24 June 2009

A social revolution?

One of the basic ideas of Marxism is that all social relations, legal systems, property forms etc. originally evolve to encourage production and the satisfaction of human needs, but then turn into fetters on it, that only a social revolution of sorts can break. Anyone reading this no doubt knows that copyright, intellectual property and patents, which all evolved to encourage the production of (commodified) innovation, science, art and literature, are now used to prevent world-wide, zero cost dissemination of intellectual wealth.

Traditional Marxism looks to a future of the industrial workers seizing the factories and distributing their produce according to social need. While that seems further off than it did at the time Unca Karl talked about it, certainly a future of the infotech workers, writers, musicians, philosophers etc. seizing control of their fruits of their labour and distributing them according to social need looks like it's becoming a social fact. The only question remaining is - given that worldwide capitalism and the market economy aren't going to be overthrown any time soon - how can it be that the producers of cultural goods can continue to do so, and eat, given that the commodity model of production became instantly obsolete once broadband internet connections became common in households?

The big problem is that new "business models" which are evolving to ensure that publishing houses, universities and record companies (on whom I spit) can continue to make $$$, and screw the actual creative intellectual workers (who were actually screwed in the first place). But a retreat to the commodity model - don't put anything online, DRM, moral suasion trying to teach The Kids that torrents are just like holding up a liquor store!!! - won't work. Given that, it looks like Hugo Chávez and the Swedish Pirate Party should be teaming up to fight crime:

Chávez wants to end medicine patents
By Reuters | June 22, 2009
CARACAS - President Hugo Chávez has vowed to shake up the rules governing intellectual property rights on medicines and other products in Venezuela, the socialist’s latest move against the private sector.

“A song is intellectual property, but an invention or a scientific discovery should be knowledge for the world, especially medicine,’’ Chávez said late Saturday.

“That a laboratory does not allow us to make a medicine because they have the patent, no, no, no,’’ Chávez said.

Chávez, who has nationalized many Venezuela industries and is critical of the private sector, ordered his trade minister to analyze the patent rules in the OPEC nation.

“Patents have become a barrier to production, and we cannot allow them to be barriers to medicine, to life, to agriculture,’’ said the minister, Eduardo Saman, who previously headed Venezuela’s patent agency.

“We are revising all the doctrines and laws related to patents, which should be compatible with the international treaties that we have signed and respect and honor.’’

Chávez recently criticized Swedish packaging maker Tetra Pak, saying its patents on cartons were limiting production in Venezuela.
© Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Intellectual work benefits us all, but can't actually be eaten. Given that, how can those sectors of the economy which do actually produce food, shelter, clothing etc., best be used to support those who make everyone's existence better in other ways? The commodity/copyright/patent model is crashing around our ears and can only be imposed with brute force, which means a minor social revolution is underway. But what will replace it? Or are we looking to a future where there will no longer be any professional musicians or writers? Will they all have to get day jobs? Is that a good thing?