Community: GNU and Communism--Labeling for the Dumb and the Dumber
Jan 14, 2006, 17:00 (34 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Hans Bezemer)
Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame
[ 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
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
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
The idea is simple: throw a label first and people will start to
overlook any flaws in their arguments afterwards. The label is
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
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
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
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
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
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
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