Rhea Myers

Sharecropping And Entryism

Any successful movement or cause will attract those that cannot generate their own social capital. Free Software and Free Culture are no exception. From a right-wing ultra-corporate position comes the threat of sharecropping. From a left-wing paleo-marxist position comes the threat of entryism. Both threaten the value of Free Culture to society as a whole and thereby to themselves.

The value of Free Culture is realised through participation. I have helped organizations ranging from a Fortune 100 company to a local community group to participate in Free Culture. I have done this because I believe that all will add value to and benefit from the value of Free Culture.

For this benefit to be gained, we must participate equally as part of a pluralistic society. Trying to gain an advantage by imposing a teleology on others, by instrumentalizing the actions of others, or by selectively excluding others is not participation. It is coercion.

Such coercion destroys the value of a project not only to society as a whole but to those who organize the project because it reduces participation and downstream value. It breaks the irony of copyleft. It is self defeating.

Entryism, a term I am borrowing from leftist polemic, tries to instrumentalise Free Culture as part of the class struggle or against Empire. It tries to take over a more successful project and impose its own concerns on that project. Since this is coercion it will be self defeating. It will therefore damage both the cause of Free Software and whatever cause the groupuscule that attempts it has other than publicity.

Sharecropping, a term popularised by Lawrence Lessig, tries to instrumentalise Free Culture as part of a project of corporate wealth creation. Far too much of Web 2.0 falls under this category. Any project with terms and conditions that give the project organizer unlimited use of your work, or any NC-based corporate project, is sharecropping. Since this is coercion it will be self defeating. Sharecropping usually has a larger advertising budget than entryism so this will take longer to become apparent.

I am not arguing against capitalists or socialists (or whoever) being involved either in the practice of Free culture or in the debates around it. Far from it. I believe that this broad involvement is what makes Free Culture valuable. What I am arguing is that the readymade ideological idees fixes of both neoliberalism and paleo-marxism are not necessarily effective substitutes for the practical solutions of Free Culture and Free Software judged by the terms of those ideologies.

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