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Community: GNU and Communism--Labeling for the Dumb and the Dumber

Jan 14, 2006, 17:00 (34 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Hans Bezemer)

[ Thanks to Hans Bezemer for this article. ]

The most intelligent label I ever saw was on a railway station in Woerden. It was upside down. All commuters turned their head to see was was written. It said "This label is upside down," which was completely correct.

When I made my way outside, I saw the same label again. This time it was instantly readable. And then it dawned on me. The label was still correct. Positioned this way, it had lost all its purpose. The only way it had any effect was when people were forced to turn their head. So, whatever its position the label was always correct. I've never seen a label like this again.

Labels are easy. When you put them on a jar, you instantly have an idea what is inside, whether it is correct or not. Labels are a fine thing for jokers. They can make you put salt in your coffee or make you smoke oregano (if you happen to live in Holland).

Labels are also dangerous. If you think a jar contains salt and you put arsenic to your boiling pasta you can kill someone. Labels are fine for criminals too if you come to think of it.

Labels can also spread fear. Labels like "arsenic" can make you avoid a harmless jar of salt, simply because you think it is going to kill you if you use it. Most people do not have a lab at home to test it. Others will simply throw the jar away, because it is too much trouble to test it and a pack of salt is quite cheap. They have other things on their mind or simply don't want to take any chances.

In short, labels are a shortcut to thinking. Like any instrument, they can be quite useful. However, in the hands of a criminal they can be a disaster.

Warmongers and propaganda secretaries use labels as well. "Jewish conspiracy" was enough to get you to the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. "Nazi" was enough to send you to the goelag in the former USSR. "Communist" was a free ticket to destroy someones life in USA of the fifties. Yell "Microsoft" and you will have the attention of any OSS proponent. If someone starts throwing labels you are sure they want to get their point across no matter what.

The idea is simple: throw a label first and people will start to overlook any flaws in their arguments afterwards. The label is enough.

Having lived in Europe all my life, the word "communist" will not ring any alarm bells with me. Almost every student in Europe has flirted with socialism or any other left wing movement at one time or another. I've visited a lot of "socialist republics" before the wall fell. Socialism (in any form or shape) was a part of my study in those days, just like capitalism. So I think that I know a little bit of what I'm talking about.

What I regularly see on the Internet is that people who don't have a clue of what "communism" is about start throwing labels in order to cloud the minds of ordinary men. They've never visited a "communist" country, spoken to a 'communist' or read a book on "communism."

First, "communism" is a word that is exclusively used by "non-communist" countries. "Communist" countries don't call themselves "communist," because that concept is excusively used to indicate a perfect socialist state. The "communists" paradise, so to say. A clear indication that someone who uses that word is out to confuse you. Mohid Joshi is such a man.

In his article he again tries to place Open Source into the "communist" league. And although he writes a lot, his reasoning is seriously flawed. The techniques he uses are familiar. Joseph Goebbels was a master in mixing facts and half-truths in order to persuade the public to make the wrong conclusions.

First flaw: "History has repeatedly shown that these things are best left to market forces--which is one of the biggest democratic forces." As a matter of fact quite the contrary is the case. Let's examine the case of "Standard Oil." I've taken this from the Wikipedia, according to Mohid Joshi probably a "communist propaganda site," but if he's not happy with the text, I promise you we won't send him to the gulag, but let him simply correct any misrepresented facts.

"Standard Oil's quasi-monopolistic position had been established through aggressively anti-competitive business practices, including a systematic program of purchasing competitors or running them out of business by any means necessary, legal or otherwise."

Hmm, sounds familiar, huh? I can't put my finger on it, but it makes me think of a certain software giant. Anyway, I think there are few people that consider price fixing, bid rigging, and market allocation schemes "one of the biggest democratic forces."

Later on he argue: "So had any of these vendors seriously considered marketing UNIX at a commodity price, there would have been no Linux." Well, Linux comes with a GNU license, which (according to Mohid Joshi) is anti-democratic ("communist," so not a "democratic" market force). However, if the Open Source Movement "was born out of necessity to create efficient software," which one was more democratic to your taste? In one single line he also denies Microsoft the argument, that Open Source "stiffles innovation."

Mohid Joshi also shows again and again that he doesn't have a clue, because Open Source and GNU are two different movements and he keeps mixing them up all the time. Ask Richard Stallman!

Second flaw: "GNU GPL became the most popular license because of whole freedom philosophy woven around it (read GNU Philosophy)." I don't think so. Most developers are no lawyers and have neither the time nor the knowledge to put together a decent license. Other Open Source projects do, like Apache, Mozilla, Sun, etc. As a free software developer I chose the LGPL, because I want improvements of my library to come back to me, so others may benefit too. Still, my library has been used in at least two commercial products. If you don't like that, you can still use the BSD license (also considered Open Source). Microsoft used it in their products, but the world never saw any improvements. So if you name your chapter "The Great Software Robbery," make sure you point at the right villains!

He also forgets to mention that GNU is a license. If you don't agree to the license, then don't use the software! Did I forget to mention that I have not agreed to Microsoft EULA several times, without ever getting a refund? If you name your chapter "The Great Software Robbery," make sure you point at the right villains!

Third flaw: " It [FSF] fails to acknowledge requirements of different sections of society." Again, not all Open Software is GNU. Second, the GNU license offers more options to users that proprietary software. You can change it, recompile it, adapt it, even sell it, whatever you want. That is more freedom than proprietary software usually offers. True, not everyone will use it, but if you want to, you can.

I could also argue here that proprietary software fails to acknowledge requirements of different sections of society, simply because I cannot change it, recompile it, adapt it or sell it. That would hardly make software companies "communist," would it?

Fourth flaw: "The GNU philosophy (and GPL--its mode of implementation), put forward by Richard Stallman has a very stark resemblance to communism. It may be thought of as its virtual avatar. To find why, read on." Then the poor man fails to deliver. He jerks a quote from Subhasish Ghosh completely out of its context, simply because it has the name "Marx" in it. In that article Subhasish Ghosh argues that not everyone will use the freedoms the GNU license grants--which is true. But it's hardly a proof that GNU equals "communism."

The conclusion is even more baffling: "So due to this incorrect model of co-operation put forth by FSF, small-time and low budget developers, who do not have adequate resources, often end up using GNU GPL. They are subsequently forced to give up one thing that could have stopped their project from being low budget, their intellectual property rights, now forfeited by the GPL virus."

First, by using the GPL license, you do not transfer your rights to the FSF. You haven't given up any property rights as well. Proof? MySQL and Trolltech offer both commercial licenses as well as GPL licenses. Second, nobody forces anybody to use the GPL. Like I said before, one can choose from over 60 different Open Source licenses.

But it gets even better! Mohid Joshi turns out to be a communist himself: "Therefore it is very likely that some other person possessing these [vendor] skills will reap benefits without ever bothering to pay the programmer who has no intellectual rights. Thus maybe few smart individuals may benefit but a large section of society will find itself helpless."

My dear Mohid Joshi, that happens when you work for a company like Microsoft! After a full day of work you go home with a measely salary (a fraction of the benefits) and you've given up all your intellectual rights! Since the company has a monopoly on production resources, they get richer and the programmers get poorer. That's why "communism" was invented by Marx in the first case!

Finally, he claims that "...they [FSF] are using litigation not technology to make a profession obsolete." Okay, first they were "born out of necessity to create efficient software" (which in his view isn't technology?), then they are "subsequently forcing programmers to give up... their intellectual property rights" and now they're "using litigation to make a profession obsolete." If that isn't inaccurate reasoning, what is?

And even if all that is true, we're all still living in a democracy that treats people like grown ups, making their own choices and having their own responsibilities. No programmer will ever be "enslaved," because it is always the "responsibility of programmers to upgrade their skills according to new environment."

I can only give you one advice if this becomes true: "The collaboration and sharing without monetary compensation will not aid in globalization but rather communism." Get out while you can. Don't become a programmer. Try baking bread. Bakers never get out of style.