U.S. and World Politics

Imagining the Socialist Future on Earth and in the Solar System

By Cooper B.

With a few small and transitory exceptions, humanity’s vision of the future has been dominated by capitalism. Popular culture is too often painted in violent capitalistic shades, and the more serious futurists tend to remain quite vague on the sociological aspects of future humans, tending to fixate on the bare-bones technological aspects of the future. The future is capitalist, with all its class oppression, its war, poverty, and all that, simply reproduced on another planet or on a larger scale. In the here and now, the ultra-rich have made imposing acts of the “propaganda of the deed” when they fund their own space programs and make pie-in-the-sky claims of colonizing Mars.

We think it is important to destroy these illusions, while maintaining a realistic faith in humanity’s destiny. Therefore, we set out to struggle for a communist futurism, which is “down-to-earth” but still looking up at the stars. Futurism can provide a sense of hope and spark the imagination, which is necessary for humanity’s long-term survival. Poets, writers, and artists who are able to create vivid pictures of what humanity might look like in the future can inspire humans towards higher ideals and aims.

However, it is a wise attitude not to map out utopias, and particularly for Marxist revolutionaries who must center their activity and thinking on the current struggles of the oppressed. It’s impossible to create an exact picture of the far future, and we won’t be engaging in any fiction about the future either. Rather we seek to stamp it out in broad outlines, from a materialist perspective.

Humanity exists on a continuum of space-time, and thus we must start with our existence on Earth. In order for humanity to have even minimal success in colonizing space, it is necessary to secure a viable existence on planet Earth over geological timescales. This is where we must start our analysis, on the foolishness of colonizing uninhabitable planets when we are not in a position to maintain a currently habitable one.

Humanity’s place on Earth

Certainly, humanity has made rapid technological progress in a few centuries, however, when we look at our energy usage, then we immediately see that humans are currently not anywhere near using all the energy available to us, or safely, which has puts serious limitations on our survival over geological timescales. The vast majority of modern capitalistic economy rests on the use of fossil fuels, as well as methods of agriculture based on mass production and profit (it does not return richness and life to the soil in a sustainable manner.) Because of these problems, the energy usage of humanity is sorely starved of other valuable sources of energy, primarily solar. By comparison plant life, collectively, uses more solar energy than human civilization does, more efficiently, and in a manner that does not self-destruct. Even this use by the biosphere extracts only a portion of the available solar energy that hits the planet. The majority of the sun’s rays hit the oceans, although this is still relevant to the Earth’s health.

Nuclear energy (specifically nuclear fission energy, the splitting if isotopes1) has been exploited by many developed nations. While this creates less direct pollution than carbon fuels, humans haven’t figured out how to eliminate the hazardous nuclear waste byproducts. Recent history has shown, with the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters, that nuclear energy has its risks, and at its worst, nuclear energy can make zones uninhabitable for millennia.

Human society and its current capitalistic economy have accomplished much in terms of technological progress and global scope, but we are a long way from building a society capable of surviving on the Earth. Our current economic system is running into serious contradictions that threaten both its existence and further progress for our species.

Capitalism, communism, and the future of humanity

When we think about the far future, humanity’s exploration of the cosmos (we will restrict ourselves to an abstract discussion for now) by necessity we are going to assume that any successful human civilization can use its energy in a sustainable way, over geological timescales (tens-of-thousands of years.) This will be humanity’s immediate future, assuming we survive climate change, for there can be no (stable) human civilization a century from now that has not overcome this problem. Humans of the (relatively) immediate future will have surpassed wasteful methods of production and farming, reigned in its polluting tenancies, and repaired its relationship with the Earth’s plant and other animal species. This means a revolution, social and economic, has occurred. If it does not, our extinction is likely.

Humans have engaged in warfare, suffered from famine, drought, and disease for thousands of years. Yet only in the past two centuries have we seen an explosion in both productive and destructive powers. Picture the tumultuous times we live in; capitalist economic downturns occur every few decades, wars between major powers and small satellite states occur regularly, terrorist and supremacist ideologies spill blood, development of technology leads to more repression rather than more freedom and to the nuclear bomb rather than limitless energy. And despite all of this productive power, millions go without clean water or adequate nutrition! Try to picture such a society sustaining itself over geological timescales. It can’t be done.

If we continue along this path, we will destroy ourselves, surely! The capitalist mode of production has certainly provided great technological progress to humanity, but it has not abolished most of humanity’s worst tendencies. This is because it has heightened class stratification and exploitation, not abolished it. Humans under capitalism continue to exist between the exploiters and the exploited, between capitalists and workers, and this divide is greater than at any time in human history. This by necessity generates conflict, depravity, want, poverty, ignorance, and the decay of community (and empathy within the community,) leaving the only connection between human beings as exchange on the market, alienated from each other and our natural world. We are at risk of extinction due to our own habitat destruction. Capitalism and “creative destruction” will either become an anachronism, or it won’t, and we’ll destroy ourselves. Economic exploitation will end, or it won’t, and humanity will continue to suffer. State control of people, for the benefit of the rich, must be replaced by collective, scientific management of the Earth, for collective benefit.

A space-faring humanity will be communist, or it will not exist at all. This applies particularly to the ecosystem. No civilization will flourish unless it can sustain good health for the ecosystem, holistically providing for human needs of clean air, water, proper temperature, and food. Only when humans have raised their productive and cultural level far enough to ditch private property relations and self-destructive methods of competition (markets and wars,) will humans be able to live on the Earth for geological timescales. If humanity accomplishes this, then it will be productive enough, and for long enough, to achieve habitation off-Earth.

The revolutionary transition
from capitalist provincialism
to communism

In 1929, Leon Trotsky wrote:

“The revolutionary party of the proletariat can base itself only upon an international program corresponding to the character of the present epoch, the epoch of the highest development and collapse of capitalism. An international communist program is in no case the sum total of national programs or an amalgam of their common features. The international program must proceed directly from an analysis of the conditions and tendencies of world economy and of the world political system taken as a whole in all its connections and contradictions, that is, with the mutually antagonistic interdependence of its separate parts. In the present epoch, to a much larger extent than in the past, the national orientation of the proletariat must and can flow only from a world orientation and not vice versa.” (Leon Trotsky, “The Third International After Lenin,” Part 1, section 1.)2

Trotsky may not have understood the full ramifications these remarks would have for the 21st century: The present epoch is characterized principally by a global climate collapse. This is not merely the result of “human activity,” but specifically, the capitalist tendency to develop industry out of pace with the metabolic needs of the Earth’s evolved ecosystem. The reliance on fossil fuels and the resultant pollution is the principal cause. But other problems generated by capitalism include cash crops and food deserts, both the result of for-profit farming.3 But that’s not all, for today, as in the early 20th century, conflicts between competing conglomerates of capital, (principally the United States, China, Russia, and their allies,) resulting from competition for domination of the globe (for markets, resources, laborers, strategic advantage) threaten to spill over into world conflict. At its most devastating, this could conclude with humanity embroiled in thermonuclear war.

Capitalist countries are uneven in many ways, as are their workers, and the workers are uneven within countries as well. But global capitalism, with its need for global trade, and the constant expansion of markets, exploitation of natural resources, connects all these nations and all within them. The connections may be exploitative (U.S. colonialism of Puerto Rico, Chinese strike-breaking in Greece,) confrontational (Chinese and U.S. division of Africa, Russian and U.S. chicanery in the Middle East,) or based on mutual strategic interest (the European Union, The African Union, NATO.) Capitalism has also engaged in a process of land theft from Indigenous communities, a trait it inherited from the earliest days of mercantile expansionism, which was the main driver of European colonialism. In this way were many peoples brought into the fold of capitalist society.

In other words, capitalism plays the historical role of connecting the world, but it’s not a static conclusion, and as it grows, it approaches its own limits both geographically and metabolically. With the backdrop of climate change, the mutual struggle between imperialist powers and their allied cronies in exploited nations will intensify to fights over the necessities of life itself. Water, arable land, and perhaps even air will be fought over by imperialist nations sooner or later, unless a revolution occurs.

The working class is in desperation for positive change and possesses great hatred for the ruling class and its representative governments (even when this anger is often misplaced against oppressed peoples, or muddled in nationalism,) so situations with revolutionary potential are common. Additionally, modern media and the internet have expanded peoples notions of their place in the world to a global scope. Thus, the revolution will not happen mechanically in country after country, but organically, it will sweep the globe in waves. International coordination is indispensable to the workers as a global class against the capitalists as a global class.

The epoch of global capitalism presents problems that it cannot solve itself—not, at least, without grave sacrifice of human life. The workers are compelled to solve them with an epoch of global revolution, in the defense of their own lives. In the course of this, the necessary economic revolution to save humanity must take place. Climate change has only an international, non-capitalist solution.

A period of ecological

By struggling for socialist revolution, the international movement will inevitably (but not blindly) set the parameters for the global economy to work to secure the ability of humans to thrive on a global scale. The perspective of future economics must be set squarely on the metabolic needs of the Earth, and establish a new relationship between humanity and nature (metabolic4 relationships must replace GDP calculations.)

If successful, ecological reconstruction will be accomplished by the masses themselves, and will fight off bureaucratic tendencies, but this rosy outlook depends heavily on whether or not humans can get a good living from a hurting Earth and a changing climate. The emergence of united humanity and the economic transition to communism depends on this. If we find ourselves in a situation of scarcity, due to declining conditions, the risk of bureaucratic degeneration increases. When you have a line for necessities, you need someone to watch that line. That is the heart of the matter when it comes to bureaucratic degeneration.

That is why time matters in fighting climate change. The sooner we as a species begin the process of ecological reconstruction, the easier it will be to provide for the needs of all peoples. At the top of the agenda will be mass adoption of energy sources that do not harm the environment. Humans over the world will need clean energy to pump water, heat homes, light hospitals, etc. Ecological reconstruction means, in part, industrially advanced nations bringing themselves up to speed on strict energy regulations, and then aiding the less industrial countries in their development with no strings attached.

The same applies to the soil and the oceans. The oceans connect the whole world, for they are the lungs and veins of the Earth. No one country can clean the oceans or fix its chemical composition, so a united effort to restore the health of the oceans must take place—and yesterday! The preservation and even the potential re-introduction of species, including a process of strategic re-wilding, will be very important for keeping the Earth habitable and providing humanity with its needs for geological timescales.

These things can’t be the result of rich-country paternalism, but a globally agreed upon plan of action, and implementation by millions of people deciding their own destiny. Only a government of the working people, the most democratic in the history of the species, can accomplish this. If the human species thinks on an Earth-scale and with Earth-consciousness to reproduce its needs without destroying itself, the foundation of humanity’s space-faring future will be established.

Solar-scale capitalism?

Plenty of futurists and futurist-adjacent people like to talk about the technological aspects of a civilization that exists in the solar system, as if the scientific or engineering minutia of rotating habitats, or space elevators, or genetic engineering, etc., is the most interesting thing about our future in the cosmos. Indeed, these things are very interesting. However, comparatively less attention is given to the sociological aspects of a civilization that operates on such an enormous scale.

Bourgeois media in the United States makes a great deal of hoopla over its domestic capitalist celebrity Elon Musk, and his Mars colonization schemes. The plans are usually confined to the realm of the private corporation, Musk’s SpaceX. That’s as if we expect a single source of capital, only controlling a fraction of a fraction of the total labor power and means of production of the human species, to accomplish this gargantuan task by itself. Once we are ready to step into space, we will not do so with the pitiful capital of $80 billion (if we combine the private wealth of Musk and the net worth of SpaceX together.) The planet will move towards these projects in a much more systematic and combined way.

But let’s assume for the sake of argument that a private corporation (“MarsCorp”) whose owner(s) operate the company with capitalist methods, a hierarchy of command from the dominating capitalist down to the subordinate workers, and operating on a profit, is capable of establishing a Martian colony (notwithstanding all the other problems with capitalism we already outlined.)

Is the Martian colony going to be producing anything that the capitalists could sell back at home? Or will there be any kind of extraction of resources, to be sold on Earth? The nearest approach between Earth and Mars (when their orbits bring them closest) occurs every two years, and it still a massive distance. Before a human presence on Mars is sufficiently large, there would be no market other than on Earth. Do we expect the Martians to buy Earthly products for their consumption, or will everything be provided to them as needed? How would this exchange work under capitalism, other than by selling Martian labor-power, or Martian minerals, to Earth? Regardless, decades of persistent aid will be needed before the Martians become self-sufficient and populous enough to develop a local market of their own. These are all questions that need to be considered when approaching a Martian colony from a capitalist perspective.

Maybe MarsCorp will provide everything to its subordinates and, somehow, be profitable. Perhaps they will claim and then sell off Martian soil? Be the first extraterrestrial land developer? And who would be buying this land? Given the outrageous prices for space joy rides provided by companies like Blue Origin to patrons, it seems inevitable that this Martian land would available only to two entities: (1) Billionaires and millionaires seeking to escape the Earth and its problems, for which they are mostly responsible, or (2) Earthly governments. We’ve already outlined our opinion of capitalist governments—who might as well just take Martian land by force if humans could even get there in the first place.

Imperialism and space

A critical reader might suggest that the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is hardly necessary to colonize Mars, since private corporations shouldn’t be doing it anyway. They may say that all we need is to petition the government to invest more heavily in Mars as a non-profit project. Let a government institution (like NASA) pioneer the Mars colonization on a balanced budget funded by tax dollars. They may argue that projects like the International Space Station (ISS) show that independent capitalist countries can cooperate in mutual projects. The James Webb telescope shows that, even under capitalism, technological progress is possible. They can and should do it again, this time with Mars, for the greater good.

This critical suggestion does at least get some things right. It understands that to colonize space (a task more time consuming and costly than any previous human endeavor) would go smoother without the folderol of some people getting rich off of it. It also understands correctly that the human species’ only realistic chances in space are by working cooperatively. But it’s hobbled by the assumption that capitalist governments are interested in the welfare of the general population as a rule, rather than as the historical exception. The real interests of “the government” are the class interests of ruling layers, not the general public.

Why is it that the U.S. government seems to have infinite funding for military hardware, but your local volunteer fire department has to beg for funding? Because it is in their imperialist interests to do so, because securing valuable assets in the form of crude oil, mineral deposits, natural gas, or opium is more valuable to the ruling class than making sure one house doesn’t burn to the ground. The ruling class would sooner send working-class Earthlings to their graves by the millions (as the world wars have shown us) to secure their future imperial legacy, than put aside their differences to sink trillions into space colonization.

The international cooperation that made the ISS possible was only a phase of capitalism, but it is not inherent in its nature. What is inherent in its nature is securing what’s best for the moneybags either by armed force or the battering ram of cheap prices—and it is far cheaper and less time consuming to simply conquer the little countries around you than go into space and get moon rocks. The lunatic discrepancy between U.S. funding for the military and its space program shows this to be true. If ever the ruling class wants to colonize space, it will be less for the benefit of the human race and more for the securing of profits through extra-terrestrial mining, probably secured by robots with guns.

Speaking of the military, recent history has shown that the U.S. is considering the militarization of space with the so-called “space force,” clearly a direct response to China’s ambitions in space. Additionally, both Russia and China have demonstrated the use of surface to space weaponry. In other words, space (at least the infinitesimally tiny portion of it around Earth) would sooner be a battlefield for Earthly imperialists than a staging ground for human exploration—provided there is no revolution. Long before charlatans like Musk invent some warp drive and establish a libertarian utopia on Alpha Centauri, Uncle Sam would have them ferry kinetic weaponry into high orbit—and in fact, they are doing that now.5

It should also be said that colonizing Mars is not analogous to colonizing another continent, precisely because Mars is currently uninhabitable. Securing human habitation on another world is a vastly time-consuming and expensive project and could ONLY be done as a long-term project for the direct benefit of Martian descendants or Earthly immigrants many generations from now. Readers may judge for themselves whether they think the current administrations of the Russian Federation and the United States are capable of such a feat—governments incapable of keeping their current planet habitable.

As for the James Webb telescope, it is a marvel of the best technological engineering and long-term planning. Webb is a $10.8 billion project that gives profits to no one. Planning began in 2003 and the total lifetime of Webb will be nearly 30 years. It is entirely a labor of scientific curiosity, and its potential comes from that spirit. Webb demonstrates the practical potential of socialized planning in space exploration, against which billionaire vanity projects like Blue Origin or Space X pale in comparison. The $10.8 billion price tag is also its entire lifetime to date, significantly cheaper and more efficient than the $700 billion annual price tag for U.S. imperialism. Even if Webb were to fail in its deployment, it would be a far more fruitful investment overall, and so far, it seems that the telescope has turned out to be a brilliant success!

Humanity will go to space

It doesn’t matter if we are talking about 10,100, or 1000 years after the beginning of ecological reconstruction. Either through boredom or necessity, the human species will leave the Earth and attempt, through little intrepid inroads, to live and thrive beyond it. Such inroads have already begun via our many robotic probes to and beyond the planets.

A human civilization that has managed to survive climate change will have all the time in the world to do so. When you consider a human species that has ended its wars, its poverty, and its wastefulness, you confront a species that will have (gradually) more people and longer life spans. This means more brains thinking and imagining for longer periods. The end of capitalism will also mean economic planning, and with both more humans and more ecological mindfulness, you will inevitably have shorter working hours. Doubtlessly, most of this added free time will be applied at home to improve the quality of life, scientific understanding, or cultural pursuits. Much of it will be turned inwards, solopsistically, to virtual worlds. But it is hard to believe that out of all the billions of people with nothing but free time, nobody will think of even trying to inhabit space at all.

Furthermore, it will be obvious to a communist humanity that the Earth, however permanent it may seem to brief human life spans, is a finite object. The Earth will someday stop existing. If current scientific hypotheses are correct, then the sun, in its dying phase, will expand and envelop the inner rocky planets including Earth, approximately four billion years from now. The surface of Earth may become uninhabitable in as little as a billion years, from current estimates. Should the intelligent descendants of humanity still exist in that distant future, they would probably want to leave. This says nothing about other potential existential threats, like asteroid impacts or gamma-ray bursts, which would be easier to confront as a space-faring species.

Ecological reconstruction and the human future in space

We can see that capitalist relations of production are inadequate to run a solar society—just as feudal relations of production are inadequate to run a planetary society. The bourgeoisie, like Musk or the warehouse slave-driver Bezos, and the many workers deluded by their propaganda, look at the Martian problem only from the technical side, but not the sociological side. Indeed, if the human race put its proverbial crap together tomorrow (under conditions of primitive, planetary capitalism) it is very conceivable, from a technical level alone, that we could colonize Mars, or indeed any of the planets. But it would still take gargantuan levels of patience, cooperation, and brute force that capitalism is incapable of providing. Communism, secured by ecosocialist methods, is the only society that can provide that to us.

We need only extrapolate further and realize that once we begin spreading out, the challenge multiplies. Each planet and moon, being unique in its own cosmic splendor, has wildly different conditions of evolution and hence provides human visitors (or their robot sentinels) with unique challenges. Venus is entirely too inhospitable on the surface, but in the beginning, we might live in the clouds in modified balloons. Mercury has no comfortable temperature or organic resources at all, but robotic drones are immune to these problems. Jupiter is entirely too radioactive, so its moons Io, Europa, and Ganymede may be unreachable, but not the moon Callisto. And so on. This says nothing of the economic practicality (in the communist sense of the term, it wouldn’t be profitable) of living in rotating habitats, since once we get to space, it’s just cheaper to keep machines and humans there, rather than expend energy leaving a planet’s gravity well.

Indeed, humanity’s ability to successfully colonize and thrive on any other world (and even within the depths of space itself) would demand a mastery of ecology and ecosocialist economy. Without a much greater development of eco-science, agriculture, and sustainable practices, humans would not be able to understand how to live on other worlds, or adapt to them. Making life possible off-Earth does not involve merely sustaining humans, for humans do not live on a proverbial island but in connection with all of nature. To live in space means transplanting the organic legacy of the Earth there, and not just humans in isolation.

A species that is destroying its own habitat cannot create new ones. If we are willing to change our ways and do so soon, if the working masses are able to take control of their own destiny, and if they can repair and re-invent their relationship with nature, we will have a future on this world, and maybe in space as well.

Far-future horizons

Very little can be said with certainty about a space-faring civilization. It’s hard even for the most educated guesses to arrive at any description of the future ten years in advance without being shown to be a fool. Talking about such a civilization means discussing developments hundreds to thousands of years in advance. This leaves us with only vague generalities.

As already stated, it can be certain that humans will go to space eventually. But there may be many factors that slow or advance this process, including population growth (beyond what even an ecosocialist Earth can handle) climate change events, or natural disasters. Indeed, there is no guarantee that humans won’t encounter unforeseen technological, political, or sociological developments that could hamper or accelerate forward progress.

In the beginning, there may be only a small minority of persons, adventure seekers, self-styled pioneers, separatists, or scientists who actively go out beyond the Earth before all the others (if we are charitable, we could even include the capitalist charlatans in this group.) A general planned increase in settlement may only occur after a much larger upswing of interest resulting from material needs, and as already explained, long-term settlement is unlikely to happen without planned action by millions. Each additional branch of the human species placed beyond Earth will necessarily invoke extensive debate on the methods of settlement, corresponding to the different conditions of the new habitat, and may proceed with simultaneous yet cooperative strategies.

Given the drastic timescales involved in transforming worlds to our taste (or transforming ourselves to these worlds, or a combination of both) the descendants of these worlds (or artificial satellites) will be culturally and even biologically very different from each other, far more so than the meager differences for which we kill each other today. But the humans of such a civilization will not just be different from each other in form but will be fundamentally different from us in attitude.

After centuries of planned development, in which we have taken the time to repair our relationship with nature and re-evaluate the meaning of human existence on Earth, humans will have a different, further-reaching perspective. The dramatic differences on an interplanetary level will be exceeded by drastic personal differences, for the flow of cooperative wealth will run abundantly enough that each human can achieve true personal growth and have a genuine, non-farcical freedom, without the oppression and madness of our time.

Competition for limited resources will be replaced by a socialized regulation of abundance, and Earthlings will have no incentive to oppress their extra-terrestrial cousins. The difference between a Martian and an Earthling, a Sanitarian6, or a denizen of an O’Neill cylinder7 will be inconsequential and academic. Practically speaking, we would be far more concerned with how to get humans (or our robot representatives) there, and with all their needs intact.

Workers’ Voice, June 18, 2022

1 Nuclear fusion (the combination of isotopes) is a technological panacea, something that can hypothetically solve all of our energy problems as a species. However, it seems that with each passing decade, scientists claim the next decade will demonstrate its possibility. Until scientists demonstrate in reality (rather than hypothetically) its realization, it is not worth discussing for any serious ecological reconstruction. If we are serious about saving the species, then we shouldn’t make plans around miracles and instead make them around certainties.

2 ] Leon Trotsky, “The Third International After Lenin,” Part 1.

3 For-profit farming methods are concerned chiefly with the sale of agricultural products as commodities, rather then treating agriculture as a fundamental human need. Capitalism doesn’t educate humans to be the stewards of the Earth, so an advance towards socialist methods of production and farming is needed, which can truly educate people in a technologically dependent society to also care for planet Earth!

4 Having to do with metabolism (the total of all chemical changes that take place in a cell or an organism to produce energy and basic materials needed for important life processes).

5 SpaceX dealings with the U.S. Army and Air Force

6 An official responsible for public health or a person in favor of public health reform.

7 An O’Neill cylinder is a space settlement concept proposed by American physicist Gerard K. O’Neill in his 1976 book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space.