Use value and free software

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Free software is all about use value.


Remember the good old Marxist dialectics of commodities? When a good becomes a commodity, an exchange value is added to the pure use value that the good was originally created to be, and all hell breaks loose. Capital is accumulated. Labor and materials are exploited, and the good is alienated from its original purpose as it is exploited in the market. In many ways this is a good thing, and Marx never forgot the “civilizing qualities” of capitalism over any other mode of production. But the contradiction between use value and exchange value still remains unresolved. The best we can do is deal with it, and in many areas we are successfully doing so. I’m afraid that in the most crucial area in the information age, software, we are struggling.

Even as we can celebrate the liberation of our software as free software users, we must nevertheless take a critical look at the use values we are creating, and how we can do better. I think the solution is to commercialize free software more, not less.

Marx was and still is right