Is Linus Torvalds a socialist

Communism Debate: Free Software for the Free Society

There is still a lot of talk about communism but little explanation. Sections of the open source movement show what a communist society could look like.

What would Marx and Engels have said about Free Software? Image: imago / imagebroker

Gesine Lötzsch sparked a heated debate with her article "Ways to Communism". Lötzsch promptly rowed back after the media echo it had generated: "The Left is left-wing socialist, we are not and will not be a communist party. And I will not become a member of the communist platform either," she said shortly after the article was published Online edition of the mirror.

For Christian Siefkes, the debate about communism did not take place. "First it should have been defined what communism is," says the computer scientist and philosopher. For him communism is a common mode of production for people. He is an activist in the open source movement and programs free software.

Free software is widespread: there is the Linux operating system, the Firefox web browser, the OpenOffice office software and many other programs that are freely available. "When it comes to free software, the two principles of 'free speech' and 'free beer' are important to me," explains Siefkes. This means that free software must be able to be further developed by everyone with the help of open source codes and thus the possibility of free expression must be ensured. In addition, unlike licensed software, free software is available free of charge to anyone who needs it.

The principle of free software goes back to the hacker Richard M. Stallmann, who defined four freedoms as the principle of free software: First, the "primary" freedom must apply to be able to use a program for any purpose. The second freedom is the "scientific" freedom to examine how a program works and to adapt it to its needs. The two remaining freedoms are the "social" freedom to copy it for others and the "constructive" freedom to improve a program and make those improvements available for the common good.

Commons instead of communism

Many free software developers avoid the word communism, as Siefkes emphasizes - he prefers to speak of "commons" - but he sees this movement as a seed for a new mode of production. After all, the production of free software is based on the principle of "free cooperation". Free cooperation means that people work together of their own free will and not because they are forced to or have to do it in order to make money.

One scientist who has investigated the principle of free cooperation is Christoph Spehr. For him, the civic virtues of freedom and equality are only realized in free cooperation. "Cooperation is only free when it is the same; and individuals can only be free in cooperation where they are the same," writes Spehr in an essay. He has set up criteria for free cooperation: All rules must be changeable and everyone involved must be able to leave free cooperation at any time. "To put it simply: in free cooperation everything can be negotiated; everyone is allowed to negotiate; and everyone can also negotiate because they can similarly afford to question their commitment," said Spehr.

For many developers, free software is not just a hobby, they make a living from it. Because even large companies work with free software. Siefkes recently worked for a large Internet retailer, but he was not allowed to make the software he developed publicly available. "After all, you also have to earn money," says Siefkes. Other developers earn their money, for example, from companies that produce free software but ask for money for help with installing and maintaining free software.

Siefkes names three reasons why people take part in the production of Free Software outside of their work: First, programs are written because their developers want them. "If this software is released on the Internet, this does not harm the individual software; in the best case, it benefits it because others find each other who participate in its development: together you can achieve your goal faster," explains Siefkes. Second, people join the open source movement because they just love to do it. "Linus Torvalds, the founder of the Linux project, called his autobiography 'Just for Fun'," says Siefkes. It is ethical for other developers to help others. According to the motto "Since others have done me good, I want to do good to others myself."

Free development, free society

In his philosophical writings Siefkes can rely on Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels - the thinkers of the 19th century. Although the two did not leave behind a fully developed model of communist society, it can be said that for Marx and Engels, communism was the blueprint for a free society. They described communism in the communist manifesto as a society in which "the free development of everyone is the condition for the free development of all."

Even Engels famous statement in his book "AntiDühring", that freedom is the insight into necessity, should not be interpreted in a dictatorial way. Instead, the sentence has an educational claim. Engels continues: "Freedom of will therefore means nothing but the ability to be able to decide with expert knowledge." It is an appeal to turn all people into responsible citizens.

Behind Engel's remarks in "AntiDühring" lies the desire for a form of economy in which people plan the economy together and economic laws no longer determine people's lives like unchangeable laws of nature. It is about the idea that society is made by people and that in principle it can also be changed by people. That is why, for Engels, communism should be "the leap of humanity from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom".

What do you mean? Do Linux and Wikipedia lead to communism? Is the utopia of a free society a left dream? Or can one learn from the production of Free Software how a possible free society of tomorrow can function?