Thursday, December 31, 2015

The final frontier (1987)

From the December 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Have you ever looked up at the sky at night? If you have, you might have seen the moon, the stars and the planets. There are people who admire the beauty of the heavens but who also get excited about the potential real estate out there. You are probably not one of them. Most people have enough trouble trying to own a piece of this planet without worrying about owning a chunk of another as well.

The first enterprise to venture forth into space was the Communist Party Inc. (USSR). On October 4 1957, they launched a satellite into orbit called Sputnik 1. Capitalists all over the world were deeply shocked. So the American capitalists' minder (US government) decided to play Celestial Monopoly and even landed on the moon. Arianespace pic. (Europe), another Communist Party Inc. (China), and Gandhi & Sons (India), entered the game with down-market satellite-launching businesses.

It was all very expensive — especially the moon trips. There was nothing of value there — no gold, no uranium, no workers. The USA mumbled something about feeding people being more important than manned exploration of the moon, and spent the money in developing the Star Wars programme. There are rumours that the Russians are going to have a go at Mars. Europe, China and India are cashing in on the satellite business, especially after the Space Shuttle blew up, due to a cost-cutting exercise.

Do workers come into this? Do we get to play Celestial Monopoly as well? I'm afraid not. We make the rockets, the rocket fuel and the gallons of white paint. We even polish the rockets so that they will look good for the TV cameras. We also make the computers that guide the rockets, the spacesuits, the sticky space food . . . The list goes on. All these things are made by the wage and salary earners of the world, the working class. We do not own what we make though, which is why we can 't join in the game.

However, as far as games go, Celestial Monopoly is rather silly. Why not co-operate in the exploration and use of space, so that all people can enjoy the benefits? The same could be said for all endeavours. But the rockets and the satellites and the farmlands and the fisheries, are not owned by everyone. They are mostly owned by a minority, to satisfy their own interests. It is in their interests to use the raw materials and machinery that they own, only if the things produced can be sold at a profit. It is not profitable to feed starving people who have no money to pay for food.

What uses-of-space are profitable? Communication satellites owned by large companies are one aim. There are. of course, the spy satellites, anti-satellite satellites and perhaps even orbiting missile silos. The owners of the world take "defence" very seriously. They have a lot to defend.

Are these of any use to the working class? Communication satellites enable anyone to dial direct to any phone in the world. However, after chatting for three minutes, it begins to get expensive. The major shareholders of the company that owns the satellite can afford to talk as long as they like. How long can the people who assembled the satellite talk?

As for "defence", the wage and salary earners of the world have no country to defend. Most of the wealth in any country is owned by a minority. Yet it is the workers who produce this wealth — the workers have much more in common with each other than with those who own and control most of the world and everything in space.

Today space is for sale. It is so expensive that even capitalists are finding it difficult to exploit it. The raw materials are there. The skills are there. The people who want to use space are there. But profit is nowhere to be seen. This is why the colonisation of space is still seen as a utopian dream. The worst thought-crime in capitalism is to want what capitalism cannot give.

The day before Sputnik 1 was launched, most people thought that space exploration was impossible. Science fiction, they said. People say the same thing about socialism today. They do not believe that a society where everyone co-operates in decision-making is possible. However, the wage and salary earners of the world already co-operate in producing and distributing everything. It only remains for them to have the power to decide what will be made, and how things will be made. It is this class alone which has the power to co-operate to produce a socialist society.
George Marcelo

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