Global Pessimists or Global Optimists

How the Free/Open Source Software Community responds to the Global Pessimists and the Counter-Globalisation Movement

George N. Dafermos

Georgedafermos AT discover DOT org

:::This document is work in progress (last revision 3/8/2004):::

March 2004

Acknowledgements, Motivation and Objectives.

This paper, and the motivation for writing it, would have not come into being had not been for the Oekonux Project and the burning thoughts the latter is concerned with. Allow me to briefly summarise a few of the notes I kept during the 2nd Oekonux Conference:

.I was told that market competition is by principle hindering knowledge sharing, blocking the creation of networks of collaborative entrepreneurship (amid which innovation admittedly thrives), and stifling the creative abrasion that is so vital for technological innovation…The voice that money relations are been rendered useless due to emerging technological developments that empower society to reproduce and disseminate digital artefacts at negligible cost was also echoed….The discussion quickly resorted to the insufficiency of price mechanisms as a means to co-ordinate and organise production activity, and that online co-operation is not subject to monetary returns, and thus money and other price mechanisms should be abolished in their entirety, as they are useless if not utterly catastrophic….I also took part in a workshop expanding on the distinction between open source and free software as ultimately depending upon ideological beliefs [1]. According to this workshop, free software supporters are supposedly leftist in political orientation whereas open source supporters are more inclined towards the right in favour of laisser-faire economics, scoffing at the protective and regulative role of the state and unwilling to pay taxes, in essence being more entrepreneurial and individualistic, yet seemingly anarchic and disorganised in perspective when compared to the rather subordinate to communal organisation dynamics free software segment.

Of course, the above notes are just that – a few of my notes. So, they inevitably reflect only a small fragment – an out-of-context part of my personal reflections – on and of what the Oekonux Project is. At the same time, the discontent with globalisation and the abstract forces of evil and ill the latter seemed to subject democracy to, were all the rage. Negri and Hardt’s Empire had only been recently published, and it provided a refreshing perspective to the discussion of what globalisation really is, without resorting to theories of global conspiracy, nor suggesting a US-engineered beast gone amok on the verge of terminal capital-induced psychosis [2].


Many proponents of F/OSS are fiercely opposed to the ongoing march of global capitalism and unfettered global markets. On these premises, it’s no coincidence that several of the swathe of evil forces that globalisation has allegedly unleashed and the anti-globalisation movement has tentatively short-listed, have found fertile ground for adoption within F/OSS circles. Such unwelcoming effects of globalisation include but are not restricted to the devastating influence that corporate behemoths and multinational corporations exert over nation states’ sovereignty, effectively inducing labour alienation through work coercion and ‘sweatshops’ and aggressively driving out smaller-scale regional producers; social dislocation through paralysis of community cohesion processes; destruction of public congregation spaces as a result of turning public policy into an empty rhetoric; and abolishing locally and regionally – based social identity through a process of gradually substituting culture with marketing artefacts. The above ills that are presumably brought about by a twisted, corporate – hijacked form of globalisation provide the cornerstones around which the anti-globalisation movement has coalesced and against which the movement continues to mobilise resources.

One need not look further than at the nologo website - a weblog dedicated to discussing the ideas presented in Naomi klein’s “No Logo” book which is one of the prominent manifestos embraced by the anti-globalisation community – to realise the degree of interconnectedness between F/OS software and anti-globalisation. The nologo website is powered by slashcode which is the underlying software platform (source code) that slashdot - the most popular and widely accessed F/OSS community website worldwide – runs upon. Moreover, the company employed to support the nologo online undertaking (to customise and support the slashcode platform that powers nologo) is Openflows. Openflows is a commercial organisation making money out of enabling other organisations to adopt F/OSS and offering support and customisation services on F/OSS technologies. But Openflows is not simply a commercial company. It is run in harmony with the F/OSS community ethics and is also a public forum dedicated to the continuation of democratic public discourse centred on F/OSS community relevant issues. In effect, Openflows is being inextricably embedded in the F/OSS community. You may think that the above assumption is anecdotal at its best and says nothing more than software adoption and technology transfer. In a way, I agree. The above correlation offers only a tiny glimpse of the extent of overlap between the F/OSS community and the anti-globalisation movement, yet it is indicative of an existent relationship between the anti-globalisation movement and the F/OSS community since Openflows, as we said, is more than just a company, and nologo, as we also said, is more than a website promoting a book.

Don’t take me wrong: there is nothing wrong with being liberalist, free markets advocate, communist, atheist or god fearing. And it’s people’s own right to be pessimists or optimists about the effects of globalisation and it rests upon people to decide whether they will embrace or dismiss globalisation or any other socio-economic idea and process. This paper is not political and will not propose any manifesto or anything that has the slightest to do with political organisation. It will be solely an analysis based on what I would call The Two Sides of the Same Coin. By this I mean that on the one hand the F/OSS community rallies against the shortcomings of globalisation (and so can be said to be an anti-globalisation movement, in essence a global pessimist in its own right) but on the other hand, the means by which it opposes to globalisation demonstrate that it is an emerging example of the constantly changing face of globalisation, and in my view the F/OSS community can be seen as a leading global optimist.

In more detail, the F/OSS community counters the global pessimists on four grounds: Firstly, marketing within the community and marketing of F/OSS technologies is not coercive or corporate-engineered in any sense, instead it is of “the markets are conversations kind” [3]. Secondly, community formation, cohesion, identity and norms are of paramount importance for F/OSS development models to be fruitful and sustainable. And even though software is at the forefront of global capitalism [4], it hasn’t altered or diminished the significance of community ethics or community development. Thirdly, as far as companies whose business and revenue model is based on F/OSS are concerned, industrial fragmentation and consolidation are avoided as a result of intra-industry sharing of information in the form of obligatory exchange of product specifications (source code) [5] and indeed the political processes of the community dictate corporate behaviour and precede firm strategy.

The paper will discuss how the F/OSS community and F/OSS development models counter the thesis of global pessimists and exemplify an evolving, yet truly democratic and socially-conscious, model of globalisation based on community involvement, global co-ordination and local responsiveness, proliferating forums for democratic public discourse and community action, and partnership models between developer-user communities and commercial companies with the latter ‘succumbing’ to the demands of the former. This paper does not attempt to define globalisation, althought it reviews and critically examines a plethora of arguments raised within circles debating globalisation’s pros and cons. In my opinion, globalisation can be hugely beneficial, embracing small, big, poor and rich alike and bridging the gap between them, but this should by no means be interpreted to mean that globalisation ought to be left to its own devices. I adopt a view similar to Charles Leadbeater’s (2002) and George Soros’s (2002), a worldview that compels us to acknowledge that many social wounds are being healed as a result of globally increasing participation in the administration of market-based processes, and that we should seek to improve markets and institutions rather than destroy them in their entirety. Therefore, in light of the changing face of capitalism, I will argue that F/OSS represents a fresh approach to many of the critical dilemmas touched upon by anti-politics.

What does the F/OSS Community stand to win from Globalisation?

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the F/OSS is a global community like no other. Home to scores of IT professionals and computer science enthusiasts, whose talent is frantically sought by organisations competing in technology based industries in exchange for hard cash and highly promising stock options and career prospects, one would reasonably assume that the community is an ardent supporter of globalisation.

Despite the current economic downturn that has admittedly deprived a good many software and hardware developer from a steady wage, technological know-how is definitely a skill worth picking up. As industry acclaimed writer George Gilder says, “My children aren’t learning Spanish. They are learning C++” [6]. Gilder does not refer to children’s natural infatuation with technology, instead he emphasises that technologic prowess can nowadays be the single most decisive factor guaranteeing a luxurious career in the epicentre of a very competitive, fast-pacing and highly rewarding global labour market. Thus, in a classic revival of the yuppie culture that reached its peak during the 80s, one would expect that any young person with the ambition to rise to the top would seriously contemplate a career in technology rather than the fast lane of high finance. Although many might find the above syllogism laughable, a good degree of economic reality adds further credibility to this scenario. During the dot-com craze, who would deny that the (new?) elite were funnelling their labour ingenuity in Silicon Valley in hope that a hot new technology would make them filthy rich fast or world famous? Whether the goal is riches or fame, the assumption is perfectly laudable: the knowledge worker of the future is IT literate. And one aspect of the often-cited digital divide is that inability to understand technology at a working level would inevitably result in diminishing career prospects. In fact, prominent studies delving into the F/OSS development model conclude that market pressures are of primary importance to those who choose to join the community. Lerner and Tirole (2000) maintain that signalling effects such as enhancing one’s employability or standing better chances of joining a are a prime incentive for involvement in F/OSS projects. David Lancashire (2001) similarly asserts that “hacking falls and rises inversely to its opportunity cost” and hence F/OSS developers tunnel their labour pains where market opportunities gravitate. Or as Gregor Rothfuss (2002: 93) wittingly puts it, “reputation does not put food on the table”.

Considering the success that several of the community’s brainchildren, such as the Linux operating system and the Apache Web server, currently enjoy in the marketplace would only reinforce the view that the F/OSS community is globalisation-friendly. F/OSS is a booming market, no doubt. Hordes of micro-businesses and mega-corporations alike are discovering new win-win opportunities for unprecedented growth by competing in open source time. It is no coincidence that two prominent manifestos of the open source world, the Cathedral and the Bazaar and Open Sources, shun any inferences to Marxist utopias and make a conscious effort to pull a business case for open source. The reason, besides, for the distinction between open source and free software is practically boiling down to commercial attractiveness. Only by departing from the negative connotations embedded in the term free software and in parallel devising a commercially uplifting promotional strategy conveying the business advantages of open source to corporations, coupled with less commercially restrictive licenses, would F/OSS software become prevalent in the marketplace (Oram et al. Open Sources). This transition and the ideological chasm that came with it has led many to assume that free software supporters are supposedly leftist in political orientation whereas open source supporters are more inclined towards the right in favour of laisser-faire economics, scoffing at the protective and regulative role of the state and unwilling to pay taxes, in essence being more entrepreneurial and individualistic, yet seemingly anarchic and disorganised (less cohesive) in perspective when compared to the rather subordinate to communal organisation dynamics free software segment (Seaman 2002).

Ideological stances aside, what could have possibly been a more spectacular and symbolic success story of global capitalism than a student project done for fun turned global community of hackers boasting unparalleled programming capacity turned operating system of choice for scores of corporations, and in the process spawning a swathe of commercial enterprises and freelancers? The student project turned global community turned commercially viable playground [7][ref] is obviously Linux. To outsiders, the growth that Linux has enjoyed seems inexplicable by conventional logic and practically non-stopping as the Linux platform creeps into more markets and areas of commercial deployment such as embedded systems and desktops. But according to evolutionary economics, the Linux phenomenon can well be understood as the marvel of capitalist reality, in fact representing the most defining feature of growth in a capitalist system – creative destruction [8] - which sweeps away established market power by changing the rules of the game.

Nevertheless, had not been for resilient global communication networks, the community’s creative endeavours would not have been possible to manage so as to give rise to technologies as sophisticated and complex as Linux. The community is a networked tribe, owing much to the network of networks for sustaining its critical processes. Because of the Internet, it can operate like always-on clusters of neurons in a massive brain-shaped mosaic galvanised by electronic impulses. For certain, the Internet is not only enabling new forms of collaborative work to unveil their full potential, it is also the single most powerful driver of globalisation. Digitisation and global communication grids facilitate novel re-configurations of economic and social activity without which the promise of a globally connected world would remain constantly elusive. Disseminating knowledge in all its possible structures and expressions, from collective cultural experiences [9] [ref] to scientific artefacts and complete end-user products, the Internet is the catalyst for pushing beyond the boundaries. But as much as the community owes to the Internet, there is more that globalisation owes to the F/OSS community. A great deal of the software that makes the Internet what it is is free/open source software and as a result the community is inextricably linked to the Internet’s past, present and future development. Playing such a prominent role toward global interconnectedness, the community invariably boosts the ongoing march of globalisation at all levels of socio-economic, cultural, artistic, political and technological transformation when it acts as a power hub for change in any of those domains [10] [ref].

For all the above reasons, the F/OSS community could be seen as a global player well positioned to reap full benefit out of the avalanche of systemic transformations that the combined effect of digitisation and globalisation is poised to bring about. However, in stark contrast to what would have been otherwise reasonable, the F/OSS community has a gargantuan in size overlap with the anti-globalisation movement. 

Anti-Organisation and Anti-Intellect

Using no means other than text messaging on mobile phones [11] [ref], the Internet, and word-of-mouth, the anti-globalisation movement has come up with a meaningful way to establish a virtuous circle of social connections that are empirically impossible to break. Organised in autonomously run clusters and groups that merge when the time comes to hit the streets, these social connections morph into raw power for concerted action. Ever since its first roar in 1999 during the Seattle demonstrations, the brute force of the movement has effectively infiltrated all realms of social and political discourse related to globalisation. Although electronic forums solely dedicated to the movement mushroom, the movement feeds off of existing networks and communication media [footnote] and energises them to its cause, in essence turning them into impenetrable collaboration venues. It seems impossible to bring the anti-globalisation demonstrations to a halt, mainly due to their being organised in a decentralised fashion which allows no time slack for hierarchically elaborate responses to occur [12].

Leaderless at first glance, the movement mobilises a wide range of resources encompassing all fields of socio-economic and geo-political life. To achieve this heterogeneity in its core, which is instrumental for the coherence of a global grassroots organisation, the movement’s key message has to be flexible enough in order to accommodate the largest possible degree of subjectivism, pluralism and diversity. Having said that, it should be obvious why the movement has no structured agenda for debate, instead it resorts to adjust and modify its intellect whenever possible on the pretext of widening inclusive civic participation. The movement, in other words, neither excludes anyone from joining in nor marginalizes any individual opinion. Anyone can join the demonstration whatever their reasons for protesting might be. That has proven to be a huge advantage. For not only the movement grows constantly bigger and more powerful as it fuses more viewpoints and groups together, but its case cannot be answered [13] .

It is not my intent to diminish the contribution that people could make to the institutions of democracy by becoming involved in the decision-making process. The anti-globalisation movement demonstrably proves that the constituent masses are not willing to be passive consumers of reality. Apathy, for all the seduction it superficially offers, can be destructive; a basic element of socio-political decadence that wears away our capacity for self-rule. And fortunately, apathy is not one of the qualities of the movement. The fear is that the anti-globalisation rhetoric contains the seeds of its own dystopia. By employing such a vague and diverse intellect, the movement puts pragmatism in jeopardy. It threatens to close off the future by nourishing a culture of global pessimism to a scale the world has never experienced before. Escapism, utopianism, and pessimism are a recipe for destruction, especially because they are so appealing. By rejecting all efforts to leap into forward-thinking consciousness, the movement runs the risk of sacrificing a potentially better future. The future is not irreversible and not necessarily harmful, as many would like us to believe. We could well be better off or worse off, if globalisation and corporations are left to their own devices. Apathy, as I’ve stressed above, is not the solution, and it would be ludicrous to advocate such a disengaged course of action. But by considering forces currently underway - changes the lie inside the belly of the beast - coupled with the emergence of a new commercial actor – community-managed projects (and the way the community consequently interfaces with commercial organisations) we shall be able to further our understanding of how to practically bring a socially responsible marketplace arrangement in life whilst not holding the future back.

F/OSS Intersects with Anti-globalisation movement

It should come as no surprise that a good part of the F/OSS community is sympathetic to the anti-movement’s plight. To begin with, the Thomas Paine of the Net – Richard M. Stallman – launched his GNU Project and founded the Free Software Foundation because he felt his non-commercial community had been shattered by corporate interests. When most of the hackers employed by the now legendary AI Lab at MIT were lured away by commercial organisations offering them wages that exceeded those of academic establishments, and the AI Lab started resembling a ghost town with all but two programmers, one of them being Richard Stallman, gone to work on developing proprietry technologies, Stallam was enraged. The F/OSS community’s roots can be traced back to open systems and the 60s, however the start of the GNU Project signalled the beginning of a new era of computing centred around digital freedom, openness, and community values, and it still remains the most vibrant and exciting political idea on the Net. It should be borne to mind that the GNU Project not only meant to produce a free alternative to the Unix operating system, but it aimed at re-creating an open community whose ideals, norms and ethics would be cut off from corporate agendas.

Similar examples pointing to the same conclusions abound. In what ought to be seen as perhaps the most defining document of the Internet community, the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Electronic Frontier Foundation’s co-founder and Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow makes it crystal clear that there is no room for governments on the Internet. Writing in 1996, Barlow described the Internet as a place unlike any other, where physical world laws and consitutions have no power and declared that no take-over attempt by governments will be tolerated. Although there is no reference to commercial interests and organisations in that landmark document, there is no reason to believe that corporations are exempt from what applies to governemts. Put bluntly, neither organisations nor governments are welcomed or allowed in cyberspace.

In a similar vein, hackers have always valued decentralisation for its own sake and rejected potentially abusive forms of central governance (Levy 1984). In the words of David Clark:

We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code” (quoted in Borsook 1992).

A garganduan in size overlap between the anti-globalisation movement and the F/OSS community is evident when considering the widespread deployment of F/OS software by tactical media activists. The Independent Media Center (IMC), also known as Indymedia, is a fully-fledged syndicated news network that emerged during the first roar of the anti-globalisation movement in 1999 in Seattle to bypass traditional media  and provide an alternative coverage of the events from the perspective of the protesters themselves. According to its homepage at, “Indymedia is a collective of independent media organizations and hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage. Indymedia is a democratic media outlet for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth”. Since 1999, tens of local indymedia sites have sprung up to support the organisation of protests and provide quality radical journalism on issues the mainstream media would report insufficiently, if at ll. While indymedia does not explicitly seek to contribute to the organisation of the protests, it nonetheless does so by reporting the events – something police forces seem to be aware of. “By the act of reporting they (de facto) direct the protests. The Italian police at the Genoa protests broke in, smashed computers, stole tapes and discs, then lined people in a building across the road up against a wall and beat them unconscious” (Headmap 2003: 83). Despite its radical character, many believe that indymedia rivals the reach of a good many news network such as CNN, which is an outstanding accomplishment given that the content is mostly provided by volunteers for free. While it is true that many of these indymedia sites are powered by F/OSS, the connection between the F/OSS world and anti-globalisation extends beyond software and technology, even though it is clear the the selection and evolution of software for indymedia sites takes place within a politically conscious environment [14]. The most lucid illustration, that I’ve come across, of this connection is set forth in the uniquely bizarre and unconventional in terms of style, but rich in literary wit and well-informed opinions, self-published work called Headmap: mapping out spatialised computing: “Both Linux and IMC are examples of new forms of collectively constructive community made possible by computer networks. Both have relatively flat, contribution and merit-based hierarchies” (Ibid: 90).

In the seminal Hacker Ethic, Pekka Himanen (2001) argues that hacking is not confined to programming ingenuity, and hackers exist in every conceivable sphere of life [15]. A hacker can be a gardener, a painter or even a politician. Hacking is about an attitude towards life, a mode of conscioussness, and a pattern of explorative thinking, says Himanen, that is characterised by passion for one’s work and eagerness for all aspects of freedom. Hackers value and respect their surrounding community, believe that money has no intrinsic value, and motivate their activities with the goals of social worthiness and openness. Himanen masterfully contrasts the Hacker Ethic to Max Weber’s Protestant work ethic – the sociological basis of capitalist society that defines how man should regard work and life inside organisations, and assumes that even seemingly purposeless and painstakingly repetitious work that requires man to submit himself to the instruments of capitalism is blessed – to arrive at the rather interesting conclusion that “the hacker ethic is a new work ethic that challenges the attitude toward work that has held us in the thrall for so long” (2001: ix). Therefore, according to the hacker ethic, the F/OSS community is not only delivering a blow to the spirit of capitalism, threatening to replace it with what Himanen and Manuel Castells call Nethic and the spirit of informationalism, but it also exposes us to a new modus operandi revolving around playfulness, creativity, community values, and social accountability.

The F/OSS community had always been confronting corporate empires, whether that had been IBM, Microsoft, SCO or anyone else. Despite the community’s love and hate relationship with Microsoft [ref newsforge, Krishnamurthy 2001] which is well documented [16], and the furious anger that SCO’s recent ridiculous ownership claims over Linux code snippets have provoked [ref], the community has always been dubious about commercial companies’true intentions. As Taylor emphasises:

We can not expect our industrial partners, such as IBM and HP, to help with patent defense or with the matter of software patenting in general. While those companies are often our friends, their interests also come into conflict with ours. Some of them use software patents to generate revenue or provide monopolies for their businesses. Thus, IBM has been calling for increases in software patentability, despite the fact that this is contrary to IBM's involvement in Open Source.”

Of course, IBM’s notorious history of selling computers to Nazis that were used to count and record Jews-to-be-sent-to-cencentration-camps (Black 2002) is not helping much to overturn suspicions of underhand corporate games and hidden agendas.  After all, corporations demonstrably piggyback on social reality, so what would prevent them from applying their logic into cyberspace? The corporate takeover of the Internet is not an Orweillian syndrome, it is underway since the first day the Web went through corporate radars. In the Age of Access, Jeremy Rifkin (2000) is warning us that the emergence of cyberspace and the socio-cultural relations it produces are a perfect fit with commercial aspirations to turn culture into a paid-for experience. As the gravity of power shifts from commodity – based commerce and relations of physical ownership to intangible services and commodified marketer-customer relationships, and access to networks becomes the new economy’s modus operandi, the Internet is consistently exploited to turn culture into a commodity. Rifkin claims that the commercial sphere steadily swallows the cultural sphere, and this process, which Rifkin sees as inevitable, is further accelerated by cyberspace. Naturally, the F/OSS community is not confortable with such a future shock, and Rifkin’s dystopian view finds its most powerful counter-argument in the GPL Society proposed by Stefan Merten (2001) of the Oekonux Project. Merten’s thesis is the exact opposite of Rifkin’s: the principles inscribed in F/OSS development are a harbinger of a new era of production freed from capitalist rules and constraints, and these collaborative principles are catalysing new non-commercial structures in more and more spheres of production activity. The central question in the GPL Society could be described as: Since the F/OSS paradigm is so successful in producing first-class software, and software like other information artefacts are the pillars of economic value in the current form of capitalist development, then why hasn’t free software infected capitalism by an order of magnitude so great that to become the dominant mode of production? The point here is not to examine neither Rifkin’s nor Merten’s argument in great detail. But it is all the more evident that the GPL Society argues that the commercial sphere will be swept away by the collaborative, non-commercial sphere, a manifestation of which is the development paradigm typified by F/OS software. Of course, not everyone in the F/OSS community agrees with Merten [17], but then again, none explicitly denies the possibility that the F/OSS development paradigm might be applicable to other industries. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the archetypical open source manifesto – the Cathedral and the Bazzar. In this book, Eric S. Rayomond argues that the collaborative and the commercial sphere are not mutually exclusive, and they can co-exist in harmonious symbiosis [18]. However, in the ending section of “[..]“ where Raymond explores the potential applicability of the F/OSS development methodology to other domains, he concludes that time has not yet come for a triumphant victory of the methodology over other industries, but time is on the side of the methodology rather than against it.

Not easily dismissed as pure fantasy, the corporate takeover of the Internet assumes many forms. In Imagined Electronic Community, Chris Werry (1999) chronicles the migration from a new frontier populated by primitives to a polished e-commerce utopia. Werry identifies three major stages. The online community was first seen as peripheral to business goals or even as an obstacle to be overcome, not to say a threat. The second stage had taken hold by 1995 and was mainly concerned with revenue streams generated by e- marketing “as dreams of online sales fade and advertising and strategies of interactive marketing become the primary means of making money on the Internet”. And from 1997 onwards, ‘online community’ is increasingly portrayed as the core of all e-commerce endeavours, however still driven by e- marketing expectations in a paranoia of mass customisation and personalisation.

What can free/open source software do to counterbalance this threat? Iconoclastic law professor Lawrence Lessig (1999) sees free/open source software as one of the last vestiges of freedom online. In the landmark Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Lessig warns against the imminent danger of turning the Internet to an instrument of control. The Internet has no nature, says Lessig, for the Internet is a collection of software and hardware layers. Thus, one could affect the ‘nature’ of the Internet by replacing any of the existent layers with one that favours control and regulable behaviour. Neither governments nor corporations alone are capable of compromising the current Internet, argues Lessig, however, a shady alliance between the two worlds could change everything on the pretext of facilitating secure e-commerce transactions and containing cyber-crime. A powerful check on the shady alliance’s power is free/open source software, says Lessig.

In all, grounds for concern and agitation with the commercial world are everywhere. As individual users of popular file swapping software are charged with criminal offences, and people are put behind bars because of tweaking technology they have themselves bought with hard cash, the rage within the community’s circles grows stronger than ever. Nowadays, it seems that governments and corporations are not content with solely regulating behaviour online. They strive to force a regime change whereby fiddling with technology is to be illegal. If granted legitimacy by the courts, such a regime change would, without exaggeration, classify the F/OSS community as an outlaw too, effectively criminalizing thousands of technologists. [ref]

 Corporate Hijacked Globalisation

It must have been surprising for Kenichi Ohmae to witness how receptive Western audiences would be to anti-globalisation concerns and talks of globalisation to be cast with suspicion and scepticism at every conceivable occasion. In his books, where the notion of globalisation is introduced for the first time, globalisation is synonymous with the expansion of autonomous, yet interdependent corporate networks that bring better products and services to market. In co-operating and aligning their operating processes with other organisations across the borders, business managers develop a global worldview of the marketplace, and these managers are better suited to deliver value in a world characterised by global interconnections than the disconnected Nation State. From Ohmae’s vantage point, globalisation is good. It is a vehicle to render the slow moving government bureaucrat personified by the Nation State obsolete and justified by consumer markets that ask for more than what nation states can possibly offer. When Ohmae, McKinsey’s superstar consultant in Japan, first laid out a vision of a borderless world in which organisations oblivious to geographical boundaries rise to reigns and in their passage from locally-run headquarters to global in reach amoeba-like structures eliminate the inefficiencies emanating from centrally – planned, state-owned governance systems - a vision that many of his contemporary management thinkers were eager to embrace - he could not have anticipated the lengths that an emerging social response would go to in order to impede the expansion of global empires. But while Ohmae and subsequent management thinkers have great difficulty in accessing the extent of growth that corporations could achieve, and the power they could amass by engaging in strategic alliances surpassing national borders and forging partnerships with dispersed links in supply chains remotely controlled through all pervasive communication networks, to anti-globalisation protesters it was clear from the outset that globalisation acts in malicious ways.

Upon closer scrutiny within the movement, one realises that it is not globalisation per se that is seen as malevolent, but the instruments upon which globalisation hinges in order to advance its aim, that is commercial entities, are essentially ripe for corruption. The rationale goes that unless corporations can be checked upon in their effort to create real economic activity, the stage is set for detrimental consequences. On these grounds, the movement proclaims, globalisation is bound to spiral out of control. The latest addition to this debate comes from a documentary called The Corporation [19], which has opened to rave reviews and has caused quite a stir. Rather than drumming example after example of hard numbers and facts showing a quantitative degradation of the planet and its inhabitants, the Corporation takes one through a deeply emotional and unsettling journey where a couple dozen of interviews with corporate androids, market speculators, and noted commentators make sure what is left in the end is the bitter taste of a monster gone crazy. This is the central thesis of the documentary: money driven organisations are psychotic, dancing to the whims of bad craziness, and in their never ending struggle to satisfy their financial thirst they have become too dangerous to be let loose. From Chris Parry’s brilliant review:

Set aside three hours of your life and watch The Corporation. Hunt it down, find it, any way you can. I just watched 750 people sit down as capitalists and stand up yelling for change. I witnessed people throwing brand name products into garbage cans afterwards in disgust. I witnessed hundreds signing on to email lists for more information about how they can help change the world. I saw an audience moved to exact change on the world around them, to take back what was once theirs and maybe one day can be again....Normal documentaries don't have that kind of an effect on an audience. Normal documentaries don't give you enough to get truly fucked off at what is being done to us. The Corporation, to be sure, is far from a 'normal' documentary. This is the kind fo filmmaking that could, if seen on a large scale, change the society we live in”.

The following photo which is shown in the documentary is characteristic of the corporation is a psychopath metaphor set forth in the documentary and its accompanying book.

 corporations are psychopaths

The photo (above) was modeled after a 1960s TV ad (right) that is shown in part within the documentary. The original ad asks: "Analyzed your business lately?" The psychopath metaphor is a unique revelation that animates both the film and Bakan's book. And it begs the question, if the corporation is a psychopath, can it be cured?Photo by Nancy Bleck. Photoshop montage by Terry Sunderland. Miniature by Sean Q. Lang. Art direction by Katherine Dodds. Produced by Good Company Communications.

The movement knows that organisations making more money than individual states should be held accountable at all costs. And the best way to exorcise the evil is by attacking at all fronts. This largely explains why the movement has been staggeringly successful in bringing such a wide and distinctively heterogeneous spectrum of groups together, joined by academic heavyweights, environmental pressure groups, NGOs, human rights advocates, philanthropists of all sorts and sceptic communitarians, to name but a few.


Nowadays, there is a substantial body of knowledge providing the movement with a theoretical backbone. It is worth briefly reviewing the central theses of a few leading anti-globalisation thinkers because it is those theses that the case for a socially responsible and economically sustainable globalisation will have to answer.

The key text of the movement is perhaps Naomi Klein’s hugely successful No Logo, which maintains that the ever-increasing pace of competition, regardless of industry, threatens to turn all products into non-distinguishable commodities. As manufacturing degrades in importance, companies are forced to differentiate themselves by bundling their products with a variety of intangible notions; stressing for example family and community values, individual styles, political beliefs and work attitudes. This part is nothing new. Many before Klein, chief among them Tom Peters, have vividly described the value that such intangibles can add to corporate balance sheets since this is exactly what consumers yearn for, whether on the lookout for a new pair of Nike trainers, a Porsche car, or a Rolex watch. But Klein goes way further than that. She sees that such market transformations fuelled by the logo war that global empires have waged on smaller-scale regional producers escalate in a global conformity in the form of projected values that companies push through their branding practices which ultimately destabilise local cultures or worse threaten to replace regional values and attitudes with single-facetted, globally pervasive brands. As culture and marketing become overlapping elements of society and teenagers worldwide develop a taste for the same kind of art, clothing and status symbols, a global consumer consciousness perfectly aligned with the demands set by corporate marketing departments overshadows our geographically, politically and historically rooted social identity. In the process, politics diminishes to empty rhetoric, sweatshops mushroom and human rights are ruthlessly infringed as production moves where cheap labour abounds and corrupt or powerless governments fall easy prey to unstoppable organisations that set the tone for legislation favourable only for their own purposes.

LSE Professor John Gray’s rhetoric is more poetic, melancholic and vague. In The Era of Globalisation is Over, Gray (2001) argues that the September 11 tragedy was essentially an attack toward globalisation, a blow to its relentless drive to dictate the pace of modernisation on a global scale, and the first blatant warning that global anarchy is imminent unless the blame for such devastating events is put on mega-corporations and international economic institutions that discharge states of their cultural and economic sovereignty. In a nutshell, Gray (1998) sees all things remotely connected to the American model of capitalism as inherently evil and he attributes all social ills to the pursuit of the US model of unfettered free markets. Globalisation is a delusion on a grand scale, and Gray believes that Americans are suffering from this very delusion. He denounces the universal civilisation that US and global markets have set in motion and even goes on to compare free-market liberalism to communism in terms of their capacity to inflict harm. But while Gray is sparing with the details and is obviously lacking a sufficient grasp of economics and management, Noreena Hertz, Associate Director of International Business and Management of Cambridge University, offers a more powerful and substantiated view of the massive social turmoil that globalisation has unleashed.

In The Silent Takeover, Noreena Hertz (2001) chronicles a socio-economic alliance between organisations and governments, dating back to the days of the Iron Lady’s political omnipresence, which has put democracy under siege. As economics has become the new politics, and the political agenda is driven by corporate directives, social needs have been consistently overlooked. In light of widespread government inertia and negligence, organisations are now expected to tackle social problems as well as to assume the role of benevolent global regulators, however without being chosen by the electorate to do so. Acting on the assumption that commercial organisations are better suited to boost the economic engine of countries than state-owned agencies, and that the generated economic growth would be eventually or automatically matched by social progress, governments resorted to delegate immense power to businesses in exchange for funds and another safe seat. This political vanity has set the stage for a corporate takeover of democracy.

The most down-to-earth critique of globalisation, in my opinion, comes from George Monbiot, a dyed-in-the-wool activist that has been arrested, imprisoned, and hospitalised due to his support for the road protests movement. Monbiot is clearly emphasising the need to formulate global-in-reach institutions that push for standards, and that task is now more urgent than ever as existing institutions are perverted by corporate power (Monbiot 1999a, 1999c). Monbiot claims that what is beneficial for developed countries and big companies is not necessarily good for developing countries, small and medium sized companies and consumers. For instance, economies of scale may mean higher production output and reduction of per-unit costs for big companies, yet at the same time may be marginalizing poor countries that lack the entrepreneurial and infrastructural resources required to build massive production plants on their own without having to suffer extortive terms laid from abroad. In addition, as companies grow in size, they wield enormous political influence which allows them to become anonymous and totalitarian, and as a consequence asymmetries of bargaining power rise to stratospheric heights. In such a marketplace, consumers’ bargaining power is reduced to the minimum and the scope of consumer activism loses its meaning (Monbiot 1999b). Champions of globalisation defend that global corporations with their global brands are more fragile than they seem because consumer activism, which can be better understood as voting through buying, is a very direct form of stating consumer discontent (Economist). If the image of a company like Coca Cola is damaged in a single geographical area, the argument goes, it is almost inevitable that the echo of the damage will spread like wildfire through the information ocean to inundate the company’s global presence. In theory, the agony that a local action may lead to globally destructive consequences should be sufficient to prevent mega-corps from abusing their power. In practice though, Monbiot is adamant, consumers have no real option. One way or another, consumers are obliged to hand their fares over to big companies as the small stores around the corner and regional producers tend to eclipse altogether in the name of corporate expansion. In time, consumers may be lured by the comparatively lower prices that such corporate giants will be offering, however, the freedom to choose between the familiar small merchant and the new empires will have vanished. When that time comes, the power to dictate the terms of trade will lie solely in the hands of managers divorced from the real needs of the marketplace and consumers will find themselves in the awkward position of having no alternative than accept what the empires offer. As long as globalisation means regulation by vested interests in corporate profits, people will be alienated and consumers will be disempowered. And that is not going to change, says Monbiot (2001), unless market freedom is restored and globalisation comes to mean decentralisation rather than consolidation.

Needless to say, all of them share a profound concern that environmental resources are been depleted due to corporate negligence, and that globalisation is a homogenising force. Klein sees this homogenisation taking shape through aggressive marketing that seeks to redefine cultural values and attitudes and make them fit with product launches and corporate branding. Others do not focus so heavily on marketing, but still suggest that corporate marketing practices encourage a global culture of mass consumerism. Such escalating consumerism, they suggest, can only lead to a sterile cultural skeleton, which narrows people’s perceptive horizons and promotes a shallow culture of narcissistic individualism with catastrophic consequences for personal growth, civic society, community life and public services.

In all, the themes that pervade the anti-literature stress that consumer power is draining out and the surrounding community is deprived of the ability to stand up to abusive corporations through the constitutional mechanisms of representative democracy amidst a general climate of decaying politics. In the absence of a level playing field, small businesses are forcefully squeezed out of local markets by large companies that have no moral and ethical constraints. As the process of homogenisation marches forward, cultural differences are been eliminated; so it is the space to be different and authentic. No cultural diversity is to be tolerated and if any cultural niches are to survive at all, they will be most certainly surrounded by an ocean of consumerism which values individualism before community. The only role left for communities is that of manipulative communities of brands. All other forms of social collaboration and group forming that cannot be categorised for easier targeting through the marketing shotgun and cannot be commercially exploited will be left to perish. The above ills that are presumably brought about by a twisted, corporate – hijacked form of globalisation provide the cornerstones around which the anti-globalisation movement has coalesced and against which it continues to mobilise resources.

Answering the anti-case: The F/OSSD Paradigm

 The matter of fact is the F/OSS community counters the global pessimists on several grounds: First, marketing within the community and marketing of F/OSS technologies is not coercive or corporate-engineered in any sense, instead it is of ‘the markets are conversations’ kind [7]. Second, community formation, cohesion, identity and norms are of paramount importance for F/OSS development models to be fruitful and sustainable. And even though software is at the forefront of global capitalism[8], it hasn’t altered or diminished the significance of community ethics or community development. Third, as far as companies whose business and revenue model is based on F/OSS are concerned, industrial fragmentation and consolidation are avoided as a result of intra-industry sharing of information in the form of obligatory exchange of product specifications (source code)[9] and indeed the political processes of the community dictate corporate behaviour and precede firm strategy. But let’s examine each one of those claims in more detail.


To begin with, marketing of F/OSS technologies is not manipulative and does not aim at manufacturing needs. Schumpeter (1911) was perhaps the first to identify that for technological products to succeed in the marketplace, “consumers are educated by the producer; they are taught to want new things”; a relationship between salesmanship, advertising and consumption that J.K. Galbraith (1958) later dubbed the dependence effect. In the Affluent Society, Galbraith made a compelling case that had products not been advertised, wants would not have existed. He held the view that the industrial revolution, for all the celebrated improvements it brought about in the production side, had developed a reliance upon the artificial arousal of needs, the implications of which, Cluetrain Manifesto co-authors Weinberger and Searls note, were deemed to change the marketplace dynamics forever. In their account of the Industrial Interruption, Weinberger and Searls explain that customers’ behaviour would have to be homogenised for mass consumer markets served by mass products to prevail. This homogenisation of consumers’ purchasing patterns would be achieved through mass marketing techniques. And so organisations invented mass media for the top-down delivery of their marketing messages and PR pitches. Conversing with the marketplace was replaced by corporate-fed brainwashing and marketing persuasion. One-way marketing communications instead of two-way market conversations. Consumers rather than customers. And so the argument went that consumers should learn to consume what is been given to them without wasting corporate resources by expecting products customised to their individual wants. Without expecting that they could speak to the company. If and when needed, the company would speak to them through the bloodless and anonymous face of mass media. No compromises. They can have any colour they want as long as it’s black. And if they ever grow unhappy with black, a proper doze of prime-time marketing hysteria will convince them otherwise.

Now, in stark contrast to a world characterised by mass products, mass media and mass marketing, F/OSS relies upon word-of-mouth. At gatherings of Linux User Groups [20] (LUG), users share their experiences, advocate their favourite F/OSS technologies, and help newcomers and the less technically advanced get hands-on experience from mature users. Software installations are turned into technical fiestas where people bring their own computers and have Linux installed on them by other end-users. No marketing gigs. Just people helping each other and spreading the word. Just bring your computer and rest assured that someone will happily install Linux for you. LUGs are local communities of Linux users communicating mainly through online mailing lists but they also organise physical events. Chances are that a LUG is near you. Some of them are of course larger and more vibrant than others but the essence is that those events are not an excuse for an exclusive, closely-knit group to hang around together. They are instead gatherings designed to raise public awareness about the advantages of Linux and they move far beyond a mere demonstration of Linux’s technical capabilities: they get you started with cutting-edge expertise from other users. Marketing departments, usually badly informed of their clientele’s actual needs and only caring for the goals set from above, would have to spend a fortune to come close to the effectiveness and usefulness that LUGs provide for free. There is only one better way to proselytise and get users hooked on the Linux operating systemt than LUG meetings: selling computers with Linux preinstalled. Here, Linux comes quite behind other operating systems but industry dynamics are slowly changing this. But by looking at LUGs, one realises that most people attending LUG meetings built their own Linux relationships, not so much to the Linux operating system but to each other.


In the classic The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000: 169-192) argues that the dynamics of such groups are pivotal in order to engineer social epidemics that transform outsiders to striking bestsellers. LUGs make sure that Linux becomes a linking thread between individuals and small local groups. Once you attend one local meeting, it is certain that you will also go to the next one. Consider what happens when you go to such a gathering: you have Linux installed on your laptop. After a month, you go to the next gathering and share your experience with your new operating system with other people. You may also have new needs and enquiries and you hope that someone will be there to help you with. Most probably, you will have stumbled upon a technical matter and someone will be there to help you again. You also get to see the same person who installed Linux for you and you start talking about how Linux works for you. As you attend more meetings, relationships begin to develop and you no longer see those people as Linux enthusiasts that try to sell you on a technology. They have become a critical part of your own community. In the process, you will be eventually installing Linux on other people’s computers and helping them get started. The same virtuous circle of social connections goes on and on. In the end, you have become a volunteer Linux marketer.

Of course, word-of-mouth marketing is not solely confined to LUG meetings. The cyberspace has proven to be an excellent forum for the continuation of democratic public discourse on matters of interest to the community. At online discussion forums dedicated to the community, F/OSS users tell their own experiences and ignite discussion within the community. It is no coincidence that most of those discussion forums are weblogs – constantly updated, dynamic story-based websites like Slashdot, Newsforge and Linux Weekly News whose lifeblood is the vibrant discourse among website users who post their opinions, leave comments, respond to other people’s posts, and debate the pros and cons of each other’s position. Some posts have a polemical flavour and adopt an authoritative stance of the we should all use F/OSS if we want to be in control of our own computers type whereas other people ask the community’s opinion on how to best market F/OSS or seek help as they stumble upon a configuration problem. This is marketing from the market’s perspective: end users advocate a technology, educate others how to use it, provide support, organise political actions related to F/OSS, and undertake the role of a marketer by communicating all that Linux symbolises to a wider audience. Not a petty task.

Sure enough, there are plenty who claim that Linux and F/OSS technologies could gain from an aggressive marketing approach [21].Not everyone agrees that weblogs and LUGs suffice to catapult F/OSS into the lucrative mainstream market. Word-of-mouth marketing and weblogs are indispensable to spread the word and ignite social epidemics among like-minded people and generally people in IT circles, but when it comes to reaching the masses their effectiveness is limited. At the Newsforge community weblog, a Linux user by the name of Elwin Green (2002) expressed his discontent with the lack of prime-time marketing for Linux. “What Linux needs is not features but marketing”, Green cried out and pointed out the need for a centralised professional marketing force with dedicated financial resources to push Linux. A month later, Jesse Smith (2002) wrote that Linux should be marketed in a manner similar to cars, and Sandeep Krishnamurthy (2002) proposed that “open source thinking be applied to marketing”. Among many things, he suggested that in the spirit of collaboration organisations adopting F/OSS for internal use should act as references, the community should decide on a single message that the commercial world will be receptive to, and that tested marketing tools and processes should be integrated into a coherent F/OSS value proposition. Put bluntly, the community should analyse and segment the market by using the very same tools and frameworks that business school graduates are familiar with and corporate marketing departments are so fond of, and market the product accordingly. In a sense, the community should act as a typical marketer and deploy all those tools that a typical marketer would be expected to use. Interestingly, the community is already moving towards these directions. Employees involved with F/OSS implementations at commercial companies act as references [footnote], the open source strategic positioning has been modified to emphasise that F/OSS is a viable commercial strategy [22] [footnote], and the Open Source Enterprise Project led by Scott Allen, Jason Coward and Flemming Funch is taking huge steps to apply open source thinking to marketing by creating a large pool of marketing resources that the community could draw on in order to better market F/OSS technologies.

Perhaps the real problem lies in our perception of what good marketing really is. Stark and Neff, after spending several months researching new media dot.coms in the area of New York, concluded that when the market demand for a software-based product requires significant space for customisation and flexibility (that will in turn allow the product to be further modified at a later stage), centralised organisation of processes and finalised product designs tend to lose. As a direct consequence of this paradigm shift in manufacturing from mass-market products to highly customised solutions, marketing as usual is decreasing in importance and effectiveness. But why? Those dot.coms constructed web-based systems (like corporate websites) for their clients. The clients, naturally, wanted the best value for their money: web-based systems that could be easily maintained, updated, changed and redesigned as market variables dictated. In this market, and for this group of customers, shrinkwrapped, out-of-the-shelf products is a realistic option, but it is nonetheless not the most attractive option on offer for reasons of flexibility. Out-of-the-shelf solutions provide the most basic level of functionality, and in their majority fiddling with the underlying technology in order to extend the existent level of functionality is impossible for a variety of reasons (ie. source code is not distributed with the solution, the legal license used prohibits such fiddling and tinkering practices without permission, and so forth). In industries heavily dependent upon software (like the Web engineering and development industry segment that Neff and Stark analysed), software is seen as a service rather than a product. And as every marketer knows, the marketing of services is diametrically different to that of products. For if there’s no finalised product design, (and no demand for it) the marketing effort should not be put in highlighting a feature or two of the software that might be gone in the next version, or even worse, those features might not be the ones sought by prospective customers. Indeed, and insofar as software is concerned, the current marketplace reality asks for permanently beta products – flexible, reconfigurable, malleable solutions whose only marketing requirement is that one should know where to go to find it (and information about it).

This trend is best illustrated by Linux. Is, businesswise, Linux a product or a service? And is my Linux the same as yours? Nowadays, Linux is being sold and marketed in many different contexts by many commercial entities catering for many different groups of users. SuSe’s Linux is different from Red Hat’s, and Red Hat’s is different from Mandrake’s. Does it make then sense to market all of them uniformly? Of course not, but this is not due to concerns over brand differentiation. Linux is the desktop system of choice for lots of normal folk because it enables them to configure and customise their computing environment to suit their individual needs. As regards to corporate clients, rather than individual customers, the in-house adoption of Linux is clearly treated as a service that is initiated with an analysis of requirements, goals, objectives, etc., continues with the development phase, the end-user education phase, the testing phase, the final roll-out phase, and extends beyond all these phases to encompass future support and maintenance. Eric Rayond puts it “the software industry is 95% not a manufacturing industry”. And as the marketing of manufactured products has striking differences to the marketing of highly customised 1-to-1 products and services, we should move beyond typical marketing-as-noise to marketing as knowing where to go to get some help and information.

Community norms shape development

In every released version, there is a file attached which lists all those who have contributed (code). Credit attribution if neglected, is a cardinal sin that will breed bitterness within the community and discourage developers from further contributing. Furthermore, distributing changes without the leader’s approval is frowned upon and can only be justified in extreme cases. This has come to be known as forking and it usually refers to the moment when a chasm among the community of developers occurs with one side refusing to accept the development route the other side is proposing or implementing. The net effect of forking is that the development community splits and so does the technology. No wonder why forking carries such a notorious stigma. In the case of Linux, forking is mainly avoided due to a parallel release version: a version is stable and aims at those wanting a secure and reliable platform whereas the other version is experimental and appeals to those with a rather experimental urge. Indeed, the entire structural organisation of the Linux development process is shaped by community norms. For instance, there is only one layer between the community of Linux developers and the leader Linus Torvalds. This small group of developers, the so-called “trusted lieutenants [23], interfaces between Linus T. and the rest of the developers in response to the overwhelming burden placed on Linus Torvalds. As the community of Linux developers grew to unimaginable numbers, this informal mechanism, which represents a natural selection by the community, emerged to ensure that the technology would scale even if its leader would not. Thus, a dozen or so hackers are responsible for maintaining a part of the Linux kernel but the important thing to note is that the trusted lieutenants are not managers.

Meritocracy, in other words, prevails. But it does so not only because a meritocratic organisation excels at dealing with technological ambiguity and also suits non-profit organisations as a suitable motivation mechanism, the F/OSS community is a community of peers. From a certain viewpoint, even the dominant F/OSS license can be understood as a community norm.

The Crisis of the Left

The Left has left many with unanswered dilemmas, if not a bitter taste. The root of the problem, according to Immanuel Wallerstein, is that the Old Left claimed that once it seized power, it would change the world forever. The rhetoric indeed proved successful to catapult leftist movements to state control and by the mid-1960s leftist movements reigned throughout the world. Yet, their inability to transform the world along the lines of an open and affluent society, led to the social upheaval of 1968, a world revolution characterised by a widespread disillusionment associated with the fact that the promises made by the Old Left were in great supply but their real-world implementations fell short of pragmatism. Promises remained only that – mere promises. So the Old Left resorted to an ever-continuing series of debates and discussions about alternatives, which, it should be evident by now, led nowhere. For the next thirty years or so, the quest for alternatives did not bear fruit, and the socio-economic vacuum that the Left’s failure indirectly forced into being proved to be a craterfor ideas of unfettered free markets, laissez-faire economics, and corporate-led globalisation [ref].

But as globalisation became the dominant socio-economic paradigm in the post-Cold War era and the exclusivity promoted by meetings such as the World Economic Forum and Davos became the norm in discussions of democratic progress, the situation took another unpredictable turn, and with the first roar of the counter globalisation movement in Seattle in 1999, it entirely spun out of control. The alternative to the state-centricity that the Old Left was so fixated on, and so sadly incompetent to discard, seemed to take shape in the seemingly anarchic model of organisation of the massive street protests that brought the official negotiations to a halt. Coupled with the emergence of a spectrum of literary works that celebrate the brute force of the movement, as well as its hugely diverse dialectic, the New Left finds its most powerful expression in the movement of the multitudes. This is the New Left, traditional Left’s metamorphosis through the Third Way notwithstanding. As Michael Hardt remarks, “There are indeed two primary positions in the response to today’s dominant forces of globalization: either one can work to reinforce the sovereignty of nation-states as a defensive barrier against the control of foreign and global capital, or one can strive towards a non-national alternative to the present form of globalization that is equally global.”[ref]. XXXXXX

Visualising the Empire

In hindsight, it should come as no surprise that Empire [ref], the theoretical analysis of global biopolitical production and control by Toni Negri and Michael Hardt, has come to be regarded as the most influential critique of capitalism and globalisation in the more radical streams of the counter-movement. Although Negri and Hardt’s style is difficult to absorb as they often write in metaphysical and philosophical terms, their train of thought is clear from the beginning. Globalisation, they contend, is a system that has grown larger than any individual state, and is thus outside the reach of any single party restrained by geography. Globalisation, on these premises, is not controlled by the US, and its evolution rests upon its own ability to disseminate memes in much the same way that viruses propagate through networks of human hosts. As such, any response to that system that wants to be taken seriously should be equally global, liberated from local politics, and incorporating its own evolutionary logic. The response, the authors postulate, should not be awash with blood (although it could be), and as Negri himself often hints, there is a striking analogy and parallel with the networks of Christians who, in anticipation of the collapse of the Roman Empire, formed resilient socio-economic networks capable of withstanding the turmoil unleashed by the decadence of the dominant system [ref]. The Empire that Hardt and Negri describe is synonymous to globalisation, and its nemesis is not likely to be realised from hostile, armed opposition to all-things-American. Instead, the nemesis of globalisation, which could also be seen as a spontaneous re-conceptualisation of what civil society and democracy stand for, is reborn through the multitudes.

For all the advantages of the New Left’s reincarnation through the diverse multitude of viewpoints that the anti-movement encompasses, there are disadvantages too. First and foremost, while it may seem as an advantage not to have a clear agenda that can be answered, and contended against in the terrain of political debate, the movement eventually will have to come up with an agenda. To date, part of the agenda stems from the publications of John Gray, Naomi Klein, Noreena Hertz, George Monbiot, Geert Lovink, Jeremy Rifkin, and Negri and Hardt [ref], as it is the main theses of these publications that lay out the image of a derelict world, and rally support against it. Interestingly, Charles Leadbeater has taken on the task of countering these theses in the excellent Up the Down Escalator [ref], but the extent to which the clarity of his argument, and the persuasive effect it sets to reproduce among his readers is successful essentially boils down to individual interpretation and stance. In that regard, it could also be argued that Leadbeater’s thesis suffers from a lack of momentum that the counter-theses have already gained. From a radically different vantage point though – one that assumes the counter movement will never seek to embrace a strictly adhered, and shared rhetoric, and this vantage point is also in agreement with the strategy offered by Negri and Hardt – the problem that unfolds before the New Left is “to analyze where the capitalist world-economy is going structurally, and what are its inherent weaknesses; and begin to outline an alternative world order.”[ref]. It goes without saying, of course, that the political power charged with envisioning and materialising that alternative world order is the counter-movement. So, the movement is in need of a manifesto, a roadmap, or a framework if you prefer, which will broaden the understanding of the current system and provide a framework for concerted direct action. Yet, with the possible exception of Empire, which, given the stir it has caused, stands a very good chance of supplying the movement with a solid theoretical backbone, most popular analyses of the structural dynamics of post-modern capitalism either suffer from inadequate representation among the New Left, and thus their appeal is by necessity limited, or, as is most often the case, they try either to paint a world that is doomed from the outset and not worthy of salvation [ref], or sketch out a vision of a world that is not yet perfect but is moving there fast [ref].

The Construction of Radical Machines

We noted earlier that Negri and Hardt’s Empire is by far the most constructive attempt to analyse where the current world is heading. After reading the book though, one is left wondering why F/OSS is not included in the authors’ analysis of affective and immaterial labour, as well as the new general intellect that pervades the organisation of bio-production. In Radical Machines Against Techno-Empire, Matteo Pasquinelli (2004) takes on this task with excess zeal and raises an important question:

There is a hegemonic metaphor in political debate, in the arts world, in philosophy, in media criticism, in network culture: that is Free Software. We hear it quoted at the end of each intervention that poses the problem of what is to be done (but also in articles of strategic marketing.), whilst the twin metaphor of open source contaminates every discipline: open source architecture, open source literature, open source democracy, open source city.…Softwares are immaterial machines. The metaphor of Free Software is so simple for its immateriality that it often fails to clash with the real world. Even if we know that it is a good and right thing, we ask polemically: what will change when all the computers in the world will run free software? The most interesting aspect of the free software model is the immense cooperative network that was created by programmers on a global scale, but which other concrete examples can we refer to in proposing new forms of action in the real world and not only in the digital realm? (Pasquinelli 2004)

Before attempting any deconstruction of the above, we need to state and understand that Pasquinelli defines ‘machine’ very loosely. As he says above, software can be perceived as an immaterial machine. However, by calling software a machine I believe that he seeks to lay emphasis on the ever-growing influence of software in an increasingly immaterial economy made out of thin air. Indeed, the importance of understanding what constitutes a machine and how the re-appropriation of the means of production by the multitude is constituted through the making of new radical autonomous machines cannot be overstated:

Don't hate the machine, be the machine. How can we turn the sharing of knowledge, tools and spaces into new radical revolutionary productive machines, beyond the inflated Free Software? This is the challenge that once upon the time was called reappropriation of the means of production.
Will the global radical class manage to invent social machines that can challenge capital and function as planes of autonomy and autopoiesis? Radical machines that are able to face the techno-managerial intelligence and imperial meta-machines lined up all around us? The match multitude vs. empire becomes the match radical machines vs. imperial techno-monsters. How do we start building these machines?

In the above passage Pasquinelli poses the question of how to extend the principles and success of free software beyond (free) software and the digital sphere. This is again confusing. For if software is penetrating the economy and society, and this is a trend practically unstoppable to the point where all machines will be more or less software-based, then why should one care to make any conscious effort to apply the critical success factors of free software to other domains? That the contaminating effect of software alone will ensure this progression of events, emerges as a reasonable hypothesis. Still, without wanting to oversimplify the implications that stem from such a plane of thought, it becomes obvious that what Pisquarelli values most in free software is not software itself but the organising principles behind it, the ethic of co-operation that characterises the mode of production of a good many free software project. While I among many others marvel at the organisation of free software projects, and theorise that this might well be a harbinger of a rising modus operandi and civilisation, the antithesis that forces this conception of historical flux to a standstill is the case of crypto-hierarchies creeping into the larger social system. In Pasquinelli’s analysis, there are no doubts as to who is the gatekeeper that ought to be discharged of his authority. The gates of autonomy are guarded not by governments nor by global-in-reach and not-accountable-to-anyone institutions, but by managers. And this is what he means when advocating that the goal of radical machines should be to eliminate managers. But is a world without managers possible? Here, we need to make a small digression to define two things: the machine and the manager. Let’s start with the machine:

The machine, which is the starting - point of the industrial revolution, supersedes the workman, who handles a single tool, by a mechanism operating with a number of similar tools, and set in motion by a single motive power, whatever the form of that power may be”Karl Marx, Capital.p.376

The union of all these simple instruments, set in motion by a single motor, constitutes a machine”Charles Babbage, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, Ch.19

The first definition of machine by Marx is perhaps the most well known, but it faces certain limitations. First, our discussion is not confined to the industrial economy -society; our focus is fixed on the knowledge economy where most of production has become informatised. Second, and as far as free software production is concerned, the machine doesn’t supersede the workman, and most importantly, human programming cannot be replaced by machines – at least not yet. From this perspective, it could be argued that programmers enjoy a certain degree of autonomy over machines. But then again, what does Pasquinelli mean when he defines software as an immaterial machine? And what would the function of an immaterial machine be like? I can only find two possible explanations that may apply here: either software is a machine because its operation is linked to the functions it is meant to perform, and therefore, software as a higher-level program co-ordinates and unites a set of separate lower-level functions and directives that cannot be performed without running the higher-level program; or Pasquinelli is somewhat paraphrasing Lessig’s view that software embodies, promotes and regulates certain types of behaviour. I believe that both of these explanations are valid, but I assume, perhaps wrongly, that Pasquinelli sees software as a machine primarily because of software’s capacity to regulate behaviour. By reading between the lines, this view is also in agreement with Negri and Hardt who would define a machine’s role as extending beyond the factory and the workers to control and police behaviours. Such a machine is designed to control the production of culture and even life by regulating behaviour. If we try to push this definition of machine to its logical extreme, and contemplate its importance, it becomes obvious that software lies at the strategic annex of the empire and its nemesis. Software is a domain of conflict; and control over software is a key aspect of domination.

The critical dimension of free software can thus be contemplated from a plane of reasoning upon which co-operation and immateriality converge to give form and substance not only to a whole new class of workers, but ultimately to a struggle that is subsumed within transcendent capitalism. And here we return to our discussion of the role of the managerial elite, for managers are the organs of control, says Pasquinelli. This, of course, necessitates that managers are in control of machines. Is this a plausible assertion? Are managers the ones who control the production of culture and even life by regularing behaviour? Here I agree and disagree at the same time with Pasquinelli. Although part of the problem may emanate from my poorly constructed definition of machine, it is nonetheless immature to insist that the only ones commanding the machines in ways opposed to the project of automony and liberation are managers. The multitude commands machines; it is a machine as much as a network. The all encompassing logic that governs the empire is also in control of machines. In between this multitude – logic of empire dichotomy, where can we locate the manager? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer as any attempt to define the manager is fraught with ambiguity and subjectivity. A great deal of recent management literature has been stressing the changing character of management, animating the passage from command, control, and supervision to leadership, vision, charisma and co-ordination. Nowadays, depending on where one stands (or works), a manager can be the embodiment of irrational authority issuing commands at every conceivable occassion or a gentle and compassionate guide offering help and direction in the corporate labyrinth. Coming up with a definition of manager is not likely to give us any useful answers, unless we can explore some creative synergy in terms of logically fusing the definitions of manager and machine to arrive at a definition of system. Perhaps we could accomplish this by following the thread from the perspective of the emergence of crypto-hierarchies. Crypto-hierarchies are obscure by definition, and the model upon which they are premised, in their majority, resembles an elaborate Ponzi scheme: secret-like structures, founded on illegitimate and irrational grounds, and designed to exploit the many in favour of the few. Crypto-hierarchies are also related to managers as managers constitute the first level of contact one has when encountering a crypto-hierarchy. To enter and gain admittance to a crypto-hierarchy, one has to go through the gatekeeper, that is, a manager metaphorically speaking. Managers do not have to be commercial managers; they can be elected politicans or powerful nodes determining who’s in and out in hermetically sealed networks. Hence, if we conceptualise managers as gatekeepers enthrusted with controlling access to spaces and places and flows of information, we arrive at a fairly interesting working definition of system: a system is a space or place where culture and life are produced and reproduced through a process of continuously (re-)assigning and negotiating access to the apparatuses of control and whose actual boundaries are determined by access in both quantitative and qualitative terms.

Is then a world without managers possible? We can only seek a fruiful answer to this question by first leaving our deeply entrenched notions of organisation behind, and summoning up all the courage we have to imagine new structures and models of organisation and collective governance. In The Revolutionary Problem Today, Cornelius Castoriadis (1976) argues that a world without managers has been feasible since the dawn of the industrial revolution. “What further demonstrates the criticality of the distance between the managerial organisation of production and the reality of the work process is the effectiveness of the form of labour struggle known as ‘working to ryle’: chaos knocks on the factory door whenever workers start to apply with the outmost precision the rules and the instructions they are supposedly meant to apply to the production process”(Ibid. pp.75). According to Castoriadis, the reason there’s always some room for subjective interpretation of the rules, individual initiative, emergent co-ordination, and improvisation is exactly due to this fact. For the production process to come full circle, workers must retain some degree of autonomy over their work so that the system linking the workets to the machines to the managers doesn’t come to a halt. Like a feedback loop in a closed system, we can witness the initiation of an endless violent circle of conflicts inside the factory with the managers employing technology to install more advanced forms of control, and workers responding again by various means and in various ways. The critical point is that managers, even in a time of history when Fordism went largely unchallenged, were pretty much useless. A factory, says Castoriadis, could be run without any managers (Ibid.). But if managers were useless then, an unecessary addition to the production method at its best, and that was the case in an economy largely dependent upon assembly-lines that prohibited workers from taking a minute to urinate, then what are we to make of all this today? As previously said, the conflict has now moved beyond the factory to what some call the social factory that produces and regulates behaviours across all social fabrics. And the role of the manager has shifted to controlling access. So, where does this leave us? Should one try to resist gatekeepers and strive for a world with unlimited access to every single place and space? Is that likely to form the basis of the construction of radical machines that Pasquinelli calls out for?

We should be aware of the fact that while greater access certainly translates into enhanced labour mobility (and thus enhanced labour power), freedom of information, and strengthening of democracy, it also may come to mean greater control. Total openness leads to the end of privacy, and can form the constitutional basis of an authoritarian society. One shudders to think of what total openness would make life be like. Picture a society modelled along the lines of George Orwell’s 1984 dystopia where huge screens fitted on the walls keep track of what one does and even what one thinks. There’s no escaping them. Screens cannot be switched off. Only members in the highest ranks of the party have the ability to turn them off, but doing so casts one with suspicion. This is total openness. And this is our life, only slightly less frightening than Orwell’s. In contemporary England, one meets the apotheosis of the closed-circuit television network. CCTVs are eveywhere, in public places, in cafes, in workplaces, and outside our homes, effectively regulating behaviour on the pretext of keeping our neighbourhoods and streets safe from crime. If we look hard enough, we can see a piece of free software, an immaterial machine that is radical enough to present an alternative to the apparatus of control that CCTV is. MudLondon is a Semantic-Web technology, or more accurately, an innovative experiment in collaborative mapping with an Instant-Messaging interface that enables one to annotate London’s streets with descriptions, in effect turning London to an open source MUD. MudLondon is essentially what its users make it to be. From the project’s homepage: “the user is encouraged to connect new places to the model, augmenting it with his or her own mental map, annotating with descriptions, known postcodes (which are automatically converted and cross-referenced with other grid location data)”. The technology has a massive potential for a wide spectrum of applications, turning London to an interactive map where one can do many things like get information about which streets of London are safe from CCTVs and help squatters evade arrest. This is the most obvious, tangible advantage of free software: giving the masses radical machines that neutralise the apparatuses of control and regulation.


Another succinct example of how free software could help unveil the true promise of those radical machines that Pasquirelli envisions is the aptly baptised Mapping Contemporary Capitalism.

Politics return to the demos:

The battle over who controls access, and consequently which criteria inform the selection of gatekeepers and the decisions over who will be given access and who will not, will be fought in both virtual and non-virtual terrains. Sometimes, it will be impossbile to distinguish between virtual and non-virtual. What free software can contribute to this battle, beyond the mere inspiration and guidance we derive from its merit and peer-based model of governance, is a technological sphere that will enable us to step outside our previously assigned role as passive consumers of reality and become the architects of new spaces, new places, and new behaviours while keeping a check on those still in power in the places and spaces of the old world.



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[1] The workshop was led by Graham Seaman, and the title of the workshop was “The Two Economies or why the washing machine question is the wrong answer”

[2] Interestingly, a new documentary titled The Corporation says exactly that: corporations are psychotic; their greed and obsessive fixation to profit renders them blind to the extent of committing corporate suicide; and they should be stopped by all means.

[3] For an elaborate discussion of marketing as “markets are conversations”, see C. Locke, 2001. Gonzo Marketing: Winning through worst practices, Capstone Publishing and R. Levine, D. Searls, D. Weinberger and C. Locke, 2000. The Cluetrain Manifesto: the end of business as usual, FT.COM. In the context of the chapter I propose, this means that the success of Linux and other F/OSS technologies is not attributed to large corporations’ corporate marketing departments and campaigns but it can be understood as the outcome of informal communication and free sharing of information on the Net. Marketers would call it “word-of-mouth marketing”.

[4] Is anyone who can honestly deny that Silicon Valley and technology companies were the major growth engine in US and a prime example of globalisation? Bear in mind that Microsoft and Netscape Communications software is developed in the US but it is sold and installed in computers worldwide.

[5] Evidently, releasing the source code for any given technology substantially helps to avoid market consolidation and fragmentation as it enables the development of many niche markets rather than assuming or creating a mass market, but not all OSI-certified licenses require the company to release the source code. Thus, for confusion to be avoided, my analysis is mostly restricted to the GNU GPL and does not refer to all OSI (Open Source Initiative) – certified licenses.

[6] Quoted in Po Bronson, 2000. The Nudist on the Late Shift, pp. 170.

[7] Various bus-models, sell as product, sell services, in-house deploymtn see E.S. Raymond The Magic Couldron, Version 3.0, 2000, at

[8] originates in Schumpeter’s view of the process of ecomomic change

[9]video games ref. death

[10] expansive perspective, the community never seeks to restrain the access

[11] Police forces removed mobile phones during the 2000 protest of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia (wiki)

[12] the most severe danger lies from within. During the 2003 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the big boys tried to manipulate the movement (2 refs)

[13] Of course, not everyone sees this multiplicity of opinions that are expressed through the anti-movement as a necessary contradiction, an unfortunate downside of diversity that further breeds pessimism. Indeed, Negri, Hardt and ***see it as an advantage, or to put it properly, Negri and Hardt claim that this multiplicity of voices is inevitable because the realm of exploitation has been extended to encompass all of life. Since, for example, the current organs of control oppress all classes, and the appropriation of surplus value is no longer confined to the shift and the factory, the mental coordinates of conflict originate in far more places than generally associated with labour struggle. If seen from this vantage point, the anti-movement’s agenda is not unstructured at all– on the contrary, the agenda is very well structured to encompass all of life, demanding change in the ways we communicate, travel, work, play, modify our bodies and lead our lives.

[14] Mako Hill in Software, Politics, and Indymedia, says that at indymedia no technical decision is made without careful consideration of its political implications, and the software that each indymedia node chooses represents the node’s own political stand.

[15] Paul Graham makes the same argument in Hackers and Painters.

[16] The leaked Halloween documents [ref] also demonstrate that this love and hate relationship is a two-way thing.

[17] See Felix Stalder, Six Limitations to the Current Open Source Development Methodology, Nettime, at

[18] Richard Barbrook’s The Gift Economy and Dan Barber, 2001. The Open Source Development Model: is it applicable to other industries?,,March 3, 2001, make the same claim

[19] Chris Parry has written a brilliant review of the Corporation that manages to capture all the energy of the documentary. It is available at

In addition, the documentary is accompanied by a similarly titled book, “The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power, by Joel Bakan. See

[20] For an elaborate discussion of the role played by Linux User Groups within the overall Linux community, as well as an extended profiling of the Finnish Linux User Group (FLUG), see Jussi Silvonen and Reijo Miettinen, Linux and Linux Community: Perspectives and Points of View, University of Helsinki Workshop on Linux and F/OSS, 2002. URL: http://

[21] For instance, Ruben Safir, President of the New York Linux Scene (NYLX), is an ardent supporter of that view.

[22] See Tim O’Reilly, 2001. pp.42-44. EXPLAIN

[23] See Moody