, I am tired of this theory. If you develop program you ought to have all the rights to your product. It is your creation, your time was spent on it. If any other programmer want's to benefit from it - sure, let him pay. This model is so fundamental, it is scary that some people sstill advocate "better" ways of doing business.
  • The actual political system to which we should be comparing free software is Marxism (Karl Marx), Communism is the term used for the Marxist-based-Dictatorships we see in places like China or the old USSR. In communism, everybody is equal, except the ruling class who get special privilidges.

    In Marxism everybody is equal. period. There is no special treatment or President-for-Life, just honest working people who contribute specialized skills or products to society in exchange for the basic necessities of life, and then some.

    As for contribiting and not being paid..
    First of all: Isn't the fact that you're making the world a better place payment enough?
    Secondly: If nobody contribited then you wouldn't have that CD-ROM driver your using on your Linux box, you gotta give to get.
  • Why should I care if there are "brains" enhancing my code ? I write software, I sell it. Customers want more features, I write another version, I sell it. If the "brains" want to improve something, they are free to start their own projects based on their ideas and experience. It is as simple as that.
  • It is called elitism.

    But I think this thread shows that many linux users are indeed, very pro-capitalism.

    now the religion issue on the other hand.... probably do not want to go into that.

  • Something I just thought about along those lines...

    "the way it's distributed can add value"

    Also, the way it's supported and maintained can add value. Look at it this way. Let's say that a communist state builds a road. The workers receive an incentive of some sort to build this road to their own houses so that this one road can lead anywhere in the state(effectively adding value to the road). Now, what happens when that road starts to deteriorate and needs repairs? In the communist state, the road would effectively die, because there is no incentive to maintain the road or to try to make it better. With OS, maintaining, improving, and repairing software is another way to add value to said software.

    Not a rant or a contradiction. Just an addition. I have (hopefully) added value to this thread. :-)
  • It cost you a lot. Suppose you develop great new database based on some revolutionary idea. If you release source code there will be 10 different implementations on the market in no time.
    I think you can answer for yourself how this would affect your income.
  • The world is a sick place, many of us are dependant on our computers, (Some, because they are too lazy to do their work by hand. Some, like myself, don't know much else besides computers. Plus, I'm lazy) and computers, contrary to popular belief, are not necessary to survive. If there are no computers, we would still be able to buy food, drive to the store, fly across the world, etc. Computers are just a convenience. (Another reason Y2k is stupid) We could easily live without them. (At least everyone but regular slashdot readers. :) Let's rephrase that to, the human race could go on without them. Any day we wanted to, we could say, "I don't think I'll use my computer anymore. I want to be [a mercenary; a farmer; Robin Hood; a poet; a stud muffin], and M$ would no longer have any hold over us. That's the weakness of most any capitalistic institution. The consumer has the power. If you don't buy the product, the business cannot survive. However, the consumer usually thinks that he depends on the provider for life, and never tries to wield that power. Free software is simply the people taking things into their own hands once again. Giving back to the community. Friends are more important than money. What can power bring you? Sure, world domination may be fun at first, but if everyone hates you, what have you accomplished? Do you think Gates has any friends? Sure, he has plenty of execs kissing up to him, but do they want to hang out with him? Do they want to watch the game with him? Do they want to talk with him? What does he really have? The American dream is a lie. You can never be happy. The US used to stand for freedom. Right now it stands for greed. There is nothing free in America. It's time for things to change.
  • Yes. It is a political ideology. One that doesn't work. The reason it doesn't work has nothing to do with implementation but more with human character. One of the most powerfull forces driving people is greed ( very powerfull and constructive force at that .) Communism tries to modify this natural behavior which is basically impossible task.
  • by iserlohn ( 49556 ) on Friday September 10, 1999 @07:59AM (#1690168) Homepage
    Yes, I concur. Statist communism is bad. Libertarian socialism (anarchism) is good. It advocates decentralized decision making and puts freedom at the forefront of its agenda. Futhermore, individualist anarchism revolve around *free market* principles, but with workers selling their own "fruits of labor", insteal of corporation profiting from them.

    If you look at the most modern management theory on worker empowerment, decentralised decision making, team building and the such, it bases itself on one common theme - The people who meet the customers and actually do the grunt work are the peopole who are most qualified and knowledgable about their work. In essence, type Y/Z management theory which trust people to actually like to work has many similarities to anarchist ideals.

    This contrasts to the original capitalist assumptions that people are in fact lazy and the only motivational factor for them to work is monetary profit (ie. greed). This assumption has turned many of the world's larget companies into bloated bureaucracies such as GM (with it's 15 levels of management to supervise everyone and managment knowing jack about making cars haha). Look what cars GM made in the 80's and you will understand why capitalism, as it was originally intended, has failed.

    Capitalism in its truest form exploits both employees and customers for profit. However, we do not live in a strictly capitalist world. We are heavily influenced by capitalism, and for proof, look at how the world is obsessed with intellectual property. Intellectual property is the natural way of extending capitalist control to ideas, literature, music, movies and software.

    However, does capitalist property controls belong in the realms of ideas and intellectual (as opposed to physical) works. The argument GNU makes is *no*; property should be physical; ideas should be free (as in speech).

    That is the reason why RMS stands so firmly on the issue why FS should not be called OSS. The political and ideological implications for free software is that is ensures the ultimate preservation for freedom of ideas; not just resulting in better software, but a better system for the world.

    Futhermore, capitalism and free-market are not synonyms. They should not be used as such. It is possible to have a free-market without predominant capitalist ideals. However, many business and political elites would like us to think otherwise.

    Free software, on the other hand, is one step in the right direction. It is relieving monopoly control over the intellectual ideas that they should never of had control over in the first place. They do no behave like physical property and they should not be treated as such.
  • Here are the relevant definitions from Merriam-Webster [m-w]:

    1. a theory advocating elimination of private property
    2. a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed
    3. a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production
    4. a final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably

    Emphasis mine. I've only snipped irrelevent definitions.

    So, in short, there are a few aspects of Communism which the Free Software movement shares. But by and large, we're the diametric opposite of Communists: we hate central authority and control, we like owning our own computers and choosing which OSes we run, and we don't like serving other people. We serve ourselves. We code for ourselves.

    In stark contrast:

    • 2 a : a person who upholds the principles of absolute and unrestricted liberty especially of thought and action

    I think that describes us pretty well. It's the definition of Libertarian.

  • Do you think it's just a coincidence that the Hat is Red?

    Seriously though, before KM cooked up Communism, he invented Dialectical Materialism, which analyzes systems in the context of their transitions. Capitalism will bring about its own downfall because it is a stage in the evolution of our social system, just like feudalism, monarchy, and state capitalism (aka Communism).

    While it should be obvious that Capitalism will have to evolve into (or be replaced by) something else, the nonobvious parts are how and when. KM had no idea that the computer was coming along. He understood what happens when human labor can be abstracted into a machine, but what happens when the machine is abstracted into software?

    Have a good weekend.
  • There are other sorts of compensation besides monetary, even in the "real world." The satisfaction of a job well done, the respect of your colleagues, etc. Have you ever given to someone without expecting something in return?

    It has been my experience that life is not a zero-sum game: if one wins, it is not automatic that someone else loses. Likewise, one can "win" in all sorts of ways that don't result in more money in your pocket.
  • > Why should I care if there are "brains" enhancing my code ?
    >I write software, I sell it. Customers want more features, I write another version, I sell it.
    >If the "brains" want to improve something, they are free to start their own projects based on their ideas and experience. It is as simple as that.

    How far would we be if everybody had to start from Square Zero?

    If math students had to derive the quadratic formula on their own time, instead of learning it and moving on to bigger and better math problems?

    If chemistry students had to rediscover the Table of Elements in Grade 11?

    If every OS user had to write their own kernel?

    I think you get the drift.
  • The ideas of capitalism and communism are rooted in the problem of how to best divvy up scarce resources

    Well, no. The idea of capitalism is basically economic freedom -- anyone (whether noble born or the child of a serf) can run a business with the same rights as all the other people. The idea of communism is public ownership of means of production.

    There's only so much food, land, oil, etc. to go around. If I have a barrel of oil and I give it away, I've lost something (the use of the oil).

    You're describing classic economics which assume scarcity of resources. This approach is applicable to all societies, not only capitalist and communist ones.

    Software works in the opposite way. If I give away a piece of software I write and other people use it, I haven't lost anything (I can still use the software myself)

    Again, no. This is a standard argument, but it doesn't work because people forget about opportunity cost. Say, today evening I can go to a movie or to a restaurant (but not both). If I go to a movie, not eating out is my opportunity cost of going to the movies. In the same way, if you give your software away, you incur the opportunity cost because you could have sold it, but didn't. And if you couldn't have sold it, one starts to wonder about the value of this software...

    In other words, giving away my software is the greedy thing to do.

    Tell it to Bill Gates. He must be gnashing his teeth now, thinking about how he missed his chance.

  • Carl Marx?
  • From the latest issue of Wired magazine (and my memory) something like 1/3 to 1/2 of US is online. Something like 1/4 to 1/3 of Jp is online. Most other countries had a smaller fraction online, but this is definitely not a tiny club and it is one which is growing rapidly.

    And, much of the ``gifts'' of which you speak are written by poor students and academicians and not culturally-elite rich.

    But still, that means that 1/2 to 2/3 of the US doesn't have internet, and as I recently heard on NPR, it's the poor, typically non-white people who don't. It is a tiny club, yes it's growing, but the hacker culture that grew out of the early net is mostly young white males from affluent families.

    How do I know they are affluent? Because they can afford college with enough extra time to code, and play on the net -- without working a job to pay for school. Sure, the students themselves are poor, but they aren't necessarily from poor familes or backgrounds.

    Nepotism is favoritism shown to family members. The free software culture is about the freedom for anyone to use and modify software. For the former, anyone can play, for the latter, admittedly one must be technically able

    Agreed. But we do need to see that everyone can get, use, and take advantage of OSS, not just those affluent enough to have computers, second phone lines, or cable modems.

  • ...Harpo's cousin'?

  • Bullshit. Natural science research involves sharing ideas in the same fashion as the Open Source software and it has nothing to do with communism and, I would claim, is quite succesful in the last few centuries.
    You can get a scientific journal and develop an idea introduced by somebody else without any permissions whatsoever.
    That coexists quite happily with proprietory technology development.
    The same with software, now there is common "science" part, and "technology" proprietory part.
    Principles of knowledge sharing and peer review are much older than communism. That's how human culture works.
  • Nepotism is favoritism shown to family members.

    no kidding, the only nepotism going on here is for the family at large, i.e. the species.

    blah, blah, and blah, is my summed up opinion of the article.

    Have a nice weekend!
  • There are a lot of problems with the discussion of "Communism" taking place here, a major one is that the participants have only very sketchy knowledge of what Communism is (a trait they share with the author of the Salon article). I'd like to commend you for at least attempting to introduce definitions. However, the dictionary definitions are inadequate. Communism has actually been quite diverse, especially considering attempts by totalitarian leaders to enforce absolute ideological control. Communism in Hungary, Tito's Yugoslavia, and Hoxha's Albania were all quite different, and the philosophies and policies were definitely far removed from those of Communist political leaders in Western countries (where these parties still endure, and can sometimes have decisive influence over coalition governments, such as in Italy). In the past Communism was even adopted philosophically by some late 19th and early 20th-century Anarchists. So, at one time at least there was a strain of Communist thought that did not depend on central, dictatorial control. As far as Marx goes, I see aspects of his analysis which are quite interesting to apply to the Open Source movement (esp. regarding the nature of production and exchange). But that doesn't make Open Source "Communist". And just because it is not "Communist" does not mean that it is "Capitalist" either. It does function within a so-called "free market" system, but so do chess tournaments, squaredances and addiction support groups. Are they Capitalist? Libertarian? And the trait of self-reliance ("we code for ourselves") is not necessarily inherently Libertarian either. Self-reliance is a personality trait.
  • A friend of mine wrote a paper partially touching on the "communism" of the net:
    (note, I recommend going to and following the links to get the full effect of the site...)

    Anyways, it speaks of how since things can be copied indefinately the net is the one place where communism could work...
    Read if you're interested, else, umm, don't

  • by Mr. Mikey ( 17567 ) on Friday September 10, 1999 @07:40AM (#1690197)
    It's 1999, and some of us are STILL trying to use the term "Communism" as some sort of epiphet.

    Bah, I say! My parents were driven out of Cuba because Fidel Castro, a self-styled Communist, managed to take power. You won't find a more anti-communist environment than South Florida (were many of the older generation still refer to themselves as "in exile"). Whether what goes on in Cuba would be what Marx called Communism is another matter.I spent the first 27 years of my life hearing about the evils of Communism, and seeing its effects on those who made it here. I certainly am no friend of Communism as it has been implemented in the real world. You'd think I'd automatically end up a foaming-at-the-mouth anti-communist. Guess what...

    Let's get this straight once and for all: Communism is a political ideology. It is NOT synonymous with "evil" or "baby killer" or whatever the hell else people want to label it as so as to better hitch their ideological little red wagons to.

    You disagree with someone's politics? Fine. Just don't be so lazy as to throw the term "communism" around as a substitute for rational thought. The only "Evil Empire" we face today is Darth Vader's. Rational people of good conscience should be able to discuss politics (even as heretical a concept as "capitalism has flaws") in a civilized manner. We shouldn't settle for less.
  • by Frank Sullivan ( 2391 ) on Friday September 10, 1999 @08:08AM (#1690198) Homepage
    Does this article not remind you of the gadfly ivory tower pinhead debate scene in _Cryptonomicon_?

    Communism is no more applicable to Internet culture of free information than capitalism is. Both of those socio-economic models are outdated crap based on Malthus' original fallacy of scarcity - the idea that there is only so much stuff to go around, so we must all fight each other for our share. Rather than looting the threadbare intellectual corpses of Karl Marx and Adam Smith, they should try reading something *relevant*, like R. Buckminster Fuller's _The Critical Path_.

    Ivory tower leftists declaring victory on the 'net is as irrelevant and silly as Wall Street capitalists declaring victory. Neither side won - WE won. They just don't know it yet.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday September 10, 1999 @08:21AM (#1690207)
    > If I have a barrel of oil and I give it away, I've lost something
    > (the use of the oil). Therefore there has to be some system for
    > determining who gets what.


    Marx: "To each according to his need, from each according to his ability."

    Marx lived in an age in which all economics were based on the economics of scarcity. The second half of the little equation implied the use of force.

    In a Gift Culture economy, the second half ceases to be an issue; from each according to his whim might be more like it. Given a sufficiently useful thing - say, a SCSI driver - there's bound to be someone willing to get off his duff and code it up, and from that point on, the advantages of OSS which we all know and love, take over. It's in the developer's best interest to see that the code is distributed widely. At that point, anyone who happens to need a SCSI driver can simply download it.

    But to call this "communism" - when it requires economic products (software) that were not only nonexistent, but inconceivable within the socioeconomic framework in which communism was invented - smacks of intellectual dishonesty of the highest order.

    We'll take it as axiomatic that communism is coercive and bad under the economics of scarcity - you have to coerce people who don't buy into the system to "give" up their material posessions, or you have to coerce them into buying into the system. Whether you deprive them of their stuff or try to reprogram their minds, it's coercive, and leads to the disasters we've seen in the 20th century whenever an attempt is made to implement it on a large scale.

    So much for superseding capitalism in any economic activity involving atoms instead of bits. Been there, done that, it didn't work. So let's try it with software:

    Under "cyber-communism" - who writes the code for the payroll systems? The point-of-sale terminals? The inventory software for McDonalds? All the other "boring" stuff that isn't "fun"? Or does "from each according to his ability" simply mean that instead of taking your grain or your barrels of oil, the Central Committee will simply take your time and force you to work on some mind-numbingly dull project becase, after all, you're able to code payroll?

    So much for superseding capitalism for all the grunt work.

    What's left is what we already know to be true - for certain types of software...

    > giving away my software is the greedy thing to do.
    > Schemes intended to facilitate distribution of other kinds of wealth just aren't needed.

    ...which says it better than I could have. Amen to that.

    Back to the cybercommunism article, however - exactly how this very limited subset of economic activity (i.e. the development of cool software of broad-based application) can "supersede capitalism" is utterly beyond me. Furthermore, what this has to do with communism - a philosophical system invented in an age where a Gift Culture was inconceivable - is equally beyond me. But saying that "Giving cool and useful software away is fun" doesn't quite sell as many books as using buzzword-compliant postmodernisms such as "cybercommunism" or the "California Ideology", does it?

    I concur with Ami. The arguments offered by the author just don't compute.

  • Does Barbrook have a problem with public libraries? After all, they subvert capitalism by letting people read books without buying them.

    Giving away the secrets of math used to be a crime punishable by death (think of the Pythagoreans). Good thing all we have to worry about is capitalism.
  • I think he's wrong is using the term Cybercommunism because it isn't communist. Communism is based on a more equitable distribution of wealth and power run by a centralized power who knows what's best for the masses. The Open Source movement is much more Anarcho-Syndicalist because it is a decentralized movement that rewards both giving to the community and individual effort and work. Both Communism and Capitalism are very hierarchical systems where those people on the top decided what's best for most other people. Libertarianism get's it partially right because they attack that hierarchy but they don't replace it with an egalitarian community oriented society. Like Libertarianism pure Anarchism is very similar with roots in the left rather than the right. Anarcho-Syndicalism is a combination of egalitarian community oriented values of communism and the decentralized anti-hierarchical ideas of Libertarianism.

    My point is that in the Open Source community people are working as a collective contributing individual effort for a common goal without being told by a higher authority what to do and exactly how to do it. It's easier to look at the Open Source community as it compares to simple dichotomies of cold war politics but isn't accurate. It's better market speak to say cybercommunism than cyber-neo-anarcho-syndicalist. :)

    FYI: Anarcho-Syndicalism was a major movement in northern Spain during the 1930's, and fought with other leftist such as the Communists, Socialists, and Social Democrats against the Fascists lead by Franco. The Fascists won and they were pretty much all killed or driven in to exile.
  • by El Volio ( 40489 ) on Friday September 10, 1999 @06:37AM (#1690212) Homepage
    Sorry, but I'm going to have to take issue with this. An information "gift economy" does not supersede capitalism; that's ridiculous.

    Look at it: An information gift economy (the focus of the Salon piece) essentially allows information to be free (as in speech, not beer, according to the hallowed cliche). Does that mean that the info has no value? No, it means that information's value increases as it spreads. Essentially, it's the distribution of information that becomes important. Linuxcare and RedHat are good examples of this. Linuxcare offers support services, right? The information they provide is essentially already available if you know where to look and how to interpret it. But by providing it in a different format to people who don't know where to look or how to interpret the information themselves, there is value. And I daresay that the founders of Linuxcare were motivated (at least in part) by profit, the foundation of capitalism. RedHat is perhaps a better example, since they freely give away the OS via the Net, and allow you to redistribute copies of what you do buy. Again, the value comes from providing support information and services.

    To take it a step further, yes, I can find all the information I want about, say, firewals on the Net. But I still own the O'Reilly book Building Internet Firewalls because there is so much information condensed that having it in book format is valuable. And as Tim O'Reilly has pointed out recently :) profit is among his motivations. Fine, that's the way the world works.

    Taking a look away from the information economy (which is still far smaller than the rest of the economy), capitalism is in no real danger. Think GM's going to start giving away cars and trucks to just anybody? How about DeBeers opening up that warehouse?

    C'mon folks, let's not get carried away. Information should be free, but that doesn't mean that people aren't going to try to get ahead in life. That's the profit motive, and that's human nature.
  • by Bombcar ( 16057 ) <> on Friday September 10, 1999 @06:39AM (#1690213) Homepage Journal
    Communism is simple, perfect, and not doable in the real world. The theory is great, but people's greed never allows it to work. It will work for awhile, and then crumble. (Cross reference USSR, communes, etc.) But in software, where it costs noone any money to duplicate software, it can work. But people don't want to call GNU, *BSD, Linux, etc "Software Communism," because of the connotations of the word "communism." But think: It is the efforts of all going to help all, ie, Alan Cox makes a SCSI driver. Now every one has access to that SCSI driver; it has gone into the collective pool. Now in physical communism, the pool grows and shrinks, depending on how many people add work, food, money, etc, and how many people take these things out. But in software, the pool can only grow. So when I download a SCSI driver, it doesn't prevent anyone else from downloading the same driver. It's where it is at.
  • by Evan Vetere ( 9154 ) on Friday September 10, 1999 @08:21AM (#1690236)

    Many people admit that Communism is dead, but they often say they'd like it if it weren't tied to that totalitarian government it always seems bundled with.

    But Communism can't come without that totalitarian government, much as Exploder can't come without Windows. The system does not work without a state to enforce it (much as Exploder wouldn't own the browser market if it weren't bundled with Windows; pardon the stretched analogy).

    Communism requires people to work for the good of each other, not for themselves. Capitalism requires people to work for themselves to survive. This is the simple, straightforward difference between the two systems, but many people have a hard time grasping it.

    Would you trust other people to harvest the raw materials that'll put food on your table? Or would you rather do it yourself?

    Most people, including myself, answer "Give me the plowshare!" to the above. Once I'm done feeding myself, I've got no problem helping my neighbor harvest his crop, but only after I've got a full stomach. So, in Communist nations, the Government sticks a gun to your back while you harvest your neighbor's crop.

    Linux wasn't created like this. People wrote software for themselves - whether they were just creating utilities for their own use, or they got a "natural high" from helping other people, they had their own interests at heart. And they hate central authority.

    We're anarcho-libertarians. The exact opposite of Communists.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Free Software is not Communism as it stands now, but the idea that a person who has not earned it has a "right" to software written by somebody else is espoused by Richard Stallman, and is communistic. His GNU philosophy page suggests that the GPL is only a compromise, an interim solution, so that his system can be realized in part while copyright law is still in force. But his ultimate aim, he explains, is to eliminate copyright law altogether. The world that would be created by such a change presents quite a different picture from the way things are now.

    As the GPL is now, people are asked to place their programs under it voluntarily. Some people can afford to, and they like to show off their programs, so they do. As long as that voluntary spirit continues, no one's rights are violated -- not those of authors, not those of users, not even those of businesses, who have no right to stop competition of any kind (and if they have any confidence in their own abilities, they don't ask for any). It's all rather benevolent, in fact; competition is in the spirit of play.

    But when Richard Stallman says that copyright law should be eliminated, he's saying that programmers should not have any choice about how to make money from their coding -- or, more accurately, that they should have only one: "write Free code, or do not write at all." Some people could code anyway, the same way they do now, but there would be a difference: their choice to do so would now be meaningless.

    Also, all the most popular non-free software would vanish, and John Carmack would be out of a job... and any job he could get would pay much less. By what right do people ask this of him -- but worse, by what right do they dare take it without asking?

    If copyright is eliminated, what becomes of the rights of people who create software in the first place? Suddenly anybody who sees code can copy it. So coders have to code in secret, so nobody steals their work in progress; they have to make it arcane, so they can charge for teaching about it; they have to find rich sponsors who are willing to pay all in advance, lest someone steal their work in progress, complete it, and present it for the same payment before they do... and how rich will these patrons be, considering that much of the riches of this century were made selling proprietary software! Thus, software publishers and their writers are "sacrificed for the public good."

    Remember, the communists sought to establish "freedom," too, in their own way, by sacrificing certain other individual rights in the name of the public good. But the public good cannot be achieved through sacrificing some people to others. There is no right to take the fruits of someone else's labor. It is beside the point whether those "fruits" really are fruits, or durable goods, or intellectual goods (which are the most durable of all). You have to have the owners' consent to use his property. If other people don't need your consent to take the fruits of your labor -- then you're their slave. And the idea of a "right to enslave" makes a mockery of the idea of natural, equal, inalienable rights.

    As things are now, no one has any right to stop you from giving away the software that you wrote, based on your own ideas. Because of that, Open Source software is here to stay, and it will always present powerful competition for any would-be monopolists who want to set arbitrarily high prices and restrictions. (Just like anybody else who offers lower prices and fewer restrictions.) However, no one has any right to force you to give your work away, either. And that is the way it should stay!

    If you want to sell licenses for money, and you think you can beat the risk of Free Software writing a clone (which actually isn't too hard, considering how many commercial programs there are that still haven't been cloned), go ahead. When that right dies, the real Free Software that everybody knows and loves dies with it.

    -- An Ayn-onymous Coward

  • Essentially, capitalism and communism are industrial-era terms that have little bearing on software licensing.

    Neither of them fit very well to describe what is happening in the free software world. It's sharing, and voluntary, so it's really its own thing.

    It's not even really anarchist, as there is a legal structure (copyright) that enforces what you can and cannot do with source code.

    Sort of libertarian or communitarian, maybe. The important point is that it's voluntary, at the individual level.

    Interested in XFMail? New XFMail home page []

  • by Ami Ganguli ( 921 ) on Friday September 10, 1999 @06:49AM (#1690255) Homepage

    The ideas of capitalism and communism are rooted in the problem of how to best divvy up scarce resources. There's only so much food, land, oil, etc. to go around. If I have a barrel of oil and I give it away, I've lost something (the use of the oil). Therefore there has to be some system for determining who gets what.

    Software works in the opposite way. If I give away a piece of software I write and other people use it, I haven't lost anything (I can still use the software myself). In fact, the software I have actually becomes more valuable if more people use it: 1/I'll be able to exchange files with other people (this is why MS Office is so 'valuable'), 2/I'll get bug fixes and improvements from other people.

    In other words, giving away my software is the greedy thing to do. Schemes intended to facilitate distribution of other kinds of wealth just aren't needed.

  • I think we miss a big point in these arguments when we compare the *ideal* of communism to the reality. Most dicussions involving communism that I get into end up along the lines of,

    a) "Communism is evil, cf: Russia, Stalin, Cuba"

    b) "Communism is impossible, cf: The Former USSR, Cuba, China, human nature."

    c) "Communism is unnatural, like sodomy and oral sex" (this one I won't even go into...)

    But hold on - aren't all these examples the result of an abuse of power? What people are referring to in these cases is not a failure of the ideal of communism, but a failure of the implementation of it - one reason why I think Marxism leaves a lot to be desired. You can't change people's philosophy by kicking them in the pants.

    I'm not fond of the idea that capitalism *is* "human nature", and I'm sure many of you share that opinion - which is why I think the OSS movement has such wonderful anti-capitalist propensities.

    If you don't share that opinion, and believe capitalism is the be-all and end-all of human freedom (and that OSS is simply an extension of that freedom), think carefully:

    Under capitalism, how can the freedoms of the community be reconciled by the overpowering freedom of the individual? Can they?

    I wager not.
  • by Kaa ( 21510 ) on Friday September 10, 1999 @08:30AM (#1690260) Homepage
    I completely agree that Marx and communism have nothing to do with "gift culture" and open source in general. However...

    The Internet is STILL a tiny club of culturally-elite, rich (compared to the rest of the world) burgoise representing everything despised by Marx

    That's not true. Culturally elite, maybe (although Marx didn't care much about that), bourgeois -- no. What is bourgeoisie, at least in Marx's times? They are the people who own the means of production and thus do not work, but rather live on the profits from their property. I doubt very much that the majority, hell, even 10%, of the Internet population fits this description. A programmer, and an IT worker in general, is often quite close to the idea of proletariat (cf. Dilbert) -- the fact that he works with this brain rather than his muscles doesn't change much.

    we represent a tiny fraction of priveleged humanity trodding upon the backs of the repressed masses

    Priviledged humanity, yes (although that still doesn't make us bourgeoisie), but what are those repressed masses? Especially in the rapidly gaining information economy? Hey, aren't they those programmers in the cubicles around, hunched over their keyboard, working overtime, rarely seeing the light of day...

    Of course you may be talking about the North vs. South split, but then it's hard to make an argument that the West gets its wealth by robbing the poor masses of the Third World.

    We distribute our gifts to other members of this elite class of intellectuals

    I guess it must be nice to feel oneself a member of the elite class of intellectuals. Unfortunately, I don't think Internet fills the bill. First, intellectual elite tends to mass in arts, literature, humanities, and not around such technical things as computers. Second, go to AOL and look around. 3leet, aren't they?

    It more resembles Nepotism, with the talented, rich few giving away to the less-talented rich few -- yet all members of the same, elite club

    Nepotism is actually giving out perks (like highly paid do-nothing jobs in a bureacracy) to relatives. It has nothing to do with elite clubs or gift culture. And no, I don't think that the free software culture resembles an elite club. Anyone can join -- the economic price of entry is quite low (in the West, at least). There is an intellectual price of entry which is significant -- it takes good brains in order to play -- but that is something that Marx and others cannot help with...

  • It might be useful here to point out that "Communism" is not the same as the former Eastern Bloc/Soviet totalitarian states. In several posts people are talking about dictators and freedom of information, but the repression in the former "Communist" countries has nothing to do with the idea of Communism.

    Communism was an idea, a way of organizing economies, the countries refered to claimed to be attempting to implement this idea, but most didn't even claim to have met that ideal and refered to themselves as "Socialist". It also must be pointed out that many countries that profess to be capitalist also are just as repressive as the communist ones were.

    Marx had a lot of economic theories about the future of the relationship between the people who do the wrok and the people who own the resources and the means of production, and postulated a better system that could be implemented once the former group had finaly cast off the chains imposed on them the latter.

    Communism could be summed up by the phrase "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs". It has nothing to do with freedom or the lack of freedom according to any of the definitions often used on this board (speech, beer civil)
  • If you read some of the libertarian and anarchist content on the net you should know that there are 2 forms of socialism: -statist socialism-government uses coercion to get people to work together -libertarian socialism-groups of people work together peacefully to make society better, almost no government here. I could be wrong, but I would bet that most OSS developers are libertarian, not statist socialists. Let's face it, CSS (closed source) will never die.... but it won't have the facist style grip it has economy now in the future. Loop at apple, OSS'ing OS X! They are capitalists people, not communists. As far as the GPL goes, it is only 1 part of the OSS movement, the most radical one. Allowing the proponents of GPL only OSS to define OSS would be like allowing puritans to define christianity.

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. -- Christopher Lascl