Marxism Beyond the Stars, the Leftism of Star Trek

By Justin Higginbotham

January 28th, 2021

Star Trek is a franchise that has lasted several series over several decades, but from The Original Series to the recent series Star Trek: Discovery, powerful Leftist themes have been prevalent. The series takes place centuries in the future after Earth dissolves its nation-states and creates a united global government based on equality and meeting the needs of humanity. Here, poverty has been eradicated and there is no money in the future Earth. Communist philosopher Karl Marx described the final stage of Communism as a stateless, classless, moneyless society, and the Earth of Star Trek’s future certainly is without currency or class, and arguably is without the state. The Earth is described as a Utopia and has become a prevalent member in the intergalactic “Federation of Planets”, a representative democratic coalition of multiple planets who have also achieved the elimination of class and the founding of an internationalized world. 

  Leftist themes can also be found in how they handle and portray the representation of non-communistic planets and societies. The main enemies of the federation have always been fascistic and totalitarian societies committing acts of imperialism. Throughout the series, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, the antagonists have always been the Cardassian Empire, a traditionalist Fascist autocracy who have colonized and exploited the indigenous people of the planet Bajor and have extracted their planet’s resources. What makes this interesting is the justification many Cardassians use, utilizing the same idea of ‘helping modernize this racially inferior primitive culture with imperialism’ that many colonial imperialist nations on Earth have used to justify their exploitation of places like Africa and South America.

  One of the more prominent leftist themes are visible in the portrayal of the Ferengi. A race of aliens from the planet Ferenginar, their cultural values are that of the acquisition of wealth. In their society, greed is seen as positive and morally good, Marxist themes like commodity fetishism and the hyper-capitalist mindset are things we are constantly reminded of when watching the Ferengi. They value the exploitation of the working class and see unionization as a sacrilegious act, in the episode “Bar Association” of Deep Space 9, the Ferengi Rom who works for his brother Quark becomes fed up with Quark’s treatment of the workers and is inspired to start a labor union and begin to strike with the other workers. As Rom attempts to rally his fellow workers, many of the Ferengi workers feel they are committing a grave sin by uttering the word “Union”, this shows the prevalence of Capitalist Realism in Ferengi society. As Rom gives a speech convincing the workers to join his cause, he finishes by reading out the quote “Workers of the World, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!” This message is engraved on Karl Marx’s tombstone and is the final line of the Communist Manifesto, showing the protagonist of this episode has been reading Marxist theory. 

   Since the 1960s, Star Trek has always used analogy to fight for real-world social issues. In the episode of Star Trek: Next Generation titled “The Outcast”, Captain Picard’s First Officer William Riker finds himself having fallen in love with a member of a race of genderless aliens named Soren. Soren her people are initially shown to be Agender (without gender) until we find out Soren identifies as a woman, something that is shunned upon in her culture. The episode ends with Soren being put through conversion therapy by her people as Riker fails to rescue her from the confines of the planet’s strict gender norms.  This episode has been often cited by Star Trek fans to demonstrate the show’s support of non-binary people represented in later iterations of the franchise. 

  Black issues are also often shown by analogy in earlier iterations, but take a much more blatant and clear role in Deep Space 9 like most of Star Trek’s leftist themes do. Examples can be seen in episodes like “Far Beyond The Stars”, where Captain Sisko, a black man, has a vision where he is a science fiction writer in 19050s New York City who finds himself writing about the events of Deep Space 9 for a Sci-Fi magazine. Throughout the episode, he suffers from police brutality and witnessing the state of the Black community in pre-Civil Rights era America as well as combatting his employer who won’t publish his story for having a Black hero in it. The writer’s advocacy of black issues is shown as well in the episode “Badda-bing, Badda-Bang” where Captain Sisko refuses to take part in a holodeck simulation of 1960s America, knowing if it were not a modified simulation he would be ostracized in it as a black man. The episode is meant to demonstrate the importance of remembering black oppression in history and not to erase it. The Federation of Planets requires a planet to achieve racial equality before it is allowed to join, as well as actively promoting intergalactic racial equality as a part of their prime directive. 

These examples barely scratch the surface of the colossus that is Leftist themes in Star Trek, from the Original Series in 1966 to the recent iterations of Discovery and Picard themes of leftist and sometimes blatantly Marxist values have been prevalent and common. The genre of science fiction has always been able to show audiences possibilities of what could be. As the franchise runs these themes seem to become more and more common and visible, the hope of many leftists is not only that Star Trek continues down this path, but that fans and viewers look past the alluring science fiction adventure and take note of the powerful writing behind the series that we all know as one of the most renowned and influential TV series of all time.

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