Open Source Communism

(Originally from OnceAndOnlyOnce)

[OnceAndOnlyOnce communism discussion moved to OnceAndOnlyOnceCommunismDiscussion. OAOO is not a practice explicitly discussed in OpenSource or FreeSoftware.]

- Is open-source some kind of communism?


In my mind, open-source IS a kind of communism - if you think of it as a common, cooperative pursuit of a goal which provides an improvement to the common good without the inclusion of a trade of benefits for services. (Which, while it certainly doesn't resemble any of the political communist instances, does meet some idealistic definitions.) - Brian T Reid (and first WIKI post - refactor all to heck, please!)

I didn't say that the open source is communism with the intent of the following rant, but the oposite. Open source is good, then communism is? Communism is bad so open source is? (The Microsoft position) I'm just trying to show that good and bad things aren't clear. There are a lot of trade-offs. I'm showing the trade-off. I think that the following rant is not correct. -- AurelianoCalvo

Sounds like you're trying to mould Open Source to a definition that you consider tantamount to Communism. Please provide better points and evidence to support your claim. To cry "Open Source is Communism" seems to be the gut-reaction of uninformed/biased detractors who, for some reason, feel threatened by it. (It was definitely my reaction before I learnt more about Open Source.) It is insufficient to argue that something is Communist when you don't provide points, parallels, comparisons, or evidence to support your arguments. Anyway, this reactionary anti-Communism bias is a relic of Cold War propaganda; propaganda that one-sidedly espoused (like what all war propaganda would) that communist U.S.S.R. was evil; propaganda that was then supposedly justified when the U.S.S.R. collapsed under its own weight. But this propaganda has really stuck in the public consciousness (especially here in America), so much so that it was (and is) cheap fuel often used to try to discredit opponents and provoke a political "witch hunt". To America's credit, this isn't anywhere as prevalent as what it was before. Unfortunately, it is still used every now and again throughout the world. Off topic, the "Communism" that was practised by U.S.S.R. and Red China was apprehensible, no doubt. They were, though, deviations/misimplementations of true Communism and of Marxism. Thank you Ancient Greece for Democracy! It has proven to be a more stable implementation of government than anything else. And thank you America for promoting freedom of association, speech, and religion. Thus if folks find merit in Open Source and its methods, and they want to support or to practice it, they can. On topic, this "Open Source is Communism" fallacy, is mostly propagated by folks who make loose parallels between the two and who then try to pass it off as fact in an attempt to discredit Open Source. -- CarlosNsRodrigues

Communism isn't just the abolition of private-property; it's also a specific political structure meant to spur on the natural death of capitalism vis-a-vis the rhythms of dialectical materialism. It can be distinguished from socialism, for example, and Marxism in general. The dictatorship of the proletariat ended up being quite brutal in practice in many Communist countries. A name like OpenSourceSocialism? might get you closer to the question at hand.

Admittedly the 'revolutionary dictatorship of the proleteriat' was supposed to be a transition phase into Communism. It is not, itself, the 'ideal' communism envisioned by Marx.

It's worth noting that the 'ideal' communism would have succeeded admirably if physical objects (e.g. food, housing, machines) could be cheaply duplicated. Software products can be cheaply duplicated... and the OpenSourceSoftware community is, indeed, succeeding admirably. That said, the open source community is, while oft political in nature (as any community based on idealism ought to be), is not exactly stateless or classeless or particularly concerned about states and classes. OpenSourceSocialism? does seem a better name.

I wonder what economic and political revolutions await the world in the future when physical products can be cheaply duplicated (due to advances in technology).

Finally, who cares? Does it matter if open source software is or isn't communist?

It matters to me. I think it is about how open minded we are. Can we see the good things about stuff that we don't like? (AurelianoCalvo).

Yes. All too often I hear the FallaciousArguments "We all agree Mr X is evil. We all know that Mr X does Y and uses tool Z. Therefore, tool Z is inherently evil, and doing Y is wrong in all situations.". Maybe Y and Z are perfectly good things.

Y and Z could be. Of course, that should only be determined after we had studied the two, independent of Mr X's use/misuse of them.

But why is it that we can share everything in software but not in real life? It's because of the absence of the TragedyOfTheCommons. For instance, think about someone who is copying software without owning the copyright. Even if that person uses the software a lot, it does not interfere with the rest of the world's ability to use the software. I think that in the OpenSource model, we take advantage of it in order to make things better for all of us. Because everybody can use software without destroying the common, I think that sharing software is the right way. But here lies an "impedance problem" with capitalism. Capitalism advocates that the FreeMarket is the way to collaborate. The FreeMarket is the entity that distributes resources. If we have scarce resources, FreeMarket has proven to be an acceptable solution. But in software, resources are virtually free. So let's just copy everything? Wow!! Wait a second, I'm a programmer and I have to eat (and buy computers, and study, and go ski next month). Computers, food, and ski weeks are scarce resources! And here it is, the impedance problem. There are a lot of patches to this impedance problem: intellectual property, copyright, software protection schemes, patents, RIAA, DCMA. But all these are patches. I don't know how to solve this problem. The FreeMarket is unable to handle ideas at it's full potential. So we need other means to administrate them. We need some way to share this ideas with everybody else. We need a "community of ideas" (like the scientific community). So that's why OpenSourceCommunism appears.

-- AurelianoCalvo

Where is the FLOSS central planner? Where are the cruel masters, telling you what you must implement? Why do we have competing implementations in many arena-? How is this Communism, beyond "Oh good God, people are sharing stuff, and they won't pay me to make what others are giving away for free?"


One big difference between FreeSoftware and communism is nobody ever tried communism.

Another is FS has no reason to avoid symbiosis with capitalism. I put my FS projects on my resume, right? -- PhlIp

FS is a "gift economy", such as primitive tribes without money practice. Not communism.

Modern oriental cultures also have a gift culture, and there is nothing primitive about either. Nor are gift-cultures a Communist ideal, so this is an additional counterpoint to the whole "Open Source is Communist" debate. -- CarlosNsRodrigues

Generically, open source is not inherently communist, although it is communal. However, and quite despite his protests to the contrary, open source as defined by Richard Stallman and his GPL do equate to communism. One only needs to read his treatise Why Software Shouldn't Have Owners ( to see the parallels to the Marxist principle of collective property rights over private ownership. Indeed, he reasons that if you engage in the sale of software you are in effect perpetrating theft against your neighbor by denying him free access to that program by means of economic disadvantage (read: paying for it). To earn a living by developing and selling software is high treason in Stallman's world of open source, unless it is released under the auspices of the GPL and thus emasculated of any proprietary protections.

Brett Glass put it best in his short essay,

No he doesn't. You put it much better in the above paragraph. Glass prefers to spread long disproven myths and disinformation about the GPL. Example paragraph:

"The GPL fails to produce the maximum benefit because it is designed to exclude commercial software developers. Have you ever watched the childrens' game that is sometimes called "Keep Away," or "Monkey in the Middle?" In this game, an object of value to the victim (the "monkey") - for example, his or her lunch bag - is passed from hand to hand but kept away from him or her. This is a cruel game, and it is very much analogous to the situation which the GPL is designed to create. Everyone can use the code in a way that benefits him or her except for the commercial developer - who is stuck "in the middle." His markets are destroyed, and he is deprived of the use of a public resource to which everyone has access but him.

This is unethical."

First, Glass claims that the GPL does not produce the "maximum benefit" (for whom? I'm assuming for society as a whole). This is true if it can be shown that copyleft never leads to open-sourcing code. In practice, this has already happened, though, numerous times. Companies have open-sourced code because the GPL required them to. For instance, a router manufacturer was recently challenged in front of a court to comply to the GPL's copyleft, or stop distributing, and the manufacturer chose to comply. The GPL may not produce higher societal benefits than let's say BSD-style licenses in all situations, but Glass has no evidence for claiming that it never does.

Second, Glass argues that GPL'ed software was not a true "public good". This is false, because everyone can use it as long as he/she complies to its terms. Being a public good does not mean that there are no restrictions. For example, you may take a swim in a public pool, but you are not allowed to piss in it.

Third, he portrays it as though the GPL would deprive vendors of "commercial" (in fact, proprietary) software of what's rightfully *theirs* ("his or her lunch bag"). This is the problem with some vendors of proprietary software: You give them your little finger, and they try to tear your entire arm off, claiming that it belongs to them in the first. If you do not want to comply to the GPL, go write your own code, and then you may justly state that it is yours. "Mine, mine and all mine"-Ballmerism doesn't work well in front of courts that have confirmed the legal viability of copyleft, and that's a good thing.

Fourth, Glass claims that copyleft was "unethical". This is always a matter of point-of-view, but Stallman created it in response to his traumatic experience with Emacs, which, after many months of code sharing, a co-author did not want to "give back" to Stallman. Copyleft is designed to protect the community of code-sharers from those who would like to wrap their software up in a black box and attach a hefty price tag to it for the sole right to use one binary copy of it. It does so by forcing co-authors to give all their (publicized) changes back to the community. Though it may be argued that the BSD-style licenses are "more free" towards developers than that, there is nothing unethical about copyleft. In effect, Glass (like Ballmer) is a hypocrite for arguing that the GPL is not "free", when all he wants to do, is to take GPL'ed code, and put it under a decidedly non-free and non-open source shrink-wrap license. Copyleft takes away your "right" to make non-free software out of free software, and this is what both Glass and Ballmer find so disturbing.

The Benefits of Truly Free Licensing ( : "...Stallman advocates: banning commercial software and commercial software companies. The stated purpose of the GPL is to destroy all programming jobs which pay better than what is earned by a poorly paid university researcher or a starving graduate student.

No, he doesn't. Stallman advocates banning the possibility to own software (and thus extract a lot of money from the users just for licenses). He (and the FSF) are not against making money with and around software at all, as can easily be seen at (, at "Some Easily Rebutted Objections to GNU's Goals". Glass obviously didn't bother to read the GNU Manifesto before criticising it. In fact, numerous software companies are known that make money selling GPL'ed software and support for it, for example MySQL, Trolltech (QT) and RedHat.

In short, by GPLing your code, you are participating in a vendetta - Stallman's vendetta against commercial programmers. You may want to read up on Stallman's story and history before you continue to do harm in this way."

Which, even if it were true, is an instance of the (, more precisely the good ol' (

The Benefits of Truly Free Licensing ( by Brett Glass is taking a stab at GPL and NOT Open Source. Even BSD TCP/IP stack is Open Source. It had to be to be available for both commercial and non-commercial use alike. GPL has nothing to do with Open Source being good, bad or evil. It's a licensing strategy, nothing more, and nothing less. It's a legal part of the story.

-- AshodNakashian

Communism: "A theoretical economic system characterized by the collective ownership of property and by the organization of labor for the common advantage of all members"

Open-source bears the hallmarks of communism, and why not? - it's great in theory.

Except that it is not theoretical, nor is it an economic system, nor is it characterized by public ownership of the means of production, nor the public ownership of anything else, nor is the organization of labor organized for the common advantage of all members. The open source movement is profoundly selfish. It is what happens when a hacker creates software in his own self-interest, and realizing that by making it open, it will become better.

However, history has taught us that there are fundamental problems in the communist ideal, and I believe some of these are already surfacing in the open-source world.

open-source and the communism analogy (


I personally don't believe FreeSoftware is communistic - in fact it is much like pure capitalism! By opening the source for modifications, one makes it easy for the users to improve their copy of the program. Then as compensation for this right, the copyright holder requires the same privledges for copies of the user's program. Isn't this barter? (I think it is.) In other words, the GPL is simular to a contract specifying the price - i.e you redistribute code, which is based on mine, under the GPL) - for a service - the right to view the source and make modification.

As for Brett Glass's essay, The Benefits of Truly Free Licensing, I agree and disagree. His arguments seem to work well for programs of infrastructure, but there are other types of programs where it is ethical to use whatever license you wish - including MicroSoft EULAs or the GnuGeneralPublicLicense or even PublicDomain dedications.

For instance, Glass uses the BSD TCP/IP stack as a specific example. He argues that many companies wouldn't use their code and protocol if they had to open their entire package's source as well (as the GPL requires). I agree conditionally. It is important that the barriers of entry are low for developing programs that communicate with each other, if you want a lot of competition between companies. There is little innovation in creating a library that follows the TCP/IP standards; so if any one company had a monopoly on it, then they could add large barriers and control the market like a dictator (would that be corporate communism?). Cooperation between developers is paramount in setting up the market.

However, there are a lot of possibilities in application which use those standards - web browsers, email clients, chat messengers, and others. So allowing for ClosedSourceSoftware? or FreeSoftware provides incentives for developers (e.g. money for copies of the program for the former, the right to use your modification and cheap developement for the latter, and money for support for both) to use the standards to innovate in those areas.

So OpenSourceLicenses? can help support cooperation and competition between developers and companies. Its socialism and capitalism, but not communism. -- JimmyCerra

No, no, no and once more NO... The thing which was wrong about communism in the USSR was that it was being built by idealists and it didn't have a remote chance to evolve naturally.

The case was that any software company who had made any program before the revolution was robbed and their source was made public. To make them unable to produce further commercial code their computers were taken away and given to open source community. (When there was no more open source programmers the computers were given to farmers who didn't have any idea what to do whith them (some of them managed to play solitaire).

The open source code seemed to be free but actually the small group who managed the cvs repository made all the programmers pay them some money for their services, so the programmers had to work for them. So all the programmers did something for the open source community but there never seemed to be a stabile release for 40 years!. When anybody actually needed a stabile release, you had to find the original programmers and pay them some money to make you something that works. So they usually took the code from the same repository and fxed it and sold it, (and made some more bugs in the common cvs which only they knew about).

The system crashed when some of the programmers managed to put up some of their own repositories to fix and sell the code which had been done by all the other programmers during the 40 years. - Evr

The thing which was wrong about communism in the USSR was that it was being built by idealists and it didn't have a remote chance to evolve naturally. The idealiam was already inherent in the communist manifesto, which if I recall says that because communism is the ultimate solution there is no need for any opposition parties. As I remember, the communist manifesto pretty much advocates violence against capitalists to seize power as well. Open source does not preclude closed source as one of its ideals nor does it advocate attacking closed source institutions (i.e., I've never heard the fsf call for ddos attacks against microsoft).

I guess this link answers most of the questions we have. I just found it Arhay

Unlike most folks here, I don't know nearly as much about Open Source as I do about communism. The first thing that should be said here is, by their own definition the various countries ruled by Communist Parties over the course of the 20th century did not claim to be communist societies. Rather they identified themselves as socialist, by which they meant not (as the term is sometimes used) a more moderate system than communism, but rather a transitional one between capitalism and communism. Also there is a wide range of views among people who identify as communists about how to characterize or assess the soviet, Chinese and other experiences. I'm not here to defend those governments and think that question is largely irrelevant to the question of the communist character of Open Source.

Generally within Marxism, the term "communism" refers to the future society in which people are able to fully realize their potential as human beings and in which there are no longer social classes and therefore there is no longer a need for a coercive apparatus (the state). Marx argued basically that human history was characterized by a progressive "mastery" of nature expressed in increasingly sophisticated technology and social organization of production that made possible an expansion of the realm of human freedom. This progression however does not proceed in a steady evolutionary manner, but rather through a revolutionary unfolding of successive forms of class society. Capitalism, according to Marx, unleashes the productive capacities of humanity as no other previous system could. Ultimately however capitalisms technical capacity to meet the full needs of all of humanity is thwarted by its foundation on a system of private property in the means of production. That is to say that we have the techical capacity to decently house, feed, clothe, educate and meet the other basic needs of every single person on this planet, but are prevented from doing so by the organization of the economy in the interests of a truly tiny capitalist class that owns most of the productive wealth. This concentration of ownership at an earlier stage in the development of capitalist society had the positive effect of facilitating economies of scale, but now serves only as an obstacle to social development and as a source of enormous irrationalities (for a fraction of what we are spending on the war in Iraq, for example, we could construct systems to deliver clean drinking water to everybody on earth who doesn't have it yet).

So what does this have to do with Open Source. One of the main forms of capitalist irrationality is the creation of artificial scarcities in order to bolster the prices of certain commodities at the point that their unit costs of production should make them virtually free. This is the case, for example, with many foodstuffs. The U.S. has the capacity to grow enough grain to feed the whole world, but we pay farmers NOT to grow food. But the area where this irrationality is most glaring is INFORMATION. Technologically we have reached a point where we can reproduce electronic infomation so cheaply that it costs more to maintain the apparatus of collecting the money than it would to just abolish it. In spite of concerted efforts to obscure this state of affairs by means of the obfuscating language of intellectual property rights, more an more people, including importantly many producers of electronic information, the irrationality of the system is just too glaring. Open Source and related phenomena are an expression of this underlying social reality. The system of intellectual private property for profit has revealed itself concretely in so many situations as an obstacle to efficiently meeting peoples needs and as a brake on creativity.

In "The Communist Manifesto" Marx and Engels define communism NOT as an ideology or a utopian blueprint for the new society, but as an objective movement produced within capitalism that embodies its revolutionary transcendance. To my mind Open Source is undeniably communist in this sense of the term (regardless of what anybody thinks about the hamhanded bureaucracy of the Soviet Union). Open Source represents the disintegration of the system of private property along the cutting edge of technological development. While in the present moment it is an assault on the monopolistic logic of intelllectual property rights, I believe that the critique of the irrationality of intellectual property rights will progressively reveal itself to be applicable to private property in general. The idea that the means for producing automobiles or stereos (or any other socially produced and socially useful goods) should be concentrated in the hands of a small minority of property owners is ultimately just as absurd as banning peer-to-peer filesharing. The only difference is that the system of physical private property is so ingrained in our minds that we don't recognize it as socially and historically constituted and treat it (mistakenly) as natural, while the intangible and instantly reproducible qualities of electronic data lead us to imagine that it is those qualities that make intellectual property rights absurd. The truth is that those apparent qualities are simply the most advanced expression of a generalized trend invoving many different technologies (the revolution, robotics, etc...) that reduce the labor power needed to produce a particular quantity of ANY commodity.

The scarcity of goods under capitalism is increasingly an artifice maintained by violence and deprivation. As a revolt against this irrationality Open Source represents the new society being born within the shell of the old. Call it what you will, it looks like communism to me. And I think that's a good thing.

What a nice piece of commie propaganda. Of course the idea that scarcity (more correct limited resources) is artificially created is ridiculous on its face, and there have been more than enough empirical proof of TragedyOfTheCommons (including TragedyOfTheCommonsHappenedHere) to debunk this idiotic myth that only if you wish it so, there's plenty of shit for everybody, including what happened in "socialist" countries that run their economies into the ground contradicting the prediction of marxist theory that once the means of production are in the hands of the working class, milk and honey will flow everywhere. Guess what: it doesn't.

So boy, contrary to your handwaving, you don't know shit about communism. -- CostinCozianu

"Of course the idea that scarcity (more correct limited resources) is artificially created is ridiculous on its face" - It's not ridiculous, it's done every day and it's called "intellectual property". What's ridiculous is your failure to notice that scarcity is increasingly being created by artificial means, be it through copyright (scarcity of copies), patent (scarcity of usable ideas) and trademark laws (scarcity of usable names). The only thing among these that may experience a kind of natural scarcity are names and thus only trademark law has some foundation in the "traditional" theory of property. A long, long time ago, copyright and patent law, however, were created through societal acts that weighed the benefits of these sorts of monopoly rights against their costs for society as a whole. Nowadays, WIPO tries to make believe that "IP" was a human right, if not a God-given law carried down from Mt. Sinai, that all societies have to guarantee no matter what the consequences. It is this insane practice that Stallman (and others) criticize. Where they often get it wrong, is equating artificial scarcity with natural scarcity and thus over-generalizing their resistance to the carcinogenic spread of "IP" to the field of real property over naturally scarce resources.

I think it's very important not to conflate the practice of communism in the open source realm and the practice of communism in the political/governmental realm. The key difference between the two is the consent of the participants. In the open source world, the participants willingly (and presumably, knowingly) agree to a set of rules that promote sharing. In the political/governmental world, most of the participants have been forcibly coerced into participating. This makes all the difference.

-- MarkAddleman
Communism has a bad name. So we shouldn't use the word communism when talking about free software primarily for that reason. It doesn't matter if communism had or has some major advantages. Instead, the fact that it has a bad name or a bad reputation is more important to people when they are making judgements. If wars have been started because of "communism" people automatically relate communism to war. I also think that life is not as simple as left wing/right wing. It's far too easy to group items topics into "communist" or "right wing" "left wing" categories. But in fact, it's more complicated than that. There are some things about free software that are very "right wing" and some as very "left wing". For example It's not as simple as grouping free software into "communism" category. It is so much more complicated than that. The important part about free software is that people are happy with it. People that argue about it are the same people who argue with their tax man about never ending issues that go around in circles. You are free to argue but why not be program instead? I think FreeSoftware/FreeHardware is about focusing efforts on developing and using the software, instead of just using it.

It is interesting to note that as Secretary of State, Jefferson ran the first American patent office.

For him, its purpose was to disseminate, make known, inventions, not to protect them. He hated monopoly and was determined that the patent process shouldn't serve it. The peculiar character of an idea, said Jefferson, is that "... no one possesses the less because everyone possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me receives [it] without lessening [me], as he who lights his [candle] at mine receives light without darkening me."

I think it is erroneous - almost silly - to characterize this viewpoint as "communism" or "socialism" or any other -ism.

Open source tends to work against monopolization of ideas - especially in the context of what our patent office has become: the place where people (including corportate "people") throw up a toll booth across the highway of knowledge and extort "fees" from those who wish to make an idea, embodied in a product, available to others.

Coupled with a largely corrupt legal system, the farce that is today's patent system serves to enrich those with pockets deep enough to wield "law" until the resources of a perceived competitor are exhausted.

Open source doesn't force redistribution of wealth (the hallmark of the various social -isms), but rather it prevents the captivation of knowledge by an elite few.

Douglas Adams in "Last Chance to See" observed that: "Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."

It is ironic that human beings are willing to take that next step - to prevent others from doing so - thus enriching a select few in the short term and impoverishing the race as a whole in the long term.

Open source is aimed at the longer term. There's nothing wrong with the accumulation of wealth, but the rapacious acquisition of said wealth and establishment of dynasties without regard to the longer term advancement of Mankind is ... short sighted. -- GarryHamilton

Another question: Is Microsoft Fascism?

No. Bill Gates put Microsoft firmly with Capitalism. But Microsoft itself is a corporate entity built of individual thinkers. It has gone through phases where a great many of its programmers work for what they considered to be the greater good without any real opportunity for profit. The guys at the top sometimes need to shut such things down before they get too far.

View edit of October 16, 2009 or FindPage with title or text search