Open Ballot: Is Linux Marxist or capitalist?


Following on from our last podcast's unexpectedly political comments section, in which argument's were put forward from both ends of the political spectrum, we want to know if it's politics that motivates you to use Linux.

Are you inspired by Linus' claims that it's selfishness that motivates development, and probably encourages most users too - free software is free, after all; or is it the community ethic, the idea of everyone working together to create something better, that attracts you to free software?

Let us know in the comments section, and we'll read out a selection on this week's internet famous (no, really) open ballot.

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Your comments

I use free software for many reasons!

I use free software for a whole variety of reasons.
There are many things that make it attractive to people:
1. Its free, obviously a big one.
2. It is nice feeling to know that when you are using free software, and in many cases developing it, you are part of a much bigger picture.
3. Closed source applications are such a pain whenever they become industry standards, or when you don't have a choice about what you are using. Internet explorer in businesses and skype especially. Having free software encourages users to port it to platforms they use, therefore giving more people/customers access to your services!
4. Its more innovative. I truly believe that free software developers come out with much more creative solutions and applications.
5. It doesn't waste resources. If we could all work together on developing a single application, where the source code is available, we always end up with a better product in less time.

Agree with Peter

I agree with Peter above, but I'd like to add that every time I have to use a closed system it's a step backwards and a frustrating experience.

It was mentioned in the podcast before that having to actually go to a website, download something then manually install it is such a retrograde step from the extensive package libraries and one click install of Linux.

Also, to elaborate on Peter's fourth point, free software is more innovative than commercial software could ever be because it is consumer focussed. The users get what the users want with no concern for the marketing department or any overall platform strategy. The best, but not only, example I can think of is the fact that MS engaged in creating the open document formats but don't even use them in MS Office, yet LibreOffice allow you to switch to MS formats by default. MS protect their platform while LibreOffice give the user what the need.


I used Linux and open source software off and on for years. But it was when I opened my Tech company that I started to use open source exclusively because I could not afford prepiatory software. Now I am a decade ahead of the curve!!!!

Marxist - is that orthodox or revisionist?

Yes, obviously I've just read the wikipedia page on the subject, but as a force for preventing the 'oppression of the proletariat' Open Source software, Linux included, is a great tool - no one person or entity has the power to control it.
Yes, it can be selfish - but unlike selfish capitalism, you can be selfish with open source software (by scratching your own itches, and just doing things that benefit yourself), the results can benefit everyone.

I'm going to try and keep

I'm going to try and keep this quite brief and clear, but will almost certainly fail.

I am a Marxist. I am a Linux user. I want all Marxists to use Linux and I want all Linux users to be Marxists. I don't use Linux because I am a Marxist. Mostly, I use Linux because it's free and I'm poor, and because it allows me to do many more things than a Windows- or Mac-limited box would do.

The problem with politics on the internet, and I predict in this thread, is that most people don't know what Marxism is. They're happy to call the Soviet Union communist (not even the Soviet Union did that), or to think that, as a fellow comrade pointed out in the original politicised thread, Marxism equals higher taxes. (Of course, all good Marxists should recognise that the socialist or low-communist phase would require higher levels of taxation upon the rich depending upon the situation, but that's another story...).

Back to the point. Interestingly, one might advance an argument that developers that release their code for free (beer) are free (freedom) of the shackles of alienation and that Linux is not commodity-fetishistic, in which case Linux has an important Marxist economic characteristic.

Now, pretty much any Marxist, from Trots to Tankies and everywhere between, can agree that Marx envisioned that communism would essentially entail the absence of private ownership of the means of production. Open source code cannot be privately owned, so... Marxist?

I dunno.

my vote goes to marxist

Anti- or post- capitalism is not the world without selfishness, the latter can (and does!) motivate development. What Linux is doing is kinda taming this selfishness for common good.
One year before the birth of Linux, "Governing the Commons" by E.Ostrom was published. It's a book about how communities all over the world manage their common property without resorting to privatization or state oversight. To achieve this, people, again, have to come up with some mechanisms to tame destructive capabilities of humans.
I like to think that Ostrom's and Torvald's contributions signify that humankind is creating tools for the better world. So Linux is not capitalist. In an absence of a better world, let it be Marxist, whatever:)

We can take what we need and

We can take what we need and give according to our abilities - that sounds Marxist to me. At a gazillion dollars per issue though, Linux Format is a capitalist concern, without which the computer hackers' workers' paradise is much diminished. It's a perplexing quandary that should keep us up at night.

I use Linux because it is

I use Linux because it is Linux, I shift loyalty between distros but it is still Linux.
I prefer not to have to sully my hand with proprietary software not because of cost but because of its very nature

The Best Tool For The Job

This is what I try to tell myself. I use the best tool for the job. My personal computer has been running Linux for many years, because I want something that works and does not crash all the time.

Does this mean that I tell my friends they should choose Free and Open Source Software? Sure, yes, I do. Because most often FOSS really is the best alternative. Not always though, but I might err on the side of Free.

Yes, it is free (gratis), an argument I use when selling the idea to others, and the community is a sensible way of doing things, but it is just software, not religion nor politics.

Sense of nice community

The thing that attracted me to linux is make a piece of software (open source, of course) and publish.
Then everyone comments on it and improves it (bug fixes, likes, dislikes.)
This gives me a sense of community spirit and this is what attracted me to linux.


The fact that things were free got me to look at Linux but my first explorations weren't so positive: operating systems that were lacking with respect to key aspects (eg no drivers to print a document, failure to detect USB thumb drive, problems with sound, etc) and lots of poor quality software (with horrible documentation). Over time I found some of the better software (eg Miro, Inkscape, VLC) and Ubuntu came out with a distro that just worked...on everything. Now that other distros have caught up it's Linux quality that has made me passionate about it. I even converted someone to Ubuntu back in the days when Vista users couldn't print on many printers because of lack of drivers. Looking at Linux now we have a large number of good, solid, reliable distro choices (goodbye Ubuntu!) quality (free) software in every important area and even the wow factor of the Compiz desktop cube. Now that the quality is here, all I run is Linux because it's better than Windows and Mac, doesn't require antivirus software to keep it running, doesn't require me to keep buying the same software over and over because I've updated my operating system....and yes, because it's free.

Because it's the best

As an old school Socialist and long time Linux user (remember when Suse came in a box), it was probably the fact that I could have a fully-functioning OS without increasing the profit of mega-corporations. I think politics has always been involved in the FOSS world, whether it Stallman's radicalism or Eric Raymond's libertarianism or Bill Gates comparing it to Communism, but now I use it because I truly believe its the best available tool for the job. It's less buggy, there are less threats from viruses and malware and some of the some software is truly astounding and seems streets ahead of many of the proprietary tools. Upgrading and updating software take a few clicks and if you want eye-candy it leaves Windows users grinding their teeth. By the way have you seen the news item that the Windows security tools see the Free Software Foundations website as a gambling site and blocking it. Do any Windows user know if it has been fixed yet?

Why I use Linux

When I come to install software I click on the package manager and find what I want and click install (okay a click or two extra is needed, but you get the gist).

Software is grabbed for free, from a site that doesn't charge me for the bandwidth. Nor does it insist I register for their "free" newsletter with added spam. Nor does it install a Bing toolbar.

The software is written by someone who may or may not have been paid, but is still given freely.

This is very powerful and something the likes of Apple and Microsoft will never truly understand.


I adopted Linux as a matter of politics. I started hacking because I was running Linux. I'd describe myself as Marxist, but I can't help noticing that I have far more common ground with right wing libertarians (who also tend to be Linux users) than with Guardian reading types.

It doesn't treat me like a thief

I use Linux because it doesn't expect anything of me and it doesn't treat me like a thief regardless of if I've payed for it or not. That is, I use Linux because Windows has "Genuine Advantage" which treats all of its users like they are thieves and pirates. Why don't I use Mac? The hardware is too expensive and I don't want to even try to get it to install on non-mac hardware.

That being said. I believe the underlying technology behind the program should be free and available to advance society. I have no issues with charging for the GUI, precompiled binary, or the manufactured hardware, but open up the technology for everybody to learn from and offer pathways for them help advance the technology.

Software I can modify to suit my computer System

1. The democracy of the 4 essential freedoms is fanatastic to work within.

2. As has been said before the open source/Free Software is way more innovative compared to closed.

3. I love the choice to suit what fits my needs with different distro choices and Desktop environments.

Ahhhhhh Freedom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

For me its about curiosity

Its not about freedom!
Its not about free copies!

I like to learn and understand how something works.
I want to read, discuss, ask about it in detail.

Open Source Software simply satisfy my curiosity more then closed source software could do.

Since I use Linux, I constantly learn more about how a OS and computer works. Not because I am forced to be able to use Linux, but because I am curious about it and Linux provides me a unified explorer-like platform to get all these answers.

Fatuous question...

I use Linux for the sole reason that it is the best operating system in the world.


By the way...

It needs to be pointed out that Karl Marx was possibly the second least talented of them all, falling somewhere between Zeppo and Gummo.

The guy had no comedic timing whatsoever...

Linux is Progressive Capitalist.

There are many that may sse linux as a socialist/marxist/ or even libertarian type system. I have though hard about all of these and many other and think that many see what they are in our favorite OS, but I do think the argument can be made that it is capitalist in the progressive sense, which is liberal like. Basically it gives out equal opertunity, unlike BSD which can be modefied adn then ristricted(Apple), Linux allows the people to make money but keeps all the players starting with the same opertunity as no one can prevent others from developing with linux flavors, so I can take any distro and use it as long as I dont prent others from following, so the person/business/distro witht he best continueing service stays on top, while none can use there top position to prevent another from taking, look at the recent mix up as distros recently released the generation of desktops, kde users went to gnome, gnome to XFCE or KDE. Ubuntu users left for mint as so many went to ubuntu when it strated, or from redhat to debian to gentoo, Each individual has freedom to use and enrich just not freedom to remove anothers fredom to do the same.


It's important to remember the free competition between licences as well as software. e.g. the competition between OpenOffice and LibreOffice is a competition between the Apache and LGPL licences. The market seems to have decided it prefers the LGPL. When given a real choice the market will pick what is best for society. Its decision is superior to that of a central planner because the market contains much greater knowledge distributed within it.

Long Time Linux User and Socialist

I don't think Linux is either Capitalist OR Marxist. Linux is a computer operating system, not a Political Ideology.

While it's likely Linux users are attracted to the community spirit embodied in creating Open Source software, some may be attracted to Linux simply because it's free in the monetary sense, some because they have a virulent dislike for the norms of proprietary software, and others because it's free in the sense that you can modify it however you like, in the Stallman sense. There are probably as many reasons for liking Linux as there are Linux Users.

Linux would be more accurately described as Co-operatist.

Linux is Whatever You Make It

Part of the nature the open source paradigm is that you are free to change, use, reuse and repackage software for any purpose you see fit. So Linux is very much used for private gain in some instances (Android, Red Hat, Ubuntu) while also being the centerpiece of more public-good focused type projects.

It is interesting to me that even the more private-gain products have resulted in serious gains for the whole community as code is committed upstream, money is spent on research and marketing and the public becomes more aware of Linux.

In fact, in some ways Linux represents the Marxist dream of a self-centered society simply dissolving into a public-good centered society as individuals see the tangible gains that they receive when everybody works together.

Does anyone know the definition of a free market any more ?

Really really disappointed at the podcast for trying to portray free markets as being full of positive feedbacks (like the climate and global warming ?). Just because this is the received wisdom does not make it true. e.g. there is very little experimental evidence to prove that the positive feedbacks that the standard global warming models assume actually exist. Sure we are all going to die but the chance of the earth becoming like Venus is slim no matter how much oil is burnt.

Has anyone at Linux Format studied the history of capitalism ? Whatever your politics you must admit that it is a very important topic ? Haven't you ever wondered why, if it is so important, no school teaches it ?

Could it be that the history of capitalism is the history of government intervention to strip out all the negative feedbacks for short term political gain ? Over time it has led incrementally to the destructive system we see around us today ? Every crisis is bigger than the last and every government fix sets the stage for the next crises !

I could give thousands of examples but here is the most important one:
The free market insists that gold and silver are money. When gold and silver are money there is a limit to the amount of debt and derivatives that can be pyramided on top of the monetary base. So why do the wise wizards in government and the central bank insist on enforcing fiat currency that allows infinite debt and derivative production ? Why do they keep trying to solve a debt crisis with more debt ? Why are they hell bent on enforcing destructive positive feedbacks and then blaming capitalism for the problem ?

The answer is the size of government and the number of people it employs. By the 1930s the government was so big that it had to stop allowing deflation and enforce inflation - i.e. leave the gold standard. Pay cuts for civil servants were creating mutinies in the Navy. No civil servant has taken a pay cut in the UK since 1932.

This is not some crank idea. It is the 'mainline' (not the New Keynesian 'mainstream') of economic thought - from Aristotle to the Spanish Scholastics to the French Physiocrats to the Classical economists to the Austrian School ('Austrians' were mainstream economics until the 1930s but are now only listened to by libertarian 'nut jobs').

It will take 50 to 100 years to build a real free market but if we don't start now there is no hope.

As for pollution, in a real free market pro bono lawyers would be pursuing millions of environment claims rather than PPI mis-selling and sprained ankles. In fact this was the case in 19th century America - Railway companies were up in arms that every time a train spark set a Haystack on fire they had to pay ! (the government stepped in as the wise wizard to stop the negative feedback !).

Capitalists Are Marxists

Capitalists are Marxists. They understand that workers create the profits just as much as Socialists/Communists do, they just want to keep them for themselves.

workers and profits

Productivity creates profits, not workers. Productivity does not come from workers, it comes from businesses plans, R&D, entrepreneurial decisions, capital investments etc ...

As capitalists replace workers with robots their profits go up ! If you keep all things equal and increase your workers profits will fall.

As capitalists reduce the number of workers because they invest in machines that increase the productivity of workers their profits go up.

On the free market increases in productivity (via capital investments) reduce prices and increase quality, making the whole of society wealthier.

Increases in productivity from capital investments free up land, labour and capital to be used in new industries. This allows the economy to grow and create more jobs and wealth.

On the free market the capitalist does not decide his level of profit or the wages for workers. These are decided by society. Everyone wants more than their fair share. The only (non criminal) ways to get more are to give society what it wants at the price and quality it wants OR get favours from the government.

Property is theft

Property is theft, it has such a ringing tone. Desktop (& mobile?)computing are dominated by monopolistic monocultures.

The desktop is dominated by the proprietary, but it is not truly capitalistic as it stifles open competition.

Linux is a capitalist response to the monopolistic system, just none profit (except Redhat and Linux Format etc!)

Is Linux open property or an open standard? This is another form of the free beer or free speech, both of which I think are capitalist tenets.

So I think we are all non profit capitalists.
PS. What OS did the Soviets use?


Linux is like the cooperative movement set up in the mid 19th century. It is based on the needs of the community, being provided by the community in common with itself. Of course it isn't Marxist, but neither is it straight forwardly capitalist. The Co-op movement in Britain has today gone so far as to be almost undifferentiatable from the rest of the capitalist economy, but in an alternative history, one in which the Labour Party were socialist, the co-operative movement could have developed differently.

So can Linux be economically socialised and collectivised as well as communitised? With greater ease than can Microsoft or Apple, and I look forward to the day.

Perhaps something George orwell can answer...

All distros are equal...
Some are more equal than others


Are you nuts? Marxists and communists?

I use Linux exclusively. I don't understand what that could possibly have to do with marxism or communism or leninism or stalinism or maoism or pol pot-ism any other nightmare murder cult.

Linux is about freedom of many kinds in absolute opposition to totalitarian ideologies. I use Linux because it allows me to do much more and with no artificial restraints. I also like the philosophy of open source, but what strange derailed mind would connect that to an ideology more tainted by blood than any other???

All right, all right, it's time out

Seriously, please...
this was a ridiculous question and actually NOT designed
as flame bait. I say this as someone who came up with the
challenge to "be positive" in the early days of the podcast
and has seen some of the most ridiculous arguments posted
actually really, like, ever.
It isn't about an attempt to overrule other better methods
of getting things done. It is just A way of getting things
done. Noone is going to demand of you some payment later or
anything like that. You have this stuff, and it's free. You
actually can do more or less whatever you like with it.
All the people who have contributed to this thing ask is this:

that you respect that they have actually given their time and hard work to it, and that if you want to you can:

a) share it with others, and
b) contribute to it.

Alright, there is a bit more to it than that, but, basically that's it - isn't that it? If you want to you can develop stuff, just as long as you give proper respect to those who did (and still hopefully continue to do) the HARD yards and what is great, and still in the true honest sincere sense of a belief in freedom is that you can build something that may actually be here a few years from now.

possibly with your name attached.

I have for years and will continue to sign off with the following. Please have Andrew read this, for I feel his is the appropriate voice:

There is no such thing as a problem
without a gift for you in its hands
You see problems because you need
their gifts


Though this Open Ballot is closed now, I would like these words to echo down into history: Tuxradar cast, please stop asking flamebait questions like this, or the one about the command line being obsolete. There are enough angry people on the internet.

What a stupid question!

Why you don't ask: "Is the pope muslim or hindu?"...

Neither Marxist or capitalist! It's more like Mutualism

I've being an user, developer and supporter of Free Software for a very long time.
I've fall in love with free software because it gave me freedom and choice, but specially because I fell that it matches a lot with my philosophy.
I strong believe in diversity. Not "Apple or Google" choices but more, a lot more... I like the "Gnome or Kde or LXDE or Unity or Fluxbox or ..." desktop environment. I love the several languages available. It's good to have other webservers than Apache. Think about anything and we will figure out we have choice, alternatives and a strong evolution on that subject.

And even I prefer GPLv3, I can understand and respect BSD, so having choice is always good, in any subject, and you can follow what you believe more or what matches best your thoughts.

Well, political philosophy is much more than capitalism or marxism, and I believe it matches well with "Mutualism".
I believe Mutualism also matches with Linus "selfish" motivations!


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