Freedom and Creation
Not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons--the digital working class--the creators. Possessed of skills and knowledges that create both social and exchange value, resisting reduction to the status of commodity, capable collectively of producing all the technologies of freedom, such workmen cannot be reduced to appendages of the machine. Where once bonds of ignorance and geographical isolation tied the proletarian to the industrial army in which he formed an indistinguishable and disposable component, creators collectively wielding control over the network of human communications retain their individuality, and offer the value of their intellectual labor through a variety of arrangements more favorable to their welfare, and to their freedom, than the system of bourgeois ownership ever conceded them.
But in precise proportion to the success of the creators in establishing the genuinely free economy, the bourgeoisie must reinforce the structure of coercive production and distribution concealed within its supposed preference for "free markets'' and "free trade.'' Though ultimately prepared to defend by force arrangements that depend on force, however masked, the bourgeoisie at first attempts the reimposition of coercion through its preferred instrument of compulsion, the institutions of its law. Like the ancien régime in France, which believed that feudal property could be maintained by conservative force of law despite the modernization of society, the owners of bourgeois culture expect their law of property to provide a magic bulwark against the forces they have themselves released.
At a certain stage in the development of the means of production and of exchange, the conditions under which feudal society produced and exchanged, the feudal organisation of agriculture and manufacturing industry, in one word, the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder.
Into their place stepped free competition, accompanied by a social and political constitution adapted to it, and by the economic and political sway of the bourgeois class. But "free competition'' was never more than an aspiration of bourgeois society, which constantly experienced the capitalists' intrinsic preference for monopoly. Bourgeois property exemplified the concept of monopoly, denying at the level of practical arrangements the dogma of freedom bourgeois law inconsistently proclaimed. As, in the new digital society, creators establish genuinely free forms of economic activity, the dogma of bourgeois property comes into active conflict with the dogma of bourgeois freedom. Protecting the ownership of ideas requires the suppression of free technology, which means the suppression of free speech. The power of the State is employed to prohibit free creation. Scientists, artists, engineers and students are prevented from creating or sharing knowledge, on the ground that their ideas imperil the owners' property in the system of cultural production and distribution. It is in the courts of the owners that the creators find their class identity most clearly, and it is there, accordingly, that the conflict begins.
But the law of bourgeois property is not a magic amulet against the consequences of bourgeois technology: the broom of the sorcerer's apprentice will keep sweeping, and the water continues to rise. It is in the domain of technology that the defeat of ownership finally occurs, as the new modes of production and distribution burst the fetters of the outmoded law.
All the preceding classes that got the upper hand, sought to fortify their already acquired status by subjecting society at large to their conditions of appropriation. Knowledge workers cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. Theirs is the revolutionary dedication to freedom: to the abolition of the ownership of ideas, to the free circulation of knowledge, and the restoration of culture as the symbolic commons that all human beings share.
To the owners of culture, we say: You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property in ideas. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population. What they create is immediately appropriated by their employers, who claim the fruit of their intellect through the law of patent, copyright, trade secret and other forms of "intellectual property''. Their birthright in the electromagnetic spectrum, which can allow all people to communicate with and learn from one another, freely, at almost inexhaustible capacity for nominal cost, has been taken from them by the bourgeoisie, and is returned to them as articles of consumption--broadcast culture, and telecommunications services--for which they pay dearly. Their creativity finds no outlet: their music, their art, their storytelling is drowned out by the commodities of capitalist culture, amplified by all the power of the oligopoly of "broadcasting'', before which they are supposed to remain passive, consuming rather than creating. In short, the property you lament is the proceeds of theft: its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of everyone else. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any such property for the immense majority of society.
It has been objected that upon the abolition of private property in ideas and culture all creative work will cease, for lack of "incentive'', and universal laziness will overtake us.
According to this, there ought to have been no music, art, technology, or learning before the advent of the bourgeoisie, which alone conceived of subjecting the entirety of knowledge and culture to the cash nexus. Faced with the advent of free production and free technology, with free software, and with the resulting development of free distribution technology, this argument simply denies the visible and unanswerable facts. Fact is subordinated to dogma, in which the arrangements that briefly characterized intellectual production and cultural distribution during the short heyday of the bourgeoisie are said, despite the evidence of both past and present, to be the only structures possible.
Thus we say to the owners: The misconception that induces you to transform into eternal laws of nature and of reason, the social forms springing from your present mode of production and form of property--historical relations that rise and disappear in the progress of production--this misconception you share with every ruling class that has preceded you. What you see clearly in the case of ancient property, what you admit in the case of feudal property, you are of course forbidden to admit in the case of your own bourgeois form of property.
Our theoretical conclusions are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer. They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes.
When people speak of ideas that revolutionise society, they do but express the fact, that within the old society, the elements of a new one have been created, and that the dissolution of the old ideas keeps even pace with the dissolution of the old conditions of existence.
We, the creators of the free information society, mean to wrest from the bourgeoisie, by degrees, the shared patrimony of humankind. We intend the resumption of the cultural inheritance stolen from us under the guise of ``intellectual property,'' as well as the medium of electromagnetic transportation. We are committed to the struggle for free speech, free knowledge, and free technology. The measures by which we advance that struggle will of course be different in different countries, but the following will be pretty generally applicable:
- Abolition of all forms of private property in ideas.
- Withdrawal of all exclusive licenses, privileges and rights to use of electromagnetic spectrum. Nullification of all conveyances of permanent title to electromagnetic frequencies.
- Development of electromagnetic spectrum infrastructure that implements every person's equal right to communicate.
- Common social development of computer programs and all other forms of software, including genetic information, as public goods.
- Full respect for freedom of speech, including all forms of technical speech.
- Protection for the integrity of creative works.
- Free and equal access to all publicly-produced information and all educational material used in all branches of the public education system.
By these and other means, we commit ourselves to the revolution that liberates the human mind. In overthrowing the system of private property in ideas, we bring into existence a truly just society, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.