There has evidently been some confusion concerning what I mean when I contrast 20th century communism (state socialism) with the new kind of communism that’s emerging in this 21st century (communitarian socialism), so maybe an example is in order to illustrate the fundamental difference:
Do you remember Napster? I’m sure you do. They were the people who pioneered peer-to-peer file sharing. The service they famously provided to subscribers between 1999 and 2001 mainly vis-a-vis music was an example of communism, as in to say the free sharing of property via common pool of resources. However, it was not history’s traditional, redistributive communism. Instead it introduced the world to a new kind of communism: reproductive communism. I think we can illustrate the difference by pointing to some other examples of the common pool approach. Consider, for example, libraries and rental services. Since all products therein are used, they can be offered for use either cheaply or for free. However, one must eventually return the product to the pool because the resources of a physical library or rental outfit are finite. It is entirely possible for a library or rental place to be out of a certain item at any given point. Napster, by contrast, never had shortages. Why not? Because rather than relying on the redistributive model of sharing wherein people sacrifice personal possession of property to the common pool for the benefit of all, Napster’s high-tech approach to the common pool was instead based on uploading a copy of the original material to the pool, whereupon subscribers were free to copy that copy at will. It was a different approach to sharing that didn’t involve sacrifice on the part of the sharer! Thus, naturally, it became very popular very quickly.
The Napster approach to the free sharing of resources promoted artistic experimentation, creating the free publicity that drove the commercial successes of such previously less popular and less-known artists as Radiohead and Dispatch, at the expense of the music industry overall and of established artists like Metallica and Meat Loaf in particular. We thus see how innovation and experimentation became antithetical to the market economy in that context, as communism was proving superior at promoting the new. The music industry, with the support of the established musicians, used the power of the courts — the power of the state, in other words — to shut Napster down on the grounds that the free sharing of music files violated copyright laws, i.e. the concept of intellectual property: the notion that one’s ideas are private property. We see, in other words, how a technological revolution had created a social revolution that ultimately ran into fundamental conflict with the powers that were (and are) that could be resolved only with the use of political force. The inevitability of a different final resolve though is spoken to by the fact the, following the shuttering of Napster (which later revived in a more commercial form), other comparable services emerged online to take its place, with the difference that many of them (the ones that have survived) strategically adapted to copyright laws by working around them, adopting a decentralized structure that renders it nigh impossible to prosecute the central institution. Today, through these venues, countless people all around the world routinely acquire free music, movies, TV shows, and all manner of other media, and meanwhile the music industry continues to lose more money every year in spite of its attempts to crack down. The communist approach — this communist approach — is winning out vis-a-vis media in general for a reason. It is winning out because it is the better approach. It affords each individual the opportunity to possess an unlimited quantity of pretty much whatever media they want at will. There are no shortages because a reproductive, rather than a redistributive, model is applied, and there is no cost to the individual (beyond perhaps any cost that may be associated with subscription) because the unlimited nature of the quantity in a reproductive model eliminates all exchange value. In short, the high-tech, peer-to-peer file sharing approach eliminates the core historical problems of redistributive communism: shortages and a lack of innovation, both of which are traceable to the necessity of sacrifice. By eliminating the sacrifice component, the main problems with communism are eliminated, thus pretty much leaving only benefits. Benefits that render capitalist notions of private property and profit outmoded. In the future, people will produce social value (use value) instead of market value (exchange value).
But, you say, that’s only media. It’s only communications. What of other goods and services? How can we copy, for example, industrial machinery or energy in a similar fashion, you ask? Believe it or not, we are actually getting there! There is now not only a Communications Internet (the one we often simply refer to as “the Internet”) in existence to serve as the world’s common pool for media and other communications, but also an Energy Internet and a Logistics Internet that are starting to serve as a comparable common pools for those other things. And these different Internets are slowly merging into one. Think of the implications for the future! And think of what else we will surely, at some point, find a way of reproducing in unlimited quantities! What we’re talking about here is the emergence of a global common pool of resources resulting directly from the information revolution. This is why I suggest that Marx’s biggest mistake was not forecasting the inevitability of communism, but rather believing that it we be a product of the industrial revolution. The fully developed communism Marx envisioned, characterized by universal abundance, is indeed going to become a reality, and is already in a slow process of becoming one right now. That process, however, did not begin with the industrial revolution, but with the information revolution, which Marx could not have foreseen. That is the key error in Marx’s work, not something else related to human nature or whatever.