Wikileaks, Karl Marx and You

 By Alistair Davidson

Despite blanket media coverage of Wikileaks and Julian Assange, there has been little discussion of the fact that Assange is merely one leader within a large and complicated social movement. The better analyses have found it interesting that the Swedish Pirate Party are aiding Wikileaks; some note links to the German Chaos Computer Club. But only “geeks” and “hackers” (technology workers) are aware that all of these organisations are members of the same movement.

This social movement, which has been termed the “free culture movement”, has a thirty year history. It incorporates elements reminiscent of earlier workers’ movements: elements of class struggle, political agitation, and radical economics. The movement’s cadre, mainly technology workers, have been locked in conflict with the ruling class over the political and economic nature of information itself. As Wikileaks demonstrates, the outcome will have implications for all of us.The free culture movement exists as a consequence of the internet’s political economy. Personal computers have radically transformed the economic nature of information. Before the 1970s, a given piece of information was tied to a physical object – a piece of paper, an LP, a roll of film. Entire industries were built on selling paper, LP’s and rolls of film with particular bits of information on them. Then the personal computer arrived and suddenly information of all kinds could be duplicated infinitely at minimal cost – and distributed by the internet to a global audience. Every human could have a copy of every piece of art ever created for the cost of a broadband connection.

In the terms of capitalist economics, every good has a marginal cost, which is the cost of producing one more item. Computers reduce the marginal cost of information to zero, and the internet makes distribution, legal or otherwise, trivial. Information has become “non-excludable” (copying cannot be prevented) and “non-rivalrous” (if I give you information, I keep my copy of that information). In this situation, it is almost impossible to treat information as a commodity – as capitalist economics would have it, information is a public good, like roads or national defense.

As a result, there is a contradiction within capitalism. The most obvious source of profit, the very reason for a capitalist society to invest in information technology, is to extract value by selling information as a commodity. Meanwhile information technology has steadily undermined the practicality of treating information as property.

As computers have rendered “intellectual property rights” unenforceable, the remaining method of privatising information is secrecy. Information collection and secrecy is the business model of Google and Facebook – collecting and selling information about us to their advertisers. Information collection and secrecy are also the core functions of the modern security state. It is in this context that the immense social significance of Wikileaks’ actions becomes apparent: Wikileaks is a key part of the free culture movement’s assault on the bastions of privatised information.

The present situation was predicted by visionary hackers over thirty years ago, and they set out to ensure the victory of free culture over proprietary culture, open organisation over closed, and privacy over Big Brother.

The word hacker predates the personal computer, originating at the MIT Tech Model Rail Club in the 1950s. Amongst geeks, it is used to mean a technically skilled individual who is driven to learn and experiment, a person who believes in sharing what they’ve learned with the community.

Hacker culture proper originated in the 1970s, in hobbyist clubs dedicated to the first personal computers. Hackers quickly became used to copying software freely – after all, it cost nothing to share, and reading the software’s “source code” was educational. Software became the first modern information good: infinitely replicable, at no cost.

However, others were already seeking to change the nature of software, to turn it into a commodity. How else, they asked, could the creators afford to eat? In 1976, Bill Gates famously complained:

As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid? Is this fair? … Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? … The fact is, no one besides us has invested a lot of money in hobby software …but there is very little incentive to make this software available to hobbyists. Most directly, the thing you do is theft.

This was an early appearance of the new contradiction in capitalism – a conflict between the path of greatest production (infinite copying) and the existing source of profits (artificial scarcity). Karl Marx argued that conflict between new and old modes of production is at the core of social change:

The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. … At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. –Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

As Marx might have predicted, Gates’ plea fell on deaf ears. By the mid 1980s, sharing software had never been easier and Internet Bulletin Boards were widespread. Hackers and others would make a computer-to-computer phone call to join discussions, and to download illegal copies of software. Hacker conferences and organisations emerged, including the left-wing Chaos Computer Club in Germany, and later the apolitical DefCon and “liberal” HOPE in the United States.

From its experiences of the new technology, this anarchic subculture developed a shared political and moral sense, now known as the Hacker Ethic:

  • Access to computers – and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works – should be unlimited and total.
  • Mistrust authority – promote decentralization.
  • You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  • Computers can change your life for the better.
  • All information should be free.

Steven Levy

The similarity of the ethic to older conceptions of an egalitarian society has been noted by the discussion group Project Oekonux:

The critique of market exchange and of money, the rejection of hierarchy and borders, the critique of contemporary work and the revindication of passion and freedom as primary motivations, of cooperation and of sharing as the foundations of new relations, all this is found, to a degree more or less elaborated and coherent, in the “hacker ethic.” Now these are elements that form part of the foundation of the communist project.

Some thinkers sought to move beyond an ethic and develop a political programme. The first and most important anti-propertarian theorist and organiser to emerge from the hacker world was Richard M Stallman. Stallman is a controversial figure, a geek’s geek and not always polite to his political opponents. In spite of his apparent interpersonal shortcomings, he is widely respected as the founder of the free culture movement, perhaps the first person to understand the new economic situation, and certainly the first person to do anything concrete about it.

Stallman was driven to action when he saw the nature of software begin to change – increasingly, companies kept secret the details necessary to modify their programs, and sued anyone who distributed copies. The first modern information good was becoming a commodity, against its economic nature and against the Hacker Ethic.

In response, Stallman created a new ideology, Free Software, declaring software-as-commodity to be a moral evil: Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software.

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits

(note that “free” here does not refer to the cost, as in “free beer”, but to freedom, as in “free speech” – the word has two meanings in English)

As information workers, Stallman and his peers owned their means of production and had access to the means of distribution – by the 1980s, all they needed to bypass capital entirely was a computer and a phone line. In 1984, Stallman began a public collaborative effort to build a complete set of software that respected the four freedoms, announcing it with the declaration:

I consider that the Golden Rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it. Software sellers want to divide the users and conquer them, making each user agree not to share with others. I refuse to break solidarity with other users in this way. I cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license agreement. … So that I can continue to use computers without dishonor, I have decided to put together a sufficient body of free software so that I will be able to get along without any software that is not free.

He founded a political group, the Free Software Foundation, and in collaboration with the lawyer and free software leader Eben Moglen popularised another new concept – copyleft. A “copyleft” license is a special copyright license that brings legal enforcement to the four freedoms. It grants anyone the right to modify and share an information good, provided that any modifications are shared according to the same license. In other words, you may treat the work as communal property, as long as your own modifications also become communal property.

To hackers, avid readers of science fiction, it seemed obvious that in the near future all of humanity’s information would be stored on a global computer network. Stallman realised that if state or private interests controlled the software running the network, they could monitor or censor any information they wished – and decided that humanity as a whole must have the ability to share and modify all software. This idea was most fully developed by the lawyer Lawrence Lessig when he coined the phrase code is law.

In real space, we recognize how laws regulate – through constitutions, statutes, and other legal codes. In cyberspace we must understand how a different “code” regulates – how the software and hardware (i.e., the “code” of cyberspace) that make cyberspace what it is also regulate cyberspace as it is. As William Mitchell puts it, this code is cyberspace’s “law.” “Lex Informatica,” as Joel Reidenberg first put it, or better, “code is law.”

Cyberspace is regulated by software, much as the real world is regulated by law. It follows that if there is to be a free culture, then software must be free – otherwise, corporate and state interests have an unacceptable ability to collect and censor information.

These trends – the end of information scarcity, the distribution of the means of production into the hands of information workers, the development of a broader hacker community and ethic, the emergence of ideological leaders and organisations, and the creation of a legal theory – combined in the 1990s to produce an extremely rare economic event: the arrival of an entirely new mode of production. The first example of the new mode was the Linux project.

By the early 1990s, the Free Software Foundation’s GNU Project had assembled all the free software necessary to run a computer apart from one, known as the “kernel”. Finnish hacker Linus Torvalds created the free kernel “Linux” as a hobby project, licensing it under the FSF’s copyleft license. Linus’ hobby soon became the first large engineering project to be conducted entirely online, and it developed faster than anyone envisaged. Twenty years later, it has benefited from millions of contributions from many thousands of workers around the world.

Free software – built on GNU and Linux – is now ubiquitous on internet servers, and recently began leading the market in smartphones (thanks to Google’s Android). The GNU/Linux ecosystem is a completely unique phenomenon – an engineering and artistic project of immense scope conducted across thirty years using a global workforce, with most of the work coming from volunteers simply because they enjoyed contributing.

Eric S Raymond, in his seminal essay the Cathedral and the Bazaar, made an early attempt to explain what was going on:

Linux was the first project for which a conscious and successful effort to use the entire world as its talent pool was made. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the gestation period of Linux coincided with the birth of the World Wide Web, and that Linux left its infancy during the same period in 1993 – 1994 that saw the takeoff of the ISP industry and the explosion of mainstream interest in the Internet. Linus was the first person who learned how to play by the new rules that pervasive Internet access made possible. While cheap Internet was a necessary condition for the Linux model to evolve, I think it was not by itself a sufficient condition. Another vital factor was the development of a leadership style and set of cooperative customs that could allow developers to attract co-developers and get maximum leverage out of the medium. But what is this leadership style and what are these customs? They cannot be based on power relationships – and even if they could be, leadership by coercion would not produce the results we see.

Information workers were cooperating globally and without coercion to produce property that was to be communally owned. Non-coercive productive relations were inevitable given the underlying economic truth – a computer, internet access, and communally-owned free software are all the productive capital a computer programmer needs. The cooperative, ad-hoc and voluntary nature of GNU/Linux development is exactly the behaviour Marx predicted would emerge from free access to productive capital:

Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor. The phrase “proceeds of labor”, objectionable also today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning. … labor [will] become not only a means of life but life’s prime want — Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme

Always confining themselves to information property alone, because of its non-scarce nature, the philosophers of the free software movement started to sound like libertarian communists – even though many in the community would not subscribe to leftist politics. FSF Lawyer Eben Moglen made the case forcefully in his essay Anarchism Triumphant:

At the center of the digital revolution, with the executable bitstreams that make everything else possible, propertarian regimes not only do not make things better, they can make things radically worse. Property concepts, whatever else may be wrong with them, do not enable and have in fact retarded progress. In the network society, anarchism (or more properly, anti-possessive individualism) is a viable political philosophy … because defection is impossible, free riders are welcome, which resolves one of the central puzzles of collective action in a propertarian social system.

Some hackers were unhappy with these ideological developments. On the grounds that business was perturbed by the FSF’s rhetoric, Eric S Raymond formed the breakaway Open Source Initiative to focus discussion on the technical superiority of open development models, avoiding troublesome talk about “freedom” and the nature of property.

Raymond had been invited out by Netscape to help them plan their browser source-code release … we might finally be able to get the corporate world to listen to what the hacker community had to teach about the superiority of an open development process. The conferees decided it was time to dump the moralizing and confrontational attitude that had been associated with “free software” in the past and sell the idea strictly on the same pragmatic, business-case grounds that had motivated Netscape. They brainstormed about tactics and a new label. “Open source”, contributed by Chris Peterson, was the best thing they came up with.

The Open Source Initiative helped to make business comfortable in the free software world, but the internet continued to have a troubled relationship with capitalism.

From the 1990s hackers and artists found themselves caught in an intensifying class conflict, as intellectual property owners manipulated the political process to strengthen laws protecting information’s status as property, even as that status became increasingly unenforceable in practise. To hackers, this could only be seen as an attempt to extract needless rent from a naturally abundant resource.

“Content owners”, alarmed by the emergence of file-sharing websites, began building digital locks, called Digital Rights Management (DRM), into DVDs, mp3s and even e-books. The hacker community was deeply offended by the idea of books that could not be resold or lent, and set about breaking the locks as fast as they could be designed. A class struggle was being fought simultaneously at the points of information production and consumption, because in the world of computers the point of production is the point of consumption.

Under intense music industry lobbying, several countries including the United States implemented laws banning any technology capable of bypassing DRM to allow copying. A series of high-profile prosecutions followed, most famously that of Russian programmer Dmitri Skylarov, who was arrested after giving a conference speech in the United States explaining how to break Adobe’s e-book DRM.

Under increasing attack, the wider geek and hacker communities began to radicalise to defend free speech and free information. The Electronic Frontier Foundation was formed to offer legal support. Various hacker groups adopted political aims, most often aimed at guaranteeing free speech and defending the free internet.

The hackers were fighting the struggle, but during the 2000s the means of production and distribution for every kind of artist became available to anyone with a computer – free software began to allow the creation of a truly free culture.

Lawrence Lessig, who had predicted this as part of his “Code is Law” theory, founded Creative Commons, an organisation dedicated to giving individual writers, musicians and artists easy-to-understand ways of allowing others to share and modify their work, with the stated aim of bringing the freedoms of free software to all art:

It is no accident that those who understand this are those closest to technology. Our challenge will be to find ways to explain it so other creators get it as well …. Our single, overarching aim: build the public domain, by building projects that expand the range of creative work available for others to build upon.

Perhaps most importantly, they created a copyleft license for non-software works. Creative Commons provided the legal framework for the current flowering of free culture – Wikipedia, for example, may be copied and modified by anyone under a Creative Commons copyleft license. Artists began to join the free culture movement, dissatisfied with capital’s notion of them as interchangeable “content creators” and enticed by the possibilities of distribution free from industry control.

In 2003 now-infamous filesharing website the Pirate Bay, which has pioneered partnerships with Creative Commons artists, was spun off from Swedish group Piratbyrån. Piratbyrån was a think-tank on the nature of intellectual property created by hackers, artists and left activists to counter the Swedish Antipiratbyrån (Anti-Piracy Bureau). In 2006, they founded the Pirate Party, winning two seats in the European Parliament. and there are now Pirate Parties in countries across the globe campaigning for weaker intellectual property laws and free speech on the internet.

At least some members of Piratbyrån are radically anti-intellectual property, and their vision is consciously opposed to information as a commodity:

The copyright industry today likes to present the problem as if internet were just a way for so-called “consumers” to get so-called ”content”, and that we now just got to have ”a reasonable distribution” of money between ISP’s and content industry … It is totally wrong to regard our role as to represent “consumer interests”. On the contrary, it’s all about leaving the artificial division of humanity into the two groups ”producers” and ”consumers” behind. … We are now pounding the old mass medial aura and we are in a state of transgressing the hierarchical consumer-producer society. — Rasmus Fleischer of Piratbyrån speaking at the 2005 Chaos Communication Congress

The Pirate Bay were not merely pirates – they saw themselves as taking deliberate political actions to undermine the existing economic structure in favour of a new mode of production.

Piratbyrån itself disbanded in June 2010 and the Pirate Bay was sold, however the high level of support for Wikileaks provided by Scandinavian activists and the Pirate Party suggests that the wider milieu is alive and well.

Wikileaks also has roots in an influential 1990s discussion group, the Cypherpunk mailing list. “Cypherpunk”, formed from the words “cipher”, or code, and “cyberpunk”, a science fiction genre full of rogue hackers fighting corporate tyrants, indicates the members’ loose ideology – that the anonymity and security provided by computerised cryptography (“crypto”) could create a new society free from coercion, a system know as crypto-anarchy.

Many of us see strong crypto as the key enabling technology for a new economic and social system, a system which will develop as cyberspace becomes more important. A system which dispenses with national boundaries, which is based on voluntary (even if anonymous) free trade. At issue is the end of governments as we know them today. … Strong crypto permits unbreakable encryption, unforgeable signatures, untraceable electronic messages, and unlinkable pseudonymous identities. This ensures that some transactions and communications can be entered into only voluntarily. External force, law, and regulation cannot be applied. This is “anarchy,” in the sense of no outside rulers and laws.

The cypherpunks were ahead of their time, clearly anticipating Wikileaks’s use of anonymous, encrypted internet drop-boxes by 15 years or more – but then Julian Assange was a regular poster to the list. The hacker community has created the future it used to speculate about.

In one notorious incident, cypherpunk Jim Bell published an essay entitled “Assassination Politics”, which discussed the creation of a completely anonymous site where users could sponsor the assassination of corrupt politicians. Bell was later jailed for spying on federal agents, themselves sent to spy on him for writing the essay.

Assange laid the philosophical groundwork for Wikileaks when he replied to Assassination Politics in his State and Terrorist Conspiracies:

How can we reduce the ability of a conspiracy to act? … We can split the conspiracy, reduce or eliminating important communication between a few high weight links or many low weight links. Traditional attacks on conspiratorial power groupings, such as assassination, have cut high weight links by killing, kidnapping, blackmailing or otherwise marginalizing or isolating some of the conspirators they were connected to. … The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

With a single mechanism, Assange demonstrates the political implications of the new economics of information. If all information is can be copied freely, then organisations may be faced with no choice but to conduct the majority of their dealings openly. He has simply carried Eric S Raymond’s conclusion about Linux – that its open organisational model would always be more efficient than Microsoft’s closed model – into the political realm.

Wikileaks is the first concrete realisation of the crypto-anarchist dream: completely anonymous leaking, dealing blows to tyranny. However it has also highlighted the weak points in the free internet, surviving dangers to freedom of speech and the new mode of production.

Perhaps the most obvious is that large corporations control the physical infrastructure of the internet – the big servers and all the actual wires from place to place. Another danger is the monopolisation of some services – social networking by Facebook, search by Google. And with the recent cutting-off of Wikileaks funds by PayPal, Visa and Mastercard, the danger of state-corporate action to deny funds has become starkly apparent.

As is typical, the hacker community has been working on solutions for some time. There are projects to create wireless “mesh” networks, and projects to create distributed, open alternatives to Facebook and Google. There is even the Bitcoin project, which has the ambitious goal of creating a distributed virtual currency.

Marx described, in broad strokes, the ways in which political economy shapes society and history, but left the detail up to those alive at the time. The activism, organisation and ideology we see in the hacker community today are the material consequence of a new mode of production, a fundamental shift in the political economy of information. The free culture movement has (so far) defeated all attempts, both legal and technological, to reimpose information scarcity. If Marx was right then this is simply because the winds of history are behind us.

There is no way to predict where this will end – some hackers theorise that in the future, manufacturing will decentralise in the same way as information production, a miniature factory in every home if you will. The processes favouring decentralisation and organisational openness will continue to gain strength, as will the reaction against those processes. The only certainty is that the economic nature of information has changed forever. That fact will still be transforming our society a century from now.

© 2010 Alistair Davidson. Originally published at Licensed under Creative Commons

9 comments on “Wikileaks, Karl Marx and You

  1. Graham Day on said:

    This piece is very incoherent.

    Computers reduce the marginal cost of information to zero, and the internet makes distribution, legal or otherwise, trivial.

    The problem here is that at no point in this piece is the concept of “information” defined. The orthodox definition in Computer Science is data with context and meaning e.g. “the share price of widget corp is 28p” is data, while “the share price of widget corp is 28p and an hour ago it was 32p and a year ago it was 164p” is information – it has context and meaning. But if this is the meaning here then it’s not clear that the marginal cost is zero… You can draw a parallel between producing a new widget and producing new information (from a Marxist perspective they both derive value from human labour), but the parallel being drawn here is between production (of widgets) and reproduction of information.

    Now, if you create a piece of information, and you want make ninety squillion copies of it, then you can probably construct an argument that suggests that the there is little or no additional cost to you in making those copies.

    But (not being an economist) I don’t see how you can construct an argument that suggests there is no additional cost overall. These pieces of information are ultimately stored on hardware, silicon or otherwise. The internet doesn’t transmit itself through the ether, it is carried via wires, fibre-optic switches, telephone exchanges. Producing and maintaining that hardware comes at a cost. That’s the parallel with roads: you can maintain that providing that hardware is a “public good”, but public provision of the roads is irrelevant to the ownership of the vehicles that use it. And it has to be paid for somehow…

    This piece goes on to muddy the waters further by discussing computer software, eg GNU/Linux in particular, as “information”. IMO it’s not information, it’s the tools you use to create information. And while there are some overlaps between the FSF and the likes of the Pirate Bay, there are also significant differences, particularly over copyright law.

    And then we have the references to the new mode of production. What new “mode of production”? The piece doesn’t describe one, in any meaningful sense. What it does describe is an updated version of utopian anarchism: a handful of elite individuals acting in secret and accountable only to themselves can bring down “the system”, except this time using laptops instead of those black grenades with fuses coming out the top. It was ridiculous a hundred years ago, and it’s ridiculous now…. case in point:

    Wikileaks is the first concrete realisation of the crypto-anarchist dream: completely anonymous leaking, dealing blows to tyranny.

    Did I miss something, has the world actually changed because of Wikileaks? Umm, no, the US still seems to be the richest, most powerful country on earth, umm, yes, capitalism and imperialism are still moving ahead as they have done for the last two hundred years… The main impact seemed to be that diplomatic gossip was reported as if it was fact.

    I was going to write more, but I’m not sure it’s worth it, the piece is so confused (at one point we jump from the liberating possibilities of “strong crypto” to the overall wonderfullness of the free flow of information, without a glance at the contradiction). Nicholas Negroponte has been coming out with a more establishment version of this cyber-utopianism for nearly twenty years now, it’s no more believable when dressed up in supposedly “left” clothing.

    It’s bizarre to see Marx used to justify this kind of utopian individualism.

  2. Graham

    You have fundamentally misread this piece. I think you saw the term ‘crypto-anarchy’ and let your prejudices get in the way of your analysis.

    I am no techno-utopian, but I believe this is an extremely important article, one of the few attempts by the left to deal with this issue.

    Davidson describes the new mode of production quite clearly: the freely given labour of hundreds of thousands of volunteers who have contributed to Linux have successfully collaborated in a highly sophisticated engineering project. The end product is a suite of software that rivals that produced, at enormous cost, by Apple and Microsoft. Linux is considered more stable by most experts, which is why it is the most popular operating system for web servers. There is nothing individualistic about motivating thousands of people to collaborate on a project.

    This has never been done before. We have never had mass, voluntary, gift economy collaboration that has resulted in complex and effective end products. What is remarkable about this project is that it has managed to honour individual freedom while *also* facilitating mass collaboration, with divisions of labour, hierarchies of expertise and specialisations.

    It is not only programmers who have been involved: graphic designers create icon and image sets for the desktop environment, writers produce technical manuals and guides, and media experts provide the marketing expertise by blogging about the software and otherwise sharing the message.

    If Marx said that the free development of each is necessary for the free development of all, this I can’t think of a clearer example of this in practise.

    I agree that there is a strongly individualistic tendency amongst a lot of hackers themselves, who maybe occupy the same position as Proudhon’s skilled artisans. But the fact that hackers have been drawn to libertarianism is largely due to the absolute failure of the left to understand where the class line runs through the information wars.

    The marginal cost of reproducing the world’s culture is so close to zero it is not worth measuring, because it uses existing capacity.

    I also think you are wrong to see software as a set of tools. Software does provide tools, but it is clearly information, and I believe culture as well.

    We’ve only seen the beginning of the wikileaks effect. For the most part, the infomation released hasn’t been important enough to serious threaten US power. But from the reaction of the US to Assange, it is clear that the US does not welcome this development. Wikileaks heralds an age when state secrecy becomes impossible. Governments will have to become more transparent,to mitigate the effect of future leaks. This will have a profound effect on politics. It will be very interesting to see how this unfolds.

    There is no contradiction between crypto and the flow of information. Cryptology means we have the confidence to share information freely because we know we cannot be tracked and monitored.

  3. Wonderful. I have been talking about this kind of thing on my own blog for years – the “self-organization of computer nerds”, as I call it. In every era, self-organization and opposition to private property in the means of production has arisen among the category of workers whose skills are most of value to the capitalist order, and right now that’s the computer geeks. (Which is why socialists who concentrate on the most oppressed and downtrodden workers and write off those with relative privilege as “middle class” or otherwise irrelevant are missing the point.)

    The United States, in particular, has only been able to keep itself out of total crisis because of its income from media and information technology. Therefore, free software and the Pirate International are hitting the chain of imperialism at a weak point, just like Lenin said. And as the article says, this is what happens in the real world where the relations of production run head-long at high speed into the forces of production.

    Of course, every great strength has its corresponding weakness, and the weakness of this movement is a libertarianism bordering on arrogance which would have you believe that only information is wealth and therefore has contempt for common gutter proles and whoever doesn’t have their skills (who makes those bowls of instant ramen, or indeed your hardware, guys?). So the fusion of the traditional workers’ movement, Marxist cadre and the Pirate International necessary to take on the world. We’ve been talking about red-green alliances for ages – I don’t know what colour would represent the Pirate International. Chrome?

  4. Graham Day on said:

    #2, Davidson describes the new mode of production quite clearly: the freely given labour of hundreds of thousands of volunteers who have contributed to Linux have successfully collaborated in a highly sophisticated engineering project

    It’s certainly a great achievement, but don’t see that as a “mode of production”, it’s more an act of public benevolence… an act that has in fact been heavily subsidised by large corporations like IBM, Sun, Oracle and Red Hat, as well as by academic institutions. And the labour could be “freely given” because the volunteers had the leisure time that enabled them to give their free time – how else did they eat?

    However, if we for the moment assume that this assertion is true, then how is it likely to translate into fields other than the reproduction of information? Food production, building, power generation, mining etc? It’s not obvious, is it?

  5. how is it likely to translate into fields other than the reproduction of information? Food production, building, power generation, mining etc? It’s not obvious, is it?

    Yeah, and it wasn’t obvious either in early 20th century Russia what relevance the struggles of the urban proletariat had to do with the problems of the peasantry, either. But an alliance had to be built.

  6. Graham Day on said:

    #5it wasn’t obvious either in early 20th century Russia what relevance the struggles of the urban proletariat had to do with the problems of the peasantry
    It was after Lenin explained it.

  7. Harsanyi_Janos on said:

    “In act that has in fact been heavily subsidised by large corporations like IBM, Sun, Oracle and Red Hat, as well as by academic institutions. ”

    IBM has devoted huge resources to developing Linux as IBM mainframes running Linux are competitive with Microsoft server farms. It is not all bearded men in spare rooms working on Linux.

  8. Anonymous on said:

    Just because corporations like IBM, Sun etc have used Linux, promoted Linux and contribute to kernel development doesnt make any difference.

    Im sure all those dodgy left wing sects that have a newspapers and a youtube channels are thankful to the work large corporations have put into the technology only for us plebs to use thier work for own ends.

    I find it funny that becuase the left doest not understand FOSS and copyright in the digital age it finds spurious arguments in favour of the status quo.