Neither left nor right – an essay on Pirate politics
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is one of the most well known Marxist slogans and it is also how Free and Open Source Software (FLOSS) is being used and produced. Is FLOSS communist?
In FLOSS you choose what you want to do and you do it your own way and you don’t need to ask anyone to let you test your ideas, just like in the free market you can test your business ideas without asking for permission. Is FLOSS libertarian?
FLOSS meets the goals of both communism and libertarianism without following the methods they propose. There is no central planning, no government is dictating what everyone has to do, no state coercion forcing people to follow the plans. But there are also no exclusive private rights over the use of the produced software, everyone can use it freely and people don’t get money directly from selling their product.
And it is not a kind of charity, there are people that participate out of pure altruism – but I suspect that more egoistic motivations are much more important: like proving your point, showing off, getting publicity or, especially in the case of companies, getting an edge in selling services related to the produced software. Let me quote a recent blog post from a venture capitalist:
MongoDB is an open source data-store for web scale applications. The first users were developers who wanted a simple, easy to get started data-store. It was perfect for hackathons and such where the developer needed to get something up quickly. This post I read yesterday does a good job of explaining why MongoDB took off. These developers became a network of users and contributors to the open source project. Many of them worked in enterprises and brought MongoDB into their teams. Soon enough 10gen started getting calls from executives saying something like “I just learned that we have 50 instances of MongoDB in production and I’m eager to get a support contract”.
This is not charity – there is a business case in doing that and there are others. Just like in the case of the famous invisible hand of the free market, the system guides the individual egoistic actions towards a common goal. FLOSS shows how technology changes economy and politics.
Software is only a part of the whole creative economy, that includes music, films, literature, patents and all other human endeavors that, in the current economic dogma, should be supported by selling copies of the original works and rights to making such copies. The idea is to reduce the creativity problem to the free market solution by granting state enforced monopolies to making copies.
This worked pretty well in the last century when making copies was an industrial process. Unfortunately with the advent of Internet and other personal communication media (like exchanging data on memory sticks), this clean solution started to show cracks. It now requires more and more state coercion supported by more and more totalitarian surveillance of citizens. It is a paradox that it is advocated by the same people who were abhorred by the state coercion practiced by the late communist governments.
I can only explain it by them being so in love with the simplicity of the free market solution that they became blind to the problems that arise when it is forced on problems that don’t fit it. It works great in theory, in a theory that does not take into account actual human nature, and in that it follows the very steps of communist regimes. Isn’t that ironic?
The pirate movement started as a protest against that heavy handed state coercion that is the result of enforcing copyright monopolies in the Internet era. It is neither left nor right – it is about pragmatic reevaluation of the policies proposed by the left or right. Do they really work towards the intended goals?
Featured Image: CC BY-SA Elena Olivo