Open-source Marxism

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There was a very interesting story up at the Black Table by Will Leitch a couple of weeks ago about a Page Six article that sniffed about Jodi Kantor's (the current NYT Sunday Arts & Leisure editor) habit of hiring web writers and (gasp) bloggers. Disregarding the multiple layers of irony (in the classical sense of the word, not the hipster sense) in the story, which include the fact that Elizabeth Spiers, who writes Gawker (where I first picked up the story) has written for both the Sunday A&L section and Page Six, Leitch makes a very interesting point at the bottom of the article:

"The Web is where the next generation of writers is coming from -- the workers have developed the means of production..."

Aside from the fact I had no idea that Will (nice guy from small-town Illinois and Cardinals fan) was a closest Marxist, the idea that the internet is where the workers own the means of production is one that extends far beyond just writers.

Let's look at it another way: why is the RIAA seemingly far more interested in malicious prosecution of internet file traders than it is in pursuing real CD pirates overseas? Because, while CD pirates overseas do cost the record companies money, they do not threaten the basic structure of the industry itself, while file sharers do.

In the information age, the "means of production" is really just another phrase that means "the means of distribution". When dealing with fundamentally ephemeral objects -- like words, music, or even computer software -- distribution is essentially the same thing as production.

The recording industry has built their entire business model on controlling the distribution of their product. As a whole, they are far less interested in the actual production of music (why else have we been inflicted with the mediocre vocal stylings of American Idol?) than the distribution and selling thereof. But the internet, by potentially moving the ownership of the means of distribution, and therefore, the means of production, threatens to completely destroy the record industry's control of the music business. On the other hand, the pirates who counterfeit CDs are inherently parasitic and could not exist without the major labels. They cannot overturn the structure of the industry because they are dependent on that very structure to exist. No record industry=no CD pirates.

One could, in theory, extend the argument to discuss the differences between open-source software development and the current commerical model.

See, knowing something about dead 19th-century philosophers can pay off...

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Marxism Essay Topics from the not so immaculate conception on March 10, 2004 9:18 PM

You can tell when I'm procrastinating by the number of posts I make to my blog. One idea I had for an essay topic for my Marxism class was to discuss the open-source software and how it may have some... Read More