FOSS against capitalism?

Friday, August 14, 2020 Capitalism Open Source Free Software

The part of me which is a leftist free software enthusiast has been in an existential crisis for roughly a year when I realized that free and open source software increases the surplus value extractable from labor (the profit). As such, instead of slowly creating a world of great, freely accessible software, it supports capitalism and prolongs the time between the crises inherent in it. I read Melody Horn's Post-Open Source – it's a great post differentiating open source and free software, describing each their relations with capitalism and some ideas how to move forward – all in the light of the current Mozilla layoffs and public strategy change.

Melody Horn states that free software's goals are »kinda useless« and that open source is about enabling companies to make profit (I don't argue either point). As for the »ethical source« movement, Melody critizes that trying to codify ethics will a) lead to a pretty liberal position and b) still be too scary for cooperations to trust (won't argue that either). Subsequently, ze goes on describing some ideas about what to do post open-source. These ideas have pretty different goals, though, and as such, hir post skids between discussing »(un)ethical behavior« (or »doing good things«), »regular« capitalist exploitation and open source funding.

My goal is to find a way to create free software that fights capitalism. I have three ideas about that:

  1. I really think it makes sense to re-evaluate licenses that explicitly prohibit commercial or for-profit usage. It's the obvious thing if you want your software to not contribute to surplus value extraction. It's also clear enough to avoid uncertainty. It's neither free software nor open source, but still usable and distributable.

  2. »Conventions«, as Melody puts it. For example, I find it pretty weird that requests for support rarely include more information about the use cases. I can definitely imagine not giving support for for-profit requests. That's strictly weaker than preventing for-profit usage by license, though, and in general I just don't see companies effectively being limited by social norms.

  3. Creating completely different software, that's inherently less prone for capitalist exploitation. I don't even know yet what this would look like. It's also particularly difficult for me, because I love to work on abstract, low-level software which necessarily is useful for all kinds of use-cases. On the other hand, I think this preference (of mine and others) to create abstract software is an indication of capitalism's influence on us and a problem in itself, as it mirrors commodification. , I wrote:

    I wanna work on tech that's resilient against commercialization and exploitation.
    I wanna work on tech that widens the cracks instead of filling them.
    I wanna work on tech that grows between cobblestones and in messy backyards, not on endless farmlands.
    I wanna work on tech that's used in huts and tents, not high-rises.
    I wanna work on tech that can't ever be turned against us.

    Also, the software produced could often be better (for decentralized, self-organized, non-commercial usage) if commercial use-cases are omitted right from the start, like, why does all this stuff even need to scale that badly but doesn't support single-user modes?

Short of actively fighting capitalism, effective public-private dual-licensing (with a restrictive free license like AGPL or even better a non-commercial license as public license) might at least offset surplus value increase (since the used free software is not gratis anymore), secure open source funding and even provide simple ethical control.