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"Star Trek" and Communism

"Star Trek" and Communism: "To boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before.

Science fiction is a useful space to use the imagination to look at and test ideas. In his book I Robot (1950), Isaac Asimov stated that robots had to obey three laws; the first of which is not to harm or kill a human being. Seventy-two years later governments are seriously looking at "killer robots which would be able to select and kill targets without human control. In 1900, H. G. Wells serialised a tale in THE STRAND MAGAZINE entitled, The First Men in the Moon' where a group of people reach the moon by rocket. Sixty-nine years later, on July 20 1969, human beings did land and walk on the moon.

Although strictly not science fiction some technological ideas do become reality. Leonardo da Vinci conceived of a helicopter 529 years before one was actually built. The 'helical aerial screw', conceived by Leonardo in 1493, consisted of a spinning linen screw designed to compress air to induce flight: a mechanism similar to that employed in contemporary helicopters. It was not until 2013 that engineers at Aerovelo in Toronto, Canada actually took da Vinci's idea and made it work (https:info.natacs.areo). Despite the low level of engineering technology available to da Vinci, he nevertheless sketched out the possibility of future vertical travel.

However, it is STAR TREK, first broadcast on 8 September 1966 at the height of the Cold War, the Civil rights movement and the US embroiled in the Vietnam War, that has caught the science fiction imagination. STAR TREK television shows and particularly the films have existed on the premise that humankind has conquered hunger, racism, sexism, money and ended borders and frontiers. The use of technology for the benefit of all society has allowed the entire Earth to become a post-market communist society, joining with other like-minded planets to form what is known as the United Federation of Planets. There is free movement not only across the globe but over the known planetary system.

And STAR TREK also introduced a wide range of science fiction artefacts. Consider 'replicators' found on board the star ships, which produce food, drink and all other items of human need. The replicator is famously seen making Captain Picard's Earl Grey tea "hot". The use of the replicator makes meaningless the price mechanism, the commodity and exchange. And increasingly science is showing that the idea of replication is not all fiction. What is known as "Extreme Light Infrastructure", is the scientific attempt to produce particles out of a vacuum. While generating a handful of particles is a long way from generating a convincing Earl Grey tea, the technology at least makes STAR TREK-like replicators conceivable as a real-life possibility. Replicators can no longer be dismissed merely as a convenient prop for science fiction writers.

This is not to reduce the outcome of the future to technological determinism. Technology is privately owned and scientists and technologists are wage/salary earners working for employers and their profit motive. The class struggle over the ownership and control of the means of production is always a political struggle. The future will just not fall into the lap of the working class it has to be made through political and democratic action by a socialist majority.

The future is Communism

In his book TREKONOMICS (2016), the economist, Manu Saadia discusses STAR TREK as a post-scarcity society where all needs have been met. Saadia concludes that to forge a world of abundance in a "post-scarcity" society is a "political challenge" (p.233). To create a society where production just takes place to directly meet human need requires the democratic and political action of a socialist majority.

Scarcity under capitalism is artificial and deliberate. Although enough could be produced to meets the needs of everyone, the market, buying and selling and money constrain what people can gain access to. We are rationed by the wages system. The problem we face is not one of distribution but the limits imposed on directly meeting human need by the private ownership to the means to life. The solution is the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society: a socialist social system of abundance.

However, disappointingly, Saadia refuses to consider the communism/socialism of Marx, freed from the tyranny of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. It was Marx who stated in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO that in a future communist/socialist society there would be no buying and selling. It was Marx in VALUE, PRICE AND PROFIT who concluded that workers had no choice but to "abolish the wages system".

For Marx, capitalist social relations were a barrier or constraint to the development of the productive forces. The restraint imposed by capitalist relations to the means of production and distribution could only be ended by socialist revolution. He wrote in his famous 1859 preface to the CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY:

"At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production, ..., From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters".

Marx never produced recipes for the cook books of the future. The level of technology, the problems faced by socialists at the time, and the way in which socialists decide to democratically solve these problems are practically unknowable. The more utopian speculation is questioned with detailed and critical examination of concrete proposals, the more the speculation becomes incoherent and inconsistent. The silences following the questions become apparent and the contradictions begin to unravel the speculative project.

Nevertheless science fiction writing allows us to consider important shifts and developments in imagination to conceive how one social system could fundamentally operate differently from the limitations imposed by a proceeding one based on class, class exploitation and the profit motive. No more so than in a social system without the use of money and based on abundance in the provision of housing, health, food, clothes, communication, education and transport.

Communism/socialism (both words mean the same thing) will be a social system without markets, buying and selling and money. How is this translated into the science fiction of STAR TREK?

We first learn that money has been abolished in STAR TREK by the late 23rd century. The revelation was first aired in the film "The Voyage Home" when the crew of the Star Ship Enterprise return to Earth in 1986 to obtain a humpback whale, long extinct due to the voracious greed of profit-seeking whalers during the 20th century.

The crew of the Enterprise find themselves in a polluted, environmentally degraded and hostile San Francisco where they need money to buy food and transport and are forced to pawn a valuable pair of 18th century glasses for $100. In the future the glasses do not have an exchange value. However in the present they have exchange value. In late 23rd century the glasses are not a commodity but in 1986 California they are a commodity with, what Marx called a use and an exchange value.

Later in the film, when it is time to settle the pizza menu bill, the marine biologist sardonically asked Admiral Kirk, "Don't tell me they do not use money in the 23rd century. Kirk replied: "We don't".

In STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATON's "The Neutral Zone", Lieutenant Commander Data beams aboard an ancient vessel adrift in space. He soon realizes that it carries cryogenically frozen humans. Data returns to the Enterprise with three of them, who can still be revived. They awaken to find themselves fast-forwarded three and a half centuries into the future. Among them is Ralph Offenhouse, who demands to call his lawyer. He needs to recover his fortune, which, presumably, can still be used to invest in financial gain. Captain Picard laughs at him, informing Offenhouse that the very concept of money itself has disappeared.

Mr. Offenhouse is beside himself. He cannot function as a capitalist. He cannot exploit wage labour. There is no buying and selling. What's he going to do now? Picard tells him:

"This is the twenty-fourth century. Material needs no longer exist... The challenge, Mister Offenhouse, is to improve yourself. To enrich yourself. Enjoy it."

In another STAR TREK film, 'First Contact', an inhabitant of 20th century Earth, Lily Stone, asks Captain Picard how much the Starship Enterprise costs:

Picard: "The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see money doesn't exist in the twenty-fourth century"

. Lily: "No money? You mean you don't get paid?"

Picard: "The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity".

There is no capitalist system. Capitalism and the profit motive no longer exist.

No wages, no competition and no profit motive

The 24th century - no wages system, no competition, no profit motive and no money.

Or, as Marx and Engels put it in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO:

"In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all"

No social system lasts forever and this includes capitalism. The future - socialism - has still to be made by a socialist majority taking political action and acting in its own interest.

Socialist revolution is both possible and necessary: a world without money, labour markets, the buying and selling of labour power and the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. Hopefully we will not have to wait for the 23rd or 24th century for the working class to establish socialism.

To borrow the graffiti found on the walls of Paris in 1968:

"l'imagination au pouvour": power to the imagination

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