The government, the media, and North America’s largest corporations, which collectively constitute the ruling class, have in recent years undertaken a massive campaign determined to break down any resistance to the idea of population control, the theory is now widely accepted that many problems people face are caused by overpopulation.
Ecologist Paul Ehrlich, a founder of the Zero Population Growth Movement, writes:
We are constantly hearing of the headaches caused by growing population: not just garbage in our environment, but overcrowded highways, burgeoning slums, deteriorating school systems, rising crime rates, riots and other related problems.
The intended effect of this campaign has been to divert the justifiable anger of the people forced to live with these ’headaches’ from a progressive attack on the ruling class that is responsible for the conditions to a reactionary, ’blame-the-people’ attack on the working-class majority, domestically and around the world.
For example; starvation in India is not attributed to centuries of imperialist oppression but is due, rather, to the Indian’s propensity to over-reproduce; the shortage of adequate housing in North America is not due to the fact that production is based on profit, but, rather, because the population is growing too quickly.
Building upon this ecological groundwork writers like Ehrlich are advancing more adventurous schemes of population control including denial of food aid to countries deemed to be overpopulated, universal sterilization of East Indian males with more then two children, and the establishment of “area-rehabilitation” programs in selected underdeveloped countries involving population control (also migration control) along with agricultural and industrial development. In this latter program it is intended that the United States Russia, Japan, Europe, Great Britain, the world’s leading imperialist powers, lead the way.
Because of the drastic, fascist proposals being put forward by the population controllers it is necessary to put the population scare into an objective historical perspective and to deal with the questions raised in a serious and scientific way. We do not accept Ehrlich’s non-sequitor: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.”
As in all things, following the line of the ruling class that now dominates the eco-movement will lead to continued oppression and exploitation for the majority. Workers and students now involved in fighting the real social problems of pollution and poverty must be won to see that the root of the problem is not over-population but capitalism itself.
Most of the current thinkinq underlying the population scare is directly related to the theories of Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. His argument in a nutshell is as follows:
The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second. By the law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal.
This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence.
This difficulty must fall somewhere; and must necessarily be felt by a large portion of mankind...
This natural inequality of the two powers of population, and of production in the earth, and that great law of our nature which must constantly keep their effects equal, form the great difficulty that to me appears insurmountable in the way to the perfectibility of society.
The conceptual framework of the Malthusian law of overpopulation is exceedingly simple: Population increases geometrically (1,2,4,8,16...) while land productivity increases arithmetically (1,2,3,4,5,...). The result is obvious. But is Malthus right?
The geometric ratio of population growth is not really proven. It is based on the dubious observation that
“the population has been found to double itself in twenty-five years,” in the contemporary (i.e. 1798) United States. He then takes this observation to be the rule; “that population, when unchecked, goes on doubling itself every twenty-five years, or increases in a geometrical ratio.” We know of course that the population does not double every twenty-five years. In some countries it doubles every 17 years (Costa Rica), in other countries the population doubles every 175 years (Austria). These statistics actually say very little about the population picture but they do point out that the modern Malthusians do little more than their predecessors when they point a dumb finger at population statistics with no attempt to explain why particular patterns of population growth emerge. Paul Ehrlich, for example, is given to facile statements like:
...populations grow at compound interest rates. Just as interest dollars themselves earn interest, so people added to populations produce more people.”
Such statements are intended to impress upon us the absolute inevitability of overpopulation and the necessity of government action in the area.
Getting back to Malthus, his proof of the arithmetical increase in land productivity is the bare assertion that it is “the very utmost that we can conceive.” History has proven Malthus wrong on this point. In fact, during the baby boom of the 1950’s when population was growing at the rate of 1.8% every year, farm output was growing at 2.25% per year a higher exponential rate of growth.
Realizing the weakness of the original maxim many Malthusians later substituted the “law of diminishing returns.” This law maintains that if one of the three factors of production (land, labour, capital) specifically land is held constant, then successive additions of the variable factors, labour and capital, will eventually result in a diminished added output (marginal product) relative to the amounts of labour and capital added.
In 1848 Engels provided the theoretical refutation of this law:
The area of land is limited -that is perfectly true. But the labour power to be employed in this area increases together with population; and even if we assume that the increase in output associated with this increase of labour is not always proportionate to the latter, there still remains a third element -which the economists, however, never consider as important – namely, science, the progress of which is just as limitless and at least as rapid as that of population... science increases at least as fast as population; the latter increases in proportion to the size of the previous generation, and science advances in proportion to the body of knowledge passed down to it by the previous generation that is, it grows in geometrical progression – and what is impossible for science?
More generally, Lenin writes in The Agrarian Question and the “Critics of Marx” that,
the law of diminishing returns does not apply at all to cases in which Technique is progressing and methods of production are changing; it has only an extremely relative and restricted application to cases in which technique remains unchanged.
Rapid Population Growth, a report prepared by the National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) reports that:
The natural resources available to present technology are sufficient to allow a vast improvement in the standard of living of all people who will inhabit the earth 20 to 30 years from now.
The population extremists can only respond to such information by retreating to arguments like:
Now it might turn out later that we were wrong; if we were wrong we can easily crank out more babies.
These are the words of biologist Garrett Hardin who criticizes the development of a “miracle” rice in India, “because it will make it possible for more people to live, and India is already a ruined country ecologically. ”
Hardin seems hopelessly locked into the Malthusian mentality, assuming the inevitability of over-population pressing at the means of subsistence. However, Hardin and Ehrlich have gone beyond Malthus to attempt an explanation of why population growth is inevitable without government intervention.
Hardin sets the pattern:
A purely voluntary system selects for its own failure; non-cooperators outbreed co-operators ...
Ehrlich expands on this idea. Evolution, writes Ehrlich is the key.
During all those centuries of our evolutionary past, the individuals who had the most children passed on the genetic endowment in greater quantities than those who reproduced less.
Their genes dominate our heredity today. All our biological urges are for more reproduction and they are all too often reinforced by our culture.
The thrust of this statement is to suggest that propensity to procreate is genetically determined by the indomitable forces of nature. The obvious implication of the ’theory’ is that the higher birth rates in Asian and Latin countries, or even among blacks in the United States, are due to genetic differences between races or nations. This position is totally indefensible. Ehrlich attempts no defence, being content merely to state his racist “theory”.
One wonders how Ehrlich or Hardin could reconcile the inevitability of population growth with the experience in France of 100 years of relative population stability resulting from the Napoleonic inheritance law. That law required that a father’s estate be divided equally among his sons rather than being given ’in toto’ to the eldest son. Small families resulted to avoid the division of holdings into uneconomical small plots. This experience clearly indicates that social conditions have as much to do with population growth as the state of the means of subsistence. War, famine and disease are not the only factors bearing upon the rate of population growth. How could a serious student of demography honestly ignore such a lesson?
As a final act in refuting the Malthusian laws of overpopulation Marx and Engels replaced them with a correct law of population, a law better fitted to the contemporary facts than Malthus’ universal law.
To us so-called economic laws are not eternal laws of nature but historic laws which arise and disappear... To us also, therefore, none of these laws, in so far as it expresses purely bourgeois conditions, is older than modern bourgeois society; those which have hitherto been more or less valid throughout all history only express just those relations which are common to the conditions of all society based on class rule and class exploitation. To the former belongs the so-called law of Ricardo, which is valid neither for feudal serfdom nor ancient slavery, to the latter belongs what is tenable in the so-called Malthusian theory.
Every stage of development, therefore, will have its own law of population. To understand the emergence of a relative surplus population under capitalism which presses against the means of employment, not the means of subsistence, one must understand the effect of the growth of capital upon the working class.
Marx explains that as capital accumulates its composition, a mix of constant capital (i.e. the means of production, tools) and variable capital (i.e. wages, labour), changes. The ratio of constant capital to variable capital (c.c./v.c.) increases. The “demand for labour falls relatively to the magnitude of the total capital, and at an accelerated rate, as this magnitude increases.” To sum up the law of population under capitalism:
It is capitalistic accumulation itself that constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant population of labourers i.e. a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the self-expansion of capital, and therefore a surplus population. The labouring population therefore produces, along with the accumulation of capital produced by it, the means by which itself is made relatively superfluous, is turned into a relative surplus-population. . .
Marx and Engels spent a good deal of time and energy refuting Malthus. History has done an equally effective job. But still today we have scientists and politicians advancing exactly the same ideas in a powerful campaign waged over the last 25 years. It seems incredible. Marx, himself went part of the way in explaining this phenomenon when he wrote:
The hatred of the English working class against Malthus is... entirely justified. The people were right here in sensing instinctively that they were confronted not with a man of science but with a bought advocate, a pleader on behalf of their enemies, a shameless syncophant of the ruling classes.
In naming Malthus an apologist for the ruling class Marx identified the most important aspect of the population scare, then and now.
In June, 1952, John D. Rockefeller III entered the population movement seriously. Up to that time there had been small operations pushing family planning (American Birth Control League) and population control (Population Research Bureau and the Hugh Moore Fund) then the campaign was stepped up. Thirty of America’s most eminent conservationists and experts were invited to Williamsburg to found the Population Council with J. D. Rockefeller as its first president. Where Rockefeller led millions ($) followed.
The first step in the campaign was to subsidize research by universities, international agencies and among foreign elites through scholarships. By 1957, the Council, in cooperation with other major groups like the Rockefeller Fund, the Conservation Foundation and Planned Parenthood, published a full population control program; Population: An International Dilemma, which insisted that population growth, in rich and poor nations, threatened political stability.
The next step was to bring the government into the population issue. This is the goal now sought by Ehrlich’s Z.P.G. group. This process began in 1959 when Eisenhower’s Committee to Study the Military Assistance Program included in its report that assistance be extended for purposes of birth control and study of population control. Eisenhower balked at the suggestion but Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, influenced by mounting pressure, agreed. Finally, in 1965, birth control became part of foreign assistance. “Self-help” in population planning was a criterion for receiving Food for Freedom aid. The recent proposals in this matter are simply an escalation of a process which the ruling class has been developing over the past twenty years.
From the beginning of the latest period of concern about overpopulation it has been the ruling class, as in the past, which has adopted and promoted Malthusian theories. Though the media pretends that concern about environment/population issues is a grass roots phenomenon it is revealing to see who leads the largest conservation groups.
Robert O. Anderson, Chairman of the Board of the Atlantic Richfield Oil, Director of C.B.S. is Chairman of the John Muir Institute (tax-exempt arm of the Friends of the Earth). Laurence Rockefeller; banker; is President of the American Conservation Association, President of the National Recreation and Park Association, Director of the American Council for International Wildlife Preservation and, along with R.D. Anderson, a Director of Resources for the Future. Richard Leonard, Director of Varian Associates (a large Californian based defense contractor) and Director of Western Gold and Platinum Co.; is Director and former president of the Sierra Club, Vice-President of the Wilderness Society and founder of the Conservation Law Society.
The Environment Defense Fund, Ecology Centre, Open Space Action Committee, Save the Redwoods League and Resources for the Future are funded by the Ford Foundation. The Population Reference Bureau, Hugh Moore Fund, Population Council and Planned Parenthood are funded by the Rockefeller Fund. The Population Crisis Committee is funded by the World Bank.
John D. Rockefeller, banker and Chairman of Standard Oil, and a prime mover of the population scare has not allowed government action to take the initiative, away from America’s richest men. He is a director of the Presidential Commission on Population and Family Planning and was recently appointed Chairman of President Nixon’s Commission on Population Growth and the American Future.
In every case the population/ environment groups are led by the world’s richest men and corporations, the American ruling class.
The overwhelming concern of the rich for the problem of overpopulation is in sharp contrast to their lack of concern for the more pressing issues which the ruling class cannot solve and has no intention of attacking:
– massive layoffs resulting from their energy crisis,
– speed up that follows the layoffs,
– low wages, rotten working conditions for millions,
– skyrocketing food prices,
– overpriced and inadequate housing, education, and health car
– unemployment for millions.
The population scare is an attempt to explain these conditions in a way which takes the blame off the ruling class, preserving their position in society. The idea is to blame the people for breeding too much, for consuming too much, for polluting the environment. Fortune magazine contended:
Improvement of the environment is not a partisan issue. Nor is it a class issue.” (Feb., 1970) “Even members of the John Birch Society and the S.D.S.,” says Fortune, “can agree that clean air and water are desirable.
Paul Ehrlich, in Look magazine (April, 1970), said, “If anything is going to bring together poor, rich and black, white, young and old this has got to be it.”
This Malthusian nonsense is promoted because it is a safe issue when the attack can be turned against the people. Also, it provides a distraction from organizing to fight the more immediate issues outlined above.
The most significant aspect of the so-called theories of overpopulation is the racism they embody.
In Ehrlich’s book the element of racism is first suggested on Page One of Chapter One, The Problem, as he describes how he first felt “overpopulation” in Delhi.
...we entered a crowded slum area. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, screaming. People...begging. People defecating and urinating...It seemed anything could happen.
There are many other oblique racist references throughout the text. Many of his proposals, for example, the sterilization of Indian males, are inherently racist. The hard-core racism, however, comes out in his explanation, outlined earlier, of why the world is overpopulated.
It is these very ideas that have led to genocide: Population control and abortion are both pushed in New York ghettoes. Abortions performed on black and Puerto Rican women outrun their percentages in the population. Black teenage girls find themselves involuntarily sterilized in Alabama.
This is racism! The population bomb needs to be exploded. Paul Ehrlich, John D. Rockefeller have one set of interests – their own. The movements and the ideas they push have nothing to do with what’s good for humanity. “Humanity” is the workers of the world. And their interests and those of the ruling class are miles apart.