Perhaps no faction in the Star Trek canon has been as little used and yet made such an impact as the Borg, a hive mind or “collective consciousness” composed of trillions of forcibly assimilated sapient species whose personalities and thoughts are cybernetically suppressed. While linked to the Collective, these drones have no capacity to act on their own and are, in many ways, little more than enhanced zombies. Following the directive of their queen, the Borg pursue perfection and efficiency at the expense of individuality, creativity, and culture.
While compared to the Nazis in the two-part episode “The Killing Game” from Star Trek: Voyager, the Borg’s modus operandi is more reminiscent of Communism, as they wish to bring about a flawless society where everyone is equal. In order to do that, they conquered numerous sapient species and forced them into the hive mind through their cybernetic mental link. They have done the same to the flora, fauna, and even the planets which these various races called home. In this way they have become the unquestioned rulers of several million sterilized worlds.
Like the Communists, the Borg use coercion to support their claim that they have achieved absolute "harmony" within their society. This statement is reminiscent of the rallying cry of the French Revolution: "liberty, equality, and fraternity," which Marx and Engels codified in their Manifesto, labeling it "Communism." Enforcing this "philosophy," the hive has no crime, no poverty, and does not recognize the distinction between the male and female sexes. By recharging their mechanical implants in “regeneration" or sleep cycles, the Borg drones’ physiology is sustained, removing the need to eat or drink. No drone is valued above the others; although damaged drones are subject to repair, this is only done if the injury is minor or cost-effective. Drones deemed to be of no use are deactivated and stripped down for spare parts, much as political prisoners in the People’s Republic of China have their organs forcibly harvested.
Curiously, these parallels to the Communists were not as clear in Star Trek: The Next Generation as they were in Star Trek: Voyager. The Borg appeared in only six episodes of Next Generation series and received little to no development during these installments. According to the series’ creators, these totalitarian antagonists were shown infrequently because the writers believed the hive was too powerful for Starfleet to encounter regularly. Thus they arrived either in overwhelming numbers or in minor groups that were easier to deal with and/or dispatch.
In contrast, the Borg appeared in nineteen episodes of the Voyager series. Those episodes greatly expanded upon the Collective’s characterization and provided the audiences with a better picture of this artificial and oppressive society. In later seasons of Voyager the ship's crew, alone in the Delta Quadrant, with no Starfleet or Federation standing between their fragile ship and the hive, had to confront the Borg repeatedly on their quest to return home. Each time they did, Captain Janeway and her subordinates managed to defeat or somehow escape their cybernetic nemesis in new and innovative ways.
The difference between the two series’ treatment of the Borg is especially intriguing today, as it perfectly illustrates the disparity between an ideal Communist/Socialist state and human freedom. Many forget that Marx considered Socialism the “transitional stage” between a capitalist or free society and Communism. Indeed, Socialism promotes many of the same theories as Communism; it simply does so in a less virulent manner. This is why Next Generation could not defeat the Borg, but the solitary U.S.S. Voyager could prevail against them on multiple occasions.
Resistance is Futile
Fan opinions of The Next Generation television series and related media are divided. Some swear by this chapter of the franchise while others mercilessly deride it. Considering the series took the military role of the Enterprise D rather lightly, it is hard to dismiss the latter’s criticisms. No navy vessel would have such a spacious interior or so many amenities. Nor would any navy allow officers to quarter their families aboard a ship of the line, since this would distract the servicemen from their duties – especially in combat.
While the stated aim of Starfleet “to seek out new life and new civilizations” is admirable, the original series and most of its sequels never veered from the knowledge that not every new life form or civilization would be friendly. This is why Starfleet vessels were always armed to the teeth despite their nonviolent mission statement. Those who seek peace most earnestly must be prepared to wage war to keep it, and the Federation was not immune to this rule. Except, perchance, in Next Generation.
Though its socialist leanings are evident in the series’ bungling attempt to excise commerce from the narrative, Next Generation’s rejection of Starfleet’s obligation to confront hostile forces through violent conflict is another mark of the ideology. This version of Starfleet reprimands those who take concrete action to stop antagonistic individuals or species, either on their own behalf or in an effort to protect others. The series also does its level best to avoid letting the crew of the Enterprise D actually fight and rout an aggressive force. Instead, the crew and the Federation attempt to “cure” evil by promoting understanding among the various species they govern or encounter, even when this strategy is manifestly unrealistic.
The results of this attitude were best seen at the Battle of Wolf 359, which was the Federation’s first confrontation with the Borg. There a single Borg cube destroyed thirty-nine out of forty Starfleet vessels, and killed or assimilated roughly eleven thousand Starfleet personnel and civilians in the process. In any normal military, this type of defeat would be a stunning embarrassment. Yet Next Generation practically forgets about the martial threat the Borg present in subsequent seasons because the creators considered the hive to be too powerful for the Federation to defeat during the course of a season or seasons. Instead they dropped the Borg from Star The Next Generation series as well as the subsequent Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series. The Collective did not return to the franchise as a credible threat until the third-season of Voyager.
While Next Generation’s passivity toward the Borg may be due in part to the creators’ decision, in-universe this submissive attitude took a far different form. As the larval stage of Communism in the Marxist evolutionary chart, the socialist Federation could not afford to decisively defeat the Borg. Doing so would lay their own flaws – namely stagnation in art, science, exploration, philosophy, culture, moral understanding, and the growth of the human person – bare for all to see. For this version of the Federation to maintain the appearance of stability, any resistance they offered the Borg had to remain truly futile. Otherwise they would be revealed as the ineffectual, intellectual cousins of the greatest evil the galaxy had ever seen.
In contrast to its precursor series, the Voyager series practically ran circles around the Borg. Cut off from the Federation and its Socialist enforcers, Captain Janeway could not rely on her government to support her and her crew at any point in the narrative. She had to grow into a leader who could get her crew through a battle or crisis with as little loss of life, property, and supplies as possible.
While difficult and lamentable, this separation gave Janeway and her people far more freedom than they had previously enjoyed under Next Generation’s Federation. From the first episode onward, Voyager lost crew members and gained new ones more frequently than any previous Star Trek series, preventing their small society from stagnating. They engaged in commerce via barter and trade to survive, and were more than willing to defend themselves or others when evil reared its ugly head. In doing this they developed novel technologies, pioneered scientific techniques, and discovered new things both within and without themselves.
Another reason for their success against the Borg was the crew’s ability to remain open to the unknowable. While God and religion are not often mentioned positively within the series and are occasionally caricatured ("Wither thou goest, Caretaker?"), it remained throughout not only probable but expected for Janeway and her crew to accept the supernatural. They could believe in the mysterious because, while perhaps not superior to any other being or race in the galaxy, they were separate and apart in their inexorable refusal to countenance defeat.
Combined with the knowledge that they were utterly alone in the inimically hostile Delta Quadrant (“Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…”), their relative humility allowed them to conceive of something – or Someone – greater than themselves. This provided them with new opportunities for growth as individuals and a society.
The Borg could not do this. The group mind was incapable of recognizing anything bigger or better than itself, a flaw which led to their near-destruction at the hands of Species 8472, a strange species from “fluidic space.” Although the hive could adapt, it could not innovate. Groups and nations do not create or design anything on their own; they adopt practices or technology developed and discovered by distinct persons. By forcing billions of individuals to abide by this sterile regiment the Borg hobbled their members’ creativity and left themselves vulnerable, despite their greater physical, technological, and numerical superiority.
It was their freedom of thought that allowed Janeway and her crew to believably trounce the Borg as often as they did. Since Next Generation’s Federation suppressed the individuality of its citizens in order to eliminate evil, there was little reason for its characters to do more than maintain the status quo. Janeway and her crew had no such barriers, making them stronger than the Borg despite their physical, technological, and numerical disadvantages. In this way they proved that a genuinely free society has more to recommend it than either a Communist or Socialist regime ever could.
Communism and Socialism have demonstrated that its implacable desire to perfect man, even at the cost of millions of lives, inevitably leads to the totalitarianism they claim to despise. Seeing man as a mere animal or biological machine that can be “fixed” with the right adjustments, these adherents of Marx forget or ignore the fact that humanity was made for something greater. He has a destiny beyond what can be seen, touched, or even imagined.
Perfection cannot be found nor forced in this life. But it can be sought and pursued on a personal level. As Star Trek: Voyager ably demonstrates, only a free society allows man to do this in a healthy manner. While this type of order appears messy and imperfect, it is these perceived flaws that make it the best vehicle for man to reach his destiny. For, as Robert Browning said, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
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