everything wrong with free software
"obedience breeds foolishness"
*originally posted:* feb 2022
spoiler: we still dont know.
today, the fsf is dishonest, hypocritical and orwellian. this did not happen by coincidence-- there were similar developments in other fsf organisations, in open source (free softwares original frenemy) and in debian, all at similar times. the culmination of this coup led by corporations and other organisations that had lost their founders or original values was the witch hunt and effective silencing or "exile in place" of the movements own founder, richard stallman.
this was absolutely a witch hunt-- complete with mob tactics and lies, even sponsors. to this day it has been difficult to even get away with defending stallman, despite him HAVING A DEFENCE being a BASIC HUMAN RIGHT. the people who supported this campaign do not care about freedom, or even underestand it-- they have betrayed, mocked and even demonised the most basic of liberties. this is the sneering face of sheer hypocrisy and lies behind the new (and bullshit) fsf.
pure, unadulturated narcissism has taken over the movement (and yet is also NOT the movement) and it has rewritten history and mission alike. the fsf always had problems, it was never a crime to address those, but doing it with lies and hypocrisy undermines everything free software ever stood for. doing it with corporate backing is the surest testament to open source being the culprit, but besides this it has every hallmark. so lets take a glimpse into 2005, when the fsf was still most certainly the fsf:
> "[...]Open Source plays to the media interests that require a sanitized version of what the real drivers were behind the birth of a GNU/Linux world. It seems that some words are hard to say, and some would have us give in to their limiting Orwellian speak. Well tough, it's the Free Software Movement; listen up, because you're in Freedom's home town." https://www.fsf.org/news/fsf-responds-to-linuxworld-in-boston
the fsf has become linuxworld.
the most astonishing discovery i made today, was that lieplanet grew out of the associate member meeting. when my biggest gripe is that the fsf didnt listen to its members (and it didnt) trying to resolve this with the fact that lieplanet has been used to take over the fsf and overthrow its founder, mission and integrity-- i know there has to be more to the story.
i was an fsf member, and i was NEVER comfortable with lieplanet. it seemed too unlike the fsf itself-- politically correct, naive in other ways, but most of all in contrast to the fsfs own values. did members actually pull the fsf off its own course? i honestly dont believe that is what happened-- not in such simple terms.
i can easily believe that SOME members, and the event itself, was used as a trojan horse against the organisation, and im not sure its that simple either but at least it is very plausible. its really the theory ive had for years now-- the coup started at lieplanet in 2018 (i dont believe i was aware of it until 2019 though). this discovery helped me predict stallmans ousting nearly a year later. what happened was a betrayal of the entire movement, and not in the least the first of its kind. history has similar examples outside of free software, and many exist today within quasi-progressive politics.
my best friend in the world is a woman, and my second closest friend is a feminist by any sensible definition. i was raised to believe the words of dr. king that said "an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere". but dr. king was not the first to utter this sentiment, even if well-earned credit goes to him for making it more famous (and the exact wording). the people who attacked richard stallman and never even tried made amends for this are certainly not people who believe that all injustices are really injustices. that is true privilege, true arrogance and true hypocrisy.
i wish i could say that these were the "only" values the fsf has abandoned: honesty, integrity and justice. nothing that has happened to stallman since late 2018 was just-- even when he was brought "back" it was under the worst of circumstances-- the fsf was pathetic and worthless without him at the forefront and they were pathetic and (nearly) worthless in the way they brought him back. please note that i have had MANY gripes about his leadership myself though he deserved more dignity and respect-- and fairness.
these are not values i ever felt were associated with lieplanet-- it reminds me more of the westminster dog show. theres nothing wrong with a dog show necessarily, only that it might attract more than an average number of snipey and opportunistic people along with the more sporting contestants. i didnt want a "safe space", i wanted something that reflected a movement for freedom. so youre very welcome, in the years i considered doing so, i never attended. if id associated lieplanet more closely with the fsf, im sure i would have never given them a cent (nor purchased as much merchandise).
all of this is relevant if youre trying to establish the true character of a fight for digital freedom. one side is going to work on actual solutions-- this is the fight-- and the other is going to focus on striking deals with entities that are in fact completely unsympathetic to the fight and its goals, but willing to strike deals.
this sort of "dealmaking" features prominently in world political history. as a short-term strategy it has its place, and not every such deal made was a foolish one. but it is a dangerous game, and when overplayed it leads to the destruction of movements, ends to revolution and setbacks lasting decades.
this is the prize that lieplanet bought free software. but right now, we cant be sure who did what deals with whom-- we can guess, but ive tried for years to pinpoint the culprits and only have a list of suspects.
in trying to find the smoking gun, i found an edit to a page on stallmans own website-- not the one where a member of the coup faked his resignation from the gnu project around the same time he stepped down from the fsf, (so maybe lieplanet was the smaller piece of the puzzle, not that ill ever trust or endorse it) where he decided that as the leader of the gnu project, he would not actually worry about any detail of free distributions other than licensing. this happened in 2011 and i refer to it as "the bulletpoints that killed free software" as well as his partial (but unofficial) resignation. this one isnt fake, and its historically significant.
a few years later, the distribution itself would prove itself as a tool for making users LESS free than before. the fsf did not even comment. to do so, it would have to burn a bridge with the people hosting and collaborating with them on gcc.
we know at least, that things were taking a bad turn in 2011, they were too busy with 30-year anniversary bullshit in 2015 to do anything useful at all, and the following year when microsoft took over half of the software (that is, everything on github) in the free software directory, the fsf did: nothing. it doesnt matter what they said or didnt say about it, because the fsf (and the gnu project) did: nothing. nothing at all. the fact that microsoft holds the keys to half the software in the free software directory-- that figure comes AFTER the exodus of many thousands of projects from github in protest; not before.
in 2008, stallman DEFENDED making compromises, and wrote about the importance of both compromise and of NOT making compromises that are "ruinous". it is very clear that any ruinious compromises the fsf made came after 2008, probably in 2011 at the earliest, and without any question the fsf had made devastatingly ruinous compromises by 2016 or 2017. in 2019 the fsf compromised its integrity completely, and in my opinion it only wanted to appear that it had recovered.
the trajectory of the fsf in 2022-- putting aside EVERY YEAR BEFORE THIS ONE-- is too similar to the trajectory of the open source initiative that led to several microsoft people joining the board.
im not saying microsoft will join the board of the fsf NECESSARILY, thats an overly specific interpretation of the point. what i am saying is that the board today would neither accept a younger stallman BY ITS OWN RULES (indeed, they recently revised the rules to make sure that stallman himself would remain quiet or lose his place on the board permanently and by their own rules-- and techrights called this progress!) but this ALSO applies to anyone with the same level of integrity. it is the sort of rule that organisations only take on when they become more authoritarian and less concerned with integrity or the right of criticism or dissent.
legally speaking, an organisation has every (legal) right to do this. the question is if it is the sort of thing the real fsf would do: i think it is one of the most damning (and ruinous) compromises to date. they have practically guaranteed that further corruption will take place-- granted, further corruption was already expected.
stallmans crusade began and ended with non-disclosure agreements. i would sure love to know who thought those were a good idea. was it indeed stallman himself? was it the first executive director? i honestly couldnt tell you, maybe it can be found in the minutes of some board meeting. i believe free software will continue, just not with the fsf. their mission (as it exists today) is no longer ethical-- it stands AGAINST freedom, and FOR exploitation of user and developer alike.
of course before we can definitively say when the fsf really "went bad" we have to be somewhat specific what kind of "bad" we are talking about. is it the compromise of the fsf or gnu that matters more? i absolutely think its both, but the question likely cannot be so broad if we want actual dates or events.
sadly, i think at this particular time the question is impossible to answer definitively-- but i could be wrong, and either way it may be possible in the future. until then, it has to be enough to say that the fsf is not the fsf anymore, and that the fsf was ABSOLUTELY the fsf before. it was definitely still the fsf in 2005 and 2008; it was possibly still the fsf in 2011, but by then we can worry-- it was failing in its mission no later than 2015, and in 2019 it abandoned its own values entirely. today it works to lay further ground for corruption and corporate takeover. TOKEN EFFORTS will always be made to justify funding and image, but these are worthless, as is the fsf of today. they do not fight, they do not care, they do not deserve any credit.
but they were damned important NOT SO LONG ago. and rewriting history is no favour to anyone good.
maybe its easier to just ask who did it-- but was it the more than 100 debian fuckers? was it ibm? gnome? (all of these?) no, maybe its still easier to ask what happened and when. and why. i mean, kipling was always right about this one.
it still matters what happened so we can learn from it-- what free software was, what it can be, and what it can avoid to escape the same fate as the fake fsf. one really good place to start would be: dont be fake! and dont be lieplanet.