Comments on: On “socialism”: round II Blog, news, books Thu, 02 Feb 2017 18:43:00 +0000 hourly 1 By: Hrach Voskanyan Sun, 23 Aug 2015 05:44:00 +0000 very interesting article, thank you

By: roger vivier Thu, 17 Oct 2013 07:49:30 +0000 it is thus not a matter of coercion versus no coercion. indeed, web 2.0 is an effort to memorialize into code certain rules behaviour that are highly coercive.

By: oakley sunglasses Sun, 22 Sep 2013 10:46:17 +0000 as others in this thread have observed, any rule of law is coercive. it is thus not a matter of coercion versus no coercion. indeed, web 2.0 is an effort to memorialize into code certain rules behaviour that are highly coercive.http://www.belstaff–

By: roger vivier Sun, 22 Sep 2013 10:42:18 +0000 from peer pressure and the institutionalization of accepted practice to enforceable regulations

By: Matt J. Wed, 12 Aug 2009 03:46:24 +0000 But it is still a mistake to say, “by coercion, I mean ‘law’”.

In fact, it sounds like the kind of deliberate mistake the Libertarians regularly make, as an excuse for their inexcusable denigration of all government and law.

By: mynak Thu, 30 Jul 2009 19:22:37 +0000 What should we call the type of governance mechanisms that are evolving (in fits and starts) at every level from the local to the national to the global, from peer pressure and the institutionalization of accepted practice to enforceable regulations?

By: LSaldana Mon, 13 Jul 2009 02:13:05 +0000 “But the “hybrid” economy is not that economy. The Facebooks and Twitters and Flickrs and Yelps! are not entities engaged in a global urge to hug.”

On this point, I am in agreement with you. When I first glanced at the article about a month ago, I was impressed with the boldness of the idea. However, the way the author defines socialism (“When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge”), means that this new economy is NOT socialism.

As you say, Fbook et al. are not doing this out of the goodness of their heart. Thus, when we share online, we don’t own what we create: my Facebook profile belongs to Facebook, not me. If I do something they don’t like, they can delete my profile without giving me warning. That does not sounds like “owning the means of production” to me.

By: three blind mice Mon, 06 Jul 2009 05:19:46 +0000 And as the Internet that Kelly and I celebrate doesn’t have “coercion” at its core, I maintain, it is not “socialist.”

in your book Code you say that “code” (i.e.,the set of instructions that dictate how a machine should operate) is law. as others in this thread have observed, any rule of law is coercive. it is thus not a matter of coercion versus no coercion. indeed, web 2.0 is an effort to memorialize into code certain rules behaviour that are highly coercive. (there is nothing more restrictive to freedom than code stacks.)

with its fundamental (we mice would say chinese red guard extreme) hostility to private property, the coercive shoe of “socialism” well fits the foot of web2.0.

wear it.

By: Shmoe Sun, 28 Jun 2009 16:29:51 +0000 Your meaning, and your point, are well taken, Dr. Lessig. I suppose the counterpoint I, and others here, were trying to make was: that American public’s understanding of concepts and ideas that make up socialism are, at best, shallow; at worst, they are distorted beyond all recognition. While it almost certainly was not your intent to further these misconceptions, you did so by using the term “socialism” in this idiomatic way. It is difficult for people, who agree with your core argument, to support you, when they feel that you are disparaging or mis-characterizing some of their core values. This is said in the spirit of constructive criticism, and I, personally, hope it helps you in your tireless work on behalf of the common good.

By: Hans-Christoph Steiner Thu, 25 Jun 2009 15:16:37 +0000 The only thing I take away from discussions like these is that the root of the problem is the fact that we are discussing the meaning of an ‘ism’. If we are talking about government, the role of government is to actually get things done, not foster intellectual arguments on the meaning of words (i.e. does ‘socialism’ require coersion?).

The word ‘socialism’ is the perfect example because it has so many meanings depending on the context and the country. The meaning of ‘socialism’ in Austria is quite different than in Russia or the USA. ‘Web 2.0′ is close to meaningless, expecially considering that most of what is ascribed to ‘Web 2.0′ were central goals of the World Wide Web as it was created.

I think that ultimately, these debates detract from actually getting things done. People can easily get stirred up for and against various ‘isms’ even though the likely agree/disagree with many related ideas. An example of a different approach would be to stick to actual practices surrounding an issue. Take health care, if we survey the top 50 countries for health care, we find basically all of them have some kind of single-payer plan. Seems pretty obvious that it works pretty well, no need to discuss ‘sociailsm’.

By: Jens Thu, 25 Jun 2009 13:57:24 +0000 “n my view, the answer to that question is absolutely clear: “Socialist” would be associated with the dominant, modern vision of “socialism” which has, at its core, coercion.”

This discussion is probably a very American one.

In Germany, 30+% of voters are voting for parties (Social-Democratic Party and The Left) that have “democratic socialism” in their program.

By: Andy McDonald Tue, 23 Jun 2009 16:17:24 +0000 @Michel Bauwens: I totally agree that the term Peer-to-Peer is a better for what is happening because it effectively remains agnostic as to the nature of the network. My PhD research seeks to apply the plethora of overlapping themes (eg: wikinomics, collective intelligence, mass collaboration, etc) and after much consideration, I feel that Peer-to-Peer is the one concept best unifies these memes.

Although… if we are trying to avoid the use of loaded words then I’m not sure ‘Peer-to-Peer’ is really gonna fly!!! I’ve encountered this confusion before and the way I generally get round it is by usually appending ‘collaboration’ to the end of the term and making the distinction between when computers collaborate by sharing their resources (ie: in the file-sharing sense) and when humans do so.

NB: I’d highly recommend reading Michel’s essay: P2P and Human Evolution (

By: Dan Hind Sun, 21 Jun 2009 12:00:15 +0000 Lessig’s hypothetical example, of using the word fascist to describe Obama’s policies, is interesting. It would be a major loss if the racist and hyper-nationalist complexion of really existing fascism made it impossible to trace important similarities between the corporatist and anti-democratic politics of the mid-century and the current moment. Another comment has pointed out that it would irresponsible to call Obama’s policies fascist and leave it at that. This is exactly correct. His attempts to shore up corporate capitalism with state intervention should be considered in light of what we know about Italian and other forms of capitalism – there are other important parallels, with Britain’s National Government in the thirties, for example, But it would be an impoverishment of debate if the connotations of the word fascism made it impossible to make distinctions between elements in fascist thought and policy.

If we turn to socialism, the Marxist tradition contained with it a strong anarchist component – these people were often denounced and killed for the crime of ‘left deviationism’. But it is not true to say that Marxism entails statism – Marx has no plausible account for how and why the state would ‘wither away’ after the Revolution, but that is what he hoped would happen, and many, though by no means all, of his followers agreed with him. And Marxism is not the only, or the most important, tradition in socialism today. The anarchists are dedicated to the end of coercion and see themselves as socialists. Chomsky doesn’t describe himself as a libertarian socialist for larks, after all.

There is a strong statist tradition in socialist thought and practice – but there is also a tradition of seeing the state as an institution to be transcended by free human beings engaged in free cooperation and collaboration. There are plenty of problems with describing the various initiatives on the web as socialist, but they cannot be resolved by lexicographical fiat.

By: Coises Sat, 20 Jun 2009 05:42:59 +0000 Dear Professor Lessig,

Please consider your use of the term “corruption.” Consider the immediate impact of that word, and estimate how much explanation a reader with “an attention span of 140 characters” must digest to understand what you actually mean.

Now ask yourself why you use that word; then consider again why some use the term “socialism” to describe the emerging ethic of the digital commons.

Also remember that the origins of Libertarian Socialism are roughly contemporary with those of the better-known statist forms of socialism; neither has a convincing claim to exclusive use of the term.

By: Antonio Fri, 19 Jun 2009 11:44:17 +0000 I’m not a natural English tongue so sorry for the errors

I think that there is the risk to identify socialism with everything that could be classified as “a good thing” or an “humanitarian way to live the own life”, or with everything that sounds charitable or that is did with the aim to share something with someone else. In this case I think that socialism is not the proper word because there are people who do all these kind of things every day without the need to call themselves socialists.

Socialism, like capitalism, is identified by a set of laws. I think, more precisely, that the main difference between socialism and capitalism is the way to distribute among people the sum of collective goods: a distribution based on market and free enterprise (capitalism) or a distribution based on the set of laws that Lessig called “coercion” (socialism, that is different from communism, I know). After that, everyone can give his own meaning of that word, but in that case everyone is speaking using a word whose meaning is not well specified and is clear to himself but not to others, and everyone can coin his own “socialism” that matches with his own vision of the perfect world. But words are import and they should be use carefully.

For example all the free software movement, following this way of thinking, should be classified as socialism, but I think that free software is not socialism, even if it leads to community and voluntary cooperation. In fact, as Stallmann explain, the free software movement embodies the American Way, and I don’t think that the American way could be defined socialism. This is only one example, but there are many examples like that. I think that the identification of free software with socialism could be harmful for the movement, and not because socialism is a bad concept.

By: Jess Austin Fri, 19 Jun 2009 00:05:44 +0000 Adrian Ivakhiv, Stephen Downes, Mill-ish:

You’re educated guys but you need to work on your reading comprehension. Lessig isn’t claiming that capitalism or any other political/economic system is free of coercion. He’s only saying that the internet is (mostly). When you violate an RFC, you don’t lose your freedom. Sure, you might lose some data, fail to complete an operation, or suffer the criticism of the digerati. That ain’t the same as going to jail.

Lessig further posits that, lacking coercion, Web 2.0 can’t be socialist. I’m not sure I follow him that far, but if you want to show that it can’t be capitalist, you’ve set yourself a much harder task. I see elements of both systems, as well as elements of much more interesting things.

In fact, because I love to disturb people who don’t wish to be associated with discredited political theories, I think the internet is far more anarchist than it is either capitalist or socialist. (Since we’re all wearing our allegiances on our sleeves, let me be clear that I find that a _good_ thing.)

By: Dan Thu, 18 Jun 2009 16:37:20 +0000 Larry:

I honestly haven’t been reading this whole thread, but my first reaction was:

Many of these folks are just taking a direct or indirect lead from Frank Luntz’s playbook on how conservatives should talk about politics. It’s not about anything intellectual at all, merely an attempt to invoke the tired old “common sense” frames that remain at large in peoples’ brains from the last 30 years.

Getting caught up in evaluating the actual meaning of the concepts is in some sense beside the point. They are trying to connect people and ideas with concepts that evoke emotional responses in political discourse and ultimately in the voting booth. (Go back and re-read some Lakoff.) It’s hardly more than trash talk.

It reminds me a little bit of your approach to Eldred, when you relied on principle rather than on tangible results (you described it as something like a swing-and-a-miss at a softball comment during questioning). You’re playing the intellectual game, but these folks are often playing the political rhetoric game.

While there can be some connections between these two games, I would say don’t take it too much to heart. Stick to restating the essence of your position, with the right associations, and don’t fall into their terminology which just reinforces their words in peoples’ brains.

By: Mill-ish Tue, 16 Jun 2009 19:39:42 +0000 “enforced by law, and enforced contrary to the way individuals would freely choose autonomously to associate.”

That is question begging retoric rather than serious argument.

To see the problem clearer, ask yourself: what is capitalism? It is a system enforced by law by the invention of private property law and enforced contrary to the way individuals would freely choose autonomously to associate and use the natural resources of our common world if those laws where not in place. It is, with your terms, a system of coercion.

Tool for diagnosing what you’re trying and failing to do:

And the fact that the thing formerly known as Web 2.0 has some market driven components does not in itself invalidate socialism as a fitting term. If enought other components of the thing fit well with features ascribable as socialist then the label might all things considered be correct. In comparison, many talk about “capitalist systems” as a convenient shorthand despite the fact that all existing such systems have many forms of redistributive schemes and state organized services in place. KK seemed to me to aim for the main theme things to come and then socialism is indeed a contender for a fitting organizing concept.

By: The Liberal Democratic Party of the UNited States Tue, 16 Jun 2009 19:36:42 +0000 If you don’t like Socialism then don’t expect the US military to protect you and do not go to your public library, nor call the police and fire departments, nor drink your tap water, nor drive on your local streets and highways. Everyone of the previous agencies gets paid for by your taxes and the government runs them.

Mr. Lessig, your donor strike appears excellent! I have a variation on this and I hope you will get people to sign these petitions.

The Liberal Democratic Party of the United States functions as a progressive legislative political party.

We do not run candidates for office. We usually support candidates of the Democratic party of the United States.

We do not handle money and we do not charge money for membership and we do not raise money.

So you can join our party and still remain a a member of the Democratic, Green, Labor, or other progressive party you belong to.

Instead we create referenda on legislation by boycott petitions where we target the companies which sell consumer products and associate themselves with conservatives. We demand that these company CEOs get the legislation that we want and until that happens our members send letters to these companies indicating we will boycott them.

Why do we use boycotts? Well I hope if Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, or Mohandas Gandhi appeared alive today that they would advocate boycotts of the friends of those who oppose our legislation, in a climate where those who donate money to office holders exercise too much influence over legislation.

Please sign these petitions on single payer health care.

Also sign these petitions.

By: seth edenbaum Tue, 16 Jun 2009 15:08:19 +0000 “Again, if you doubt that, think about American critics of “socialism”: None of them are complaining about people voluntarily choosing to associate however they choose to associate (except of course if they are gay)…”

Or union members.
That’s as far as I got. You measure the world by what you know and call it reason.
Janteloven is indoctrination and coercion and so is American individualism.
Kelly’s socialism is the socialism of ants: the state isn’t making people do the same things and behave the same way, people are doing both because they’ve devolved into carbon copies of one another. It’s blindly following the mass rather than blindly following the leader. Are there actually any good photographs on flicker? Flicker isn’t culture its the end of culture. It’s the intellectualism of McDonalds.

There’s not such thing as freedom. There’s choice is between responsible awareness and stupidity.

By: Michel Bauwens Tue, 16 Jun 2009 00:19:27 +0000 There is one elegant solution to this whole debate, which bypasses the use of socialism and its controversies (just to be clear, socialism comes in different versions, both authoritarian and libertarian, but all share a theoretical preference for equality, not just of opportunity, but in practice), and most of all, how the term has become so ideologically loaded as to preclude rational discussion.

The solution is to objectively describe what is happening, i.e. free self-aggregation of individuals around common goals and value creation, while bypassing, but not being necessarily opposed, the use of the state or corporate form to achieve this. The best term for this is peer to peer. Such choices have an underlying ethos, which invovles the open and free, participatory and commons oriented value systems or paradigms, but can be expressed politically in various ways, both left and libertarian and liberal and even conservative. It all depends on the importance you place on peer to peer aggregation in the overall scheme of things, for example subservient to the market, or better than the market. The P2P Foundation has been created to document, research and promote peer to peer alternatives, as described by Kevin Kelly. The relation to socialism is that it also represents a practice aimed at greater equality, though the practical choices are best described as equipotentiality, but other political traditions carry these values as well, and peer to peer does not mean an adherence to this particular political agenda. So I believe Kevin Kelly was mistaken in chosing the term, Larry correct in questioning it, but unfortunately, with the dominant misunderstandings of that tradition that are prevalent in the U.S., which has made other political choices in its political history, opposed to its ‘socialist’ competitor, and therefore driven by the need to mischaracterize and demonize it.

Michel Bauwens,

By: Jan Hansen Mon, 15 Jun 2009 20:25:24 +0000 @Stephen Downes good post.

Your readiness to accept and propagate negative connotations of socialism is disappointing.

West Wing season 7. Santos vs. Vinnick debate.

I know you like to use that word ‘liberal’ as if it were a crime.

No. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have used that word. I know Democrats think liberal is a bad word. So bad you had to change it. What do you call yourselves now, progressives? Is that it?

It’s true. Republicans have tried to turn liberal into a bad word. Well, liberals ended slavery in this country.

A Republican President ended slavery.

Yes, a liberal Republican, Senator. What happened to them? They got run out of your party. What did liberals do that was so offensive to the liberal party? I’ll tell you what they did. Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did Conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those things every one. So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, ‘Liberal,’ as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won’t work, Senator, because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor.

In the minds of many people around the world socialists have played much the same role as liberals portrayed in the above scene and as such we feel betrayed when you so eagerly want to distance yourself from that term.

By: Nick Mon, 15 Jun 2009 20:19:40 +0000 In the American context, when we talk about socialism, we usually mean statism. The boundary between socialism in its nascent (pure?) form (workers control of production) and statism is very much blurred in today’s context, and Lessig is right in that “socialism” as used today in the American context connonates (and usually means) a level of (state directed) coercion beyond a certain traditional American baseline. Whether or not this is good or falls apart under critical analysis really doesn’t matter to how the term is commonly understood here: the idea that wikipedia is “socialist” in an American context doesn’t really work IMO.

By: Tim Mon, 15 Jun 2009 08:09:42 +0000 I am so glad to read the response above by Stephen Downes.

As an Australian, I’m often struck by the way that American culture is often so blind to how other cultures think, feel, and express themselves. The American understanding of what constitutes socialism is such a dilution – and it’s such a shame.

By: Paul Charles Leddy Mon, 15 Jun 2009 02:52:30 +0000 all i have to say: frightening