Space and socialism

“The Universe and Civilization” is a small, strange book that looks at the philosophical aspects of space exploration. Since it was written before the collapse of the USSR by three soviet philosophers, sociologists and engineers, this is not surprising-

The space age differs from all man’s previous victories over nature first of all in that it began under completely different social conditions. For more than half a century mankind’s steady progress from capitalism towards socialism has been winning more and more battles and involving greater number of peoples and countries. A clear indication of this is the fact that it was the Soviet Union that first broke through into space and attained significant achievements in astronautics.

The space age is the reflection of the arrival of a new relation between man and nature, which is intimately linked with and, to a degree, symptomatic of the arrival of a new stage in the development of mankind, the era of socialism.

Under the conditions of public ownership of the means of production, the development of astronautics serves the good of man and is a vehicle of the progress of human society and human personality.

On the ideas presented in the book, American anthropologist Ben Finney writes in an article dealing with space exploration and colonization-

[N]ot surprisingly, given their materialistic outlook, Soviet social thinkers have been quicker to consider what this developing capacity to move into space means for the human condition. In the late 1970s, philosopher Arkady Ursul, sociologist Yuri Shkolenko and cosmonaut Vitali Sevastyanov summarized Soviet thinking on the subject in a far-reaching book entitled The Universe and Civilization. Quoting liberally from Marx and Engels, as well as modem space scientists and commentators from the East and the West, these authors examine the impact of space developments on the human condition. From a social and philosophical point of view, they label the changes in society and human consciousness that have followed from our entry into the space age as manifestations of a process they call “cosmicisation.” Concrete examples of cosmicisation that they discuss include the development of new vistas in science opened by the use of space probes and satellites for research,the benefits flowing from the employment of satellites for communication, remote sensing and navigation, the promotion of an ecological awareness of the fragility of our biosphere inspired by those first photographs from space of our lonely blue planet, and the new production and social relations that will emerge as we begin to exploit the resources of space.

These Soviet authors also discuss the colonization of space. They argue that the settlement of the solar system, and then interstellar migration, is inevitable, and castigate such Western writers as C.S. Lewis and Loren Eiseley for their insistence that humans should stay on earth. Yet, they do not explore the implications of the spread of humanity into space, and in fact insist that the earth and its people must remain the central point of reference for all space activities. While they stress that it was the Russian space pioneer Konstatin Tsiolkovski who proclaimed that it is man’s destiny to spread into space, these Soviet analysts declare that this original conception has “been supplemented by a kind of ‘feedback’ aimed not at escape from earth but at a closer man-made bond between earth and outer space.” Indeed, their largely geocentric approach is inherent in their definition of cosmicisation as “the effect of space factors, forces and processes on various domains of the conscious and goal-direction activity of men on earth.”

It is tempting to speculate that this partial retreat from Tsiolkovski’s bold initial vision of humankind’s destiny in space may reflect thinking during the Breshnevian period of stagnation in which they were writing. It should also be noted, however, that a parallel shift in emphasis occurred during the l970s among many Western space enthusiasts who, once they saw that unlimited funding would not be available in the post-Apollo period to fulfill their dreams of immediate voyages to Mars and beyond, changed their tactics to emphasize the more immediate benefits to mankind that flow from space activities. Nevertheless, whatever the reason for this shift, it seems that the focus of these Soviet writers on the earth-space bond has prevented them from exploring the full implications of developing the ability to leave our natal planet.

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