Tere Vadén at a conference on: The political economy of peer production at Nottingham Trent University, his abstract: According to Lenin’s ruthlessly practical definition “socialism = electrification + the power of the soviets. Analogously, Slavoj Zizek (2002) has proposed that “socialism = free access to internet + the power of the soviets.” In more detailed contexts, theorists like Hardt and Negri (2004) and Stefan Merten (2000) have discussed self-organising and self-governing free software or peer production communities as germ forms of future classless social organisation.
While these influential proposals are, as such, very inspiring and path-breaking, they seem to bypass too quickly one element of political economy: that of the ownership of the material means of production. As Paul A Taylor (2006) points out “…the history of hacking has shown that its knowledge was all too readily co-opted by a capitalism fast enough to recuperate oppositional techniques. Hackers were vulnerable to such a reversal and their eventual fate as microserfs because they were always too intimate with the technological object of their affections; celebrators of flux should avoid the same fate in relation to theory.”

Celebrators of flux or prophets of cybercommunism: hackers still need to eat and need electricity for their machines of immaterial labour. If we analyse the current trends in some of the crown-jewels of the free/open source movement, such as GNU/Linux development and the Wikipedia, we quickly notice that not only is a new ethics or mode of knowledge production initiated but also very old-fashioned trends of profit-making and colonialisation of knowledge are reasserted. Consequently, for a more full definition and a more precise critique of cybercommunism, we need to pay attention to the various levels of freedom that self-organising knowledge work is conditioned by. Here a comparison to the conditions and constraints of freedom in media and education may be helpful.

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