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On Open Source Code, Computers and the Revolution

by rosa Monday, Jul. 08, 2002 at 9:14 AM

The following are excerpts from the debate on – the website dedicated to a discussion of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA’s Draft Programme and issues of revolutionary strategy.

Subject: On Open Source Code, Computers and the Revolution Subject: On Open Source Code, Computers and the Revolution

The following are excerpts from the debate on - the website dedicated to a discussion of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA’s Draft Programme and issues of revolutionary strategy.

Subject: Open Source, New Society
Posted by: Area Man
For those who don't know: Open source code is software that is not owned. It is written by programmers, made public, shared, and reworked collectively. Lots who work on this and use it are hostile to Microsoft and monopoly (if not always capitalism) -- and want to "subvert the paradigm."

What is a revolutionary communist view of this? Where does this fit into the revolution, and the people's struggle?

I've dug into the political economy of American in Decline (by Raymond Lotta) some -- I don't think anything epitomizes capitalism's fundamental contradiction between socialized production and private ownership like the way the ideas of people (software) are twisted to make money for the few. And the software is totally fucked up in the process (how much money and human work is going into anti-copy schemes, or spying on the user, or making the code secret, or making programs incompatable with the competition etc).

One the other hand, I don't believe that alternative software schemes will weaken or replace monopoly capitalism.

I notice the site uses open source code (linux, php etc).

I can't find where the Draft Programme talks about the madness of "intellectual property rights" or issues of how software will work under socialism.

Will socialist countries be hooked up to the same internet and email as the capitalist world? And what will that mean?

And what role do the anti-Microsoft forces have to play in preparing the revolution? It seems like a subset of "what role to progressive countercultures and cultural movements play?" I think this counterculture can be absorbed (cherrypicked) by the system -- parts of it used, parts of it marginalized, etc -- if it is not hooked up with something much more conscious and revolutionary.

subject: Re: Open Source -- New Society
Posted by: rosa(rl)
There is this whole idea out there that without competition and profit people can not be creative or innovative, that it takes the threat of not making money to make people do anything worth while. But here, right in our face is this open source, created not for profits and showing high levels of innovation and creativity and going beyond.. far beyond microsoft’s crap, disproving in practice the myth that we are useless without the cattle prod of capitalist-imperialism up our ass.

subject: "Open Source" vs. "Free Software"--a little background
Posted by: supa penguin
If my understanding is correct, there was originally a Free Software movement (started mainly by Richard Stallman, also widely known as "RMS"). Some forces within it wanted to make free software (free as free speech and also free as in "free beer") more "business friendly" (and also figure out ways to be paid for their work--an understandable problem, living under capitalism) and created something that's a bit different called Open Source. Technically free software is inherently open source, that's part of the definition. But Open source is not necessarily FREE, as in the definition the Free Software Foundation uses.
Anyway, what makes a program free vs. simply open source is the "license" it is released under, and what rights you are granted by that license. For example, the license that Microsoft execs have recently been red-baiting and condemning as "unamerican" is the GPL or General Public License, which grants you the right to change, copy, redistribute, etc. Whereas some "open source" licenses don't include all these rights and instead grant some "intellectual property" to the authors…
On the other hand the Free Software people emphasize the rights you get with free software and emphasize concepts like "liberty" and such. Not surprising since the "father" of this movement has strong libertarian politics, so on the one hand it has a lot of good things to protect individuals' rights and the collaborative nature of free software, "helping your neighbor" etc. -- but the worldview is largely shaped by and limited to the confines of a petty proprietor type outlook.

subject: Open Source: gimme more background
Posted by: Area Man

Lemme poke a penguin -- and see if we can get some more politics and background on this issue:

* Didn't IBM just move into Linux? Didn't they just do a phony graffiti campaign promoting linux (and even send IBM people to spraypaint penguins?!?)

* What does it mean that some companies are commodifying open source (red hat etc.)? I.e. what does it mean for those who think open source is radical?

* Didn't the Pentagon just agree to use Linux (and overrule Microsoft's complaints to the government about that) and what does that mean (politically) for the movement?

In other words, all those people who thought of open source as a big subversive way to fuck Microsoft and Windows, must feel like "whoa!" -- their own baby is starting to look like the beast.

it is kinda a repeat: There was an earlier thing that the Internet was inherently uncontrolable, that it was inherently subversive. That "information wants to be free" etc.

In a way, the rapid explosion of new technology is subversive -- in the sense that the base challenges the superstructure, and the more integrated, social and intertwined our life is, the more production itself rebels against the constraints of private ownership. As Mao says "tools talk through people" -- i.e. the socialized production rebels against private appropriation through the medium of proletarian rebels (to put it funny and provocative). But it isn't like the new productive/technological means are themselves (in a direct unmediated way) a subversive challenge to capital.

At least that seems to me to be a lesson that is out there to be learned, and a message that is waiting to be delivered.

subject: Microsoft vs. Socialist Revolution
Posted by: QED on 2002-12-06 19:55
Let me just throw something out...

A quote from lenin:

"The business of the bourgeoisie is to promote trusts, to drive women and children intothe factories, to torture them there, to corrupt them, to condemn them to extreme poverty. We do not 'demand' such development. We do not 'support' it; we fight it. But how do we fight? We know that the trusts and the employment of women is progressive. We do not want to go back to handicraft system, to premonopolicitic capitalism, to domestic drudgery for women. Forward through the trusts, etc. and beyond them to Socialism!"(From Lenin on War and Peace, Three Articles, P. 64, written 1916)

Lenin is writing long ago -- as monopoly capitalism had just emerged, and marxist theory was just starting to grasp and analyze the changes it had brought to capitalism. He is talking as women (in many cases for the first time, even in Europe) were being swept into wage labor -- and monopoly was accelerating the process of replacing earlier forms of production (artisan production, peasant handicrafts etc.)

But, leaving aside the details and his specific historic moment, and looking at the historic sweep and method: is there something similar to be said today about, say, Microsoft?

Microsoft is widely and justly hated. (Loathed may be a better word.) One reason is that the (capitalist) dreams of "entrepreneurial dot-com startups" waging market guerilla war against capitalist giants -- have proven to be a bitter joke, as a huge new monopoly emerged from the software world, gobbling up the "little guys" like peanuts at a party. Another reason is that the promise of the new software, the internet etc. are being twisted in gross ways to serve "business" -- profit, property rights, capitalist efficiency, surveillance, etc. And, the "new economy" of high tech computer production has swept millions of poor people (especially young women in east asia and elsewhere) into the most gruesome capitalist conditions often from remote peasant village and handicraft work).

So given that, are there (in a world historic sense) some "progressive" aspects to this emergence of software monopoly and the growth of this exploitative "new economy"? (Again, in the sense of "objectively historically progressive and helping to lay the material basis for classless society" not "politically progressive and challenging the current rule of the capitalists.")

And if so, what are those aspects? Global standardization? Rationalization? Even, the bringing of millions into closer connection (including as proletarians in an increasingly inter-knit global labor market)?

And what do communists say to those who hate and wanna fight Microsoft (without tailing and adopting the widespread "competitive capitalist" illusions and daydreams)?

Do we say: "We should fight the awful impact these capitalist moves have on people's lives. But we should also grasp, in a sweeping way, that we can't, and need not, defeat monopoly from within capitalism, and it would be reactionary in some ways if we tried to reverse things by going backwards. So 'forward through the trusts to Socialism!'"

And, if this is our overall orientation, how to we say that, today, in a popular way, that makes sense and connects with a generation (including of programmers and hackers) whose sights are often no higher than building their own guerilla capitalism to fly under Microsoft's radar?

subject: Re: Computing Technology & Socialism
Posted by: QED

Steel wrote: "Some people will need to do the accounting work to allocate resources, people and products to the factories where people work and to the shops where people buy the goods that are produced from the factories. Without computing technology to lessen the logistical load of such enormous number crunching and planning a privileged bureaucratic class of planners and accountants will inevitably arise..."

There is a long history to this dream that supercomputers can automate socialist planning, and so solve the key problems and enable highly detailed centralized planning and eliminate the pressure for a market. There was a whole school advocating this in the Soviet Union.

The problem with this is on several levels:

First, it envisions planning as the centralized micromanagement of economic processes.

In fact the heart of planning is a political vision of the larger directions and proportionalities of social production. A plan is an ideological form. And the key thing is line, not the level of details (or the actual government mechanism through which it gets formulated). This is covered in Chairman Avakian's book "Mao's Immortal Contributions."

2) This post has a confused view of where restoration comes from (putting forward the non-Maoist theory of "bureaucratization").

At the risk of simplifying Steel's view, he suggests that restoration comes from too many bureaucrats, and so if we can automate government operations we will have fewer bureaucrats and therefore a smaller social base for restoration. Wishful thinking, based on a mistaken understanding of "where the enemy arises from."

Maoist analysis suggests that the forces for restoration are not mainly by the usurpation of power by bureaucrats, but from the contradictory nature of socialist production itself, that gives rise to capitalist methods and forces at all levels (factory level up to key centers of government).

This will not be solved by developing computers to micro-manage the economy (in the place of government employees).

It will be solved by continuing the revolution (under the dictatorship of the proletariat) -- by mobilizing the masses, relying on them, raising their understanding of the key line questions and controversies of the socialist period, and by leading them to overthrowing new bourgeois forces and digging up the soil from which they have sprung.

And as Mao said: this involves also leaving many economic issues for local initiative (not centralizing everything) and having a dynamic interaction between different parts of the economy, and different ownership systems within the economy.

I'm sure Steel didn't intend this -- but his theory seemed like a "techno-fix" for what is really and ultimately a problem that can only be solved by a deepening revolution.

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