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The Rise and Fall of UFO Communism

Communism,UFOs,Cold War
Daniel Oberhaus
Natalie Patane
December 21, 202111:00 AM UTC (UTC +0)

J. Posadas had no doubt UFOs existed, and if we found them, they'd be communists.

The year was 1967, and Posadas was presiding over a world congress for a splinter cell of Latin American Trotskyists that had broken ranks with the Soviet Union decades prior, when Stalin came to power. By this point, Posadas and his motley crew of revolutionaries were a mere shadow of the organization that had once led the communist cause across South America.

But they hadn’t lost faith in the promise of a global communist revolution, which they were certain would be preceded by devastating nuclear war. As far as Posadas and his followers were concerned, it was only a matter of time until communism emerged victorious from the radioactive fallout, and it was their duty to prepare for this inevitability.

The tone of the ‘67 world congress was serious, and focused on pressing issues like impending nuclear annihilation. But one of its members, a sci-fi enthusiast by the name of Dante Minazzoli, insisted on addressing the existence of extraterrestrial life in the universe. It had been Minazzoli’s pet issue for years and it was starting to get on the nerves of many of the members of the Trotskyist organization. Minazzoli believed that the global fascination with UFOs, which had started in the late 1940s with reports of a UFO crash at Roswell and blossomed into regular UFO sightings around the globe, could be harnessed to inspire would-be revolutionaries.

As far as Minazzoli saw things, “the belief that humans were the only intelligent life in the universe represents the same type of bourgeois idealism that holds capitalist society as natural and the best of all possible worlds, the international should recognize the popularity of UFOs as a socialist impulse,” recounts A.M. Gittlitz in I Want to Believe, the definitive history of Posadas and his followers. In his mind, the popular belief in alien visitations was indicative of an innate human desire to achieve the levels of technological and social progress represented by UFOs.

If the world congress embraced UFOs, it could encourage new comrades to join their ranks.

It was a far-out theory, but Posadas was the head of a far-out communist organization known for unorthodox thinking. Over the past few years, Posadas had become increasingly interested in the connection between science and revolution. So during a break between sessions of the global congress, the aging Argentine revolutionary, his balding head wreathed in a lock of flowing gray hair, decided to put the extraterrestrial issue to rest once and for all.

Posadas’s offhand remarks, later printed as a pamphlet titled , is a meandering screed that outlined his views on the existence of extraterrestrial life and its connection to the communist cause. During his speech, Posadas underscored humanity’s limited scientific knowledge, particularly when it came to our ability to harness energy and unlock space travel to distant star systems. If extraterrestrials existed, they had undoubtedly mastered the secrets of controlling energy and matter in ways that we can still only dream about. As to whether aliens had visited Earth, Posadas was agnostic, but he felt certain we would never get to the bottom of the UFO question so long as capitalism persisted.

“Starting from the fact of the existence of extraterrestrial beings, we can accept that UFOs also exist,” Posadas told the congress. “We need to wait for further proof. It is possible that they have appeared, though it is also possible that there has been much fantasizing, exaggeration, or mystical deductions on the part of those who have seen them. Neither the capitalist system nor the bureaucracy has an interest in researching this subject, because they cannot draw any commercial, political, or military benefit from it. Socialism, on the contrary, does have an interest in this, and so too do the masses. But capitalism tries to spread the impression that this is fantasy, so people will not think there are superior forms of relations and that capitalism is incapable of reaching this level. The workers’ state will act in a different way.”

Posadas’s remarks on UFOs are just a footnote among his on more serious subjects. Flying Saucers was taken as his organization’s definitive thoughts on the subject and the topic was rarely broached again in official literature. Posadas and his followers acknowledged the likelihood of extraterrestrial life and the belief in UFOs as a manifestation of socialist dreams. But until more evidence emerged about the existence of UFOs, there were more practical matters to attend to like organizing strikes and supporting communist guerillas abroad.

Although UFOs and extraterrestrials were only a minor part of Posadas’s worldview, this topic ultimately came to define his legacy, an ironic outcome for a man who spent his life pursuing communist revolution with deadly seriousness.

Homero Cristalli

Posadas was born in 1912 as Homero Cristalli, one of at least 7 children raised by parents who were enthusiastic members of the Anarchist Argentine Regional Workers Federation. Cristalli’s parents both worked as cobblers in Buenos Aires and he was raised in abject poverty colored by dreams of a proletarian insurrection. Cristalli dropped out of school to play soccer semi-professionally as a midfielder, but his career was cut short after anarchist players called for a strike to protest the repressive politics of Argentina’s fascist general-turned-president José Félix Uriburu.  

After his soccer career was cut short, Cristalli lived an itinerant life. He labored as a metal worker for a few years until he lost part of two fingers in a lathe accident, then picked up odd jobs around Buenos Aires, eventually finding steady work as a house painter. During this time, he joined a socialist youth league and distributed the organization’s official newspaper to stoke revolutionary sentiment in the city. One day, while helping organize a strike at a shoe factory, he met a woman working in the factory named Candida Rosa Previtera and immediately fell in love. Soon after, he proposed to Previtera in a café. Too poor to afford a ring, he offered her a copy of Leon Trotsky’s Transitional Program. She accepted his proposal.

Over the next decade, Cristalli relentlessly jockeyed for power in the socialist underground in Buenos Aires. In the aftermath of World War II, the right-wing Peronists came to power in Argentina promising to improve the conditions of the country’s working class. Cristalli and his fellow revolutionaries saw this as thinly veiled opportunism, and seized the opportunity to stoke support for communism in the country. One of Cristalli’s main contributions to the movement was his writing. Along with a small group of likeminded Trotskyists, he published a militant newspaper and wrote articles under a shared nom de guerre: J. Posadas. Although many revolutionaries published in the paper under the Posadas name, when new recruits would come to meet the mysterious group of revolutionaries, it was clear that Cristalli was the leader and the true heir to the Posadas name.

By all accounts, Posadas was an unusual character. As one revolutionary recalled of his first meeting with Posadas, he suddenly stopped and “confidently raised his butt off the ground and launched a very strong fart, saying to our puzzled faces something like that ‘it was better for us and for him that he not hold it in.’” But despite Posadas’s odd mannerisms, his devotion to the revolutionary cause turned him into an unstoppable force, and he quickly climbed the ranks of South America’s Trotskyist bloc.

As the world entered the paranoid stalemate that would come to define the Cold War, Posadas found himself as one of the leaders of the Trotskyist party favored by the working class across Latin America. But Posadas’s rapid ascent through the party ranks went to his head, and he began turning his back on supporters in a misguided attempt to further consolidate power. By the late-50s, Posadas had effectively established a cult of personality around his unique brand of communist ideology and he eventually broke ranks with the global Trotskyist movement to go his own way.

The Nuclear Cult

Posadas had come to power during a time of unprecedented global change. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had shown the world the terrible power of nuclear weapons and locked the US and Soviet Union into an apocalyptic arms race. The reports of a crashed flying saucer at Roswell launched a parade of UFO sightings around the globe. And In 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik and kicked off a space race that soon saw the first humans in orbit and culminated in a moon landing a decade later.

For the most part, Posadas and his followers — now known as the Posadistas — celebrated these developments.

Each Russian space launch was heralded as a demonstration of the superiority of socialist technology. They even embraced a nuclear war as a grim prerequisite for building a socialist utopia on the ruins of a capitalist civilization. They supported communist guerillas from Cuba to Guatemala with money and personnel. Posadas even went to Havana to personally visit Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who had also embraced nuclear war as a way to hasten the communist revolution. As Gittlitz recounts, “Posadas believed, more than ever, that for socialism to be achieved the [nuclear] conflict was both inevitable and necessary.

“Anyone trying to save this world was doomed to die with it.”

As Posadas grew older, his apocalyptic visions for the future only became more entrenched, as did his iron grip on the leadership of his revolutionary followers. By the time Minazzoli broached the UFO question at the Posadistas’s world congress, the group was an outcast in the eyes of other communist organizations around the world. To maintain power, Posadas insisted on strict adherence to stringent rules that included a prohibition on drinking and non-procreative sex. In many cases, he would make married members of his group live apart for months — sometimes years — at a time. Meanwhile, Posadas became obsessed with infusing his theories of communism with nominally “scientific” ideas that often had little basis in reality. What started as a revolutionary workers party decades prior had come to resemble a cult based around Posadas.

As Posadas and his organization fell out of favor among the rank-and-file communists in South America, they were getting a more enthusiastic reception in Europe. Following a government raid on one of the Posadistas’s training facilities in Montevideo, Posadas and a core group of followers relocated to Rome, where they established a new headquarters in the 1970s. This is where the group really began to resemble a cult, which ultimately alienated many of Posadas’s original followers.

“Illegible in the many bizarre and repetitive transcriptions of Posadas’s speeches, many ex-militants said, were the hypnotic elements of their performance: dramatic rhythm, humor, and musicality,” Gittlitz writes. “The effect was heightened in one-on-one sessions during congresses calling to mind the charismatic techniques of L. Ron Hubbard’s parapsychological audits, Jim Jones’ mixture of emphatic salesmanship and gospel, or Marshall Applewhite’s soul-piercing confidence.”

Abandoned by his core supporters, Posadas rallied a new group of young European recruits to his cause. Yet his paranoia only deepened. He was utterly convinced that a global communist revolution was nigh and still saw himself as a central figure in that process. He was entirely out of step with reality and his antics became increasingly bizarre.

Posadas would frequently bring supporters to the Roman zoological garden to lecture on the importance of space exploration. He believed the space age would give humanity a new vantage point that would help us understand our place in the universe and usher in a new consciousness that would, in Gittlitz’s words, result in an “unimaginable communion between humans of all ages with animals, plants, extraterrestrials, and inanimate objects.” He believed that dolphins could establish a telepathic connection with humans and called for more humans to be born underwater to strengthen our relationship with the cetaceans. 

In late 1976, Posadas had a heart attack that left him unconscious for a week. When he awoke, he spent his time writing long treatises on topics ranging from the origin of life to film criticism, and wouldn’t sleep for days on end. Despite his doctors encouraging him to rest, Posadas simply seemed incapable — there was too much to say, and too much at stake. In 1981, Posadas suffered a second heart attack and slipped into a coma. He was pronounced clinically dead, but miraculously survived. A few days later his body finally gave out, and the strange, revolutionary life of the man known as J. Posadas came to an end.

True Believers

Forty years after the death of Posadas, a vanishingly small group of followers still survives. They post scattered updates to their , but otherwise, the Posadista movement effectively died with its founder. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 90s, the dream of a global communist revolution was no longer sustainable.

But what no one could have anticipated — not even Posadas with his fanciful imagination — was the effect the internet would have on the transmission of ideas both profound and outrageous. And today Posadas and his vision of communist UFOs has found new supporters through the power of memes.

Redditors and other internet denizens depicting Posadas riding a dolphin through space and revel in the bizarreness of this all-but-forgotten revolutionary. Posadas’s appeal on the internet is understandable. At a time when the world feels more uncertain than ever from global threats like COVID or climate change, there is a grim familiarity with the apocalyptic worldview that defined Posadas’s thinking. At the same time, his predictions that space exploration would become dominated by capitalist interests seems right on the mark as millionaires frolic in low-Earth orbit and plot their own cities on Mars. It is almost taken for granted that extraterrestrial life exists in the universe and there is a rigorous global effort underway to find it. And UFOs are as popular as ever thanks to disclosure efforts from punk musicians and military fighter pilots.

There is often a grain of truth even in the most outlandish theories, and Posadas’s vision of alien comrades is no exception. Posadas may have been wrong about the promise of communism, but he was almost certainly right that we will never have the opportunity to make first contact unless we find better ways of existing on Earth.

In SETI circles, there is a concept known as the “great filter.” One of its implications is that if any intelligent species are left in the universe, they must have found ways to overcome the dangers of their own technologies.

The jury is still out on whether humans will be able to pass this ultimate test. But if Posadas got anything right, he understood that if alien life exists that means our own societal problems can be solved — and this alone is reason to be hopeful for our future.

Daniel Oberhaus
Natalie Patane
December 21, 202111:00 AM UTC (UTC +0)