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Re: GNU General Public License?

From: Alexander Terekhov
Subject: Re: GNU General Public License?
Date: Tue, 31 Jan 2006 16:44:31 +0100

Alexander Terekhov wrote:

The funny thing is that the guy pretends to be a sort of anarchist.

In in interview with Spiegel Online Stallman said "I tend toward the
left-wing anarchist idea", and to LinuxWorld Today he said I am a sort
of combination between a liberal and a leftist anarchist."

(The Free Software Movement - Anarchism in Action)

- Crossover

There are currently some points of contact between the free software
movement and the anarchist movement, as well as the wider
anti-capitalist movement. One example is the ActiviX group, who arrange
training days to help activists learn how to use GNU/Linux. There are
also an emerging culture of 'HackLabs' in several European countries,
open computer access in political spaces. One is currently being set up
in Freedom Press book shop in London. Such work should continue and
increase and the connections need to be drawn more. Anarchist theorists
would do well to seriously consider the implications of the movement for
anarchism as a social and industrial theory. For too long anarchist
theorists have had to point to past examples of more libertarian ways of
creating and maintaining complex systems. With the advent of GNU/Linux,
we no longer need to rely on the past alone. Caution should be used in
such analysis. As noted above, the free software movement is not totally
anarchist, nor even fully libertarian. The facts and their implications
should be studied with humility, seeking for learn more than we seek to
teach. Also, we should not be overly concerned with interest shown in
the "open source" movement by Troyskyist and other left groups. Small
groups of free software programming groups jealously guard their
independence by instinct.

- Our favorite web sites use free software

It is also worth remembering that anarchists and activists in general
use plenty of free software already (though we could stand to use it on
the desktop more). If you are reading this article on you
are using free software as you browse, even if you used a Windows or
Apple machine to access the site. You are using GNU/Linux and other free
software every time you use the following web sites (only a few among
thousands): Indymedia UK and international, Infoshop,, AK Press UK. Many of the community based online
software systems, forums and open content packages for web sites are
free software, including the Indymedia code bases.

- Engels' "steering a ship" argument

In his campaign against anti-authoritarian ideas within the First
International, Engels asked in a letter written in January 1872 "how do
these people [the anarchists] propose to run a factory, operate a
railway or steer a ship without having in the last resort one deciding
will, without a single management?" (15) Anarchists know full well that
the way in which co-ordinated work takes place -authoritarian hierarchy
or by freely co-operating groups electing recallable delegates where
needed- makes all the difference. Now we have in GNU/Linux and the rest
of free software movement many compelling examples of complex systems
that have no leader, no central government or management (Linus may be
the 'dictator' of the Linux kernel, but attempts no domination of other
projects, even if that were feasible, which it is not).

- The contradictory role of big business

Big businesses with a vested interest in GNU/Linux like Sun, HP and IBM
often employ their programmers to adapt it to add a new feature which
will make it more usable with one of their hardware products. The nature
of the GPL, however, means that these modifications and additions must
be shared with the community. Why would large corporations give stuff
away for free? It should be remembered that these are generally
companies who make their money from hardware, not software. Software is
regarded as an expense. Being able to draw on the resources of the
community is a big plus for them, and this is something that the Open
Source movement has often argued to get them on board. This accounts for
the corporate embrace of GNU/Linux and "open source" in recent years.
Apple's OS X uses as its core the BSD UNIX operating system. However,
because BSD uses a more permissive non-copyleft free software license,
the freeness of BSD did not 'infect' OS X and it remains non-free. The
core of the OS (without the nice graphical Mac interface) is maintained
separately as the free 'Darwin'. This is a good example of why copyleft
should be used to protect common property.

* The Future

So anarchists should realise that although free software pushes the
boundaries of freedom, ultimately, it works within capitalism and could
never 'infect' the whole system. It does nothing about more general
wealth-sharing, decision making in other industries (or even many in its
own), or wider social relations. Although the concept of copyleft
(expressed in the software world mainly by the GNU GPL) is
revolutionary, we should not be fooled into thinking such concepts alone
will lead to a free society.

At one point or another, the free software movement is going to meet its
limits. Either limits in its own vision, limits imposed by the system of
capital itself, or even limits aggressively imposed by threatened
businesses. In fact, we can see the beginnings of this in current
threats to free software: things like the Microsoft anti-GPL propaganda,
SCO's law suit against the Linux kernel and the advance of software
patents in the US and threat of them in the EU. The limits are very real
ones, especially when you consider that the Internet itself is, in the
words of Chomsky "an elite institution", with the majority of the
world's population not even having used a telephone. Free software would
certainly be one part of a future free society. Although it can not
fully thrive under capitalist conditions, like independent media, it
should be encouraged to go as far as it can - pushing back the walls of
our current prison.


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