Putting the State Out to Pasture (#!)

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Communists Like Us isn’t all that good.  It is sloppy, vague, jargony, and contradicts itself. It seems very much like Negri and Guattari often couldn’t agree, and at those points they obfuscated their argument with hard-to-parse sentences.

But they do have some very good lines on the relationship between the communist movement and the State.  “The traditional workers’ movement,” they say, “wanted…the conquest of state power [and] then the progressive disappearance of the State.”  G&N argue that

the first basic task of the revolutionary communist movement consists in having done with this sort of conception and affirming the movement’s radical separation not only from the state but…more fundamentally, from the very model of the capitalist state and all its successors…(p. 96).

Communists must develop their own forms of organization, and they must manage their economic and political affairs directly, for themselves.

The state, for its part, can live out its days in the isolation and encirclement reserved for it by a reconstructed civil society! [Echoes of ‘On the Jewish Question’ here.]  But if it appears about to come out of retreat and to reconquer our spaces of freedom, then we will respond by submerging it within a new kind of general mobilization (p. 98).

We do not confront, fight, and smash the state.  We do not seize the state and then use it to create the conditions by which it withers.  Rather, we engage, starting now, in the positive project of building a viable alternative way of life, another polity without the state [Virno: ‘non-State republic’].  We lose ourselves in this project.  Over time, we so develop our common ability to rule ourselves that we look up one day from our work and notice the state, over in the corner, living “out its days in isolation,” having fallen into disuse, having become obsolete, having been put out to pasture.  And we wonder what we ever used it for, why we ever thought we needed it in the first place.

This might seem like a grand hope, a bit of fantasy, but I think we should not waste time wondering whether it is possible, we should just get to work.  We should work on augmenting those projects to govern ourselves that are already underway, in whatever guise, in whatever arena.

Certainly the examples of this abound, but the one I am feeling most acutely these days, one I feel as I write this, has to do with my move from Windows (proprietary, corporate, profit-driven) to Linux (open-source, shared, often-not-corporate).  When I first began I worried extensively about what I would no longer be able to do, about whether I could really live (and work) outside the mainstream, outside the comfort and security of the software-that-everyone-uses.  I set up all my machines to dual boot, thinking I would try my best to run Linux most of the time and then run back to Windows when Linux failed me.  How silly those fears seem now.  I could not have ever imagined how stable, solid, efficient, aesthetically pleasing, and functional Linux would be.  It is a joy to come to learn and work with.  I never boot windows.  I never need to.  It never comes up.  When I find myself in a Windows environment (on some other computer), I have that feeling, the feeling of wondering why I ever thought I couldn’t live without this software.  Windows (and Apple, it goes without saying) is made utterly unnecessary by the many, many different open-source and free software projects that have created, on their own and outside the state and outside the corporate environment, a thoroughly better way to live.  Really.  Entirely better.  It is a slam dunk.  I myself am particularly indebted to Debian, Crunchbang, Tint2, Openbox, X.org, LibreOffice, XFCE (for Thunar), Geany, and many others.  And there are many, many other projects beyond these, most of them not corporations.  There is a whole multitude of people together producing code that is ours, that belongs to everyone, and that is rock-solid stable (usually) on the back end and totally gorgeous on the front.

So however obvious it seems that we can’t govern ourselves without the state, or that we can’t produce without capital, it’s not true.  We can.  We already do.  We’re not there yet, to be sure, but the day is coming when we will look at the State the way I am now looking at Windows.  Put them out to pasture.  Let’s get back to work.

Google: Utterly Dependent on Linux

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I am currently reading Jodi Dean’s The Communist Horizon, about which more later, no doubt.  But there is one nugget I couldn’t resist sharing.  She claims on p. 137 that

Google wouldn’t have started without free software–it relied originally on the Linux kernel.  Building [Google] from scratch would have taken 270 developers roughly eleven years and cost $431 million.

She attributes this fact to personal communication with Marcell Mars.  I have read something similar about Apple’s OS code–that it was forked originally from openSUSE BSD (which I confirmed via personal communication the web).

Whatever the accuracy of such claims, it is worth continuing to document the extent to which the proprietary (privatized) codes we think are so wonderful, polished, and functional, so essential to our everyday lives (like OSX, Windows, Office, etc.), are dependent (economically, aesthetically, intellectually) on a foundation of code that was developed in common by the vast network of open-source developers.

And perhaps also just an update.  I have been working in a predominantly open-source environment for about 5 months now, and it is not only doable, it is fabulous.  Ubuntu 12.10, Gnome 3.6, LibreOffice 4, Firefox 20, Thunderbird 17, Nemo 1.8.0…it all easily meets or exceeds the quality and functionality of its proprietary counterparts.  I can’t see any reason to ever go back.

OMG! Ubuntu! Free activity, FOSS, and me

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I just finished installing Ubuntu, the Linux-based operating system, on my computer. I am in heaven (as of now). Everything (more or less) is open source, everything is free, and overall everything looks and works just great. It was a bit of a hassle getting Ubuntu installed because the new Windows 8 machines have a new security system installed that makes it hard to install an open-source operating system. But Microsoft’s attempt at enclosure only gave me more energy to find a way around it. And it didn’t take very long. I was able to track down this version of Ubuntu, and it installed just great after I disabled Microsoft’s fences. To do it, I had to learn about bios, hard drive partitioning, write a little code, and just generally take a more active role in managing my computing habitat. It took a bit of effort, but there was a payoff: a feeling of being in control, of not just letting Apple or Microsoft do it for me, of taking the time to understand better how things work and how to shape them so they meet my needs. And there is also the feeling of being connected to many, many others who are on the same adventure I am, an adventure in which the desire to create is not fuelled by the desire for money, but by curiosity and the delight that comes with having created something that works and then sharing that creation with others. As I learn more about how my hardware and software works, and as I turn to others to help me solve my problems, I am coming to know very well how limited my own knowledge is, and how dependent I am on the knowledge flowing through the network. And that knowledge is flowing because many smart people are doing lots of free activity (as Marx called it) and then sharing the results of their activity, giving it away for free. I am utterly dependent on others, but not on profiteering corporations, I am dependent on a network of knowledge-and-labor-in-common. Anyone can avail themselves of what others have achieved and shared, and no one has to pay for the privilege. To be sure, I am just beginning the journey. But I couldn’t be happier I started walking.

Ubuntu 12.10 (Secure Remix)

LibreOffice 3.6.2.2

Firefox 18.0

Thunderbird 17.0.2

FocusWriter 1.3.6

All of it’s free, and all of it kicks ass. Or at least it kicks equal ass when compared to its locked-down and privatized counterpart.