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10.18.19

Guest Article: Techies Should Not Dictate the Free Software Movement

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF at 1:02 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Article by Jagadees.S

Richard Stallman in FSF site
Richard Stallman in the FSF site (a month ago)

Summary: “We should start a second phase of the Free software movement that’s making good software and putting users at the center.”

In 1983 Richard Stallman, a great computer programmer as well as a great thinker and technologist of our time, began the Free software movement. Its purpose was to produce software that respected users’ rights. Stallman did this because he saw the injustice proprietary software was doing to users. He could not bear that injustice and therefore he started the Free software movement and formulated the idea called copyleft — and along with it a licence called the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Nobody cared about this in the beginning.

“Even though Stallman dedicated his life to Free software development he always says there are lots of more important and urgent issues in this world.”He is a great programmer. So, he recruited himself; since — as he says — “no need to pay Stallman”. He began writing Free software programs which respected users’ freedom. He inspired and mobilised lot of programmers. They also joined and worked with him. So, Stallman and his whole team were the creators of Free software.

Even though Stallman dedicated his life to Free software development he always says there are lots of more important and urgent issues in this world. Since he is a programmer he is working to solve injustice in the software realm. So there is nothing special about software. He’s a programmer; that’s why he focuses on it.

How you joined the movement

But what if you joined the movement because the software is fast? Faaaaaast, or beautiful or secure etc. You cannot really understand what this community is for. You see it as just a company. Then you put yourself at the center. You see millions of people using your software for free. You feel something greater than yourself.

“So all of a sudden you see the group of innocent corporate donors, even Epsteins. You will be happy with them and thank them for their support.”Or, alternatively, you may have joined this movement after hearing Stallman’s speech or writing. You accepted the politics of Free software. Great. Years or decades of writing programs. Fixing lot of issues. You focused more on making your software better. You forget about the politics. You see it as old, boring. Also, you see that even proprietary software companies have joined the team. They may be donating millions of dollars. Nobody is against Free software even though some call it by a crazy name like “OEM Source Software” (Open Source). So everything is fine. Then you think that Free software politics have become obsolete.

Most of the time you may have been a student (at that time when you first heard Stallman’s speech). As you grow up your responsibility to a family increases. You have to meet or reach the so-called “American Dream”. But by now years have passed and you cannot reach it with your activism. So all of a sudden you see the group of innocent corporate donors, even Epsteins. You will be happy with them and thank them for their support. Also, you might support their beliefs (in making money). This is the beginning of the conflict of interest.

In the meantime you may also be bombarded with lots of “real” political issues such as the freedom to use incandescent bulbs, Right to Work, new #metoo etc in social control media. (Whereas society ignored Tarana Burke for more than a decade, #metoo became viral in just the last 2 years. There is a very big difference between those 2. Homework for you.)

Corporate interests

Decades ago the ‘corporates’ ignored the Free software movement. Because they thought it was a Utopian dream that will never realise or fulfill or reach its objective. Finally they saw the success of the movement. It had direct consequences for their corporate profits. For example, a lot of educational institutions now use GNU, eliminating the proprietary software market.

“Decades ago the ‘corporates’ ignored the Free software movement. Because they thought it was a Utopian dream that will never realise or fulfill or reach its objective.”So these ‘corporates’ cannot ignore the movement as they did earlier. Instead they want the same model of development without its politics. Model of development in this context means volunteers developing software. So they don’t have to pay for anything. Maybe once in a while they’ll give some trip to a foreign country or a podium position. Even better than the gig economy!

Breaking a system from the outside is a tough job. It may backfire and strengthen the system. But it will be very easy to break things from inside. Ruling classes know and have known this for centuries. What they have to do is entryism — just act like they’re supporting people’s movements. And then later they become the whole movement. At the end everybody will forget what the movement was for.

Techies’ conflict of interest

If you consider the movement keeping you at the center, what do you see? You see yourself or a group of people without selfish motives doing work and providing their work/output to the users. Meaning, you’re giving something to others. It’s kind of like charity.

In all of these circumstances you see the user as a charity taker. And yourself as a charity provider. Sometimes you don’t even think about users. All you care is about the software you work on with a narcissistic viewpoint.

“This is a community for the user.”This is completely wrong. It’s a myth. We have to end this myth. This movement is formed only to give full rights to users. But the techies’ self interest is betraying the movement.

You, dear techie, are just a worker. You have a conflict of interest. Whoever pays you, you are biased and obliged to them. So we cannot trust you. So do your work, take the money and go home. Don’t talk about your shallow sectarian politics here.

Free software as a people’s movement

This is a community for the user. We should start a second phase of the Free software movement that’s making good software and putting users at the center. There will be user communities. They will raise resources and fund things. They will recruit workers. Workers will develop software. Once a project is completed workers will be ‘fired’. User communities will own the software with all 4 freedoms. It’s not an easy task. But we have to work towards that. And techies should not dictate the Free software movement. The Free software movement is for Free software users. Not developers.

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