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Open Source Software is not Communism, it's Anarchism

Despite the usual diatribes by Microsoft and others, Open Source software has more in common with Anarchistic ideals than Communistic ideals. With that in mind, I came up with a better 'flag' to represent Open Source than the one presented on another website.
Copyleft Anarchy
Copyleft Anarchy

Recently there was a story posted on SlashDot about Bill Gates derogatorily calling open source programmers 'communists'. This is nothing new, Microsoft executives seem to invoke the 'dirty commies' diatribe every year when they got nothing else bad to say about open source(OS). However, this always generates a long list of the usual replies in 'defense' from OS programmers that their software is just as 'true-blue, capitalistic, patriotic' or whatever they deemed good (yes, some of them do point out that there isn't any reason to get defensive as there isn't anything wrong with communism, etc. But they are often in the minority on Slashdot for some reason). At any rate, someone went as far as making a old soviet-style flag with a 'copyleft' symbol on it.

I think both sides are wrong. In my opinion, the way in which open source software is created is much closer anarchistic ideals than communist ideals. After all, there's no centralized goverment entity granting authority in all these programmers to go forth and do a open source project. In general, projects get started when one or a group of programmers decides there is a need to fill very simular to how many anarchist collectives get started. Although there is usually a 'project leader', rather than being someone 'appointed from above', it's typically the person with the most knowledge or experience. They don't typically have any 'authority' to order people around; if they try (and, yes, there are few OS projects where this has happened), usually it just causes the other participants to 'fork' the code base and start there own project. So decisions are typically made so as to include all people involved in a project very simular to what a collective does.

Also, the software is made available in such a way as to make it a close to 'common ownership' as possible. In fact, it's usually licensed to keep it that way. This concept of 'common public ownership' is usually what gives open source it's label of 'communism' but this also is a concept of anarchism, maybe even more so as in communist society, a government entity distributes goods whereas in an anarchist society, it would be individuals(or groups of them) that would do so.

I should point out not all open source projects are run this way. The ones run by or with close ties to corporations do seem to have problems with these ideas probably because the 'corporatism' and 'anarchism' are about as diametrically opposite of each other as one can get. However, it is a general feeling among many open source advocates that they SHOULD BE run this way.

So, if any flag should be made for the open source movement, maybe this one would be more appropriate.

PS: The image is 'copyleft', so you're free to use it or modify it. But in the 'spirit' of open source, just don't 'own' it :-).

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sorry about broken links 16.Jan.2005 20:28

flower skunk

Somehow the links are broken in the article (I'm not sure why). So here are the links in text:

Slashdot article: www.slashdot.org/articles/05/01/06/1337228.shtml
flag: www.boingboing.net/2005/01/05/bill_gates_free_cult.html

reclaim the C word! 16.Jan.2005 21:24


Central governing authority is not part of any "communist ideal"; it's a compromise many "communists" resign themselves to in the course of trying to make any changes in the real world that are likely to persist in the face of the counter-revolutionary violence that inevitably materializes after anybody does anything positive.

When Bill Gates et al. call us "communists" he's not interested in the kind of finicky philosophical distinctions being drawn in this article. If he has any concept of "anarchism" at all it's probably Johnny Rotten's version. Conceding that "communism is bad" but objecting that we're not communists isn't likely to work very well as an argument. When the bad guys say "communist" they mean people like us who think the things we think. If "community" is a good thing, then what the hell's wrong with "communism" anyway?

(The Soviet Union's gone. Is Russia better off? Is it more "free" now? Were its problems caused by "communism" or are they ongoing features of Russian culture, history, ...?)

OSS is capitalistsic 16.Jan.2005 22:51

Justin whoplanswhom@dodgeit.com

I would tweak that a bit. I'd call it Arco-Capitalist. Capitalism, when stripped of the pejoratives thrown at it, is nothing more than the, hopefully, free trade of property rights. In case of OSS, work is done to better the program without patent and copyright incentives. But that's not to say there aren't incentives, albeit limited, for using open source, including increased flexibility and faster testing. In fact, Microsoft is facing stiff competition for Internet Browsers with the likes of Mozilla and Firefox (my favorite).

None of that is possible without a market (and lots of free time).

But regarding the statement in the comments "If 'community' is a good thing, then what the hell's wrong with 'communism' anyway?" Well, too many confuse the community of the coerced that Marx was resigned to concede and the community of the consented.

blah 18.Jan.2005 03:17


The contemporary distribution of private "property" is hardly based on the "consent" of the deprived, now or in the past. Capitalism does not and has not ever existed anywhere without coercion and violence. Capitalists and capitalist sympathizers who selectively apply anarchist arguments -- decrying government abuses of power and then veering off into a fantasy world where corporations and businessmen never lie, hurt anybody, or rip anybody off -- make me ill.

Copyleft == intellectual property == intellectual theft 18.Jan.2005 20:30

Against GNU

Copyleft cannot be an anarchist idea because it depends on the state to enforce the author's 'property' rights and legally restricts people from using the creative work in certain ways.

All intellectual 'property' must be abolished, including GNU and Copyleft.

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