From the April 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
So, Napster lost its court battle with the five biggest record labels who had brought a legal action against the online music-swapping service because their profits were increasingly being eaten into. Big business got its way. No surprise there, then. Millions of people had all come to the same decision: that obtaining something you need for free was a very good idea. And so it is! We would like to inform the estimated 61 million Napster users, and millions of others using similar “peer-to-peer” services, that we in the World Socialist Movement in the various countries also believe in having completely free access to music. But not only music. We advocate that people should also have free access to all other entertainment, computers, phones, electricity, food, clothes, motor vehicles, housing, public transport, water . . . in fact, absolutely any goods and services that are needed.
Now this might strike even music-swapping fans of Napster as wanting and expecting far too much. Not at all! Such a free-access society is by no means unacceptable or impossible to achieve. Who says that we must pay? Capitalists! But if a popular majority chose to collectively own the means of producing goods and services (industries, power stations, raw materials etc), and chose to work for the benefit of one another (as with Napster) rather than for any privileged asset-owning elite, then everything that people produced and provided would collectively belong to us all. It is then possible to have whatever you need without ever handing over any money (in fact, money would then be obsolete). There wouldn’t be any grabbing of everything in sight, quickly resulting in shortages, since the whole point of working would have then changed from making profits, as happens now (resulting in deliberately restricted production to keep up prices and exclusion for the less well-off), to working simply to meet human needs.
And don’t think that people in this new genuine socialist world would have to work harder. Because there’d then be no more capital-owning employers or employment, there’d also no longer be any unemployment. That means many millions more people, currently unwanted because market conditions mean they can’t be exploited for a profit, or are considered too old or inefficient by bosses, then being able to contribute. And since money would then be useless and non-existent, that means yet millions more people also being able to do something of real benefit rather than just tinker with cash and financial documents in banks, shops, tax offices, solicitors, estate agents etc as happens today. Furthermore, a united world would also have no further need for armies and manufacturing workforces turning out all manner of weaponry, resulting in further millions of people being able to do socially useful work. This revolutionary change in the way we work, with far more people being available, and no financial restrictions on introducing sophisticated automation to take over dirty or unpleasant tasks, would in fact result in a far shorter working week, and far greater freedom to choose jobs we like, instead of being forced into them by a need for an income or by government threats to withdraw welfare benefits.
Although Warner, Sony, EMI, BMG and Universal may have won one battle over obtaining music without paying (and it’s inevitable that other swap sites will soon be legally targeted or deterred from starting up), they certainly haven’t won the war. By our numbers, we possess not simply the power to avoid having to purchase CD albums, and pay through the nose in the process. We can also get rid of all exploitative companies for ever, simply by supporting us in the WSM and the goal of replacing capitalism with money-less free-access socialism, and voting for this rather than business-biased market-supporting politicians.
We can understand that you probably think that all political organisations are the same: a waste of time because nothing really changes no matter who’s in power, and all in it for what they can get out of it for themselves. Politicians from all sorts of parties have been exposed as corrupt, incompetent, deceitful, irrelevant, two-faced and thoroughly abhorrent. But the reason why you’ll never find any WSM government politicians behaving like that is very simple—there never will be any WSM governments! For when there’s majority popular support for socialism, not only will there be collective ownership of productive capital, there will also be collective decision-making in how those assets should be used. In other words, once socialism is established, there’d be no more governments or electorally empowered politicians — ever! The people would run their own lives from then on, perhaps making use of the internet to register occasional votes on local, regional and global matters that need deciding and acting upon. Hence, the WSM itself would no longer be needed as a political entity, and would therefore cease to exist.
As for Napster, what has happened since its emergence is of immense importance to us all, and could result in no less than a commercial and psychological battle for the way we live in the future. Whether MP3 computer file enthusiasts know it or not, this is a critical struggle between two great economic principles. On one side there is the old market-based capitalist economy, made up of sellers and buyers, with exploitation of exclusive property for profit, and laws to punish transgressors. And on the other side, a true socialist society, made up people living according to the principle of “to each according to need; from each according to ability”, with common property, production simply for use, and no monetary or other restrictions.
The WSM objective of the socialisation of society and the “Napsterisation” of music in cyberspace therefore have much in common. This breaking down of the idea of private property and a passion for free access on the net has been called “dot.communism”, though “dot.socialism” could just as easily be used since both mean the same thing. But however it’s known, because it has the potential to grow rapidly and encourage unselfish co-operation all over the globe, it seen as a threat to the super-rich minority who presently determine how everyone else lives and works in accordance with capitalist requirements. Napster embodies the sharing, community-based ethos of both the internet pioneers and true socialists seeking an end to capitalism—both the private version espoused by free marketeers, and the state-run type, sought by various fake “socialist” parties who merely want to run capitalism themselves.
The fact that increasingly large numbers of internet users are, through free music, free video, free ISPs, free email etc acquiring immunity against diseased businesses, who want us to pay, means there is an increasing desire by global capital and their political puppets to kill off these digital free lunches before such revolutionary web thinking and behaviour expands into political thinking and behaviour (i.e., widespread support for genuine socialism).
“MP3” (the file compression method Napster uses for music sharing) has become the word most often typed into search engines, and millions upon millions of people, most without enough money to meet a frequent need to obtain new music, have had a tiny taster of what life would be like in a socialist free access society. As for the recording artists and writers, while some like heavy metal band Metallica, Madonna, Elton John, The Corrs and Eminem are unhappy about Napster, and have even taken legal action over copyright material being available for free. Other million-selling bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, The Offspring, Cypress Hill and Limp Bizkit together with lesser-known groups who just want to share their music, have expressed support for the freedom that Napster offers. Performers and writers can of course claim that they need money to get by within capitalism, as does everyone else, but the fact is they themselves (like us) could also get by without money in a socialist society. How do they feel about that? If many millions of people are making it absolutely clear by their actions that they want music gratis, and perhaps thereby indicating a growing hankering for much more for free in the not too distant future, is this extensive socialistic desire shared by the artists? Or do certain singers actually prefer to live in luxury, and have no moral problem whatsoever in enjoying superior living standards while those buying their music have to struggle through life on far smaller incomes (an inevitability with capitalism, since by the very nature of this system, there will always be a few on top, with a pyramidal expansion downwards incorporating everyone else at increasing levels of poverty)? If that is the situation, then maybe downloading their particular songs, even for nought, isn’t worth it in the first place.