[ox-en] Translation complete: GNU/Linux - Milestone on the Way to the GPL Society
- From: Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>
- Date: Sun, 12 Dec 2004 21:03:20 +0100
Finally my old text from 2000
GNU/Linux - Meilenstein auf dem Weg in die GPL-Gesellschaft
is completely translated. Graham and ThomasUG did a great job by
translating the main body of the text. Many, many thanks for this
:-) . Bit by bit I reviewed their translation and - my main task -
added translations for all the footnotes.
Though the text is nearly five years old now reading it is still
worthwhile IMHO - at least as an introduction. On the other hand a
number of things mentioned in the text are already history today.
Personally I think it should be that way and I look at this text more
as a historic document.
As most Oekonux texts this one also can be commented on as an
OpenTheory project under
For now I subscribed this list to this OpenTheory project so all
comments there will go here. If this is a hassle in one way or the
other this list can easily be unsubscribed from the project again.
The text is also available at
Mit Freien Grüßen
--- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< ---
GNU/Linux - Milestone on the Way to the GPL Society
Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>
Paper of the talk at the LinuxTag '00 in Stuttgart, 2000-06-29 -- 2000-07-02
The most recent version is always available from http://www.opentheory.org/gplsociety/
Translation into English done by Graham Seaman, Thomas U. Grüttmüller and Stefan Merten
1. init 1: About This Contribution
This contribution, entitled "GNU/Linux - Milestone on the Way to the
GPL Society" is intended to give an overview of work in progress. Some
of its content has been discussed in the Oekonux project
[http://www.oekonux.org/] since it was founded in the middle of 1999.
The topics discussed in the project are almost the same as the topics
covered in this work. The core of the project is a mailing list,
archived on a web-site. The FAQ [http://www.oekonux.de/liste/faq.html]
is especially useful, as it summarizes the debate on the mailing list.
In order to honor the work of the people who have contributed some
thoughts on the mailing list, and in order to actively respect the
spirit of Open Source, a list of their email addresses is included
E.KowallikATtu-bs.de erwinAThermes.zsi.at f.nahradaATmagnet.at
holgerATavendo.de ingoATxhomie.de ingohATschwaben.de
j.jaegerATjpberlin.de kritinfAThotmail.com lagemannATtelelogic.de
ohilATtequila.in-berlin.de pitATicf.de rainer15ATngi.de
rwfischbachAThotmail.com schillingATcontext-net.de sloymentATgmx.net
The essay begins with a brief discussion of the symptoms of crisis in
our current societies. A second part will point out what is so
special about GNU/Linux. The final section casts an utopian eye on
a GPL society, in which important principles of GNU/Linux-development
have achieved relevance on a social scale.
By the way, the init number in the section titles is a common
nomenclature under Unix for the so-called run levels. These describe
the state of the system in the following way:
0 System halt
1 Basic running system
2 System with network
3 System with network and graphical
6 System is shutdown and rebooted
1.2. About the Author
To make it easier to judge this work, I would like to tell you a few
things about my personal background.
I studied computer science, and have worked as a qualified computer
scientist since 1992. However, my computer experience began with a
ZX81 before my formal studies.
Besides that, after some prolonged inactivity, I am politically
involved in very different contexts since 1989. My political home land
is anarchism, enriched with a lot of Marxian analysis. My central
motivation was, and still is, a fundamental critique of the existing
state of affairs as well as the search for viable alternatives.
Both of these influences merged in the question of whether the
development of computers in general, or that of free software such as
GNU/Linux in particular, could have a social relevance or even the
potential to change society. Thus this contribution is to some extent
an intermediate result in answering this question.
2. init 2: The End of the Society of Labor
Preliminary remark: This passage can only cursorily explain very few
aspects of this complex topic. A thorough and worthwhile argument
about the topic is being carried out by the Krisis group [mostly
German] [http://www.krisis.org/]. This passage is only intended to
touch on a few terms that are of particular importance for our topic.
2.1. The Most Important Elements of the Society of Labor
Our societies are characterized by wage labor. People's work is
reduced to an abstract magnitude: in wage labor the concrete way used
in the actual work is as unimportant as the product or service that is
the result of the activity. This form of activity only justifies
itself by the fact that labor-power is exchanged for money. This
abstraction of the activity from its meaning and aims results in an
alienation of the workers from their own action, most noticeably in
assembly line work.
This system of abstract wage labor is closely linked with the
principle of commodity production for a market. Under market-economy
conditions, economic action only makes sense if the commodity produced
can be successfully exchanged for money. Thus an abstraction takes
place here, too: the meaning and goal of economic action are not
primarily a specific product, a specific quality, or other physical
qualities, but the gaining of exchange value.
In addition to both these principles, the principle of competition due
to the market puts the actors into a (negative) relationship towards
each other, both in the market for commodities and in the labor
market. On the commodity producers' side, competition leads to the
need for profit maximization. To make a profit requires wage labor,
but the business man's aim is to minimize the number of workers needed
to produce a given amount of commodities, or, inversely, to maximize
the amount of the commodity produced using the same amount of work
Historically, in an increasing number of fields these factors more and
more have led to the replacement of human labor by machines making it
superfluous. It is only logical that this process can only be kept
running by continually widening the market. If this widening does not
succeed, competition among commodity producers finally forces to move
in the direction of completely abolishing wage labor -- a move which
cannot possibly succeed, as making profits is inseparably connected
with the use of wage labor.
It seems that today we have arrived at this historical point, as
demonstrated by two well-known phenomena.
2.2. Mass Unemployment and the Stock Market Boom
For years it has become more and more evident that the high rate of
unemployment can never be reduced again. Instead, it is increasingly
said that mass unemployment will rise still more. It becomes clear
that the replacement of human labor continues fast. If one
considers the potential for reduction of the work-force by
computerization which still exists in large parts of the service
sector such as banks and insurance companies, it has to be assumed
that the process has barely started.
While mass unemployment steadily increases, new speculative bubbles
continually appear in the global stock markets. Companies that classic
business criteria would rate poorly shoot up like rockets on stock
markets - often to come down like comets onto the ground of economic
reality. When such a speculative bubble bursts, whole states with
millions of people can go overboard, as was clearly shown by the
example of Indonesia, the biggest victim of the Asian crisis. This
phenomenon also shows how the financial capital that was once
reinvested in new production is today obviously unable to broaden
production sufficiently to gain profits that are higher than the
profits that can currently be achieved on the stock markets.
There are indications that the labor society, and thus also exchange
as the basis of society have come to their historical end. Even if at
first sight this has the threatening appearance of a collapse
scenario, it does open up the possibility of a new society that
overcomes the deficits of the old one; one in which not abstract
principles but the wealth of all people on this planet will be the
3. init 3: The Special Thing About GNU/Linux
The thesis of this work is that GNU/Linux represents a milestone in an
ongoing process. A milestone is recognized by the fact that it has
certain special characteristics not shared by other products. People
who oppose the idea that GNU/Linux is a milestone try to fit it into
other well-known frameworks in order to minimize its importance.
In this section we discuss the comparisons that people make with
previously existing phenomena or products. In this way we can make it
clear what is special about GNU/Linux.
3.1. GNU/Linux is not only a Simple Hobby
Often, people argue that GNU/Linux is just a hobby, and as such it
could not have any social relevance. Of course, the development of
free software is in many cases a personal hobby, but result of this
activity goes far beyond other hobby products in the following
3.1.1. Extraordinary Benefit for the Society
GNU/Linux is a large set of programs, including an operating system
and numerous applications, useful in the concrete daily activity of
ever larger numbers of people. If we observe the evolution of
GNU/Linux, we see that its usefulness increases all the time, both in
the breadth of possible applications and in the concrete benefits
which more and more people derive from it. And it doesn't seem that
this tendency will change.
GNU/Linux is, therefore, a product of considerable quantitative and
qualitative social utility. This marks an essential difference from
the other products which derive from hobbies, which can compete with
commodities on grounds of quality, but not of quantity, and whose
social utility is markedly less.
3.1.2. Direct Competition with Commodities
As a useful and widely available product and GNU/Linux competes
directly with the commodities created and sold by large firms such as
Microsoft. There are certainly other products derived from hobbies
which compete with commodities - for example, the vegetables grown in
a family allotment which compete with those from the supermarket -
nevertheless, there are some differences.
Firstly, it is noteworthy that GNU/Linux has become established in
spite of the wide range of products already offered in this sector.
And it has not only become established, but promises to surpass and
overcome the competition from commercial products.
Until now no product derived from a hobby had ever achieved this. On
the contrary, it is normal for the production of something that begins
as a hobby, sooner or later, whether at the initiative of the
hobbyists themselves or other people, to turn into the production of
commodities, leaving at best only a gap for the product as a hobby.
3.1.3. GNU/Linux is very Modern
It is noteworthy that free software is developed using very modern
techniques. Not only because, naturally, the computer is the basic
tool for development, but also because, with the Internet, the most
recent techniques have an essential importance. In some cases the
development of new techniques has actually been driven by
In this aspect GNU/Linux is clearly different from normal hobbyist
products, which generally are from the sector of crafts. This is a
point of the greatest importance in relation to the social relevance
of GNU/Linux, since observation of the leading top technology of the
present and the way in which it is applied usually provides a good
guide to future trends.
3.1.4. International Networking
Another distinctive characteristic of GNU/Linux is that it arises from
a wide international network. People from all parts of the
technologically well developed world co-operate through the
Internet bypassing state borders and cultural barriers.
As well as being a unique case among hobbies, it is also very rare for
any multinational company, in spite of their huge infrastructures and
their millions, to achieve such a productive and fluid level of
Even if GNU/Linux has its origins in personal hobbies, it has become
something much more than a simple hobby product, both in the way in
which it is created and in the product it has become. Therefore it is
no longer possible to talk of it as a hobby.
3.2. GNU/Linux is not a Commodity
GNU/Linux is a product, but not a commodity. The essential
characteristic of a commodity is to be exchanged for something,
normally money. GNU/Linux is not exchanged for anything, but is
freely available to all as a good.
The fact that GNU/Linux is not a commodity has special consequences.
3.2.1. GNU/Linux has Concrete Reasons
As was already said, commodities are primarily produced for sale. This
means, in particular, that aspects such as quality, longevity, and
maintainability are secondary, or even, when the market is
monopolistic on the side of the producers, of no interest at all. The
best and most well-known example of this is Microsoft.
Since GNU/Linux is not primarily an object of exchange, thus its
development is not driven by the (abstract) goal of profit, only
concrete reasons can lead to such an activity. There are two
fundamental reasons here.
On the one hand, programming in a free and autonomous way is a kind of
Selbstentfaltung, normal for hobbies. There is no doubt that personal
achievement and above all pride in ones work is one of the fundamental
reasons for the high quality of a large part of free software. At the
same time, since production is free and autonomous, there is no
alienation - which is always present in wage labor - involved neither
in the activity nor the product. As a result the abstraction inherent
in wage labor is also overcome.
On the other hand, at the root of the production of free software are
real problems faced by real people. Production is not for an
anonymous market which only decides with hindsight, based on volume of
sales, whether the production made sense or not. The abstraction which
the production of commodities brings with it also overcome.
3.2.2. GNU/Linux cannot be Taken Over
A large part of GNU/Linux is protected by licenses which prevent the
programs from becoming closed source. This simple fact is the basic
reason why it is impossible to remove this mass of free software from
the public by privatizing it in order to integrate it in the world of
This is not affected by the ingenious commercial undertakings which
try to profit from the production of free software. It is possible
that a few firms like Cygnus manage to profit from free software
through secondary effects, but the old saying (here paraphrased)
Only when the last free filter for a graphic format has been written,
the last desktop is conquered by KDE or Gnome, only when GNU/Linux
runs on the last most exotic ancient hardware, only then will it be
clear that no profit-oriented economy can be built on the basis of the
3.2.3. Some Words on Stock Exchange Hype
After the Internet-related firms, it is currently the concept of Linux
which is making the speculators hearts beat faster. Similar to the
Internet hype unleashed by the dot coms this is no more than a
speculative bubble which sooner or later will have to return to the
solid ground of economic reality. If there is a residue of real-world
economic sense in the dot com hype, there is no trace of any at all in
the firms that want to live from the production of free software.
Naturally, the danger exists in principle that through such processes
the non-commodity nature of parts of GNU/Linux can be damaged. But
given that this nature is precisely what gives GNU/Linux its
advantage, and that integration in market-led structures would destroy
this advantage immediately, I don't believe this to be a real
GNU/Linux is not a commodity and cannot come to be one. This property
of GNU/Linux has important consequences, which underlie its success.
3.3. Then what exactly is GNU/Linux?
So far we have seen that GNU/Linux is neither a simple product of a
hobby nor a commodity. So what is it? It is a product: that much is
clear. But it is a very particular product, for which the methods of
production are very different from those of previously known modes of
production. It is exactly this property with which the principles of
GNU/Linux can open a door to a new world for us.
Given the preceding negative characterization, now I shall set out
what is positive in GNU/Linux.
3.3.1. Free Activity Instead of Labor for the Boss
GNU/Linux is created on a voluntary basis, unlike any commodity.
No-one tells the GNU/Linux developers what to do, or pays them in any
way for their activity. Everything they do is done through their
own initiative and for individually different reasons. No boss tells
them what to do. Even when they accept that a project must be
coordinated, this is done voluntarily and with understanding of its
Its voluntary nature marks a fundamental difference from wage labor,
where volunteering is a welcome side effect on the side of the
employer alone, but never the goal of the whole thing. This
volunteering ends the alienation of the producers from their work
which is common in wage labor. The producers take control of their own
actions in a way impossible in wage labor.
3.3.2. The Pleasure Principle Replaces Meaningless Drudgery
Thus the creation of a useful product on this voluntary basis can only
be explained by the developers' pleasure in producing GNU/Linux. Such
pleasure can be spread across very different areas. Pleasure in
programming can be assumed to be a motivation for all developers,
but also the pleasure of communicating with other developers, and of
cooperating with them, the pleasure of being responsible for an
important project, the delight in giving others a useful present - the
individual reasons can be really diverse.
However, this pleasure in doing things has no more place in wage labor
than does free will. By definition, the main characteristic of
wage labor is that the employees do not ask questions about the
content of their work nor about their working conditions. As the
wage is the decisive (abstract) motivation for their activity, it is
simply not necessary to make the (concrete) content of the work or the
working conditions comfortable. For wage labor, it is quite enough if
the lack of involvement of the workers does not make them
For the developers of free software this pleasure in their own
activity is the motivation that makes them create useful things for
others, while at the same time a source of personal satisfaction. In
this type of activity, there further reward is not intrinsic, and
therefore - and that is important - the principle of exchange has been
3.3.3. Self Organization Instead of Working by Command
Though it may be obvious after everything that has been said, it
should be emphasized again that the activity for GNU/Linux is
organized by the developers themselves. To accomplish this, they are
not only able but forced to find suitable ways of organizing 
their collective activity. It has been proven this way that without
any instructions from outside, and across political and cultural
borders, people can work together, have fun together, and even create
generally useful things.
3.3.4. Utility Instead of Market Share
As GNU/Linux is not sold by its developers, there are no monetary
reasons for developing GNU/Linux. If now we do not look at the
producers but the product, only the use of the product remains as
the motive for its production. Only under these circumstances is it
possible that quality in all its aspects becomes the central
When a commodity is produced, it has to attain a level of quality just
good enough not to prevent itself from being sold - a relative
quality, in other words. Seen from a marketing point of view, it would
actually be counterproductive to build, for example, longevity into a
product. So in producing for a market there is absolutely no reason to
produce something like absolute quality.
However, the reasons that lead to GNU/Linux can really create just
such an absolute quality, as the delight of creating something as good
as possible is surely one of the most important motivations for many
3.3.5. Cooperation Instead of Competition
All these aspects mean that in GNU/Linux competition is only useful in
very limited ways. While in the world of commodities, an inestimable
number of more-or-less equal products have to be made distinguishable
artificially, it is not common for widespread competition to
establish itself in the GNU/Linux scene. In many cases, similar,
competing products gradually disappear - and be it only because
nobody cares about them anymore.
This is not a coincidence, as the developers too do not compete
against each other. On the contrary, it is more favorable for everyone
involved if the developers work together and stimulate each other -
and consequently realize the advantages of cooperation.
3.3.6. Users Instead of Consumers
But even the attitude of the users is different from the consumer
behavior, typical for commodities. Simply because the users are aware
of not being fundamentally different from the developers, their
demands too tend to differ. As they know that the product was
created on a voluntary basis, it is unlikely that they will have the
same demanding attitude here, as they would have towards a bought
product. Instead, they might even try to help towards further
development - be it only by reporting bugs they have noticed, or by
requesting new features.
The aspects mentioned above positively distinguish GNU/Linux from
other products. In their sum, they form a completely different mode of
production than the one we know from the world of commodities. As we
have seen, this has far-reaching consequences for the producers, as
well as the product, and in a limited sense also for the users.
It is also important that all these aspects are tightly interwoven and
therefore cannot be separated. As a result it is not possible to
reintegrate GNU/Linux into the world of commodities without destroying
All this combined is already very exciting. The success of GNU/Linux,
compared with products created the usual way, turns the principles of
GNU/Linux into a serious alternative to the classic mode of
production. As a result, GNU/Linux is a milestone on the way to a
new society - the GPL Society!
4. init 6: The GPL Society
After these more analytic considerations, now a vision of the GPL
Society: It's about a society, which is based on the principles
that make GNU/Linux successful, some of the most important have
already been described above. The main point is that the GPL Society
is one in which the needs of people move into the focal point, so that
blind mechanisms like the market no longer oppress the people
instead of serving them. Instead of this, people will be free to
arrange their relations to each other and to things consciously and by
After the description of this vision, which is intended to show the
potential of the principles of GNU/Linux, some considerations about
the transition to this society will follow.
4.1. Have a Lot of Fun...
So, what would a world based upon the principles of GNU/Linux look
like? Well, of course, we cannot point out the final result, yet - too
much is uncertain and some points will have to be seen from a
different angle as soon as new developments occur. However, the things
described in the two following sections could form important parts of
the GPL Society.
4.1.1. Supply of Goods
Like GNU/Linux already today, in a GPL Society, material goods in
general would be available, whether stored or produced when
needed. Goods that can be produced quickly, easily, and without
complications - for example exclusively by using machines - would
probably not need to be stored anymore. The produced goods would
be accessible for free by everybody who needed them. If one of todays
super markets were to be used as a distribution center, the first
thing would be to remove the cash desks.
The available goods would, like GNU/Linux, be of high quality. This
quality would apply to all aspects of a good. Not only would direct
quality criteria, such as usability, flexibility or
maintainability play a role, but others such as ecological
criteria like longevity and the consumption of resources during
production and use could be appropriately considered.
Like GNU/Linux, the goods would be designed based immediately on the
potential users' need. The producers would determine these needs
by getting directly into contact with the users, so the needs
would not have to be mediated after the event by an anonymous instance
like the market. That point would also concern the variety of
As with GNU/Linux today, the available goods would allow the user to
handle them independently and responsibly. The strict separation of
the producer on the one hand, who has control of production, and the
consumer on the other hand, who can only passively consume
prefabricated things, would be loosened this way. Furthermore,
production machines would be available to a broad community,
because with their assistance, people could manufacture goods
completely on their own.
4.1.2. Delight and Freedom
People would work autonomously and voluntarily, the same way as they
work on GNU/Linux, today. Depending on their motivation and also on
present necessities, they would either do leisure or useful
activities. Often, both could be combined, so that the separation
between spare time and work time would disappear.
The machines would have to be changed in a number of aspects,
since orientation to production of commodities has a strong effect on
the construction of machines. Production machines would have to be
built which can either operate without human assistance, or which can
be used with pleasure.
Not being forced anymore to compete against each other, people
could take the freedom to cooperate as they please. Similarly as with
GNU/Linux, parallel developments are possible, but co-operation
between different people or groups of people would dominate. So,
competition - and thus a permanent center of conflict - would no
longer be built into the social system as it is today. Nevertheless,
the quality of the produced goods would not suffer from it, since it
would no longer be the need to market the product, impossible without
competition, driving production, but personal wishes.
On the basis of cooperation for a common goal, people would - and not
only in the area of production - be able to return to humane
relationships, ones which are not determined by money. Recognition for
special achievements will be experienced directly, and not only by
larger sums of money. People who are not forced anymore to waste most
of their time with meaningless work, but are free to participate
autonomously in meaningful activity have much less need to abandon
themselves to any vicarious satisfaction.
4.2. Tickets into the GPL World
The realization of this - maybe quite daring - vision depends, of
course, whether the the principles of GNU/Linux can be generalized. If
the principles of GNU/Linux are actually suitable as the basis for a
new form of society beyond money and the market, then these should
automatically establish themselves because of their superiority, at
least up to a certain degree. Thus it has to be observed whether the
principles of GNU/Linux do gain similar significance within other
areas than software development. For this it makes sense to
differentiate between information goods and material goods.
4.2.1. Let's rock!
An interesting phenomenon shows up these days in the music industry.
Here, several factors interact. First, a basic invention was made,
i.e. effective and highly qualitative compression algorithms for
audio data, of which the best known is MP3.
Obviously equally important was that the algorithm was widely
available. At least the decompression algorithm is freely
available, so decoders for all relevant operating systems had been
written within a short time. Concerning the compression, at least its
fundamental principles are freely available, so that meanwhile there
are also free encoder implementations, which meanwhile achieve
comparably high quality standards.
And there is, of course, the Internet, which makes possible the
global, easy and inexpensive distribution of music in the MP3 format.
There are already whole Web sites [http://www.mp3.com], which are
dedicated exclusively to the spreading of MP3 encoded music.
These three interlinking developments release dynamics which are
similar to those of GNU/Linux. A new way of distributing music is
arising which can be considered a serious competition to
conventional - and thus market-like - ones. So the music industry as
the main beneficiary of the past marketing system immediately gets
into a panic and tries everything to stop this development, or, if
that is not possible, at least to control it. However, having the
development of GNU/Linux in mind, it can be expected that these
regulation efforts will not be successful.
It is also exciting to see, how differently musicians as other
important beneficiaries of the past marketing system look at this
development. While some adopt the view of the music industry and
demonize the development, others begin to use this new form for their
aims. Among them are stars such as David Bowie or Die Toten Hosen (a
German punk band) but mainly countless unknown musicians, which see
this as a simple way of bringing their pieces of art - also free
of charge - to the major public. Here one can see clear parallels to
Well, the last battle in this argument has not begun yet, and the
starting situation is of course a different one in the music world
than it has been in the software world. But there are quite
interesting parallels and if a free MP3 continues to push forward,
then this is a further step into the direction already so successfully
demonstrated by GNU/Linux and thus a further building block for the
4.2.2. Internet Contra Profits
Many interested parties claim - and persistently believe - that the
Internet has released a new breakthrough in profits. It is
generally assumed that the Internet will not only create (net) new
jobs, but also that outstanding business will be made possible. The
faithful are not even concerned by facts such as the permanent
financial losses of the majority of Internet companies.
However, the reality does not prove this faith - at least for now.
Apart from a few exceptions there are no examples which prove that
the Internet has created independent commercial offerings. The
well-known book stores, as e.g. amazon.com or bol.de, operate on the
Internet only in addition to their traditional business fields. So
no business is known yet, for which the Internet is the indispensable
The reason why the Internet, which made possible the non-commercial
GNU/Linux, rejects commercial efforts so much is neither the inability
of the participants nor a lack of infrastructure. Rather there is a
fundamental reason, which makes it so hard to integrate the Internet
into the process of trading, that such efforts are practically
You see, the Internet is globalization in its purest form. In the
Internet, all world-wide providers of a commodity are literally only
one mouse-click away from each other. This extreme globalization has
On the one hand, by this globalization the competition between
different providers is intensified so much that very soon only a zero
price is competitive. With a price of zero however no business can
be built, except by an indirect financing by advertisement or by
On the other hand, the world-wide availability and practically
unlimited capacity of the Internet enables a company to be
available to potential costumers, in a way which is inconceivable in
the conventional market. This leads to the situation that very few
companies are necessary in order to satisfy the world-wide
demand with the products they offer.
Under these conditions, independent commercial products in the
Internet are permanently only possible for providers of a world-wide
unique product. So, the Internet itself may be one of the most
important bases for the GPL Society.
4.2.3. Status of Industrial Production
Unemployment, which has to be understood as a profound crisis in our
current form of society, is in large part caused by the level of
automatization of industrial production already achieved. So,
already today, we can see that fewer and fewer people are needed for
the production of useful things.
Besides that, the activities of the people still employed in industry
are moving away from stupid and monotonous work towards not only
monitoring and controlling, but also administering, planning and
scientific activities. Especially in the software area, the
activities already extend into the artistic area.
Industrial production has thus already achieved a level of
development, which lets production almost without human intervention
appear possible. At the same time, the character of the remaining
activities changes to those which can be executed with pleasure. The
conditions for a transition to the GPL Society have thus already been
maturing for some time.
4.2.4. GPL Products
An important step on the way into the GPL Society would be the
transfer of the GPL to other products than software. While this
transfer already happens for all kinds of information products and
by nature is also relatively easy, such a step for material products
is still to be achieved.
The transfer to material products is much more difficult, because they
cannot be copied as easily as information. More exactly said, the
production of a material good is not copying an already existing
product, but a material good is manufactured with specialized tools by
using special algorithms. Thus, the process of the production of
material goods differs substantially from the process of abstract
copying as with a cp instruction, which duplicates a file of any
So if the copyability of digital information has made GNU/Linux even
possible, then a transfer of the principles of GNU/Linux to material
products would require their ease of being copied or produced. While
the "multi-duplicator" can be found in various Science Fiction
utopias, today, technical development is still far from implementing
the operational principles of such a machine.
However, a step in this direction could be the building of universal
machines which can manufacture almost any piece under computer
control. First developments within this area actually already are in
operation. So, there are already machines, which produce a
three-dimensional piece by using a laser and special materials fully
automatically; these pieces can then be further build on. Such a
machine is thus something like a universal materializer of parts.
With such a machine, the characteristics of information crucial for
the GPL Society can be transferred to material goods, so that such
machines could be the base of production in a GPL Society.
4.2.5. Information Society Adjusted to its Concept
For years the term information society has haunted the media, with the
variant name of post-industrial society. Unfortunately, especially
with the latter term, it remains strangely open what exactly the
crucial characteristic of this society should be. The GPL Society and
its principles could now fill this term with content.
In the preindustrial agrarian societies subsistence production of
goods for immediate living needs was the crucial constant. In
industrial society, this agrarian-social constant was replaced by more
general material production of commodities, and the production of
goods for immediate needs became increasingly just an appendage of
industrial production. The entire society was so crucially shaped
by this change in the mode of production that we must speak of it as a
change in historical epoch.
In the GPL, or information, Society, the production of goods becomes
in turn the bare appendage of the production of information.
Society would thus be determined by the principles of the production
of information - whose first example is GNU/Linux. Such a change would
indeed be a new change of epoch of truly historical dimensions.
Copyright (c) 2000 Stefan Merten.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or
any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with the
Invariant Sections being Copyright, with the Front-Cover Texts listed
in the section entitled Front Cover, and with no Back-Cover Texts. A
copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free
B. GNU Free Documentation License
GNU Free Documentation License
Version 1.1, March 2000
[Deleted in the mail version]
C. Front Cover
GNU/Linux - Milestone on the Way to the GPL Society
by Stefan Merten
The most recent version is always available from
o Project Oekonux [http://www.oekonux.org/]
o Oekonux FAQ [http://www.oekonux.de/liste/faq.html] (German)
o GNU [http://www.gnu.org/]
o Krisis group [http://www.magnet.at/krisis/] (German)
o Homesteading the Noosphere
o Debian [http://www.debian.org]
o Die doppelte algorithmische Revolution des Kapitalismus
o Software-Guerilla oder mehr? Die Linux-Story als Beispiel für
eine gesellschaftliche Alternative
o GPL [http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html]
o Why "Free Software" is better than "Open Source"
o Open Content License [http://opencontent.org/opl.shtml]
o Free Documentation License [http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html]
o Freedom CPU (F-CPU) [http://www.f-cpu.org/]
Version: $Id: vortrag.sdf,v 2.11 2004/12/12 15:42:15 stefan Exp $
 Here, the term our societies relates to the forms of societies
that are fully developed in Western Europe, North America, and Japan.
 Throughout the text, I am using the term GNU/Linux instead of the
common Linux in order to emphasize the meaning of the GNU movement
[http://www.gnu.org/], as without them, a free operating system based
on the Linux kernel would not be thinkable.
 From this point, I am using the term GNU/Linux as a synonym for
free software in general. By the way, I do not like to use the term
Open Source very much, as it has a connotation that tries to define
away the potential within GNU/Linux. Richard Stallman discusses this
topic in his essay Why "Free Software" is Better Than "Open Source"
 Of course, there are also activities taking place in our societies
that are called labor or work, which are however not paid. However,
even though these activities are crucial for the survival of the
society, they only play a minor role in the social process.
 Besides that, the exchange value is only interesting for private
actors, if it exceeds the exchange value put into the production.
Thus, the entrepreneur has to make profit.
 Even the unions are now starting to acknowledge that full time
employment - like in the 70s - will never be possible anymore.
 By the way, against this law of society, politicians are powerless
- even though they permanently try to convince us that they are not.
 The takeover of the Dresdner Bank by the Deutsche Bank, and the
related massive loss of jobs may serve here as a recent example.
 The theory says that this developement can only be stopped if the
market can be successfully widened again, i.e. if a commodity is
invented that is new, labor-intensive, and at the same time attractive
for large masses, like the automobile has been in the middle of the
20th century. Although such a commodity is not entirely impossible, it
is not in sight.
 Eric S. Raymond, who is quite famous in the GNU/Linux scene, has
done a lot on this field, especially in his paper Homesteading the
Noosphere [http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/writings/homesteading/] in which
he tries to press the development of GNU/Linux into traditional market
 Hobby shall mean any activity that deals with voluntary and
self-determined effords. Whether or not a manifest product is created
in such an activity is generally secondary, here however especially
such productive hobbies are of interest.
 The possible product of a hobby is distinguished from a commodity
most of all by the purpose of the production process. While in
commodity production the abstract goal of selling is the main purpose,
the production of a hobby product is characterized by the
Selbstentfaltung of the producer and possibly by the immediate use of
 Today most notable this is probably in the sector of servers
where GNU/Linux currently out-competes Windows NT which Microsoft
placed in this sector. It is my firm conviction that the development
on the desktop goes in a similar direction.
 As an example the CVS system [http://www.cyclic.com/] shall be
mentioned which only with the wide-spread use in the development of
GNU/Linux matured to the tool we know today.
 It can not be explored here that development of free software is
an activity which in the countries of the III. world practically not
happens - at elast not as a mass phenomenon. However, it should be
noted that the nonexistent pricve as well as the availability of sorce
code offers chances to the countries of the III. world which are
slowly used by them.
 That firms like SuSE [http://www.suse.de/] or RedHat
[http://www.redhat.com/] sell GNU/Linux distributions for money is not
contradiction to this concept. In this sector the absence of the
exchange principle goes as far as it is possible and legal to base
another distribution on one which is made for sale.
 Under the conditions of having the technical access this even
applies to a complete distribution: Debian [http://www.debian.org/].
 It should be mentioned that for many GNU/Linux proponents an
enemyship against Microsoft plays a role emotionally. However, with
its products Microsoft makes it easy for its users to adopts such
enemyship ;-) .
 A discussion of the often mentioned economy of reputation must be
omitted here. Basically I consider this theory as an desperate attempt
to press the phenomenon of free software into categories
comprehensible for a capitalist mind.
 Many free software projects started because a single person
wanted to solve a concrete problem, did it for himself/herself and
his/her solution proofed to be useful for others, too.
 Earning money with services around GNU/Linux such maintenance,
courses the development of distributions for now is still possible.
 With Die doppelte algorithmische Revolution des Kapitalismus
[http://www.kritische-informatik.de/algorev.htm] Stefan Meretz made
important contributions about the incompatibility of the development
model of GNU/Linux with capitalist structures.
 After all even the big distributors like RedHat or SuSe seem to
know this who according to their press releases want to hold the
principles of free software high even after going to stock exchange.
And also big corporations like IBM try to act carefully in the sector
 The often mentioned reputation can not be seen as wage since it
can not be transformed into material means of living. Also the hope to
find better paid jobs by the merits earned in the free software scene
is for the very most no realistic goal. This should not be discussed
 In the labor society this control over the own actions is moved
to the so-called free time. However, this free time is limited by
requirements of the job so one can talk of free time only in a limited
 It is not by chance, that programming is an activity which can
create much more pleasure than other activities which have been
created in industrial production. This is another hint that the
development of productive forces reached a point where the change of
the societal overhead is possible and even seems to be on the agenda.
 Similar principals can be seen in science and art. The
interesting parallelism can not be discussed here further.
 Indeed new management methods try to move just this free will and
its productive potential into capitalist production processes. Because
by defintion wage labor is done for others there is an absolute
structural limit here, which can not be overcome by the most
sophisticated management methods.
 That in the industrialized countries for many humane working
conditions have been created at all is only thanks to long lasting
social fights. A fact which is often forgotten nowadays.
 People need to subscribe to the impertinences of work live. To be
ready for this at all, in our societies people are drilled from
childhood on for functioniong. It is reason for hope that in spite of
this drill people are still able to become active in a self-determined
 This task is even more difficult because the developers can not
refer to earlier standards and literally need to invent each little
step. It is even more impressing that the organization works so good
 Actually for the developer it does not matter whether her product
is useful for others - her personal pleasure can be accomplished
without others being able to derive utility from her activity. For the
developer only the utility for her own purposes is relevant. On the
other hand this does not hinder her to publish her development. This
is probably the inner reason that some Free Software is of bad
 The best and most well-known example for the high and
multi-aspect quality standard is probably GCC. On the one hand for a
long time GCC is known as a faithful compiler, on the other hand its
wide availability on virtually every known platform and the resulting
uniformity of its usage made it to the basis of the whole GNU
movement. No compiler developed under market conditions accomplished
 A practical example for this is the 3-liter-car which for some
time now is technical feasible and would make much sense regarding
ecology. Because of the lower costs for running it the buyers would
have a real advantage the chances on the market for such a car would
be good. Nonetheless the car industry consequently and successfully
refuses creating and marketing such a car and instead sells their gas
 Anyone of us knows the countless attempts by a special design
artifically trying to make something special from otherwise completely
uniform and interchangeable products such as washing powder or PCs.
This is especially reflected in advertisement, which does not
advertise the non-existing special qualities of a product but combines
the product with a certain image.
 As one of many examples MHonArc
[http://www.oac.uci.edu/indiv/ehood/mhonarc.html] shall be mentioned.
This tool archives mail on HTML pages - a task which is common to many
people. The MHonArc people themselves know only of one product worth
mentioning (Hypermail [http://www.landfield.com/hypermail/]), which
(meanwhile again) is maintained.
 The permanent and lasting maintenance of some Free Software can
be taken as a sign of quality - especially when the first developer
retired meanwhile. Because only software which is worthwhile is taken
over by other developers.
 It must be said, however, that this lesson still needs to be
learned by some users.
 In Software-Guerilla oder mehr? Die Linux-Story als Beispiel für
eine gesellschaftliche Alternative
[http://www.kritische-informatik.de/linuxsw.htm] Stefan Meretz looks
at the development of the productive forces by Marx' criteria. This
shall not be discussed here.
 The GNU GPL [http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html] (GNU General
Public License) is the legal basis of most Free Software. The GPL
codifies rights and duties which a possessor of a certain software has
as far as this software is concerned. It was designed to make sure
that software once declared as free stays free, so it is impossible to
privatize it or in another way deprive the public from it. It acts
basically as the Magna Carta of the GPL Society.
 Consciously it is left out whether this new form of society can
do without blind mechanisms, or whether there will be just new such
mechanisms serve the people. This intersting debate can not be done
 The general supply of goods includes that goods are distributed
to all places they are needed. Ignoring ecological considerations for
a moment there is nothing which prevents this.
 This reminds us of the just-in-time principle which since a
number of years in industry replaces keeping parts on stock more and
more. This principle became possible only because of the wide
availability of computers (and communication facilities).
 The principle of modularization known from (not only) production
of software could receive new honors here. Modularized goods allow for
easy replacement of components and this way contribute a lot to
maintainability as well as to the flexible use of goods.
 This is different to commodities which are produced to be sold.
Commodities which do not meet demand which is able to pay are not
produced at all. The needs of people who can pay little or nothing are
ignored by commodities. On the other hand luxury commodities are
produced which meet the needs of very few but very able to pay people.
A need oriented production of goods would also lead to more democracy
on the level of needs.
 This would make advertisement in the form known today
unnecessary. The necessity to inform potential users about existing
goods would be still there. Moreover a permanent discourse about
options to improve and there chances to become reality would exist
between producers and (interested) users.
 For example it is thinkable that high quality and specialized
tools up to machines are bundled in a work shop which is available to
many people for instance of a residential area. The care for such a
work shop and its laymen users could be overtaken by people who
gathered the matching competence and who have fun in such supporting
 Humans in all periods made sure that their survival is safe
without being forced externally and this way they took the existing
necessitiies into account. Because of this it can be expected that
they don't drop this manner under conditions of freedom. In the
contrary real freedom raises a feeling for freely chosen
responsibility which can not be payed with money. As an illustration
may serve the responsibility of parents for their children.
 The existence of hobbies and not at least GNU/Linux proves that
humans engage in useful activities on a basis of free will.
 The computer as one of the most universal machines mankind
developed so far is more flexible than a normal production machine
which can produce only one thing. Instead a computer can be used as a
toy. Also in this case the computer as one of the most developed
machines points beyond capitalism.
 To be forced to compete has a lot of disavantages. For example
different to GNU/Linux Microsoft products show how the furtherance of
development for the users is slowed down by secrets.
 Obviously this basic invention has been the necessary
precondition to start the following development. It was possible
before to process audio data digitally and to reduce the immense
amount of data there have been compression algorithms before the
invention of MP3 (for example uLaw and aLaw). However, these older
algorithms were not able to combine high compression rates with high
 In issue 3/2000 the famous German computer magazine c't c't
[http://www.ix.de/ct/] published a test where even trained HiFi ears
in their big majority were not able to recognize differences to the
 It is interesting that for years the company RealAudio
[http://www.realaudio.com/] tries to distribute compression technology
for audio and other media. Although with their technology they
achieved similar results as MP3 and although they distributed the
player programs without a price, the commercial RealAudio format was
not able to start a dynamic comparable to MP3.
 c't mentioned mainly the LAME encoder
 Another important competition for the music industry arises from
the rising availability of CD burners because with them it is possible
to copy todays main distribution medium for music without loss of
 With DAT (Digital Audio Tape) music industry succeeded in this.
DAT, which has been planned as the digital replacement of the
CompactCassette, also had made possible a quality keeping copy of CDs.
The music industry were able to block this technology so effectively,
that today in the HiFi scene DAT plays virtually no role and at most
in the area of computers is used sometimes as a backup medium.
 The artistical aspect of music accounts for an interesting
parallelism to the development of software. In both cases from the
beginning the artist engages in productive activity for himself or
herself and for the sake of art and therefore needs no further
incentive for this activity. In both cases the marketing comes from
outside. Something which in the area of art is always seen as
 Looking at the standard soup presented by the music industry more
often than not an improvement in quality will for sure be one of the
more promising parallelisms of such a development.
 Business processs between companies, made possible by the
Internet, are not discussed here.
 As an exception search engines may serve, which achieve income
for their offer by advertisement from third parties. However, for the
customers this is not a classical exchange of commodity for money but
the commodity information is exchanged for bearing the hassel of the
advertising. There is not one search engine which accounts for a
 However, there is the area of pornography in the Internet where
presumably really money is made. However, also this area is not a new
one but forms known from real existing red light districts are
multiplied in the Internet.
 Also the number of people employed especially for Internet
purposes is probably low.
 This also puts the worries - of hopes for some - of a fundamental
commercialization of the Internet into relation. Moreover: Even if
their were far more commercial sites online there would be no reason
tu shut down the many non-commercial sites. Thus there would be a
non-commercial part of the Internet always. This is a result that
contrary to broadcasting frequencies for television and radio the
ressources for a Internet presentation are not scarce. For the only
really scarce good in the Internet - the domain names - consequently
there are attempts to commercialize these more.
 This extreme realization of globalization, which after all is a
principle built into the capitalist mode of production, seems to be no
longer able to modernize capitalism immanently and thus points beyond
 An impressing example is the Internet issue of Britannica
[http://www.britannica.com/]. Since this standard dictionary is
available in the Internet at least in the English speaking area it
simply makes no sense to offer something similar but with a price.
 By an at least half-way qualitative software a web site can be
distributed to arbitrary many computers so upcoming shortages can be
resolved quick, cheap and simple.
 GNU/Linux itself is a good example for how the global need of
distributions can be satisfied with very little wage labor. The
company SuSE as one of the two biggest distributors employs no more
than 250 people.
 Suppliers hit limitations not before they leave the Internet and
for example they need to deliver commodities. For this they need an
infrastructure which exists independent of the Internet and can be
 For example in a car which leaves a factory today includes far
less working hours than at the times of Henry Ford - not looking at
the fact that a modern car has a much bigger use value than a Model T.
 It gets more and more difficult to organize these activities by
the traditional methods of command. There is a reason why during the
last years among managers concepts of leadership are hyped, which more
and more put the traditional hierarchical relationships aside and
focus more on motivation and usage of creative resources of employees.
However, because of the non-abolished alienation of wage labor there
are principla limits to these attempts.
 Already today successful organization of software production has
little to do with organizational methods known from traditional
industry. Where successful software production takes place there is
real team work and orientation to consensus instead of commands. This
aspect also visibly points beyond the framework of capitalism and in
the end found a matching expression in GNU/Linux.
 As an additional aspect there is that the range of products and
services is inflated by the force to market and compete. In a GPL
Society products and services which are exclusively used for marketing
could be dropped completely.-
 For example for documents there is the Open Content License
[http://opencontent.org/opl.shtml] or since recently the Free
Documentation License [http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html] by GNU.
 However, there are early attempts in for of the Freedom CPU
 One must not forget, that the simplicity of copying of
information is an achievement of modern times. Never before in the
history of mankind it was so simple to copy information in nearly
arbitrary quantities as is possible with digitized information and
computers. Just remind the writers in the monasteries which copied
books by hand writing.
 Also the Internet fundamentally depends on the simplicity of
digital copy: For instance a web browser needs to have a local copy of
the presented page - and be it only in main memory. The crucial
feature of the Internet thus is the possibility to copy remote
 Naturally more specialized but widely programmable machines are a
step in this direction. For example today there are alread machines
for the processing of metal which once programmed can take over the
work of many humans without needing much control. They are
programmable in a wide range so a wide range of parts can be produced
 Naturally some problems of material production would stay such as
the supply with raw materials. However, this problem also applies to
copying information and there today normally disappeared. For the area
of information copies the supply of media on which the copies exist is
already only an appendage of the main process. This fact is probably
fostered by the uniformity of the media and thus the possibility to
mass produce them. On a medium time range such effects can be expected
for the universal machines mentioned here.
 Among other things this is expressed in the share of people who
work in the agricultural production for wages. Today in the highly
industrialized Germany this share is about 5%.
 In the development of industrials societies for some decades now
there is already a tendency away from material production. The so
called service society is an expression of this. However, the societal
form was not able to separate itself from the industrial society.
Organization: projekt oekonux.de