The Quarians from Mass Effect are Council Communists

In my latest straw-grasping feature, I highlight and explain my discovery that the Quarians from the Mass Effect series are actually big ol’ commies.

I’ve started replaying the first Mass Effect recently in a bid to indulge my nostalgic cravings, and while the first hour or two are a bit of a slog to play, you eventually reach a point where you can really start to sink your teeth into it. I thankfully reached that point of the game and decided to catch up with my newly-acquired crew, which led me to the engine room where I had a chat with Tali’Zorah, the Quarian you pick up after she helps you in finding evidence to condemn Saren, the antagonist of the game. And I found out something rather fascinating after asking her about Quarian society.

The Quarians operate under a sort of Council Communist society. They don’t call it that, but that’s what their system of government is. Really, it is. Allow me to explain.

Quarians find their home in the Flotilla, also known as the Migrant Fleet. It’s a massive collection of ships and cruisers that move in unison to form a sort of spaceborne Venice. While the Flotilla is technically under martial law and the captains of each ship have their final say over ship matters, in practice Quarian society is much more democratic.

The government of the Migrant Fleet is referred to as the Conclave, and is made up of representatives from every ship in the Flotilla, who collectively decide on day-to-day matters like the course of the fleet, resource collection, and law enforcement, the martial law element taking the form of the Admiralty Board, a group of five Quarian Admirals that oversee Conclave decisions and have the power to override decisions, though it has to be unanimous and it comes at the cost of immediate resignation from this post to keep the power in check.

Individual ships, as well as putting forward their Conclave representatives, form their own democratic councils to decide on individual ship decisions and what issues they want their Conclave representatives to bring to meetings, and crew resources are pooled to upgrade, replace, and stock their respective ships.

If we act under the hypothetical that the Migrant Fleet were not under martial law and subsequently the Admiralty Board did not have a final say over the Conclave, then almost all of these aspects of Quarian society and government follow suit with the political theories of Council Communist ideologies, like De Leonism and Luxemburgism. For the purposes of a strong argument, I’ll approach this from a Luxemburgist perspective.

Luxemburgists generally support the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, though their support ends at Lenin’s dictatorship of the proletariat under his vanguard party, as this position of authority would be susceptible to corruption of power (we saw this when Stalin exiled Trotsky and took the reigns of the Soviet Union). Therefore, Luxemburgist theory instead calls a collection of worker councils, each council deciding on the policy best suited to its respective industry and community, and sending representatives to one greater council to decide nationwide policy, these representatives being regularly replaced by new representatives to keep power in check.

We can see this in Quarian society: with individual ships serving as equivalent worker councils, democratically deciding on what would be best for their own inner communities, and sending off representatives to the Conclave for fleet-wide concerns. We can even see certain elements of this theory in the Admiralty Board, with members forced to resign and be replaced by new representatives in the event of policy vetoes. This isn’t quite the same, but there is a resemblance.

There are other elements of the Flotilla that resemble general Communist theory too: Part of Quarian culture is to send newly-matured Quarians on Pilgrimages to find something useful in the galaxy, and bringing it back to the Flotilla as an offering, giving it to the ship they wish to join the crew of. This act for the betterment of the community could be considered quite Communist in ideal, and its intrinsic attachment to Quarian tradition only goes to further that thought.

These Pilgrimage items are almost always accepted by the ship captain that they are offered to, as the expansion of a ship’s crew improves its standing in Quarian society. This is an excellent means of incentivising the housing of Quarians, and despite overpopulation issues in Quarian society, it’s at least an assurance that no Quarian will go without a figurative roof over their head.

The Quarians also find within their fleet three Liveships, enormous vessels that house agricultural technology that serves to feed much of the Flotilla, and Quarians living in the Flotilla partake in voluntary rotational working positions on the Liveships to maintain and harvest their produce . This equal distribution of food is a significant aspect of most, if not all, Communist ideologies, and the voluntary rotations that Quarians in the fleet serve is an embodiment of the Karl Marx quote, “From each according to [their] ability, to each according to [their] needs.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m really pulling at straws. I have no problem with that: I think desperate, conspiracy theorist ramblings make for some rather comical content. But sometimes I’ll stumble across something that genuinely makes me say, “holy shit, it’s actually Communism.” And I think the Quarians are a pretty damned good example.

[Disclaimer: any nonsensical connections made between video games and Communist themes, zealous and self-righteous dictator-esque behaviors, and perceived support and/or apologism of oppressive regimes like the Soviet Union are purely instances of self-satire as a means of comical introspection, and in some cases have no basis in truth or personal belief.]

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Astrid Johnson

Astrid is a games journalist living in Bournemouth. She's the Editor-in-chief of Indie Haven, co-host of the Gameographers and the Real Heroes podcasts, and has freelance pieces published on Waypoint.

One thought on “The Quarians from Mass Effect are Council Communists”

  1. Interesting write up! I just have this to add: Quarian communism goes a lot deeper than just this. Quarian society is very much communist in nature, however this is explored more in the novel Ascension than in the video games.

    In the books, Quarian society is literally described as “collectivist”, with that exact word. They also don’t have a concept of selling surplus goods on the Migrant Fleet, but freely exchange it among eachother. It is very much a moneyless society:
    “Anyone who has unneeded goods and items stores them here,” Seeto explained, “so others can come and take what they need.” “You mean you just let anyone take anything from anyone else?” Hendel asked in surprise. “Not if someone else is using it,” Seeto said, his voice making it clear that, to him, the answer was blatantly obvious. “But if you’re not using it, you’re just supposed to bring it here and give it away for free to someone else?” “What else would you do with it?” the young quarian asked, the question making it clear that the concept of selling surplus merchandise to your neighbor was completely foreign to him.

    Food and medicine (and other essential items) are provided for free to everyone as well. Another interesting fact is that the living space of the captain is the same size as everyone elses.

    Liked by 1 person

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