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The Marxist Critique of Malthusianism

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CALEB MAUPIN: Thank you very much. I really appreciate the opportunity to address this important panel. Last week I was not able to participate due to my health. I was getting over a bad cold that took away my ability to speak. So, the ability to come here today and give this presentation, despite my being unavailable last week is greatly appreciated.

This is really one of the most important topics we can be discussing. This really gets to the essence of the problem going on here. I come at things from a Marxist perspective, rooted in dialectical and historical materialism. One thing I have observed is that what calls itself Left in our current world and in the current global political discourse is a complete distortion of what Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, leaders of the Soviet Union, the various Marxists of the world—whether they be in the Bolivarian countries of Latin America, whether they be in Cuba, Vietnam. All over the world, you have people who believe in Marxism. But in the West, the United States and Western Europe, we have a current that believes pretty much the opposite of Marxism, and rather has embraced the theories of Malthusianism.

Let me just quickly, because I know our time is limited, make the point of what Marxism actually teaches, as opposed to what Malthus taught. Frederick Engels, Marx’s close collaborator, wrote an essay called “The Role of Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man.” He wrote, “The animal merely uses its environment, and brings about changes in it simply by its presence. Man, by his changes, makes it serve his ends and masters it.” This is final essential distinction between man and other animals. Once again, it is labor that brings about this distinction. And what defined human beings was that unlike other animals, they were constantly changing and reinventing the way they interacted with their environment, and more effectively forcing the environment to serve them. And that the relationship between human beings and their environment is constantly changing. The majority of human history was hunter/gatherer civilization, where people lived in tribes of 20-30 people, and hunted and gathered. But we had the first social revolution with the dawn of agriculture. The dawn of agriculture gave birth to the slave, and eventually feudal civilizations that defined the world. You had people domesticating animals and growing their own food. And it was out of the Enlightenment, and out of the emergence of capitalism that we got the overthrow of the feudal system, and we moved toward what we can call the modern world. The American Revolution and the French Revolution, the English civil war and other events where the old feudal aristocracies were overturned and replaced by the modern capitalist class. The factory owners, and in the age of capitalism in its monopoly stage or imperialism, by the bankers. Those who have the wealth dominate, and we live in a system of production organized for profit of capitalism.

The problem that Marxists have generally laid out with capitalism is that capitalism holds back human creativity, and holds back human productivity. That it restricts, it puts artificial restraints on the development of the productive forces. Engels also wrote, “In every crisis, society has suffocated beneath the weight of its own productive forces and products, which it cannot use, and stands helpless, face-to-face with the absurd contradiction that producers have nothing to consume, because consumers are wanting.” This is often told with a little fable. They tell the story of a coal miner. He’s in the home with his son, and his son says, “Father, it’s so cold. Why can’t we heat the stove?” And the father says, “We can’t heat the stove, because we can’t afford any coal.” And the son says, “Father, why can’t we afford any coal?” The father says, “Because I lost my job at the coal mine; I don’t have a job, so we can’t go and buy any coal.” The son says, “Why did you lose your job at the coal mine?” He says, “Because there is too much coal.” That is capitalism; capitalism is production organized for profit. Nothing gets done under capitalism. The means of production only function as preliminary transformation into capital. As a result of that, you get a situation where people are homeless not because there is not enough housing, but rather because there is too much housing. You get a situation where people are hungry not because there is not enough food, but rather because there is too much food. This is the irrationality of production organized for profit. The goal is to overcome this. The Marxist understanding was that with the seizing of the means of production by society, production of commodities is done away with. Simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by systemic, definite organization and the struggle for individual existence disappears. Then, for the first time, man in a certain sense is marked off from the rest of the animal kingdom, and emerges from mere animal conditions to an existence of really human ones. The idea was to overcome the irrationality of a system based on profits. The banks, factories, and industries and the major centers of economic power should be seized by all of society and organized rationally so that human growth and creativity can expand, and we can get to an even higher state of abundance.

Now, Lenin developed the Marxist theory of imperialism. The Marxist theory of imperialism argued that capitalism, in its monopoly stage of imperialism, was holding back human productivity, and especially going to the developing world and preventing countries from economically developing. Keeping them as captive markets; grinding them into poverty. This is what Lenin referred to as the export of capital; imperialism. Capitalism in its highest monopoly stage. The idea was that revolutionary energy wouldn’t come from Western Europe and the developed capitalist countries. It would come from countries in the developing world, like Russia, like China, countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that were struggling to break out of the domination of Western corporations, and struggling to break free from that so that they could fully develop.

Now one important point that Karl Marx made repeatedly in his writings was that the highest stage of communism, the ultimate ideal of a classless, stateless world, was only possible when a huge amount of increase had taken place. And a society in which scarcity had been abolished. In his “Critique of the Gotha Program,” Marx wrote, “In the higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith the antithesis between mental and physical labor has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life, but life’s prime want. After the productive forces have also increased with the all around development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly, only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety, and society inscribe on its banners ‘From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.’|” Marx was making clear that until you reach a stage of vast material abundance, until human productivity has reached far higher stages, until then, any talk of building a stateless, classless world is simply foolish. You can’t do it.

It’s this understanding that was lost during the Cold War. We saw in the final years of Stalin’s life in the Soviet Union, they argued that somehow the Soviet Union was reaching the early stages of communism. That clearly was not the case; they had not even reached the level of productivity of the Western capitalist countries. But most especially in China, during the Gang of Four period, during the time of the Cultural Revolution, there became this feeling that somehow they could achieve communism in poverty. They could reach what they called the higher stage in poverty. When you attempt to build an egalitarian society on the basis of scarcity, that results in all kinds of big problems. The market reforms and the triumph of Deng Xiaoping was largely repudiating this kind of thinking, and arguing that the only way to build an egalitarian society is raising people out of poverty; eradicating scarcity, which is the basis of inequality, which is the basis of social hierarchies.

Vietnam has had market reforms; Cuba has had market reforms. While these are still socialist societies, with the state planning out the economy, we don’t have the anarchy of production. At the same time, they do have a market sector, and the goal of the state is to maximize material abundance in society; not try to create some kind of equality in a state of poverty.

At the time that Karl Marx was alive, Malthus’ writings and theories were very widely circulating. In his book, The Theories of Surplus Value, which is considered to be the fourth volume of Marx’s Kapital, Marx vehemently critiques Malthus and shows that Malthus’ idea that overpopulation is the cause of economic problems, and overpopulation is the root of the world’s problems, is a very dangerous idea. Marx wrote, “Malthus’ book on population was a lampoon directed against the French Revolution and the contemporary ideas of reform in England. It was an apologia for the poverty of the working classes. The theory was plagiarized from Townsend and others. His Essay on Rent was a piece of polemic writing in support of the landlords against the industrial capital. Its theory was taken from Anderson. His Principles of Political Economy was a polemic work written in the interest of capitalism against the workers and in the interest of the aristocracy, the church, the tax eaters, the toadies, etc. against the capitalists. Its theory was taken from Adam Smith, and where he inserts his own inventions, it is pitiable.”

Frederick Engels, writing to Karl Marx about Thomas Malthus and his ideas, wrote that Malthus’ idea was “the crudest, most barbarous theory that has ever existed. A system of despair which struck down all those beautiful phrases about ‘love thy neighbor’ and world citizenship.” The Marxist understanding is that human beings are constantly striving to advance; to reinvent the way they interact with their environment; to achieve a higher level of material abundance; to eradicate scarcity and lay the basis for a world in which people only because they feel like working; in which everyone has enough; in which social hierarchies and inequalities can fade away.

But nowadays, what we hear from many voices calling themselves leftist is something different. We hear these claims that humanity has gone too far; that we’re destroying the environment. We hear these claims that pre-capitalist societies and countries around the world that have not achieved industrial development are somehow more pure. That that’s what leftists should strive for. And in the name of left-wing ideas, we have very dangerous ideas coming out that essentially argue that human progress is bad; that human beings are a cancer on Mother Earth; that we need to reduce the human population. This is not Marxism; this is a complete distortion of Marxism. Marxism’s central world view is one of historical progress. And the success of Marxism has been in China; it has been in Vietnam; it has been in other countries that have used systemic control of the means of production to raise people out of poverty, to eradicate scarcity, and to get to a higher level of prosperity. So, what these elements, and you can talk about the role—I know your organization has done a lot to document the role of Congress for Cultural Freedom and other British intelligence operations that are trying to distort Marxism and mobilize the Left to serve some of the wealthiest interests in our society. But, what is being largely pushed, this Malthusian message that we heard at the COP26, this is not Marxism. If you want to hear Marxism, go and read President Xi Jinping and the leaders of China. If you want to hear Marxism, go and read the leaders of Vietnam; go and read what the leaders of Cuba are having to say. These are forces that believe in human productivity, they believe in historical advance.

If we’re faced with the issue of global warming, the answer is obviously not to move backward. The answer is to move beyond fossil fuels. Something like fusion energy; something higher, something more effective. Something that is more likely to increase productivity. We can’t move backward. Human beings never solve problems by moving backward. They solve problems by moving forward. And this pessimistic worldview that is being peddled in the name of Marxism and Leftism is very toxic and dangerous. It’s leading to depression and hopelessness. But rather, the slogan that we’ve put forward at the Center for Political Innovation is that we need a government of action that will fight for working families, that will mobilize to rebuild the United States, to make the United States friendly with Russia and China, and to cultivate a culture of creativity. Striving for a higher state of civilization; raising people out of poverty; eradicating scarcity; and moving toward a goal of a society of equality and abundance. Thank you very much.


SPEED: Caleb, do you have any response?

MAUPIN: Sure! I do want to add that I just got back from Nicaragua. I was there for the elections. The U.S. government has declared these elections to be illegitimate, but I was there as an election observer. I saw firsthand that the votes are being counted in the places that they are cast. That all parties are able to monitor the voting process. They claimed in the U.S. media that a number of candidates were not allowed to participate, but that was simply false. These were not candidates, these were individuals tied to USAID and tied to George Soros and tied to activist NGOs that were trying to destabilize the country. They were arrested for real crimes, like going around the world lobbying for sanctions against their own country. They were not arrested to keep them from participating in the elections. I watched the people of Nicaragua come out in big numbers to vote for the Sandinistas, the socialist government of Nicaragua. The reason they voted for them was very apparent. We drove across the country; we were in Chinandega, some people were in Leon, some people were in other parts of the country. The roads were paved; the roads were better in Nicaragua than they are in the United States of America. The streets of New York City are full of potholes and falling apart and constantly under repair. The streets of Nicaragua are paved and smooth.

They have done so much to eradicate poverty. When the Sandinistas came back to power in 2006, the country was only 52% electrified. Now, it is 99% electrified—even some of the most remote regions up in the mountains have been electrified. At this point, they’re giving people ownership of the land that they live on, and many people who lived almost as property of landowners and such, now have the ownership of the very land that they’ve lived on.

And I actually got to meet the son of the President of Nicaragua, Laureano Ortega the son of Daniel Ortega, who’s the President. And when I spoke with him, one of the things we discussed was how, in Nicaragua they have invested in the population. They essentially view the population as an asset. They see drawing people into a productive economy, as the source of the economic strength of Nicaragua. And they have been very successful in doing that: eradicating poverty, eradicating illiteracy, and increasing productivity in the country: It’s been very successful.

But not surprisingly, the U.S. government has declared it to be a brutal dictatorship, has just imposed new sanctions on Nicaragua. This is the same thing that was done during the Cold War. There was an effort to stifle the Soviet Union, in their socialist development; there was an effort to destabilize and attack China. And then later, with Henry Kissinger, there was attempt to manipulate China and the Soviet Union against one another, to maintain the dominance of Western banks and corporations.

And what Wall Street and London fear the most is countries rising up out of poverty, because human history will continue to advance, new inventions will be created, people will rise out of poverty: That’s going to happen. And when that happens, that spells the end. You can almost imagine a game, “King of the Mountain.” Remember the game, “King of the Mountain”? Where imagine that one kid gets to the top of the mountain and he announces “game over!” That’s what the Western capitalists and financiers of Wall Street and London have done. They’re at the top of the mountain, and now they say “game over, human progress must end.”

Well, no, human progress must not end. Yes, there need to be changes in the way we interact with our environment, we need to do so in a more sustainable way. Yes, there are certainly issues that need to be addressed. But claiming that human progress must end, claiming that human beings and their drive to advance is itself the problem, is just completely foolish, because the very nature of human beings is to advance. Human beings seek to advance to reinvent their relationship with the environment. And on these issues, though I come at things from a Marxist perspective, I don’t see things in terms of the American System, I see things in terms of socialism versus capitalism, I think you were correct in that most of the left is not putting out an optimistic, progressive or leftwing worldview, and that we need to put forward real policy solutions, about cooperation with China, and about building infrastructure, and advancing productive forces; real policy solutions, actual, concrete solutions are the way to get beyond the foolish, left vs right, Tweedle Dee vs Tweedle Dum dialogue that we’re seeing in politics right now, which is particularly destructive and problematic.

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