April 2006


Options: Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Mitchel Cohen <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 15 Apr 2006 09:06:06 -0400
text/plain (232 lines)
Here's a fascinating article by Green activist Petros Evdokas <[log in to unmask]>

From Venezuela to Cyprus - Self-sufficiency, Free software and the Revolution

The revolutionary process unfolding in Venezuela has taken on new dimensions, rendering the anti-imperialist concept of economic and technological self-sufficiency directly relevant to the electronic and digital realities of the 21st century.

Information from various sources is confirming that the Government of Venezuela has intensified a campaign of transition of all its computer operations to free, open- source software. {Sources for more reading materials on this and related themes are listed below}.

This present move being actualized in Venezuela is in harmony with the orientation and praxis of some of the most radical sections and wings of the Liberation Movement active in countries of the West (US and Western Europe). 

In the West hundreds of networks of Anarchists, Anarcho-Communists, Feminist and Ecology- minded Socialists have been operating facilities of the Liberation Movement, organizational tools and community communications, educational, creative and entertainment services all based on open- source free software. The applications for political and social organizations which benefit from these radical applications of "politicized software" include email lists, webservers, open publishing tools, data storage, cryptography and many other computer functions. Most crucial, they include functions as basic as computer operating systems. (Microsoft's "windows" is a privately owned, patented operating system which is familiar to most people. Open source operating systems are evolving which are better, more efficient and more secure, such as Linux). 

All these politicized community computer services mentioned above are operated through software that is developed, applied, and distributed outside of the ownership and control systems of Corporate power. All of IndyMedia's branches, local and global, including Cyprus IndyMedia, operate on those principles as well. 

This kind of software is often referred to by several names with overlapping meanings. The names emphasize various aspects of what "Free" means: Open Source; Free, Non-proprietary, etc. "Free" in these frames of reference does not refer only to their price (which very often is zero). More important than price, "Free" refers to free from Corporate ownership. 

Open- source free software packages are collective works, the condensed labour of many people who co-operate to contribute to their development. Also, an important part of the labour is aimed at ensuring that the work is made available to the public and that the ownership rights of the work remain in the public domain. 

In this sense, as humanity enters a period where Capital and the State will begin to be replaced by a re-integrated unified community in a classless society, "Free" software is free in the same way that one day all social resources and all the means of production will become: 
commonly owned, created, applied and maintained by all of us collectively, invested toward human needs and not for profit or domination. 

These radical developments in the world of politics and software are some of the foundations of the evolving alternative economy of the future. Establishing these steps in the present time on the level of collectives and co-ops has been and remains a necessary vanguard action. Establishing them on a mass scale of a large country's economy with the willing and conscious participation of the people within a political program aimed at disengagement from the global Empire, is revolutionary. 

Venezuela, which is a huge country with a population of more than 25 million people, one of the fastest growing economies in the world and the world's fifth oil exporter, is now moving in that direction. The Government expects that by the year 2007 half or more of its computer operations will be operating on free, open source software.

The context of the Bolivarian Revolution which is unfolding in Venezuela, has charged the Government with an unusual historical role. The popular mobilization and power struggles of the recent few years have generated a new kind of challenge, going past the "classical" problems faced by Socialist efforts in Third World countries which often revolve around dealing with tremendous poverty, illiteracy, immediate healthcare needs, lack of resources, military intervention, etc. Venezuela is an industrial country with a lot of material resources and with a wealth of ideological resources as well: the Revolution is applying both of them to generate new kinds of solutions to the problems. 

It's not a coincidence that the ideological base of the Bolivarian process includes early christian ideology; concepts of imperialism that stretch the perception of Empire all the way back to the Rome of antiquity; a commitment to modern- day heavy- industry based Socialism; ecological wisdom of the native Americans; and, now, a stretch forward into technologies of the future with goals of technological self- sufficiency totally geared for the 21st century. They are part of a realistic approach on behalf of the Movement, they are different ways of actualizing what President Hugo Chávez has stated as a guideline: “If we want to get rid of poverty we must give power to the poor". 

Social empowerment is a key feature of the new reality being cultivated in Venezuela.

Just like Cyprus. Right? 

On the night that the new "revolutionary" Government of the Republic of Cyprus was elected into office, the capital city Lefkosia did not sleep at all. There were massive parties in the streets that were full of people with Red flags everywhere, marches in the avenues, bands were playing, endless motorcades of celebrants honking their car-horns snaked through the crowded streets cheering and waving shirts and banners with the image of Che Guevara ...a victory of the revolution, right?

Acting on genuine and honest desires, the people voted into power a Government that was promoted by the electoral campaign of the Party of the Red flags with the fair expectation that it would act on this clear promise: 
that it would bring the country closer to Socialism. 

Hah! And double hah!

To this day, there is hardly any public dialogue around the issue of Socialism or what it would mean in our country - the word is not even mentioned. 

Every popular mobilization is actively discouraged by the Party leadership. There is a very widespread impression among many social activists that the country has not only failed to move forward toward Socialism, but that we may have actually moved backwards. There is a fear that we may have slid, perhaps, downward into the folds and the dark embrace of Reactionary reality itself. 

How else can one explain the total capitulation to the Imperium, when without a sigh the "revolutionary" Government of the Republic of Cyprus invited the US and UK military forces to make free use of the airspace, ports, airports, hospitals, highways, and to use the island as a stepping stone to invade our neighbours in Iraq and kill them by the thousands? If this alliance with the Beast is not a sliding downward into Reaction, what is?

And what happened to the quest for Socialism in our country?

Anti- imperialist and socialist economics, at their most basic level, are founded on the concept of economic self- sufficiency. For any country, independence from the Empire and a free co-operation with other economies on an equal footing can only take place if economic dependency is shaken off.

When we examine what our "revolutionary" Red flag- bearing Government has done, so far, in terms of building economic self-sufficiency for Cyprus, and therefore, what it has accomplished in terms of cultivating the ability of our country to one day become able to move away from the strangulating dependency and subjugation to the global Empire, we see that nothing has been done. Nothing. Nothing at all. 

Dare we ask about social reconstruction?

It is certainly very difficult to implement a social campaign aimed at common ownership of the land and the industry, even when there is a Socialist- minded Government freely elected by the majority of the people. It's certainly a lot more difficult to launch such a campaign to tackle the basic issues of social and private ownership, than it is to launch a campaign to implement the simple use of commonly owned, open- source free software in Government computer operations. 

By comparison, the ease and comfort with which such a transition toward free software could be implemented in Cyprus, and the immediate benefits we would derive from it, makes it an ideal indicator of the degree of political desire, its orientation, and the true attitude of the current Government toward Socialism. 

In a country such as ours which lacks heavy industry, but has one of the highest proportions per capita in the world of office- based businesses, high education, computer literacy, and actual ownership of computer equipment, the economy of Cyprus, and especially networks of the Government of the Republic itself, face a relatively easy task. If they had a political motivation to shake off the stranglehold of Microsoft and of the other private software overlords, it would be easily done with little cost, with a lot of benefits for society, and it would be a significant step forward. But do those in power have any such interest to move toward the alternative economy of the Socialist future?

If one sets about to examine the use of open source free software by the Government of Cyprus and apply it as an indicator of where we are on this Socialist agenda today, the results we encounter are frightening.

Every single computer operation of our "socialist" Government is embedded with an organic dependence to the privately held Corporate owned and controlled software of Microsoft, plus to a few more other Corporations and foreign Government powers. All of them, the whole Government- wide system of computers in its entirety is under that stranglehold. 

The situation is so bad, that even the Attorney General - who, as far as we know on many other issues is an honest man genuinely dedicated to social justice - even he, sends out electronic letters shaped in the privately patented format named "doc" which can only be read if you pay a fee to the Microsoft Corporation and to Bill Gates. Not only that, the letters from the Attorney General will only open if you use a particular generation of the Microsoft Word software. Where in this arrangement is the separation of public and private enterprise?

Things are actually worse than that. Much worse: even the police and intelligence operations of the Republic and all of the computerized operations of the Department of Defence are all without exception operated on patented, privately owned Corporate software. To put it differently, Microsoft and the other private Corporations have the ability to access and control any computer operation of the Cyprus Government. In issues of intelligence and defence, this is crucial. 

The more complicated a lock and key is, the more and more real this becomes: only those who manufacture the locks and keys can authorize entry.

In terms of military operations, as the military balance on the island stands now for the defence needs of those who live in the areas still left under the control of the Republic, the two heaviest factors are artillery weapons and air-force. 

It is not a secret that due to a US Government embargo against Cyprus for many decades now there has not been any significant increase in artillery capacity by new purchases of artillery pieces (large guns, cannons). But the same old artillery pieces from decades ago have been well maintained and re-organized into modern, computer assisted systems for aiming and firing. Computerization of these operations has been in effect long enough, that hardly anyone in the military knows how to do basic artillery operations "by hand" anymore. Not even by using a pocket calculator and printed tables. Does it worry anyone that the private Corporation which made these computer systems is based in a certain Southern European NATO country just south of the Alps, and that the particular Corporation is legally bound to be subject to control and oversight by that foreign Government's intelligence services, and that it has the access codes to all of those systems? Can you sleep better at night knowing this?

Anti- aircraft power (air defence) is also a key factor in Cyprus, especially for a country that has no air- force and which in the last war was reduced to shooting down enemy craft by using shotguns, personal weapons, and side- arms (and miraculously, it worked!). 

Again, due to the US embargo, there have been no significant purchases of new weaponry for many decades. But most of the old anti-aircraft weapons plus a few newer ones, have been integrated into a computer based anti- aircraft defence system which allows both for collective operations (directed centrally) and for individual anti- aircraft weapons to operate on their own. They are not very sophisticated and their fire- power is small. But these electronic improvements have enabled a more dependable air defence capability by improving the ability to hit targets with better accuracy and in more coordinated ways (modern aircraft are very fast and without electronic assistance it is almost impossible to take them down). 

But again, control and access to these systems by the private Corporations which own the patents to the software, make this whole thing a pathetic, meaningless effort. There are eyewitness testimonies by professional soldiers who report that NATO aircraft with US and UK insignia while flying over these air defence weapons have been able to disable them by accessing their computer codes, taking over, and pointing them elsewhere. (The verbatim testimony was "they forced our gun barrels to droop down" and it included a metaphor on erections.)

This vulnerability of air defence is directly attributable to the dependency on privately patented software which the Government buys and installs, but has no right (according to the contract) to re-write or to alter them in any way so as to make them inviolate, secure. The Corporations are the only ones able to get to the core of that software. In fact, the Government has neither legal nor any actual (physical) way to "open up" the software at their core, especially since some of it is imprinted physically into the hardware of the machinery. 

Our pseudo- socialist Government can try to justify this situation any way it wants. But does anyone among the population feel comfortable with this arrangement?

One way of looking at it is that the whole theatrical presentation of "defence of the motherland" spouted by "official" authorities is really nothing but a crude farce played on our backs and an empty posture, a hollow bluff. No wonder the invasion forces occupying northern Cyprus have their battle formations all arrayed on the Green line locked in a "ready to advance formation" with the tanks in front - a formation unthinkable by any military commander unless movement is imminent, or if there is no opposition. They know that defence in the south is a bluff. 

Is it possible to shed some light into this? Yes. 

Just like everything else that has to do with the "blessed" and divine Republic of Cyprus, if we wish to understand the political reality that is dressed around its political economy, we need to examine the ideology of the largest political force on the island: 
where does the pseudo-socialist Party stand on the issue of software? 

The answer is very simple, really. 
Here we find ideology pressed into in tangible practice. 
The website of the Party's main organ, the daily newspaper Haravgi, is totally dysfunctional when viewed by visitors who use an open-source free software browser such as Mozilla, or Netscape (which is based on the same design). But the website works just fine when viewed through the Microsoft browser! 

Try it if you like. Please go visit the page and try to read the articles linked in red colour, under the heading "Main Themes" - open it with different browsers, and test it, please:
Do you know how difficult it is to make a website selectively dysfunctional with Mozilla or Netscape but only compatible with Microsoft's browser named Explorer? But they have achieved it.

The Party newspaper website's condition is not an accident or a result of lack of knowledge. On the contrary, it is the conscious application of ultra-sophisticated knowledge and technology aimed at an exclusive relationship with the Microsoft Corporation, arranged through the intermediary private Corporation which designs and maintains the website, . 

And then we wonder why no one told the Attorney General that he could just as easily, freely and comfortably send letters in another format that can be opened readily by many other computer programs and word- processors. Or why no one in the Government cares that private Corporations like Microsoft are able to access any file and any program on any Government computer, while we have to pay exorbitant fees to keep up this dependency.

Clowns to the left of me, 
jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you
- from a ’70s song by Stealer’s Wheel titled “Stuck in the Middle with You” 

While celebrating Venezuela's revolutionary embrace of open- source software, it would be fair before closing, to send some criticism toward ourselves, toward our own organization, IndyMedia, for its failures on this subject.

Many local IndyMedia organizations have a positive view, and some of them even an organic relationship with the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela. But our global IndyMedia network is shamefully deficient on this. We don't have a Venezuela IndyMedia local, and we do not have a good political relationship with the Bolivarian Revolution, nor a solid editorial policy toward it. 

One might expect that given the high profile of the anti- imperialist anti- globalization politics of global IndyMedia, developing a good relationship with the Venezuelan process, or at least some editorial clarity toward it, would have been a priority for our global network. Yet, not even the fact that now the Venezuelan Government is speedily embracing the very thing that made IndyMedia possible - open source, free software - has been a strong enough factor to catalyze an improvement of our collective stance.

Many reasons can be found for this failure, and the ones we usually tend to ignore are political. The sad truth is that, unlike local IndyMedia organizations which have a large degree of autonomy and involvement in community politics, our network at the global level has neither. It is politically more or less defined by IndyMedia activists in countries of the West painted with a heavy layer of colours from self- defined "anti-authoritarian" sections of the Movement who have not allowed collectivity to be cultivated among us beyond a certain small degree, and whose definition of "co-operation" does not include being accountable. Often among us, this takes on an extra- ordinary amount of obsessive preoccupation with opposition to organization. The State is a form of organization, so, any effort to organize is opposed as being "State- like". And this has partially determined our failure to connect with our Venezuelan comrades.

From the materials listed below for reading, one can see how our IndyMedia colleagues of the West who are active on the global level of IndyMedia stumble on the concepts and realities of "the State", and have influenced our network with an indecision and paralysis. The dilemma of how to come to grips with the fact that the Revolution in Venezuela has the State in its hands plus a chunk of State- owned Capital, clouds their minds. And these clouded minds have determined the global IndyMedia policy toward our comrades in Venezuela.

It's not only in IndyMedia's relationship with Venezuela that this syndrome appears, it appears in our relationship with activists in most places where the population is more highly politicized, mobilized and more organized than in the main countries of the West. Palestine is another fine example of this problem. Our Western colleagues have dragged down our entire network by fitting their view of what Liberation means onto our efforts to build organic relationships with radical Palestinian activist journalists. It's as if Palestinian or Venezuelan self- determination means nothing. 

Instead of taking a step back, openly admitting "I don't know how to approach this", they exercise a de facto policy determination for the whole global network by trying to make the Revolutions abroad fit into a model of perceptions held by a section of the Movement in the West. 


And as long as this pseudo anarchist posturing dominates global IndyMedia, we need to find ways to come to terms with this reality and change it. We can repair all of these problems with open and honest dialogue among us, and with hands- on co-operation on Movement projects.

At one point of history during which definitions and re-definitions were determining whether millions of people would die or survive and become free, a comrade had said that "Socialism is power to the people's councils, plus electification". I agree. But now we need to add open source free software in there.

Petros Evdokas

Many thanks to John Olmsted, to Granma Goldman's Grandson Glenn, Spud, Turgut Durduran, and to Hamilton IndyMedia.


Further Readings

Some links and a news item from the Associated Press follows below.

"50% of Venezuela Government Software will be Open Source by 2007"

On the Bolivarian Revolution:
"As President Chávez has asserted: “If we want to get rid of poverty we must give power to the poor". This is very different from the taint of “populism” where people are no more than beggars in a patronage relation to leaders.
...The results have been spectacular:

* Venezuela has been declared free of illiteracy by UNESCO
* Infant mortality has been significantly lowered
* 70% of its citizens previously marginalized now have free health services in their community
* Almost half the population is studying
* Poverty has dropped to 37% in 2005
* And, as for the economy it grew by 9.4% in 2005, the highest in Latin America, with most of this growth occurring in the non-oil sector (increased by 10.3% while the oil sector increased 1.2%)."
"Mr. Danger and the Socialism for the New Millennium"

"For the record:
-- Venezuela's economy is the fastest growing in the hemisphere. For the first half of this year, it has grown by 9.3 percent; last year, recovering from a deep recession caused by the opposition oil strike of 2002-2003, it grew by 17.8 percent.'

"The Free Software Foundation
Free software is a matter of liberty not price. You should think of "free" as in "free speech".

FSF/UNESCO Free Software Directory

"At the PGA meeting in Belgrade 23-29 July 2004, a Venezuelan activist and a spanish-speaking person living in Venezuela feel that a group of internet activists who are part of a huge, radically grassroots, local, autonomous media network, have been unfairly rejected from being integrated into the indymedia network because of a small group of supposed "anarchists" with no real grassroots contacts claimed that the autonomous network was too closely associated with "the state"."

Letter from Evan (member if IndyMedia) indicative of the many contradictory sentiments and ideologies shaping global IndyMedia's policy toward the Bolivarian Revolution:
"[Cmi-venezuela] Re: [www-features] Proposal: Venezuela Between Empire and Revolution":

Statement from "El Libertario". It promotes a certain political approach that tends to be favoured by Western IndyMedia activists (even if most of our colleagues would not admit to it because they tend to favour that stace on a semi-conscious basis, hardly ever articulating it, or articulating it in crude terms such "the State is Bad; No State is Good".)
Editorial, june-july 2004, Venezuela":

Letter from "Aporrea" addressing some of the complexities of "pro" and "con" positions among the various organizations which have an orientation toward IndyMedia while participating in the Venezuelan Revolution and who are at the same time critics, or "dissidents", depending on one's point of view.
"[Cmi-venezuela] trying to understand if aporrea wants to start anindymedia group
coordinadores aporrea":

"Socialism is power to the people's councils, plus electification"


Venezuela promotes free open-source software as alternative to Microsoft

By JORGE RUEDA Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press

President Hugo Chavez has long been critical of big transnational companies, and now his government is promoting free open-source software as an alternative to market-dominating Microsoft Corp.

Venezuela's science and technology ministry on Friday began the Latin American Free Software Installation Fair, an event promoting the use of the open-source Linux operating system and other nonproprietary programs over Windows by Microsoft.

Groups of Linux users are holding similar events simultaneously in countries from Argentina to Colombia, and the Venezuelan government has signed on as a promoter.

The technology ministry said in a statement that the fair, which ends Saturday, is part Venezuela's move toward "technological sovereignty, and taking advantage of knowledge for building national scientific independence." The gathering began with seminars by experts on the subject, and also was to include sessions for Venezuelans pick up and install copies of Linux software.

Chavez, a vehement critic of the capitalist system, issued a decree in 2004 ordering all the country's public institutions to actively move toward the Linux operating system and other open-source alternatives that can mean millions of dollars (euros) in savings.

Government agencies have gradually been making the change.

Chavez says previous governments spent more on licensing fees for proprietary software than social programs to fight poverty, which have become a top priority for his socialist government.

Chavez once called the switch to open-source software crucial to "stop depending on software owned by others."

"If knowledge doesn't have owners, intellectual property is a trick of neoliberalism," he said.

Government officials also have noted that open-source software eliminates the need for costly upgrades since it is produced by programmers across the world who share ideas to develop such programs for free distribution.

The Venezuelan government hasn't focused direct criticism on Microsoft, but Chavez has regularly condemned "the hegemony of the multinationals" -- saying many big companies are to blame for putting profits above the needs of poor people across Latin America.

Chavez, a close ally of Cuban President Fidel Castro, has repeatedly clashed with the U.S. government, although U.S. products from Coca-Cola to American cars are sold widely in the South American country. Venezuela also remains a leading supplier of oil to the United States.