Stephen Johnson, the author of a book very popular among geeks called Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (!), tells a very Big Lie in the Times today. He claims he is not a Communist, although his ideas for "innovation" are merely another form of Shakedown Street for the masses, with yet another form of Bolshevism for a few oligarchs. He can get by telling that very Big Lie because of a basic subterfuge we see all the time from the Technocommunists: reliance on a classic definition of Communism that has to do with "state ownership of the means of production." Thus, he can tap-dance his way out of the label of "Communist" when confronted by ordinary people with concerns about his Bolshevik methods by saying, essentially, the same thing that the Bolsheviks taking power in various Eastern (and Western) European countries used to say: that he is for "people's" ownership of production (are you starting to get the idea, now?).
When Stephen Johnson tells you that "the people" own social media projects on the Internet, in a grassroots, democratic sort of way, it sounds very nice, doesn't it? Hardly sounds like evil Communism with its evil top-down management! But just as East Germany and the other Communist states used to mask their statist oppressive policies by qualifying themselves as "People's Democracies," so the massive crowdsourcing and Creative-Commons-sharing that Johnson and his friends like Lawrence Lessig incite are supposed to be "about capitalism" (and it is, for a tiny number of big new media oligarchs, or a few connected designers lucky enough to have the devs put them on the "recommended" list).
So he can craftily -- and cunningly -- say he is "not a Communist" merely because he's shifted the scrutiny away from *methods* to *institutions*, and got everyone scratching their heads over how there could *possibly* be any Communism in a seemingly "grassroots" system where there is..money being spent.
That the public -- the people -- never benefit from this transfer of cash *really* is one of the giveaways. It's not real.
That the system relies on an elite cadre of coders and their connections and thus is eminently akin to Milovan Djilas' New Class is another giveaway. It's fake.
Johnson waxes ecstatic about "amateur scientists of the Enlightenment," or university researchers, or volunteers on opensource platforms. Finally, someone in Seattle hearing Johnson warble on asked him a question he says he has never heard before: "Are you a Communist?" And small wonder, given that he celebrates these innovative folks without really ever looking at what props them up: the state, big IT (which pays for and benifits from opensource and also pays programmers in day jobs enabling them to pursue opensource in their free time), and of course, Mom -- and her basement.
Johnson said Stalin would have despised Wikipedia -- as if to say that his system can't *possibly* be Communist because it's not centralized. Oh, not on your life. Not at all. The early Bolsheviks dreamed of just such a thing as Wikipedia. Gorky, who was first a friend and then somewhat of a critic of Lenin dreamed of an all-encompassing Everyman's Encyclopedia that would contain all world knowledge and help educate the masses. He had big ideas about how to write this, contacting various great minds in Europe like H.G. Wells. He also wanted to gather up all world literature and rewrite it for the masses, in a kind of precursor to the Readers' Digest concept of the Great Books.
Wikipedia ultimately, when you get down to who decides, who ajudicates, and who handles the worst controversies, amounts to a very tiny cadre of people -- people whose identities are anonymous and whose actions are not any more accountable or transparent than the Politburo! Controlling all knowledge, all search -- that would be Stalin's dream, not his hate. And that's what Wikipedia -- hand-in-glove with Google -- in fact does to a large extent already. The argument with Johnson here is about the nature of Wikipedia -- he believes that, at face value, it's some sort of giant researcher's boon that thousands of entries thoughtfully provided by thousands of selfless people. I see how it is controlled -- by its own admission -- by a very small number of people and takes a tilt to the left on many important subjects and persons -- and shows up first in nearly every search. That's not freedom; that's a form of totalitarianism.
Getting a lot of people to work for free -- to not get paid! -- and producing something that is less than the truth -- that *is* Communism, Stephen Johnson!
So, essentially Johnson makes the false claim that because this new form of socialism on the Internet is dressed up in cyber-clothing, with "connectivity" and "apis" and "innovation" -- it isn't socialism or Communism. The centerpiece of his argument is Kickstarter, a platform that enables people to donate, sometimes very small amounts, to various entrepreneurial projects or artistic efforts they would like to see supported, *but not for ownership* in those inventions or art pieces or installations. Instead of *ownership* of this "product," the "investor" gets a CD or a t-shirt or an invitation to an art show and "the satisfaction of knowing that he has supported a good cause".
Take a look and you will instantly see the problem: yes, ideas for widgets like a tripod stand (the inventions hew largely to the geek selection of Internet-related and digital-media-related projects) that *might* make a profit, but many are goofy ideas like the "art happening" that will involve taking over an empty storefront and putting in a fake business -- an endeavour that has already soaked $876 out of some hapless art nuts.
Likely the most successful Kickstarter project is the more than $200,000 raised to fund the programmers making the opensource competition to Facebook, called "Diaspora". It has no obvious business model other than trying to get a jillion sign-ups and a gadzillion clicks on ads to make a buck (somewhat like the thing its cloning, eh? Or are we going to see, um, an addictive game like Farmville only with socially-redeeming messages inciting hatred of the extractive industries?). It's driven by ideology, not rationality, in hating the "walled garden" proprietary nature of Facebook and the inability of API engineers to scrape as much data as they like for their inventions -- while at the same time, as power users, to keep *their* own private information as private as they need it to be.
So...these aren't the next PC or even the next paperclip. These aren't causes helping starving children in Africa. These are art stunts by geeks and designers waiting to get noticed, and various widget makers and start-ups of API "innovations" that are variations on the theme of TwitterFacebookGoogle and often aspire, as the best form of their "liquidity event," to be bought out by these big companies.
Kickstarter itself takes a piece out of your donation to sustain its business at a profit and...we don't know how those start-ups do (unless the "successful" ones can be tracked somehow over the next few years to see if the funding translates at least to a profit for that start-up). I personally know one that is *not* making a profit, and I see a few others that may or may not be, it doesn't seem to tell you *the truth about all this*. (If there is sunlight on this, please send me a link).
There's another name for a machine that takes people's value, gives it to other people, and enables the machiner maker to take a profit: it's called "a collective farm" and "communism".