The workers of the world, despite their terrestrial solidarity, won’t unite to colonize other planets. Humanity’s expansion into space will be a strictly bourgeois-driven affair, argues Monthly Review’s Peter Dickens. The commodification of space, he writes, has already begun:
It has now been made an integral part of the way global capitalist society is organized and extended. Satellites, for example, are extremely important elements of contemporary communications systems. These have enabled an increasing number of people to become part of the labor market. Teleworking is the best known example.
Space tourism and electricity production will likely be the next big businesses conducted in space, but at what cost? Dickens takes issue with the grandiose rhetoric of the Space Renaissance Initiative, an advocacy group that promotes the growth of society past the Earth’s atmosphere, which argues that the Earth is on the brink of social, environmental, and population crises and the best way to avoid a global collapse is to stretch our collective legs. Dickens argues the Space Renaissance Initiative’s proposed solution is capitalist exploitation dressed up in a space suit. “The ‘solution,’” Dickens writes,
seems to be simultaneously exacerbating social problems while jetting away from them. Consumer-led industrial capitalism necessarily creates huge social divisions and increasing degradation of the environment. Why should a galactic capitalism do otherwise?
Space may not even be the final frontier for capitalism. Dickens turns to a nuanced Marxist critique of the commodification of space, which draws on the scholarly work of Polish philosopher and economist Rosa Luxemburg. Luxemburg maintained that capitalist societies require an “outside,” a sort of unconquered, underdeveloped periphery at which to aim growth and consumption. It serves a dual purpose: First, the outside is a potential source of new resources and second, the fervor to develop the outside fuels the economy on the “inside.” If space is the new outside, then it will ultimately be conquered, developed, and commodified—in which case, the solar capitalist economy will require a new outside.
What lies beyond the cosmos? And where can we go when we’ve stripped the universe of its resources? Any science-fiction fan could answer that. When the galaxies are barren, we’ll set our sights on the untapped riches of alternate universes and time-travel to pilfer past and future energy sources. There is always an outside.
NASA Goddard Photo and Video
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