< Index

Intellectual Property Can't Be Abolished Without Socialism

Anyone who's studied intellectual property should by now know its reform is long overdue. Why? Well, imagine a system of international laws. A system that protects the interests of big transnational monopolies while siphoning wealth from poor countries, promoting stagnation and not letting in any innovation. It kills millions of people. While it may have had a progressive side to it for a while, now the system is wholly reactionary. Anyone who has studied it extensively and still supports it definitely has a vested interest.

Thought I'm talking about intellectual property? Well, yes, in a way. But I'm also talking about capitalism. Capitalism has gone far and beyond what it was when it developed. First, capitalism took over national markets. When that wasn't enough, in its everlasting greed it started expanding to foreign markets through colonization. When countries to be colonized ran out, imperialists started fighting each other for market share through, among other means, military conquest. Capital's need for growth is infinite.

It is a no-brainer then, that capitalism will seek all possible avenues for rent-seeking. Everything that does not already serve as an instrument for profit will become one through privatization, including information. This axiom has been known by everyone for centuries. Here's an 18th century poem on the topic from an anonymous author:

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine

The poor and wretched don't escape
If they conspire the law to break
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back

Of course, capitalism is much better than what came before it. The privatization that took place had to be done - after all, it gave way to the Industrial Revolution. It is unclear whether intellectual property was necessary, but it doesn't really matter - it's par for the course for capitalism. Privatization of ideas in the 21st century works the same way as privatization of commons in 18th century Britain.

Is it possible to get rid of intellectual property under capitalism? Well, for one, it's definitely impossible in the countries with most developed capitalism whose ruling classes benefit the most from intellectual property, like USA and Japan. The states serve the interests of the ruling class, and, short of a revolution, getting rid of intellectual property in those countries is impossible.

Well, what about poorer capitalist countries? Maybe it's possible there? After all, even the United States didn't sign international copyright treaties until it could benefit from them.

Let's see. First, there are many poor countries whose ruling classes heavily cooperate with Western bourgeoisie. See, for example, Ukraine. It wouldn't be impossible to immediately abolish copyright in such countries. But maybe they could elect a protectionist government that proclaims independence from the West (which tend to be right-wing under capitalism), that wouldn't require an anti-capitalist revolution. However if they go as far as actually threatening the influence of imperialist countries, they will face hefty sanctions. The US in particular has immense international power, it can say "either you trade with me, or you trade with them, you can't choose both". But maybe the "multi-polar world" Putin & Co are talking about could help with that? If the US sanctions a country, it could just trade with Russia and China, right? So, essentially, in modern conditions, it might be possible for a capitalist country to escape some aspects of foreign influence. Let's see if getting rid of copyright is possible in vacuum, without foreign pressure.

Capitalist society doesn't only consist of capitalism. There's a capitalist base - but capitalism influences all areas of life, it affects what Marxists call superstructure. Capitalism perpetuates the entire society, whether we want it or not. It defines our thoughts, our preconceptions, our morals. That's why in capitalism you will always see people support institutions like intellectual property. The notions of "hard-working capitalists" get projected on everything, including those benefitting from intellectual property. There are indeed some "hard-working capitalists", but that doesn't change the fact they exploit labor, that the entire system is reactionary, it hinders further progress. Even if intellectual property laws do get reformed in such conditions, the reforms will eventually be rolled back as capitalists seek to return an avenue for profit.

This means organizations like Pirate Parties are politically bankrupt. They claim to be "neither left nor right", but conveniently ignore the fact that what they want is impossible to achieve under capitalism. The lack of socioeconomic analysis puts a hard limit of what such organizations can reasonably do. They still have certain potential if they go beyond their original scope, but as parties that don't have a clear comprehensive program they won't and can't achieve success. They can only achieve what they are allowed to achieve - anything more is a threat to imperialist interests, and will be treated the same way as communist movements. Without revolutionary tactics, they will be unable to face such pressure, and are doomed to failure.

In conclusion, there is no opposition to intellectual property without opposition to capitalism. And as history has shown, there is no opposition to capitalism without Marxism-Leninism - the only anti-capitalist ideology that has led to a successful revolution.


Have any comments, questions, feedback? You can click here to leave it, publicly or privately!