I've recently been making my way through the Proudhon Reader, a collection of writings by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon recently published by AK Press. Proudhon, known as the father of Anarchism is most famous for his declaration: "Property is theft."

The simple declaration is based on pages of explanation which, simplistically, can be boiled down to the idea that workers should all equally share in the fruits of their labor. While Proudhon's influence on Marx is hotly debated, this idea is fundamental to Marx's idea around the alienation of labor. If we are working to produce a product that is then owned by the proprietor, rather than the worker, we are alienated from our labor.

Many May First/People Link members, such as Palante Tech, Openflows, Union Web Services, and Agaric Design are all committed to fighting this alienation by organizing as worker-run cooperatives. Nobody is the boss, all workers share in all profits.

However, Proudhon got me thinking about free software shops that aren't worker-run cooperatives. If you are employed by a for-profit corporation as a worker and your only job is to write code that is released under a free software license, are you alienated from your labor in the Marxist sense? The fruits of your labor might be owned by your company, but they are freely licensed to the world (which, of course, includes you).

There is still surplus value accrued to your company (if you do good work for your company, you will be contributing to their reputation from which they will profit). However, if you are primarily writing code, the vast majority of your labor is producing a product that you are fundamentally not alienated from.

Proudhon, while sprinkling the word revolution throughout his writings, was notably not particularly revolutionary in his calls for action. He was reformist. Rather than calling for a direct confrontation with capitalism, he called for worker-run collectives to be formed throughout the world to make capitalism irrelevant. While many people point to corporate use of free software as an argument for why free software and capitalism are perfectly compatible, the truth may be more complicated. Fundamentally, and in a non-confrontational way, free software seems to undermine one of the basic tenants of capitalist: worker alienation.

Now we just need to work on all the other ways corporate work places are alienating...

You say:

"While many people point to corporate use of free software as an argument for why free software and capitalism are perfectly compatible, the truth may be more complicated. Fundamentally, and in a non-confrontational way, free software seems to undermine one of the basic tenants of capitalist: worker alienation."

The following parable (apparently attributed to Lenin) leaps to mind:

"The Capitalist will sell us the Rope that we will hang them with."

And I would like to take this opportunity to make it clear that I do not wish to hang the capitalist (as a matter of fact, for years, I have been telling the capitalist to go wait up against the wall).

On the other hand, just as the capitalist will literally sell the rope (or as in this case embrace the free software building blocks of anarcho-socialist utopia), the socialist will be all humanist and fair and sharing and helpful, which, in the market is like figuratively selling that rope.

Competing with socialism in the omnipresent capitalist market is an uphill battle. Selfishness, greed and a willingness to ruthlessly exploit others will give an advantage in the competition. At least in the short term.

On the third hand, looking at the health and happiness of people in a society, it turns out that the most socialist of the democratic societies have faired the best, so even if the big bad market is pushing for privatization of everything and ruthless competition is threatening to crush ideas of civilized civilization, more socialism is clearly the sensible long term sustainable solution.

Democracy is a key ingredient. A despotic/tyrannical interim government àla Soviet Russia is not a good idea.

Distributed, decentralized direct democracy, where everyone gets to decide on everything they want is the simple answer. It would logically lead to socialism and a mostly planned economy. If we all just "sat down" to decide on everything together it would be more efficient than the current capitalist market with its entrepreneurs running around en masse, effectively blindly flinging their marketing bullshit and business ideas around everywhere, hoping to hit business opportunities.

All we need now for a pretty straight path to utopia (no more need for the same amount of slow back and forth of the pendulum of history) is some sort of global network where we all can come together to discuss and decide everything.

Comment by Anonymous Wed 04 Apr 2012 09:28:41 PM EDT