It All Began With Stallman

Free water

The water we drink was once upon a time free. It was a free gift from nature. Gradually that changed. Even 20 years back people in my village could not believe that in cities they sell water. But now it’s a reality everywhere and soon enough water became a political issue. So lot of movements began to free water from private hands (back to the Commons). Wherever water gets privatised there are people in newly-formed organisations and parties that fight against it. Even though we don’t have a single global movement to free water, we do not say to those who are fighting against water privatisation that “you work is good. But water was free before you began your movement. That’s why others have got chance to fight against privatisation.”

Is that what you say to people who put their lives at risk in the name of fighting against corporate greed? No sensible person would tell you that. You have to remember that a lot of people lost their lives fighting against water privatisation. We have to respect their effort.

Political movements will come about and changes occur when there is a political issue

Like water, once upon a time software programs were also free. Everybody enjoyed software, code, and its freedom. But unlike water when it was privatised the issues were not visible. Nobody understood what would happen if software became private. Nobody could (fore)see that the software would change badly, becoming a chain on its user’s body.

Stallman personally faced the issues of propitiatory softwares. Lot of other people may also faced those issues. They just signed agreements with the companies and moved on. But Stallman did not accepted that. Its not simply a dislike of the restrictions on him by the companies. He foresaw the danged of propitiatory softwares on human society.

So in 1983 Richard Stallman began a movement to free the computer users from the chains of proprietary software. Since he is a computer programmer he doesn’t have to wait for anything.

He began his work on freeing users from the proprietary software chains. But one person cannot complete this colossal piece of work or task. So what Stallman did was, after completing his first program he shared the source code and the rights to its users and said writing proprietary software would be unethical. He asked other programmers to not write/code proprietary software, since it does not respect users’ freedom. Lots of people joined forces with him. Even young Linus Torvalds was motivated by the GPL licence of GCC, so he released his code under a Free software licence.

Anyway, it all began with Stallman. And it’s still with Stallman. Till now nobody on this planet has ever had any idea, or a sentence or a word other than what he said. All of them are just repeating whatever he said — that software should respect its users. It is not a greatly complicated thing. It’s a very simple idea — like saying water must be free.

Hiding politics

But you may know that a whole range of groups are saying a lot of things about software around us — things like OSS, FOSS etc. Somebody said things about now we have anything from open source space craft to open source ice creams. It came to such a point/level that the word has no meaning at all. Really — think about it — they are all impostors who have just bolstered ‘diluted propitiatory software’ to hijack the revolutionary movement that Stallman began. And for the profit of corporates. Because they see the Free software movement as a threat to their profits.

But if you see the technical aspect of Stallman’s work, you may think that his software is not fast or fancy or special or there may be delays. Actually, it’s stupid to think like that. Or a tactic leveraged by propitiatory software companies, intended to hide his real contribution. Stallman’s real contribution to humanity is his politics of Software Freedom. That idea influenced a whole lot of discourses. The sad thing is that the impostors reframed it in their terms. The common progressive people too use their own terms, thinking that it is them who are the revolutionary user freedom movement. A few days back I heard an independent media person talking about the impostors’ software helping them at the time of WTO protests in Seattle 20 years back.

We have to end that takeover. We need more people like Stallman who defend users’ freedom and Free software politics in the Free software movement, rather the dumb software workers just obeying money power. For that to materialise we have to build a committed users’ community that supports software projects without taking corporate money — a community that demands, “We want Free software!”

Note: this doesn’t mean that he is unquestionable a leader or a god. On lot of issues I disagree with him.

“Once GNU is written, everyone will be able to obtain good system software free, just like air.”

Richard Stallman

Written by: Jagadees.S

Nullius in verba

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