Imperialism vs. socialism in space

Artist’s illustration of astronauts on the moon planting a Chinese flag.

Bulletin:  Just as this article is being published, news comes that China’s Chang’e-6 mission has just succeeded in bringing back a sample of moondust from the far side of the moon. This feat represents another major step in eventual mining for helium-3, potentially the future source of clean and inexpensive energy on earth.

In this period of end-stage imperialism, in which imperialist powers continue to try to gobble up what is left of the world to maximize their own dwindling profits, a new frontier is opening up: the solar system, the gateway to outer space. However, there is also the rise of new, competing forms of social relationships in China and other emerging socialist countries. 

At the beginning of June, the Chinese space project, Chang’e-6, landed an unmanned ship on the far side of the moon. It is digging up soil at various levels. The plan is to return to earth with soil samples. (New York Times, “China Lands Spacecraft on Far Side of the Moon, June 3)

The Chinese exploration is a great challenge to U.S. plans to dominate the manufacture of “moon dust, replete with helium-3, touted to be the next source of energy,” states Janet Mayes in “The race for moondust: U.S. imperialism vs. China,” in Workers World newspaper. (   

In today’s world, the orientation towards new projects and as yet unexplored vistas is still undetermined: Will it be imperialist or socialist?

The imperialist orientation to this new area of exploration in space operates much like the old one on earth, employing the old standby methods using lies and  violent domination. To keep the exploration under imperialist control, the Department of Defense established a sixth branch of the military: the U.S. Space Force, in 2019. 

Ominous U.S. Space Force

Mayes writes: “The establishment of the Space Force sent a clear warning to Russia, China, Iran and any other countries that they view as global competitors, informing them that the imperialist U.S. is staking its claim to supremacy over space technology — and over outer space itself!”  

Competition, developed within a capitalist orientation, is often called “cut-throat.” Any competitor is treated as the enemy. Every new accomplishment of the other is treated as one’s failure. The goal is to destroy or establish superiority over the other and exploit what they have in order to beat them down. There is constant preoccupation with impending attack from the competitor and, in many cases, an attempt to provoke the competitor to attack if there is no attack forthcoming. 

The imperialists’ focus shifts from the productive activity over which they are competing to building up a counterforce against an expected attack from the competitor, destroying them before they can destroy you.

A May 17 New York Times article entitled “New Star Wars Plan: Pentagon Rushes to Counter Threats in Orbit” is illustrative. It starts out by saying, “The Pentagon is rushing to wage war in space, convinced that rapid advances by China and Russia in space-based operations pose a growing threat to U.S. troops and other military assets on the ground and American assets in orbit.” 

The Times quotes General Chance Salzman, chief of space operations at the Space Force, an agency created in 2019, a new division of the Air Force Department. He said, “If we do not have space, we lose.” In other words, in the cut-throat competitive race for U.S. supremacy in space, other participants must be destroyed.

This is imperialism pure and simple.

This orientation is as immature as a young child’s who has not yet learned how to compete fairly with others and to learn from those they compete with. They are self-centered, often cheating in order to win. As children mature, they learn that competition can instead “be a test of one’s skills, compared with another’s.

“It  can involve emulation of the other’s skills and joy in participation with the other, even when the productive and other’s skills are perceived as greater. The greater skills of the other can be a source of inspiration to do better, or even simple admiration.” (Harris et. al., in “Interpersonal Psychoanalytic theory for the 21st Century: Evolving Self”)

In more mature socialist competition, based on cooperation, people are inspired by each other’s accomplishments, learning from them and re-tooling them to use them innovatively to do as much or more. The accomplishments of the competitor are a source of hope and joy to others working on the same project. 

On an individual level, this kind of “socialist” competition is learned at about the same time as cooperation, the skill of coordinating one’s abilities with others to achieve a common goal, like winning a ball game or putting on a school play.

China’s goal: Protect the planet

On a national level, a concrete example of socialist cooperation is the establishment of the Tiangong space station, established by China in 2021. 

About that amazing accomplishment, Joshua Hanks describes in a WW article entitled “Workers power on display as Chinese astronauts arrive at Tiangong space station”: “Crews of three will rotate on missions lasting six months, and the station will be open to other countries. Seventeen countries have officially confirmed their participation, and astronauts from several countries are now learning Chinese. Astronauts from the European Space Agency have already trained on a mock Shenzhou spacecraft and could participate in future missions to Tiangong.” 

Hanks continues: “Russia may pursue its own space station but is cooperating with China on other projects, including constructing a groundbreaking lunar base, which could host its first cosmonauts and taikonauts by 2030.” (

This rapid spurt of growth can be seen as well in other countries that are socialist or working toward socialism after a revolution changed those holding state power. These include Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Vietnam, among others, despite continued interference by their imperialist oppressors to beat them out at all costs. 

It may be that this increased rate of growth and development based in a socialist orientation may even win out in the competitive race in space. Given the Chinese approach to developing helium-3 for inexpensive clean energy on Earth, Mayes stresses:  “It is clear that a ‘Chinese dominant space frontier’ is, in fact, a future everyone should want. If our planet is to survive the climate disaster, it is imperative for the imperialists to lose the race to the moon.’

Explaining China’s intentions, Mayes writes: “Far from seeking to profit, China’s approach to international energy production is geared to protecting the planet. As [Carlos Martinez] explains when discussing China’s ‘green energy’ solution in his abundantly researched book [“The East is Still Red: Chinese Socialism in the 21st Century”], socialist China’s international humanitarian policies are aimed at saving the globe from climate catastrophe.” 

In other words, mature international competition and cooperation must triumph over an immature imperialist orientation aimed at maximizing profits over providing for human needs.

Sue Harris and Janet Mayes are psychotherapists and co-authors of “Interpersonal Psychoanalytic Theory for the 21st Century: Evolving Self.” (Lexington Books, 2023) Reviews can be found at

Janet Mayes, an amateur astronomer, authored a science fiction novel about U.S. hegemony in space, “Beyond the Horse’s Eye, a Fantasy Out of Time,” under the pen name Janet Rose. A review can be found at She has written extensively on the “space race” for Workers World newspaper.


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