We are being watched more and more – but can Pirates help against that?
They want to fight against increasing state surveillance, completely revolutionise copyright laws and campaign for a democratic society. The Pirates have set themselves honourable goals and are currently very successful. But will they be able to implement their programme?
By now the Pirate Party has become an international phenomenon. Its first section emerged in 2006 in Sweden. In the same year the Pirate Party in Germany was founded. Today there are 10 registered parties in Europe and Pirate Organisations worldwide (e.g. in Peru, Russia and South Africa). In Sweden, the “Piratpartiet” with its 43,000 members has actually become the third largest party. Due to the upcoming parliamentary elections we will take a closer look at the German Pirates. (And, of course, many things that apply to them are also true for the Pirates in other countries.)
As in Sweden, the Pirate Party of Germany has experienced a rapid rise in the last few months: Especially the introduction of Internet censorship measures by the “grand coalition” government, but also the debate about banning violent video games and the commencing election campaign helped their base grow from 1,000 to about 9,000 members. In the coming elections they will participate in 15 of 16 federal states. In the social network “StudiVZ”, up till now 70,000 users have declared themselves supporters of the Pirate Party. With that, they are the most popular party in the online community, well ahead of SPD, CDU & Co.
And that’s hardly surprising, since nowadays young people have every reason to mistrust the established parties and search for an alternative. The Pirates’ very specific demands offer a starting point for them: They rightly criticise that the potentials of new technologies are not realised due to the profit system. At the same time, the state uses these potentials to establish more and more surveillance – even though many people see the Internet as a chance to enable more democratic co-determination.
However, these fundamental contradictions cannot be resolved within the capitalist system. The overarching necessity to maximise profits rules out any free access to knowledge. Instead, even knowledge has to be turned to be commodified for a profit. It’s also not a coincidence that the state continually tries to improve its surveillance apparatus – after all, especially in times of increasing discontent and social tensions, it needs to keep (potential) political opponents at bay.
Instead of fighting capitalism as the main problem, the Pirate Party hopes to achieve its aims by parliamentary means. That’s why it does not really represent an alternative to the big parties.
Despite interesting ideas like grassroots democracy and transparent communication, it will sooner or later integrate into the existing spectrum of bourgeois parties. In Thuringia, the Pirates already cooperated with the Green Party in the run-up to the regional elections. In a common statement they demanded, among other things, “more police patrols instead of observation cameras” – as if spying by the police weren’t just another type of surveillance.
Until now, the Pirate Party claims to be “neither right-wing nor left-wing”. But if they manage to get into parliament, they will have to take a stand on other topics besides just copyright and surveillance. Given the neoliberal visions of their leadership, there might be a rude awakening for a number of avid Pirates.
But instead of the “free markets” which are already on the Pirate agenda, a free socialist society is necessary, in which goods are produced for the people’s needs and not for profit. Then, art, culture and knowledge could be made available to all people unconditionally.
A socialist answer to copyrights
As Marxists, we also stand for free access to knowledge and art. Copyrights, patents etc. don’t only lead to the persecution of downloaders – especially in poor countries they mean that people don’t have access to the necessary (and available, but not affordable) medications.
The concept of “intellectual property” is above all a huge source of money for media and pharmaceutical companies which they will never give up voluntarily. They should be expropriated in the interests of artists and consumers (and in the end of all society). This way books, movies, music as well as scientific documents, pharmaceuticals etc. could be used for the benefit of all human beings.
The question of copyright additionally poses the question how artists should be compensated. Nowadays, most of them have no other choice than to sell themselves to media companies or to pursue their art as a hobby. In a socialist society, in contrast, the necessary work could be distributed so that each individual has a lot more free time than today. At the same time, the creation of art as another important activity could be supported and promoted by all society.
by Tom, Revo Berlin (and computer science student), September 1, 2009