Libertarian Communists

There were three interesting threads on Slashdot today – one about gay rights, one about open source, and one about PR – which I think capture how the politics of real people, in this case hackers, so often fails to fit in the conventional categories of left and right.

The majority viewpoints in Slashdot are American, and come with a very American dose of laissez-faire anti-government sentiment and an intense aversion to socialism. Yet on social issues the tone is often progressive, as in this discussion of gay rights. I am conducting a study of gay marriage in blogs, and I’ve found the same thing: in my sample, those in favor outnumber those against 3 to 1.

Now forget about merely progressive politics, let’s talk about Communism. Here’s what lionheart1327 had to say about open source:

Open source, and the volunteer way in which it is done, is basically the utopian communism that the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc. were striving to get to, but fucked up. Real communism is not people being forced to be “equal”. It is the unselfish sharing of everything, and volunteering your time and effort for the greater good. . . . maybe Bill Gates is right, and Linux is communist? Well, if you take away the prejudice against the “C” word caused by decades of propoganda, maybe thats actually a Good Thing?

This was given a high rating of “5, Interesting” by readers, as was this response by Analogy Man:

Then there is that other ‘C’ word…Christian. . . . giving your fellow man your time, energy and expertise over the internet is a Christian thing to do. Be an open source contributor! Be a Christian Communists.

Finally, I highly an article by Paul Graham, in which he describes how PR agencies plant stories in the media. He goes on to suggest that business as usual is under threat from bloggers, who lack the phony tone of PR copy. He quotes a friend in the business about struggling newspapers: “They think the decline is cyclic. Actually it’s structural.”

He too seems to be suggesting that information wants to be free. Yet this is someone who, in Hackers and Painters??1??, that technology acts as a lever to increase the productive capacity of individuals, so the increased variation in wealth in rich countries is a good sign. Hardly the words of a communist.


1 “Mind the Gap”, O’Reilly, 2004, 109-120.