“The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” - Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: First Contact
Most Star Trek fans agree that the Federation would be a nice place to live. It’s got unlimited food, no wars, friendly holographic medical care on-demand, and regular classical music performances on deck 10. It’s great, in short, and hope springs eternal amongst Trek faithful that the future represented on-screen is a future we’ll one day achieve.
But how do we get there from here?
Will Nguyen is a fan who asks that question a lot.
“In the earth of the future, [we] eliminate poverty, hunger, homelessness, all the stuff that's hard to still talk about; it’s paradise on earth,” Nguyen says, “How do you actually achieve a one-world government with no national borders, where we've eliminated poverty and war and hunger and disease? That's a pretty significant gain, pretty significant achievement.”
That’s the thing: Star Trek is very detailed about the makeup of that utopian future, but not clear on the assembly. We’ve got the Bell Riots coming up in three years, give or take, and sometime in the next forty years we’ve got World War 3 to contend with (possibly featuring genetically-augmented supermen) and ultimately, first contact with an alien society before we’re off to the races. We’ve got the pieces but no way of fitting them together, like an IKEA dresser without an instruction manual — and we’ll probably need more than a complimentary Allen wrench to pull this off.
Will Nguyen thinks he has the answer: Communism.
“The conclusion is,” he says, “only through a socialist revolution to overthrow capitalism, going to the next stage of human development, can you actually do that.”
For the last couple of years, Nguyen has been evangelizing this view in a uniquely Trek fashion, and wearing Trek fashion to do it. Calling himself “The Star Trek Communist,” Nguyen dons costumes from multiple eras of Trek, ranging from the “Monster Maroon” of the TOS movies to the bright colors and sharp edges of Lower Decks. Posting frequently on Trek fan pages and Facebook groups, his preferred pose is toasting the camera with a blue beverage that’s probably not Romulan Ale, facing into the camera like Benjamin Sisko in the classic Deep Space Nine episode “In The Pale Moonlight.” Referencing the pronunciation of his own name, he signs many of his photos with a simple slogan: “Communism Will Win.”
The effect was immediate, and, as Nguyen explained, “A lot of people got mad.”
"Workers of the World, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains." - Karl Marx, and Rom
How Will became a Star Trek fan and cosplayer is a pretty common story, one most Trek fans would identify with.
“I think my Star Trek journey, if you will, started out like many of my generation — pun intended,” Nguyen says. “I was a Next Generation baby. I grew up watching it on syndication, watching Patrick Stewart, watching that entire crew. Whenever it was on TV, I think my parents allowed me to watch it because they thought it was somewhat educational, because it was set in space and there was a lot of talking. ”
Trek got into his bloodstream, like so many Borg nanoprobes, and over time he progressed from TNG to TOS, to DS9, through all the rest.
Eventually, he started to express his love of Trek through cosplay.
“When I had the ability to at least get uniforms or costumes myself, I didn't have to like ask for my parents to buy me something, because they wouldn't,” he laughs. “I'm a very simple cosplayer. I just buy costumes and I have them tailored. I'm not skilled like those many other, very talented cosplayers that make their own uniforms and costumes and props, I'm friends with a lot of them and I'm really impressed.”
Attending conventions, adding to his collection of costumes, connecting with other fans allowed for no doubt that Nguyen was a Trekkie. But becoming the Star Trek Communist would take more time — and more heartbreak.
“It's not my fault your species decided to abandon currency-based economics in favor of some philosophy of self-enhancement.” - Nog
How he became a die-hard leftist is also a standard tale, a particularly common refrain in the last several years. Following the runup to the election of 2016, Nguyen found himself disillusioned with the two major parties, and went looking further left for answers.
“My generation, the Millennial generation, were affected by the crisis that is capitalism,” Nguyen says.
Although every generation has been affected by the excesses of capitalism, Nguyen says, some generations are more uniquely situated to witness that. “That's obviously the Millennial generation and the Zoomers, right behind us,” he says. “They were told that they just sort of go to school, and take on this debt, but then you'll get a job. They play by the rules, right? But then they've emerged into a market that is virtually non-existent. They are swimming in debt. And then having almost all of their income go for rent, [they’ve] got to piece together multiple jobs, three or four side hustles, gig jobs...this is the best that capitalism can do. So, I think I became radicalized just by my experience, just like millions of other people, not just in this country, but around the world.”
Nguyen spent 2016 to 2020 firming up his views, and in 2021 he’s thoroughly unimpressed with what either party has to offer. Eventually, he realized that his political beliefs and his hobbies aligned, and the Star Trek Communist was born. Because, according to Will, we could be living in the Trek future today, right now, if we had the political will to do it.
“The reality is, we actually already live in a post-scarcity world. Now.” Nguyen begins picking up speed here. “There's often an argument that people say, ‘Oh, you only get the Star Trek future because you have a replicator box in the wall. And, you know, only then can you have socialism or communism,’ which I would say that's a very disingenuous dodge, because we already have the ability to house and clothe and care for everyone right now, that's not that hard. The Earth has the ability to feed 10 billion people.”
Over time, Nguyen applied his Marxist beliefs to Trek and drew some pretty revolutionary conclusions. Despite the name, however, he doesn’t believe he’s the only one to do so. “I call myself The Star Trek Communist, but I’m not saying I’m the only one.”
"A lot has changed in the past three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We've eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We've grown out of our infancy." - Jean-Luc Picard
His approach seems, at first glance, shallow — he doesn’t spend a lot of time debating his haters or engaging in nuanced descriptions of theory, though talking to him for even a few minutes shows that he is more than capable of doing so. Instead, his pictures and memes serve as bait for those who grow enraged by his posts.
“It's the online culture of saying, you know, ‘change my mind,’ they want that argument. They want to have this debate, and I've already gone down that road a long time ago.”
Nguyen eschews those sorts of arguments, but those aren’t the people he’s really targeting.”It's just actually a way to get people to ask me about socialism, Marxism, and communism. My DMs are actually open all the time, answering questions.”
People, he says, see a “wholesome, positive person” posting about politics, and they want to know more.
This approach has drawn a fair amount of ire in some circles, with the criticisms leveled against him ranging from suggestions that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, that he can’t be a Communist because he purchases his costumes with money, even (in one notable post) that his forehead is too big. “Ah, yes, the right’s fabled meme-ing ability,” he responded.
As for his tendency to purchase his costumes? That just goes back to a common misconception about Communism. “It's a very common refrain, ‘Oh, well, you buy the uniforms. Right? So you're a capitalist, right?' And actually, you do need to have a response to that. It’s just there's a misunderstanding of, of what capitalism is, a misunderstanding of commerce. The exchange of goods and services existed before capitalism, under feudalism, under previous forms of government.” The use of money, Nguyen says, and having discretionary income, are not verboten under Communism.
“Don't trust a man wearing a better suit than your own.” - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #47
For Will, Star Trek serves as a valuable common metaphor to discuss politics with the like-minded, or people he hopes will one day become like-minded. Talking about politics with the uninitiated can be difficult, but it’s made a lot easier if you talk about Chief O’Brien instead.
“You know, he's very proletarian,” Will says, “His [ancestor] was Sean O’Brien, a union man and he's a real proletarian, but he also plays cello. He plays darts. He’s a family man, with children. Has a well rounded life, while also being the heart and soul of Deep Space Nine. And that's exactly what we're saying ... if we free ourselves from living paycheck to paycheck, what couldn't we do? How much of our lives would be freed up? If you didn't have to worry about putting food on the table? That's why people gravitate toward Star Trek, they look at Star Trek, ‘Wow, I really want to live on that nice pastel-colored ship.’”
Ultimately, Will fits in with the best traditions of Trek fandom in that he’s an optimist. A brand-new father, Will is doing everything he can to make a better, more Trek-like world for his daughter, and he’s feeling good about his chances.
“Being part of an organized effort to reach people with these ideas, gives me a lot of optimism. It's what we call ‘revolutionary optimism.’ [There’s] tremendous class consciousness right now, people are learning very rapidly. There's no better time to market.”
Sean Kelly (he/him) is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He occasionally gets depressed that he’ll never know what raktajino tastes like.