I recently saw a meme with a girl's face saying "Slams socialism because there's no such thing as a free lunch... Doesn't realize the line comes from a novel about socialist revolution." This is a reference to the Robert Heinlein novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The phrase is used heavily there, but the novel is definitely not the origin of the phrase, so part of the meme is definitely wrong. I was more surprised by the notion that the revolution in the novel was considered socialist, as I had always read the novel as a libertarian fairly tale; a thought experience on what an ideal minarchy or anarcho-capitalist state would look like, which in my mind is the exact opposite of socialism in any form.

Is there evidence that the revolution in the novel has socialist ends (control of the means of production, redistribution of resources according to an ethical criteria, regulation of business cycle ect)?

2 Answers 2


There's a little bit that can be read that way — Wyoh belongs to what she calls the "Fifth International", and says that the organization includes Communists and "Societans" (which we may suppose are some sort of futuristic socialists). The organization meeting that Wyoh has her little speech in seems to have a bit of a socialist bent and consists of lots of unions and farmers. At the same time she says "I'm no Marxist; we Fifths have a practical program. Private where private belongs, public where it's needed, and an admission that circumstances alter cases". So, a fairly minor sort of socialist. Prof De La Paz is straight-up libertarian, and Mike and Mannie are apolitical to begin with, but they pretty much follow the Prof.

The loonie revolution is about freedom — freedom from Authority, freedom of immigration and emigration, and most importantly freedom from regulated commerce. The Authority controls all imports and exports — loonies can only do business with Earth through Authority — and makes immense profits on both sides of the deal, paying loonies poorly for precious goods and charging dearly for imports. The Authority sets production quotas and assigns people their jobs. The Authority suppresses political organization. What the revolution demands is simply to be recognized as a free nation, to control its own trade (there's some talk of embargoing exports due to the ecological angle, but they seem pretty certain that with Authority coercion removed, a free market can establish a fair balance of trade), to give its people freedom, and to end the fact that so many of their citizens are prisoners — they tell Earth that they're welcome to ship their unwanted up to the moon at their own expense, but once they get there, those people will be free to live where they want, do what they want, and get on a ship right back to Earth if they so choose. At the climax even a representative farmer character says "stop shipments right now! Not another tonne, not a kilo... until they come here and dicker honestly for honest price!" which seems like an endorsement of free trade. As far as I noticed, none of your criteria for socialist ends were on the formal agenda of the revolution.

  • I always assumed that the point about Wyoh's "private where private belongs" speech is that it isn't actually a programme or policy, its just waffle. Its impossible to disagree with, so everyone signs up to it. But once actual decisions about health or food or education need to be made everyone will start arguing. Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 22:16
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    It might be worth pointing out that at the end it is stated that the controlling society created by the well meaning Luna Citizens was perhaps worse than the society of neglect of The Authority, even with the unavoidable starving and cannibalism.
    – Jonathon
    Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 2:38

My take on this, one of my favorite Heinlein works, is that the revolution/rebellion more or less followed that of the nascent United States vs. England...at first, they as we, wanted only to be treated fairly as fellow citizens. Denied this, they/we, sought independence.

The socialism as practiced in the novel is not the doctrinaire/ideological sort but rather the natural cooperation that our species often adopts under difficult circumstances.

  • It's clearly in part an homage to the Revolutionary War, but as I remember it, the revolutionary leaders (Mike, Mannie, the Prof and Wyoh) deliberately antagonized the various governments of Earth. Because of the impending collapse of Luna's ability to feed its population, they had to push both Earth and Luna into a war. Luna was shipping its water to Earth in the form of grain and it wasn't sustainable. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 19:51

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