Now, let me be clear. I’m not any shade of Marxist. I think communism is kind of silly. But, I do think that Marx had some interesting ideas about history. Further, I do think that they can be applied to EVE to educational effect.
So, what is the Marxist dialectic? Well, it is essentially what Marx thought history was. He believed that history followed a definable pattern, driven by material factors. Ultimately, he thought that it leads up to a communist revolution. Specifically, he thought that history progressed through six stages:
I will leave out socialism and communism, as they haven’t happened and probably can’t happen without a mechanics revamp. But the rest, I think we can take a loot at.
This is what Marx thought pre-historic tribal societies were like. Everything was shared to ensure survival. Gathering resources to exist was a struggle. Leaders were distinguished only by ability. If you’ve read Empires of EVE, this might seem recognisable. Early corps were small, and players had to work closely to survive. Leadership structures didn’t really exist – good PvPers or FCs (a rare commodity) attracted people.
Marx thought that primitive communism developed, and tribal societies gave way to societies where the majority were slaves. These slave societies would form the first empires, both democratic and imperial. This is something which happened in real life – Athens, Sparta and Rome were all slave societies.
But did this happen in EVE? Sort of. Some of the earlier empires, it seems, had this sort of mentality. Players out in nullsec were used more as weapons than fully rounded citizens by an elite class. However, it is not entirely apposite. The mechanics of EVE make it such that slavery is not very practical. So, whilst there might have been systemic inequalities, slavery was limited. That said, large empires did form right on cue – so the theory still has some validity.
Slave society does fall apart in Marxist thought, when the middle ranks get sick of being ruled over. They form a system of power called feudalism, where there is a complex set of classes. Kings at the top, serfs at the bottom.
This does work in EVE. Large, feudal powers – most especially Band of Brothers – were established. Renters were serfs. Members of the main alliance were knights and lesser lords. Directors were dukes and kings. This was not, of course, universal in character. Democratic systems still existed, as did traditional empires.
Marx thought that feudalism would in turn be overthrown by a capitalist revolution. This would come when the producing class got sick of being ruled over. Marx used the example of the English Civil War and the French Revolution to show this. The capitalists would establish a regime which benefited the rich and the traders, who would expand in power and influence.
This is where things get quite interesting. The feudal powers which did dominate EVE were broken in The Great War. Band of Brothers was destroyed, and capitalist autocracies took power. Renters still existed, but their predominance was limited. So far, so Marxist. But there are two key differences to the dialectic which send things off in a new direction.
Firstly, the feudal powers did not fall to a revolution. They fell, instead, to the vast war machine that was RedSwarm Federation and the Northern Coalition. This massively shaped the future character of political affairs in New Eden. Alliances are perceived more as tools of conflict than states in and of themselves, because they were born in conflict.
Secondly, because of this, alliances often have a generous social support network. You need to give your soldiers equipment, and in EVE, all players are soldiers. That’s why SRP, buy-back, alliance shipping etc exists. It’s military in character. This circumvents Marx’s understanding of history because it forestalls revolution. Why would people revolt against alliance leadership when said leadership provides for them? The answer is – they won’t.
So, essentially, EVE has managed to make a situation where capitalism and social democracy co-exist. This has circumvented the Marxist dialectic of history as it relates to socialism and communism and jumped into a quasi-modern situation. This is, I think, rather interesting – and perhaps educative in why the Marxist dialectic ultimately fails.