A minor SF writer of radical Marxist political convictions recently uttered a rather incoherent rant in which, among other things, she accused me of “simple-minded right-wing” views. I’m not going to name her because I don’t dislike the woman enough to want to add to her troubles. But I’ve heard this song before from other Marxists, and I can’t resist commenting on why I find such accusations darkly amusing.
The surface reason is that anyone who can describe a thoroughgoing libertarian anarchist like me as “right-wing” has already given evidence of having a set of political categories so far out of contact with reality that all one can do is laugh. Yeah, sure, I’m all about the right-wing agenda of freezing existing social power relationships in place or returning them to an idealized former state. Not!
But there’s something deeper and much funnier going on here. What do radical Marxists want? Among other things, they want to upend the system of industrial capitalism, abolish property rights, and give control of production to the workers.
So, let’s see. They pick on a guy who has a) successfully challenged the industrial-capitalist system of software production, b) argued, effectively, that the assertion of intellectual-property rights leads to bad outcomes, and c) helped lead the charge to put programming back in the control of programmers. And the ripple effects of my work have gone way beyond programming; it’s been cited by insurgent movements in bioinformatics, library science, game design, pharmaceuticals, third-world development economics, and half a dozen other disciplines.
And, you know, it’s not like I’ve made any secret of the fact that I believe open-source thinking has radical political consequences in the longer term. I’ve said many times that the economic-efficiency arguments for open-source decentralization should sufficient to get people to do it without buying my politics. Then I’ve turned around and observed that learning how to do without centralization and big management in one area provides people with both working models and efficiency arguments for getting rid of authority hierarchies elsewhere. Yeah, sure, that’s a conservative prescription!
I’ve even argued — in front of Wall Street analysts, and had them buy it! — that we’re entering an era in which the traditional capital-intensive, management-intensive corporate form is less and less appropriate for managing production in which the main bottleneck is skilled human attention. I don’t use the term “workers’ cooperative” for what’s replacing it, but hello…hello? Can’t any of the so-called “progressive” thinkers in the Marxist camp put two and two together?
“Right-wing”. It is to laugh. It is to laugh exceedingly.
Poor impotent radicals. After all their theorizing, they can’t recognize a real revolution even when its goals and actual achievements strongly parallel what they’ve been saying they want since 1860. But it’s 2005 as I write; by historical definition, these are the same people who didn’t get the lesson the Soviet Union taught about collectivist economics and the actual consequences of taking Marxism seriously. Expecting them to have any more intelligence than a pile of broken cinderblocks might be a bit much.
But let’s be charitable and assume some of them can string together two thoughts without drooling uncontrollably. After what I’ve done and written, how the hell can they mistake me for any kind of conservative?
The easy, cheap shot would be to say they’re too busy masturbating in front of their Che Guevara posters to notice what a successful revolutionary looks like. And there’d be lot of truth in that cheap shot; Western Marxists, in my experience, are more about self-congratulation on their own moral superiority and radical hipness than they are about actually changing the world they live in. They’d rather mouth the right slogans than do the hard work needed to actually realize the revolution they want.
But again, I think there’s something deeper going on here. Because, unlike me, these self-proclaimed, self-indulgent so-called “radicals” don’t behave as though they actually want the existing order to be smashed. Consider, in this connection, the jaw-dropping incoherence of anybody who advocates proletarian revolution and then slams me for arguing that the people should be armed against the arrogance of government.
These soi-disant Marxists and leftists claim to champion “the people” with one breath, then want to disarm them in the next — giving more power to the plutocratic fat cats who, in the Marxist view of the world, own the police and the government and the army.
And they dare call me a conservative? That’s just too funny for words.