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09.17.19

Why I Once Called for Richard Stallman to Step Down

Posted in FSF at 1:29 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Guest post by figosdev

Steps

Summary: Guest post from the developer who recently authored "Getting Stallman Wrong Means Getting The 21st Century Wrong"

In December 2018 and earlier this year, I called for Richard Stallman to voluntarily resign.

The reasons for this call were entirely different from the reasons he just resigned.

Here were the reasons:

1. What I believe (and many others believe) are systemic attacks on Free software, are being largely ignored — even by the FSF.

Some progress was actually made in this regard recently.

2. Users are losing freedom faster than they gain it, due to these attacks.

3. Once-strong and popular distros are falling apart — too many to ignore.

4. “the fsf needs a president who stands up to these new challenges that threaten Free software. and i dont think stallman is doing that anymore.”

However, this was not the whole story, and I added other points:

“most people who declare a lowered confidence in rms as the leader of his own movement, are declaring it for political reasons that benefit corporations and monopolies — monopolies are the very problem that Free software exists to provide alternatives to.”

That is the problem we are witnessing today, as Stallman has actually resigned.

“we dont need another smarmy corporate sycophant yes man to take over the fsf, as open source would propose.”

“and someone asked me this morning about my call to ‘impeach’ stallman.”

“theres a very important distinction to be made. im not asking for anyone to be impeached. even if that were possible, thats not what the call is for!”

Apparently, it is possible. I do not believe Stallman stepped down out of choice (as was my wish) but instead was asked (or forced) to by the Board.

I was very clear, that was not the outcome I desired:

“impeachment is a process of forcing a leader out. hopefully if youre going to force someone out of a position (think back to the 2003 invasion of iraq) you have someone better to take their place.”

“and if youre going to ask someone to step down, there need to be reasons. my reason is simple and straightforward, and obviously controversial”

I do not think Stallman stepped down for a good reason this week. This was about image, not truth — it was not about renewing the fight for Free software.

The largest threat I did not think the FSF was taking seriously enough, was the adaptation of EEE tactics to software under a free licence:

“i am not suggesting that rms should ‘just go home’ and disappear from the public sphere.”

Stepping down as President would have likely protected him from what happened today. I can’t prove that, I can only guess.

“i am not suggesting he should leave the fsf! he should certainly be on the board.”

Tragically, he has resigned from the Board as well.

Let me say immediately after hearing it: that particular decision is an enormous mistake on the part of the FSF. I hope you’re all aware that you just lost your most important member. Anyone who does not realise this, really does not belong on the board themselves.

“i am not suggesting that rms is any less the father of the Free software movement, than albert einstein is the author of the theory of relativity.”

“and i think that ben mako hill is the best possible replacement”

Ben Mako Hill and Alexandre Oliva (who just joined the Board, for better or worse — I believe for better, though it is deeply unfortunate that this is what his first year on the Board looks like) tend to occupy the top spot on my “Who should be a stand-in for rms” list and alternate from time to time. I have always discounted Oliva primarily over geographical issues — plus a hint of a no-longer-relevant connection to Red Hat — which isn’t entirely fair but either way, he doesn’t work there anymore.

“and i feel confident that ben mako hill would have a great deal of respect in how he dealt with the problems ahead.”

The number one concern for Free software supporters today, should be who the FSF replaces Stallman with.

“its got to be said that i dont think anybody is ready to fill the important role that stallman filled in 1984, and 1991, and 2005, and 2010 — the role that stallman filled when we learned about prism. im not knocking his career or brilliance or legacy, only the past 4 years of his presidency. the fsf needs him on the board, at a minimum.”

“there is no one that is ‘like stallman, only more like him.’ that wont ever happen.”

“there are only people who are different. they would have to have enough in common that they filled the role, but we all know there will never be another president rms.”

Some of the people I think the FSF have not paid enough attention to, in terms of problems related to the state of the Free software ecosystem include:

(This is mostly, not exclusively, about systemd)

1. Denis Roio, who already worked on dyne:bolic, an FSF-approved GNU distribution
2. Emulatorman, who heads Hyperbola, an FSF-approved GNU distribution
3. Ian Jackson, who joined Debian in its first year, and has spent the past 4 years fighting this problem
4. Some Debian developers who have left Debian to fight this problem elsewhere
5. The Veteran Unix Admins, who created Devuan along with Roio
6. fsmithred, maintainer of Devuan Live, Refracta and the refracta-tools remastering programs
7. Various bloggers and software developers who have spent years talking about these problems
8. Most of the Puppy Linux community, at least those who would even notice the changes happening outside the distro
9. anticapitalista, GNU-based distro developer
10. Aitor, developer of Gnuinos
11. Eric Vidal, developer of Obarun

This critique will not fall entirely on the FSF — note some progress was made recently in this regard:

“i believe stallman is more focused on hardware-related threats and license-related threats, while the software ecosystem is constantly getting dragged backwards into windows-esque software lock-in and instability. the core Free software ecosystem is no place for these problems.”

“indeed, these are the sorts of problems we fled to rely on gnu/linux as a solution to in the first place. we still have the freedom per se, but we have not for years now, enjoyed the full benefits of that freedom.”

“the effects are real, the problems are real — the denial that happens year after year is shocking.”

“whatever is preventing the fsf from addressing this — now (if not 4 years ago) is the time for that to end.”

Now that Stallman is gone, it is more important than ever to hold the FSF to its mission. Were Stallman to remain on the Board, he could do a lot in that regard. Instead, now we have to do it without him.

I have for years, watched for a good replacement for Stallman. The list of candidates is very short.

I’m not at all impressed with the SFC, who appear to assume there is someone “better” than Stallman out there.

Anybody who can do better than Stallman is going to have to grow into that role, and they’re going to have to be a pretty outstanding person to begin with as well.

Where are these outstanding people?

Torvalds for example, could not do anything more for the FSF than sell them off to Jim Zemlin and Microsoft — that’s not very useful.

Perhaps we should consider asking Bruce Perens, now that the position is actually open.

I feel I’ve already given this far more thought than the SFC — I don’t even think their reasoning was very detail-oriented, it was simply accusatory and knee-jerk and destructive. In my opinion there was no obvious consideration of consequences, just “get on with the Inquisition” and somehow we will clean up later.

The world is a dumber place today, for the father of Free software being removed over an opinion.

That was never a good idea, nor was it my idea.

Further, I believe September 16th (or October 1st) is a good day for a Political Incorrectness Day. Political correctness has wronged one of the greatest and most valuable minds of our century, without anything remotely like due process (or sufficient deliberation).

To the Board of the FSF: You acted hastily. I’m not saying you made the wrong decision altogether (I disagree strongly with his ejection from the Board, obviously) but you made it too quickly.

This is about the founder of Free software, and the founder of your organisation — the real one, not the others.

You could have (or should have) taken at least a week to decide, for more evidence to come out.

Doing this based on a poll and several hours of deliberation was completely insufficient!

The Free Media Alliance has never lobbied the FSF to make such important decisions with such enormous haste — only to carefully reconsider certain dismissals of things people have complained about for years.

I’m sure there were people who were careful. Maybe there was even a dissenter on the Board.

Whoever you are, if you dissented or took the greatest care among the members, you have my gratitude.

Mr. Stallman, this is not what I wanted. You should still be on the Board. This should have been entirely voluntary, and only for freedom — not for image.

A great man was done an injustice and disservice today, not for the first time. Stallman created the GNU Operating System — and too many people want to ship the credit off to corporations that don’t care about the freedom it was created to give you, the user.

This ought to be the final injustice to his legacy, but it probably won’t be. Today, ingrates and opportunists have won a great victory.

Let’s give them, I hope, as little of what they want as possible.

Also, there is nothing wrong with critiquing Stallman. He is being held to a bizarre standard, one we reserve for people who remind us of inconvenient truths. But there is nothing wrong with critiquing him.

There is something wrong with the idea that he was treated fairly this week. The FSF has traitors, just look at those who received awards. LibrePlanet has done as much harm as good to the organisation — it was a battleground for superficial, political correctness and ways to limit Free software, as much as promote it.

Freedom does not come from witch hunts and witch trials. The Code of Conduct should be called the Malleus Hackerum. Who among us is safe from its spiteful hypocrisy?

As with the Board, I do not wish to blame everyone who participated in LibrePlanet. But there are clearly traitors in your midst.

What I recommend we do as a result — is Speak Up for Free software, treat Stallman’s legacy with the well-earned respect and consideration that goes beyond the superficiality of headlines and paid shills (at least!) –and keep Free software alive.

I don’t blame you if the feeling isn’t mutual Mr. Stallman, but if you ever need anything at all, I hope you’ll ask and I hope I can help in some way. That hope is sincere, but if I can’t do that myself I would ask the same of anybody who takes me even a little bit seriously.

To all who care: please send rms your condolences and support, as soon as we find out what his new email address is.

When you inevitably read people from the Open Source movement gloating about this, think about all the times they’ve criticised the very idea of being fully free (as in not having your life controlled by big tech corporations.) This is a great day for them — it is not a great day for us.

Long Live Stallman —

Long live GNU–

And bring back “Free as in Speech” — what a complete farce that phrase was made today.

License: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (Public Domain)

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