Where Is Elysium Going?
First published in the May Day edition of “Red Star,” the RSF’s party newspaper, May 1st Y109
First published in the May Day edition of “Red Star,” the RSF’s party newspaper, May 1st Y109
The point of any Marxist analysis is simple enough; firstly, to explore how something developed historically by looking at the class forces present within it, and secondly (and unfolding from that) to lay out the perspectives for how it will then develop in the future.
Elysium’s class nature and general mode of operation puzzles a lot of people in Pandora, simply because they have heard it described as “socialist” or “quasi-socialist” due to its large public sector and the high degree of state control exercised over the economy through said sector. Shocking nobody, we reject this premise outright, but to explain why we should go over some basic definitions first.
Firstly, what do we mean by “socialism?” As simply as possible, we are talking about a situation where production for profit has been abolished, but class has not yet come to disappear entirely; the working class is in control of the economy and collectively owns the means of production. When class - and the state system that emerges out of class - has been entirely dissolved and production has developed to such a stage that there is no scarcity, artificial or otherwise, socialism gives way to a societal state that we call “communism.”
Similarly, what do we mean by “the means of production” and “class?” Well, by the first, we’re referring to the facilities and tools that are used to produce and distribute the things people need within society. Factories, chemical plants, hydroponics farms and bakeries, for instance, form parts of the means of production, as does a trade route between two planets or a shop in which the things that are produced can be bought and sold.
Who owns and controls these means of production then defines our second term, “class.” Ever since the emergence of agriculture, society has been divided into a series of classes to carry out certain roles within it, in a more or less complicated structure depending on the way things are produced. Under capitalism, the latest stage of sentient society, there are two major classes; those who own the means of production and exchange, and those who do not. The owners can make a living by selling what is produced; the ones who do not own those things must sell the only thing they do own, their labour-power, in order to live. We call the owning class “the bourgeoisie,” and the non-owning class “the proletariat” - or, if you prefer, the capitalists and the workers.
In a capitalist system, the arrangement between worker and capitalist seems a relatively free one when compared to, say, the system of serfdom or outright slavery that has existed and still does exist in certain parts of the world. The worker is hired on the basis of their skill; they are offered a wage as recompense for their time; at the end of the process the capitalist gains a finished commodity that they can sell, and the worker gains money with which they can buy food, lodgings, luxuries and whatever else their wage will stretch to.
In reality, of course, the relationship is nothing but exploitation. The capitalist class always makes sure to get more value out of the worker than they pay them in return - they couldn’t make any profit otherwise - and controls the lives of the worker entirely so long as the worker is in the workplace, so as to squeeze the maximum amount of surplus value (the value created by the labour-process on top of what is paid out in wages) from them. Increasingly, this control also exists outside of the workplace too, but that’s a topic that deserves its own document.
With these terms defined, we hope our readers will now be happy for us to delve into the real topic of this article - what is Elysium’s class basis, and what does the future hold for it?
The Class Nature of the Elysian State
All states have a basic class character. This defines how they produce goods, who does the work in producing them, and so on. From the economic base of capitalism, a wild variety of actual state-forms are possible: liberal democracy, oligarchy, free market economy, state-capitalist economy, authoritarian dictatorship, fascist state, etc.
That Elysium is most definitely a capitalist nation is pretty indisputable. The majority of business conducted in Elysium is done between private companies which accrue both profit and capital through the exploitation of their workforces as defined above. Surplus value enters private hands once it is created, and is then transformed into capital in the usual manner of such an economy.
What confuses people on this question is the existence of a large and heavily-controlled state sector, as well as the existence of state programmes designed to blunt the edge of capitalist exploitation by providing basic necessities to the working population for free or at low cost. At first glance, these measures do appear to be socialist in nature, or at the very least social-democratic; however, to argue that they represent anything more substantial than a simple cover for the actual nature of Elysium is to miss the point, perhaps deliberately depending on who’s making the argument.
A large public sector and high state control does not a socialist economy make. The key question in these circumstances, as always, is this: who owns and controls things? Upon what kind of production is the economy based? Having defined the economic base of Elysium as being capitalist production and ownership when you get right down to basics, we can then ask another question - what purpose do such measures serve, then?
In a system of production that has abolished capitalism and is developing towards socialism, such measures would be for the purpose of strengthening the quality of life of the working class, and for freeing up their time so that they could take a greater role in the governing of their own lives. They would go hand-in-hand with political measures to ensure this, such as neighbourhood and workplace councils etc. For the most part, that is clearly not the case in Elysium. Even the introduction of a form of presidential democracy has not served to seriously weaken the grip on power of the real rulers of the city-state - the capitalist class, and their agents in the Alliance. In fact, if you were to look at the business portfolios of some of the higher-up Alliance bureaucrats you might conclude that these two groups were in fact one and the same in many cases, but I digress.
In the conditions that exist within Elysium, state social programmes serve the purpose of disciplining the population; firstly, by offering the basic amenities at such a rate as to relieve the burden of the working class, Elysium’s state bureaucracy can dampen the tendency towards class struggle (but not remove it entirely as we’ll see). This is the “carrot” side of the equation, to use a human idiom. The “stick” part comes in the form of social control; when class struggle inevitably erupts anyway, the threat of withdrawal can be used against protests or economic unrest that gets a little bit too heated.
That the expenditure of such programmes is a burden on the state to maintain, and therefore a frustration to the capitalists who are kept out of state-owned industries they would otherwise profit from so that Elysium can use the value generated to pay off such expenditure, can’t be doubted. However, Elysium has little choice but to maintain these programmes, and therefore to maintain the state sector that makes them possible. To withdraw them permanently, or even water them down in any significant way, would be to invite a social explosion from below. While there is significant pressure from private-sector capitalists to do this anyway so that the process of privatisation can begin, the Alliance’s state functionaries understand the situation a little better. That is why there appear to be serious disagreements between the private capitalists and their siblings within the state; left to its own devices, an aggressively expanding private sector would inevitably cause the exact explosion the Alliance hopes to avoid.
There is a third measure of control here too which makes these state programmes absolutely indispensable, and that’s the Undercity. This area came into existence and developed because of the need to ramp up the acquisition of surplus value; it’s pretty revealing that many heavy industries are found in the Undercity, for instance, where safety regulations and inspections are far less common and the bill for social security programmes is nonexistent. Such an area allows for the more naked kinds of exploitation that capitalism thrives on and therefore the acquisition of super-profits. Meanwhile, the contrast in lifestyle between those able to get a job within the Upper City and therefore stay there and those relegated to the bowels of Elysium serves as a reminder to militant workers that, if they’re not careful, all the good things of the Upper City can be denied to them just like that.
Often, the two areas are talked about as if they are two entirely different cities, and you will often hear people talk as if the Alliance has nothing to do with the Undercity or has “washed its hands of it.” This is incorrect, however; a brief study of the top executives of mining, food production and waste management companies that operate large facilities in the Undercity reveals a who’s-who of Alliance bureaucrats or their relatives and friends. Even the activities of organised crime show this tendency to a degree; the top “oligarchs,” as they’ve been called, are often just as well known in the private clubs and high-class bars of the Upper City as they are in their personal fiefdoms down below. We are not dealing here with “One Moon, Two Systems,” but one unified system that operates in such a way as to provide comfort for the compliant workers at the expense of others - and should the compliant workers ever decide not to be so compliant, then the threat of losing that comfort can be deployed. It’s a particularly insidious case of divide and rule, intended to separate out any possibility of unified working class resistance.
In summary, then, we can only say that Elysium represents a form of advanced state-capitalism, a kind of dystopian social democracy that is used to cut apart potential resistance of the Elysian working class in several different ways while maintaining the profit margins of the large monopolies. Firstly this is done through economic compulsion, by offering workers access to state-granted homes, state “income” payments and other social programmes while keeping another section of the class away from access to such programmes in order to serve as a warning; secondly, the carving-up of the city itself into “have” and “have-not” sectors in order to sharpen the previously-mentioned divide in the working class into a geographical fact; thirdly the absorption of certain capitalists, including those of organised criminal backgrounds, into the running of the state itself, as the relationship between the Undercity’s oligarchs and the Alliance bureaucracy proves. Finally, if everything else fails, the ever-watchful security drone and the peacekeeper’s truncheon or bullet can be deployed.
Faced with such overwhelming state power, it almost seems like a hopeless task to even begin to reform the system, let alone overthrow it through united class struggle and install a socialist republic in its place. However, as mighty as the Elysian state is, it is not without its weaknesses, which we’ll now discuss.
Where will the struggle emerge from?
The methods of Marxist analysis teach us that any class-based system, no matter how sturdy it appears on the surface, is full of contradictory forces underneath that surface which work to undermine its stability in the long term. The major contradiction in capitalism is based around the fact that workers cannot buy back the value of what they have produced with the wages they’ve been paid to produce it, but there are other contradictions that create the unique conditions of each state or country we examine.
Our big clue as to what processes are working away under the surface of the Elysian state can be seen in the battles over democracy in the recent period. As we stated earlier, one of the key questions for any system of production is who owns and controls things - and in Elysium you are always very aware that the answer to this question is “not you.” The shifts in governance, from a form of democracy under Skywalker to dictatorship under Inilossum and back again under Jordan, have exposed the degree to which policy - and its effects - are more or less decided on a whim by the ruling class with no input whatsoever from the workers. The complete lack of power that the general population has over the situation is laid starkly bare for everyone to see, and the infuriation amongst ordinary workers becomes more and more apparent with each passing day.
In addition, the uprising against Inilossum, while ultimately necessary from the perspective of Elysian capital in order to remove a destabilising force which was making it increasingly difficult to profiteer reliably, has opened a Pandora’s Box (if our readers will pardon the pun). In endorsing the side of Hal Jordan in the hopes he would bring their much-desired stability, those capitalists that turned on Inilossum had to accept the character of the resistance, which was that of a huge popular uprising led by Jordan’s coalition. In short, they had no choice but to allow the masses of working people to feel their united strength for the first time - and a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing as far as that’s concerned.
That knowledge will not have gone away in so short a space of time. So far, people are broadly tolerant of Jordan’s rule as General Secretary, even if his increasing militarism and slide towards authoritarian rule makes them less trusting than they otherwise would be towards a hero of the Resistance. However, this will not last forever. Jordan’s current popularity relies on both his actions during the Great Rebellion and his promise to deliver democracy again to the peoples of Elysium. If he fails in this task, it will be seen as a provocation, a step too far for workers who have just become aware of the fact that they can influence the situation with or without a vote.
If, on the other hand, he sticks to his guns and delivers the chance to vote for our preferred choice of dictator every five years or so, even this will not stave off the resumption of the class struggle. This is because the fundamental lie that the capitalists and the Alliance base their rule on - that you can either have security or freedom, but not both - has been completely blown to pieces. In the Undercity stands the Free Elysian Commune, defying this lie with our efforts to build a new kind of society each and every day, and while the workers of the rest of the city might still be wary of sticking their heads above the parapet they are also not ignorant of the existence of this alternative and what it means.
As such, the Alliance is on shakier ground than it has ever been before. That many of the more entrenched bureaucrats and capitalist hangers-on are unhappy with Jordan stoking the fires of democracy - and with it the wider question of who actually runs society - is pretty clear from the sniping in the bosses’ press, but they are also aware of what an attempt to openly seize back control would likely lead to. As such, they’re caught in a trap of their own making. Either they allow democratisation to continue and do their best to direct it down safe channels, in which case the working population will grow more and more confident in its demands for control over their lives, or they unleash the sledgehammer of repression in order to regain control of Elysium’s steering wheel - in which case the workers will rise up again, exactly as they did under the dictatorship.
Unity is Key!
Either way, class struggle is on the horizon. It only remains to be seen how quickly it will emerge, and we all have to ask ourselves what role we must play in the battles to come. The existence of the Commune is already becoming a factor in the situation, as even Jordan acknowledges from time to time. Nevertheless, the battle is not even halfway won yet. The Undercity, home to the Commune, will play a decisive role in the struggles to come - but it is not mighty enough to overthrow a whole system on its own. We cannot neglect the top half of Elysium, where the hardships of daily life may take different forms but nevertheless represent the same basic exploitation.
This is the task for anyone who considers themselves a socialist in the next period. We’ve all got to do our part, and begin these conversations with our neighbours and comrades in the Upper part of Elysium. One of the Alliance’s greatest weapons is this artificial divide between our two halves; it must be broken down so that the spirit of unity we saw briefly when rising up against Inilossum can be reignited. If you are in the Upper City and you’ve found yourself agreeing with these ideas, I urge you to consider joining the RSF and helping to bring this fight to a victorious conclusion.