Peter Frase’s Surplus Labor

A piece by Peter Frase, my consigliere of sorts, has been making its rounds on the Internet. Months after he first wrote it, the glory of “Anti-Star Trek: A Theory of Posterity”  has finally been acknowledged. Commenters on the piece have included Matt Yglesias, Metafilter, Marginal Utility, Gerry Canavan, Against Monopoly, On the Media, in […]

A piece by Peter Frase, my consigliere of sorts, has been making its rounds on the Internet. Months after he first wrote it, the glory of “Anti-Star Trek: A Theory of Posterity”  has finally been acknowledged. Commenters on the piece have included Matt Yglesias, Metafilter, Marginal Utility, Gerry Canavan, Against Monopoly, On the Media, in addition to dozens of underwear-clad basement bloggers (though to be fair maybe Ygelsias and Horning blog this way, too).

Here’s a snippet:

One of the intriguing things about the world of Star Trek, as Gene Roddenberry presented it in The Next Generation and subsequent series, is that it appears to be, in essence, a communist society. There is no money, everyone has access to whatever resources they need, and no-one is required to work. Liberated from the need to engage in wage labor for survival, people are free to get in spaceships and go flying around the galaxy for edification and adventure. Aliens who still believe in hoarding money and material acquisitions, like the Ferengi, are viewed as barbaric anachronisms.

The technical condition of possibility for this society is comprised of of two basic components. The first is the replicator, a technology that can make instant copies of any object with no input of human labor. The second is an apparently unlimited supply of free energy, due to anti-matter reactions or dilithium crystals or whatever. It is, in sum, a society that has overcome scarcity.

Anti-Star Trek takes these same technological premises: replicators, free energy, and a post-scarcity economy. But it casts them in a different set of social relations. Anti-Star Trek is an attempt to answer the following question:

Given the material abundance made possible by the replicator, how would it be possible to maintain a system based on money, profit, and class power? 

For a real world demonstration of the artificial scarcity that awaits us in the future, I’ve made sure that his equally interesting contribution to the new print issue of Jacobin, “An Imagined Community,” an essay that examines the Wisconsin protests through “the lens of theories of nationalism and the disappearance of the industrial working class as the collective agent of anti-capitalist struggle,” is only available to subscribers (and those buying individual issues).  Our attachment to the printed word, that frivolous novelty, isn’t cheap.  Neither are the champagne and oysters.

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