Intergalactic imperialism

September 22, 2016

WHILE U.S. imperialism has increasingly been using "diversity" and "multiculturalism" to refurbish its image at home and abroad, it has always waged its wars in the name of "freedom" and "democracy." Therefore, it should come as no surprise that it chooses to honor Star Trek, a show that celebrated the same practices ("the Federation's brand of liberal military intervention"), albeit in a future age of intergalactic imperialism, with a commemorative set of stamps on its 50th anniversary.

What's more surprising is that Nicole Colson ("Socialism in one galaxy?") has chosen "to boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before" in claiming that Star Trek's (or rather its creator Gene Roddenberry's) vision of the future was "about the hope for a sort of "space socialism" ("the idea of a society that meets the needs of the many, not just the few").

Indeed, Colson goes so far to claim that Star Trek envisages a " technologically advanced that the material needs of the Federation's inhabitants are met, allowing for the free and full development of individuals"--as if the Federation emerged from a workers' revolution, with all that it entails, and has evolved into the kind of socialist society that Marx, Engels, August Bebel and Lenin (amongst others) wrote about.

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As someone who watched every episode of the original series almost every night throughout the 1980s, I cannot remember ever hearing about or seeing who actually ran the Federation or how they ran it, other than a few admirals busting Kirk's chops every once and a while. Nor do I remember seeing any episodes in which we saw the people who did whatever work still had to be done or how they did it (except, maybe, for the "hortas" doing the tunneling on Janus VI in "The Devil in the Dark" episode).

While 1960s subjects like war and racism may have been given their due, the economics of wage labor and capital (and the lives and aspirations of working people) were about the last thing that Star Trek dealt with.

Roddenberry's description of the show as a "Wagon Train in space" was indeed an apt one since those "Wild West" wagons carried within them the cross-continental expansion of American capitalism and the extermination of the Native Americans who stood in its way. Updated for a 1960s audience, the modern version was a Cold War, liberal "New Frontier/Great Society" in space; "the final frontier"...for imperialist expansion.

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And whether or not imperialism has a few Black or female faces fronting for it, it is still imperialism. The earth-dominated "United Federation of Planets," a science-fiction stand-in for the then U.S.-dominated United Nations, is out to dominate the galaxy under the guise of "non-interference" (the "Prime Directive") in much the same way that the U.S. empire confronted the Soviets and the then-dreaded "red" Chinese in the Cold War--i.e., in the name of "freedom" and "democracy."

OFFICIAL IMPERIALIST propaganda always claimed that it was the commies who (like the Klingons) were the purveyors of "outside interference" whenever and wherever a popular-based insurgency asserted itself, and that U.S. involvement was only a response to it. Thus, the U.S. accused the "North" Vietnamese of "aggression" for aiding the revolution against a U.S.-installed dictatorship in "South" Vietnam.

In 1965, when U.S. Marines invaded the Dominican Republic to thwart a popular revolt aimed at restoring a democratically elected reformist president that a U.S.-backed military coup had previously overthrown, it was done to stop a "Cuban communist conspiracy."

Both actions took place under the liberal Democratic Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Or in "A Private Little War," when Kirk only provided "modern" weapons to the "Hill People" since the Klingons--"a military dictatorship," according to Kirk--had already armed their enemies in the village with "fire sticks."

That the Federation is dominated by a U.S.-dominated earth is taken for granted. How the earth is run is never discussed, but one would assume from the military structure of the USS Enterprise, where most of the action takes place, that it isn't much different than earth was in the 1960s--i.e., it is still capitalist.

The Kennedy-esque Captain Kirk (who, in one episode, claims that the Federation is "a democratic body") is as red, white and blue as they come, with a batch of token underlings (which today would be oh so very PC), and he, in fact, commands a warship (named after a WWII aircraft carrier) prowling the planets, while crusin' for a brusin' with either the Klingons (Mao's China, combined with a heavy dose of Second World War Imperial Japanese kamikaze fanaticism) or the Romulans (Second World War Germans of both the anti-Nazi Prussian and Nazi varieties, with a Roman veneer) as they compete for control of the rest of space.

Since the Soviets were in midst of their "detente" days of "peaceful coexistence" with the U.S., the Chinese commie stand-ins are the heavies, and the Ruskies are even given a token crew member...who makes occasional references to Tsarist Russia, but none to the Soviet Union...even though the USSR was, in fact, the main pioneer of space travel.

But as JFK himself once said, if there are going to be any dogs in space, they better be named "Rover" and "Fido," and not "Laika" or "Belka" and "Strelka." And apparently, if there are going to be any Ruskies in an American space show, they're going to refer to Peter the Great and not Yuri Gagarin.

I WILL only cite a few of the episodes that sum up Roddenberry's Cold War liberal worldview, and none of them have any connection with socialist ideas or aspirations.

"Let that Be Your Last Battlefield," cited by Colson, concerns a race war that immediately brings both South African and American apartheid to mind. Since I watched Star Trek more in late-night reruns during the 1980s, I always assumed it was South Africa, but as the show was made during the 1960s, it's now apparent to me that it was the U.S. that was being cited.

The message is hardly progressive, let alone radical, since in typical liberal fashion, Rodenberry sees both sides, the oppressed and the oppressor, as being equally at fault, since both resort to the use of force and violence.

This was a fairly common view among white (and even many Black) liberals at the time in response to the rise of Black nationalism. While they were prepared to support the turn-the-other-cheek "integrationism" of the then-liberal MLK (but not his latter opposition to the Vietnam War), they would have nothing to do with what they termed the "reverse racism" of the "radicals" and the "militants," which they blamed for encouraging "white backlash."

This same methodology asserts itself in the "Cloud Minders" episode, a rip-off of the equally reactionary 1920s silent movie classic Metropolis by Fritz Lang. Here, Kirk uses his manly charms to con the female leader of the workers, the Troglytes, into a rotten compromise with their exploiters in the "Stratos" penthouses so that the Federation can get them to return to work and provide the raw materials they need.

(The scene in which Spock talks about how "illogical" a society in which those who work have nothing and those who don't work have everything was originally edited out, but appeared in the reruns 20 years later when America was no longer in a rebellious mood...and the show was on at midnight, not in prime time.)

In "Patterns of Force," the "Nazi episode," Kirk helps persecuted "Zeons," obviously stand-ins for Jews, and a few "good" Nazis, install a more benevolent variety of fascism which promises to live up to the ideals of its former Fuhrer, rather than sweeping away the whole rotten regime. In other words, if it wasn't for excessive anti-Semitism, Nazi Germany might not have been such a bad place after all, since it did know how to keep its workers in line.

Indeed, the Federation rep-turned-Fuhrer tells Kirk that he initially imposed Nazism because he believed it to be "the most efficient system of government ever devised." Spock surprisingly agrees, claiming that Nazism "enabled a defeated and bankrupt Germany almost immediate governmental recovery to the level of near global domination."

Then again, one wouldn't expect him to have cited the Russian Revolution or the Paris Commune as examples to be emulated. Let's not forget, many an enlightened liberal (not to mention right-wing reactionary like Winston Churchill) saw Mussolini in the same vein in the 1920s. Hell, Il Duce would have been welcomed into the Allied ranks up until the day he signed on with Hitler.

And then there is "The Omega Glory," with its "Yangs" (Yankees) versus "Khoms" (commies), where Kirk takes out a rogue representative of the Federation who "interfered" on the side of the Chinese--or is it North Korean?--lookalikes against the Yangs.

The latter are a lovable lot of noble white savages to whom Kirk proudly reads the "worship words" from the U.S. Constitution while clutching the Stars and Stripes, Superman-style. Can't imagine that either Kirk or the Yangs would have much use for Colin Kaepernick.

SINCE MOST of us have grown up and become politically aware in a period dominated by neoliberal austerity, it's hard to imagine a ruling class that wasn't cutting wages, laying off workers and gutting their living standards. But at the time Star Trek first appeared, Keynesian welfare-state economics (what the right calls "tax-and-spend liberalism") were still dominant among the ruling class.

As Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" showed, the ruling rich still thought that there could be both guns and butter (at least for the better-off sections of the working class) and even "civil rights"--as long as they didn't encroach on economic inequality could be tolerated as well. Back in those days, having a domestic market was valued by the bosses, so paying workers enough to buy back some the stuff they produced wasn't frowned upon the way it is now.

So while Roddenberry may have displayed advanced views regarding racism and sexism for a TV producer, at least in comparison to those held by the studio heads or the sponsors, it's not as if he was advocating anything incompatible with the mainstream of bourgeois liberalism that was still the preferred policy of the ruling class.

While backwater bumpkins and Southern Neanderthals like George Wallace or Lester Maddox (both Democrats) clung to Jim Crow segregation, the more enlightened representatives of the ruling rich saw it as an international embarrassment in their Cold War competition with the USSR and China in the "Third World" as well as being an obstacle to bringing more Blacks into the larger labor market and corporate fold as consumers.

Today, political correctness, "diversity," multiculturism and identity and gender politics have all been embraced by the mainstream of the ruling class and constitute the official face of imperialism and neoliberal capitalism. All exploiters, wannabe exploiters and apologists for the exploiters are welcome as long as they support the system.

The recent Democratic National Convention certainly displayed that for all to see. While the reactionary right may rant and rail against abortion or gay marriage, the ruling class has no problems living with them--as long they don't have to pay for them.

In other words, they are commodities, like everything else under capitalism, available to anyone--be they Black or white, male or female, gay or straight--who can afford them. Paying workers enough to do so, providing free abortions for poor women or a national health care service, on the other hand, that's a whole different ball game.

Today, the U.S. empire, which is a hell of a lot stingier than it was in "Great Society" days, is currently headed by a Black man, and he will probably be followed by a woman. Official diversity allows for a small layer of middle-class women and minorities to get a piece of the action and in the process become a base of support to the system, the same way Jews and Italians were allowed to become white after the Second World War in order to further expand the base of support for the Cold War.

Tokenism and co-option to increase support for exploitation and imperialism, whether it's in the U.S. of Obama and Clinton, or in the Federation of Kirk and Uhura, hardly constitutes "socialism" in one or any galaxy.
Roy Rollin, New York City

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