The Secret History of Marxist Alien Hunters
First published at The Outline.
In case you missed it — and there’s a lot of weird stuff going on, so it makes sense that some things would slip through the cracks — aliens exist.
At least that’s what military officials and major politicians believe, according to a New York Times report from December that the Pentagon gave $22 million to aerospace research firms to investigate the UFO phenomenon. Much of that went to Robert Bigelow, a hotelier attempting to expand operations to space. Like Tom Delonge, the ex-Blink-182 guitarist who releases UFO videos and literature in an attempt to turn his To The Stars Academy corporation into a “perpetual funding machine," he seeks to reverse-engineer UFO technology, and, in the process, give Ufology (the study of UFOs) a corporate makeover.
While the “New Space Age” entrepreneurship of Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Jeff Bezos have caught criticism from the labor advocates and the left, Bigelow’s privatized Area 51 and Delonge’s “Uber for UFOs” ambitions have flown under the radar.
Though Ufologists tend to possess an anti-authoritarian streak (it’s hard to be pro-“The Man” when you’re convinced The Man is also lying to you about alien visitors), their singular focus on the truth being out there tends to overlook things like political economics. After all, wouldn’t the revelation of extraterrestrial intelligence be revolution enough? It’s hard to imagine that the global order — let alone the hierarchies of nationality, class, race, and gender — would remain the same after such an occurrence. But they also ought to question what it means that this new vanguard of Ufology appears far more interested in securing funding and turning a profit than bringing liberatory truth to mankind.
Space has not always been such an apolitical void. It was the communists, after all, who started the Space Race by launching Sputnik in 1957. The United States reluctantly followed. Even before they took power, Cosmism — the revolutionary belief in space travel — was part of the Bolshevik program. Cosmist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who NASA called a “Father of Rocketry,” believed a socialist humanity ought to free itself of its geocentrist outlook and seek contact with advanced extraterrestrial societies. Carl Sagan, who was at least sympathetic to socialism, and Soviet scientist Iosef Shklovsky made a similar argument in their 1966 book, Intelligent Life in the Universe.
There were also Marxist Ufologists, mainly from the exiled Bolshevik tradition of Leon Trotsky. After Stalin consolidated power, Trotsky was exiled and became a fierce critic of the bureaucracy that swallowed the revolutionary foundations of the Soviet Union and turned the communist Third International into an agent of Soviet foreign policy. Trotsky’s followers declared a Fourth International that continued to push for the communist future envisioned by the early Bolsheviks. The handful of Ufologists among them took Tsiokolvsky’s assessment that “Time must pass until the average level of humankind’s development is sufficient for nonearthly dwellers to visit us” as a messianic prediction. The aliens, like communism, linger in the air, waiting for us to make the world ready for them.
J. Posadas, secretary of most Latin American Trotskyism groups during the 50s and early 60s, was the first to synthesize the heretical fields of Marxism and Ufology with his spring 1968 essay, “Flying saucers, the process of matter and energy, science, the revolutionary and working-class struggle and the socialist future of mankind.” Aliens “have no aggressive impulse,” he wrote. “They have no need to kill in order to live: they come only to observe...[W]e must call on them to intervene, to help us resolve the problems we have on Earth. The essential task is to suppress poverty, hunger, unemployment, and war, to give everyone the means to live in dignity and to lay the bases for human fraternity.”
For Posadas, the idea that aliens might pose a threat comes from our history of wars of conquest and economic exploitation. Any species advanced enough to travel light years would have long solved these issues caused by the temporary afflictions of capitalism and the nation-state.
While his writing on the subject made him an object of ridicule amongst his already dismissive fellow Trotskyists, this unorthodox view — along with an optimism that nuclear war would clear the way for the revolution and a strong interest in communicating with dolphins — has since earned him the status of a memetic folk-hero. In the last two years, neo-Posadist groups have emerged, including the Intergalactic Workers League — which includes a Posadist meme page and has polemicized the terrestrial left at two consecutive Left Forums — and the Democratic Socialists of America’s Posadist Caucus, which organizes fundraisers for disaster relief. The satirical reincarnation has made Posadas one of the most recognizable names in the history of Trotksyism.
Posadas remained a believer, but he never published on UFOs after 1968. The topic was far more important to one of Posadism’s lieutenants, Dante Minazzoli, who had been a central intellectual in the movement since the mid-40s. He was a leader in the union struggles within Peronism, the working class militancy that lead to the Cordobazo uprising in 1969, as well as the formation of the Posadist movement in Europe.
Throughout his militancy, he watched the skies. “Already in 1947,” he told the Argentinian journalist Alejandro Agostinelli 1, “when the press started to report the first news [of Roswell], I drank coffee with some comrades in Buenos Aires… and told them that for me they were probably space ships.”
After Posadas’s death, Minazzoli began to focus exclusively on political readings of the great scientific Ufologists like Hynek and Vallee. He wrote them letters, attended conferences, and self-published a book in 1989 of his theories. He remained convinced that UFOs were the work of alien observers who recognized humanity was becoming technologically advanced enough to join a galactic community, but was still too dangerous to open up relations to. He predicted that the end of the Cold War could make them change their minds, but that the imperialist United States would attempt to suppress first contact, and mobilize war against the visitors to defend their hegemony. Aware of Reagan’s concerns about aliens and interest in science-fiction, he cautioned his fellow Ufologists that any government documents leaked to them may have been manipulated by the CIA to further their agenda.
Minazzoli died in 1996, the same year that Independence Day — in which Will Smith greets a crashed alien scout by saying, “Welcome to Earth,” and then punching it in the face — was released. It was this exact sort of pop-culture depiction of extraterrestrials, as locust-like invaders as opposed to sophisticated space comrades, that concerned Minazzoli, who feared that such “Enemy Alien Propaganda,” as Neo-Posadists call it, would prime humanity to accept a militaristic border around the entire planet.
But though Minazzoli remained obscure when he passed away, there was still another Posadist Ufologist left to carry the beacon.
Shortly after Posadas’s death, the German-Argentinian Paul Schulz, a metallurgist and autoworker who had been a central member of the party’s industrial core in the 50s and 60s, started to receive telepathic messages early each morning. As with Posadas, the voices prophesized a nuclear war. But technology had advanced so much since World War II that a neutron-bomb detonation would rip the fabric of space-time, making their implications even more dire.
Schulz found an explanation for these messages in the work of Swiss Ufologist Eduard “Billy” Meier, who claimed to be in contact with highly advanced “Plejoran” species. These benevolent aliens, believed Meier, communicate with the most advanced humans in an attempt to steer the human race toward enlightenment. Major religious, political, and scientific figures, including Marx, (allegedly) owed their revelations to Plejoran intervention.
Schulz retired and moved to East Berlin in 1990 and started a printing press in his apartment, where he published magazines analyzing political events from a perspective influenced equally by Marx and Meier. His Plejoran-Posadism earned him at least one follower: Werner Grundmann. The duo, like Minazzoli, were desperate to get other Ufologists to take Marxism more seriously. Despite decades of letters, Christian Freher, a representative from Meier’s organization FIGU, called Schulz’s views “peculiar” and refused to associate with him. (However, Meier did eventually respond to Grundmann, thanking him for sending regards on his 75th birthday.)
Schulz passed away in 2003. Grundmann carried on his work, certain that a reincarnated Schulz would do so as well.
Outside of Posadism there was Peter Kolosimo, an Italian born anti-fascist partisan and early proponent of the “ancient astronaut” theory that alien visitors kickstarted civilization. After the war, he was kicked out of the Communist Party for his unorthodox views — not because of the alien stuff, but for his support of Tito’s anti-Stalinist Yugoslavian socialism. As a freelancer, he began to dabble in the occult and paranormal. His 1965 work, Not of this Earth, which argued that aliens had influenced — or created — early human civilizations, became a bestseller in Italy.
Wu Ming, a communist writing collective known for its historical fiction, sees Kolosimo as using pseudohistory as a tool to shake people from their belief that capitalist society is natural and transhistorical, opening minds to other possibilities for how humans can live. They regret that popular proponents of his theories today, like Graham Hancock and Erich von Däniken, are unable to recognize the political motivations behind his project: “Nothing of his radicality survives in today's copycats... Every corner has been blunted, the heresy has become telegenic, but we know that the revolution will not be televised.”
Today guests on Coast to Coast AM are far more likely to sound like right-wing Infowarrior Alex Jones than socialist columnist Owen Jones. Nonetheless, some Marxists are still critiquing the capitalist logic of the New Space Age. Marxist futurist Aaron Bastani criticizes Muskian astro-liberalism by arguing that one could just as easily imagine automated technology, renewable energy, and plans for off-Earth resource extraction as creating the preconditions for a “fully automated luxury space communism.” The same critique would extend to Bigelow and Delonge: If their Roswellian reverse-engineering discovered the secrets of free energy, for instance, they ought to share it with mankind — even though it would threaten the pretenses of a class society based on scarcity economics.
This is a major question for Marxists. So long as wealth is hoarded to create artificial scarcity, the majority of the world is forced to either sell their labor power or starve. Through this coerced wage labor, workers become disconnected from the commodities they create, and thus the world in general. While Marx never talked about extraterrestrials, he called this condition alienation: “[T]he worker is related to the product of labor as to an alien object… the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful becomes the alien world of objects which he creates over and against himself...”
The Marxist Ufologists viewed UFO investigation as part of the scientific and intellectual tradition of humans attempting to overcome their alienation so that they might understand themselves and their place within in nature, with the aim of creating a truly free and equal society. In searching for aliens, they believed, we are forced to confront the alien logic of capital that controls the world. In this struggle, the Marxist Ufologists saw a potential ally in our interstellar neighbors. The prospect of such an encounter might be terrifying, but it’s hard to imagine our new alien overlords could be any more inhumane than the humans who currently dominate the planet.