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Linux guru Raymond accused of ‘vulgar Marxism’

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In an ill-tempered article Nikolai Bezroukov has mounted a personal attack on Eric Raymond, author of The cathedral and the bazaar and well-known Linux luminary. Raymond is accused of promoting "an over-optimistic and simplistic view of open source, as a variant of socialist (or to be more exact, vulgar Marxist) interpretation of software development". Raymond thinks that's a bit thick, since he professes to be a Libertarian, and Bezroukov's evidence for this surprising claim is thin to the point of being invisible. Raymond, who is an OSS evangelist, has only begun an examination of the open source phenomenon, and he can be prone to make generalisations that are too specific. He assumes that "a wealth surplus" makes it possible for many programmers to live in "a post-scarcity gift culture". To a fair extent this is true in the US, but the fuller facts are that many players live on the bread-line with absolutely minimal income. Raymond's analogy that the cathedral is analogous to the place where traditional, proprietary programming takes place, while the bazaar is where open source software (OSS) development occurs, is very helpful but it was not intended to be a formal, rigorous approach to defining open development processes. Apart from some rather ill-founded remarks, perhaps in the hope of gaining attention, Bezroukov has little to offer in his elementary and rambling attempt to establish that the scientific community is a better paradigm for OSS than the bazaar model. Rather, his attack seems to be motivated by some personal psychological factors centred around his experience (presumably as a scientist in the Soviet Union), as a result of which he declares himself to be against the Marxism that he claims to detect in Raymond's work. In attacking Raymond, Bezroukov makes the mistake of trying to shoot the messenger. He attributes phrases to Raymond that he does not use in his writings, as well as incorrectly paraphrasing his views: this is carelessness of a high order. He brings no credit to First Monday, a soi-disant "peer-reviewed journal on the Internet". If there are in fact any peers involved, they should be dismissed, for they have failed in their responsibility and the journal should apologise for its failure to reach an adequate editorial standard. Bezroukov's arguments were not checked for logic or consistency, nor was the error-infested text sub-edited properly. One suspects that the publisher (it's hard to say "editor") thought that such a pot-boiling attack would gain attention for the webzine: it did, but not to bring any respect. "Like a scientific community, open source inherits some of the same and important problems including Lysenkoism," Bezroukov tells us, and refers to some of the worst excesses of the pseudo-science at the All-Union Institute of Plant Breeding in the 1930s, when Lysenko was able, with Stalin's encouragement, to substitute politics for genetics in plant breeding, with dire results. Bezroukov seriously overstates his case, and leaves one with the feeling that he is making a rather pathetic cry for attention, rather than a serious observation. What is interesting is Bezroukov's motivation for the attack. It seems that Bezroukov, who is an Internet security analyst at BASF and a part-time academic, is concerned about the problems of OSS failings (and one suspects, resentful of Linux's success). It is schadenfreude, partially forgivable because there are of course problems with the open source development model that are understandably minimised by developers. Bezroukov's failure is an attempt to introduce an alternative model that is not credible, or consistent, and without using an appropriate methodology. He also has insufficient understanding of western psychology and the sociology of organisations to establish a more credible alternative. Torvalds 'burn-out' Bezroukov says that "Burnout of OSS leaders like Linus Torvalds is all too common to ignore". Nor does he like the "cult of personality", ignoring the evidence that Torvalds had it thrust upon him and largely shies away from it. The "super-sized ego problems" that Bezroukov claims exist do not appear to be more common than those of the cathedral-style developers. "In a sense, with Linux, Torvalds 'switched camps' and start [sic] playing the role of a political ABM/BTM (anything-but-Microsoft/better-than-Microsoft)-style leader in the course of promoting his idea of 'world domination'," Bezroukov postulates. He has a section about Microsoft, having decided earlier that "Microsoft is important for the open source movement in many ways" - but probably not in the ways that he envisages. He suggests that "every powerful social movement requires an enemy, a target that can be used as a powerful unifying force" and says he is not surprised that a large proportion of Linux and OSS people "hate the 'Evil Empire'", which he sees as "a revolt against Microsoft". So why did Bezroukov sound off? To have his 15 minute of fame? To get some strokes? Or because he hopes in some unfathomable way to be wooed by Microsoft? He has already received a strong whiff of the grapeshot from Linux devotees. Raymond's response is dismissive, commendably brief, and to the point. There are of course many interesting non-technical issues to examine about OSS, which Bezroukov would be better advised to pursue than to make personal attacks. One issue concerns how developers react as they find that they cannot keep up with every development in Linux as they used to. This crossover point has certainly now been passed. Will it result in a tendency to produce Linux dialects? Do many who find the pace too swift become involved in supporting Linux users, and teaching? We do not really know at present. There are better methodologies to refine models like the cathedral and the bazaar, but Bezroukov is not the man for the job. The disciplines that perhaps offer most value are psychology, for the individual motivation aspects, and sociology for providing a framework for describing the organisational issues. A glance at sociology texts such as Henry Mintzberg's The structuring of organisations points out that in an Adhocracy (for that is probably the best pre-existing structural description of the open source movement), Hedberg et al described the "palace" and the "tent" instead of the cathedral and the bazaar - and this was in 1976 in Administrative Science Quarterly. Perhaps the difference between Bezroukov and Raymond could best be summarised in a speculation: that Bezroukov would argue against such a "palace and tent" model delineated by professionals in organisational structure, whereas Raymond would be delighted to know that he had independently discovered something that had in general terms been previously described. ®

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