The Cosmos: Capitalism’s New “Outside”


Total Recall, 1990

From Monthly Review:

In the early twentieth century, Rosa Luxemburg argued that an “outside” to capitalism is important for two main reasons. First, it is needed as a means of creating massive numbers of new customers who would buy the goods made in the capitalist countries. As outlined earlier, space technology has extended and deepened this process, allowing an increasing number of people to become integral to the further expansion of global capitalism. Luxemburg’s second reason for imperial expansion is the search for cheap supplies of labor and raw materials. Clearly, space fiction fantasies about aliens aside, expansion into the cosmos offers no benefits to capital in the form of fresh sources of labor power. But expansion into the cosmos does offer prospects for exploiting new materials such as those in asteroids, the moon, and perhaps other cosmic entities such as Mars. Neil Smith’s characterization of capital’s relations to nature is useful at this point. 

The reproduction of material life is wholly dependent on the production and reproduction of surplus value. To this end, capital stalks the Earth in search of material resources; nature becomes a universal means of production in the sense that it not only provides the subjects, objects and instruments of production, but is also in its totality an appendage to the production process…no part of the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere, the oceans, the geological substratum or the biological superstratum are immune from transformation by capital. 

Capital is now also “stalking” outer space in the search for new resources and raw materials. Nature on a cosmic scale now seems likely to be incorporated into production processes, these being located mainly on earth.

Total Recall, 1990

“The Humanization of the Cosmos—To What End?”, Peter Dickens, Monthly Review