Class, Internet, and the Industrial System

Z. zodiac at gold.interlog.com
Sat Jul 29 05:38:36 MDT 1995


On Fri, 28 Jul 1995 tlmkr at tlug.reptiles.org wrote:

>   	       1) What is the class character of internet?
>
> 	The origin of internet is the Unix operating system. It began
> as a tool created by programmers for their own use at AT&T. It was originally
> a system that was freely distributable amongst workers, without the
> restrictions imposed by bourgeois property. The original Unix was eventually
> stolen from the workers through legal action by AT&T and by 1984 it became a
> wholly proprietary system with the traditional licensing restrictions that
> characterize the software industry today.

Etc.

This is a cyber-version of capitalist accumulation.

Independent individuals created something in a "commons" and, in a scene
repeated thousands of times, the capitalist class woke up one day and
realized there would be great profit if they could create an artificial
scarcity by acquiring "ownership" of something that was hitherto "free"
-- i.e., public property.

Louis mentions the book _Hackers_... which has a large chapter on Richard
Stallman and the Free Software Foundation. Stallman adheres to that
original, anti-private property ethic of software hackers from the 70s.
That is, code floats around and the enjoyment is in trying to improve
it... then sending your own work out again, for others to copy/improve at
will. No individual monetary profit. But the common good is increased.

This is completely antithetical to standard capitalist ethics. So much
so, if you sit them, or their apologists (who are rife in the computer
media), down, they get rather redfaced and angry at the mention of the
name Richard Stallman.

Last March, I was asked to sit on a panel on net-related subjects. After,
panel and audience went to a pub. One rather knowledgable prof sat at my
table and somehow Stallman came up. He spat out something to the effect "I
would NEVER have anything 'free' on my computer! And certainly not by
STALLMAN!" It was pointed out he probably uses scads of freeware via his net
account -- the hypocrite -- but his knee-jerk reaction was telling. (This
asshole, as he got drunker, revealed his true nature; there was a young
cop at our table -- who seemed rather embarrassed to be a cop -- and the
prof was soon telling us how the police must protect "us" technical elite
from the commoners... I shit you not.)

Anyway -- as our friend from tlug (Toronto Linux Users' Group) points
out: this entire software community is under attack. One route is
copyrighting not just software programs, but "phrases". Little chunks of
code. The arsenal of Microsoft patent lawyers seeks to gain monopolistic
control of software design by using the courts to "fence in the commons"
-- getting legal right to phrases that appear in thousands of programs.

Some phrases are extremely basic. It would be like trying to copyright
boiled rice -- it has an immediate effect on all kinds of other recipes.

Small companies then wake up one morn to find they are infringing on a
Microsoft patent and must deal or die with Microsoft. (The courts may
ultimately side with small business over the monster of Microsoft...)

> are being trained, and hired. Large numbers of formerly petty bourgeois
> workers are being proletarianized as the industry begins to concentrate, and
> force bourgeois techniques on production in order to appease the imperatives
> of price, profit and property.

Excellent analysis. The closing of the commons creates a new
proletariat...

> It is a beach head of the Dual Power that will catapult history out of
> its current impasse, into the new beginnings of the Proletarian Epoch.

Dunno if I'd go quite that far... but the clear success of non-capitalist
relations in producing the net/UNIX has radicalized a good number of
technical types. Go to any gathering of netheads and you will invariably
find a few closet socialist/commies/anarchists (or whatever label they
feel least threatened by) lurking...

They have seen firsthand that decentralized, community property can
produce something capitalism itself never could have produced. And isn't
that the key to surpassing capitalism? A system which outproduces it (in
both wealth and happiness)?

Ken.

P.S. I'm about to leave for an 8 a.m. Microsoft all-day conference at the
SkyDome. :) They are hyping their new Microsoft Network... Gates is speaking.
(I assure you I didn't pay for this myself.) Might I pass along to Bill
anyone's best wishes? (Please... no ammonium nitrate fuel oil bomb
recipes...)



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