Posts Tagged ‘Socialism’

I’ve recently changed computer operating systems, moving from Windows 10 to a version of Linux called Mint. I was motivated primarily by concerns about privacy and had grown weary of a computing environment that was constantly trying to sell me stuff I didn’t need.

I won’t bore you with what is wrong with Windows. Others have done so in some depth. If your Inner Geek is up to it, here is one of the better anti-Windows rants I’ve come across.

Changing operating systems is not easy. Different OS’s “think” differently. Habits of mind have to be overcome. Muscle memory needs to be reoriented. As well, one needs assurance that one can do all the things in the new system that one did in the old one – in my case, finding decent video editing software was the biggest challenge. Finally, one needs to ensure the new system will work with one’s existing hardware.

I did a lot of research before installing Linux Mint. In the course of that research, in which I looked at a bewildering array of Linux versions (called “distros) and software, I discovered a philosophy of technology development that makes me optimistic about the potential for the transition from capitalism to a more liberated state of political economy.

The philosophy I’m referring to is encapsulated in something called the Free and Open Source Software movement. FOSS is not an organized entity in the sense that a political party, trade union or professional association is. It is decentralized. There are no dues to pay, no flags to salute. Rather, it is a principle that software should be “free to use, modify and distribute.”

“Free” doesn’t necessarily mean “free of charge” although most Linux distros are available for free as are thousands of Linux-based software applications. The “free” in FOSS is freedom from capitalist property rights. One is free to use and modify the software to meet one’s needs and to share the modified and in many cases improved product with others who can, in turn, improve and share their version. And the beat goes on.

This freedom is facilitated by the “Open Source” part of the formulation. Simply, the code that used to run the application is readable by anyone who knows how to program. Unlike proprietary software (think Microsoft Office), programmers can look at open source code, see how it works, change it and use it without having to pay licensing fees (think Libre Office, the FOSS equivalent of Microsoft Office).

The FOSS philosophy encourages and facilitates cooperation in the development of technology and has even begun to influence other forms of cooperative endeavor. A prime example of open source thinking is Wikipedia.

Values associated with FOSS are the polar opposite of those common to capitalism: cooperation as opposed to competition, sharing as opposed to selling, openness as opposed to secrecy and social benefit as opposed to private profit.

I very much doubt that typical FOSS enthusiasts (and their numbers are legion) think of themselves as socialists. However, in practice they embody the core values of the socialist movement – a belief in sharing, openness, cooperation and the public good. This makes me optimistic about prospects for changing the system.

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L. B. Foote / Winnipeg Free Press Archives 1919 Strike Crowd gathers at Victoria Park

L. B. Foote / Winnipeg Free Press Archives
1919 Strike
Crowd gathers at Victoria Park

Sometime in the 1990s, it became fashionable for many socialists to refer to themselves as “anti-capitalists.” I’m not sure why this was the case, but I suspect it involved a large measure of opportunism; socialism (at least that variant represented by recently imploded Soviet Union) had become discredited but the dominant capitalist system still refused to deliver the goods, hence the “anti.” Anti-capitalism also worked nicely with the “anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-imperialist” patter that Leftists liked to rattle off whenever ask to describe themselves. Unfortunately, upping the ANTI made it difficult for the uninitiated (and for younger comrades who lacked the history), to understand what it was we stood FOR.

In Canada, the NDP purged the word “socialism” from its program and relegated the Regina Manifesto to the memory hole. Activists increasingly described themselves primarily in terms of ethnicity, race, gender and physical ability. Lacking an overall vision that could inspire and unite all of these various identity groups, activists have been unable to stop the downward spiral of living standards. Rather than challenge the system responsible for the impoverishment of growing numbers of Canadians, the Left fragmented into fighting single issues in isolation from one another, forever on the defensive, increasingly ineffective and incoherent.

I think it is time we began to say what we stand FOR. Furthermore, I think it is time to reclaim the socialist vision that underpins so many of the progressive aspects of Canadian society. More on that in future posts.

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