The American Eugenics Society’s flashlight exhibit at the 1926 Fitter Families Contest, emphasizing the “overpopulation” of “defectives” in the American gene pool.
Neo-Malthusianism: Anti-Humanism, Misanthropy, and the Crisis of Capitalism
24 November 2020
Neo-Malthusianism is the notion that the world needs to be drastically depopulated and that “humans are a cancerous tumor eating up the world’s resources.” Its proponents would have the poor believe that they themselves are responsible for their own misery — rather than the real culprits, the capitalist class who profit from imperialist plunder and environmental destruction. Now that capitalism is entering into a new crisis, alarms are once again being raised for “overpopulation”, and Neo-Malthusianism is making a resurgence, particularly in environmental discourse, with encouragement from the capitalist class. There is no doubt that climate change is a very real and urgent matter, with greenhouse gas emissions leaking into the Earth’s atmosphere due to significantly increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and thus contributing to higher-than-normal temperatures and rising sea levels. However, in spite of the U.S. military having the largest and most destructive carbon footprint on the planet, with a staggering 1.2 billion metric tonnes of carbon, the capitalist class is actively shifting all blame and attention away from imperialism and the system of capitalism so that they can continue to protect their profits.
The bourgeoisie are shifting that blame onto everyday, ordinary working people, encouraging them to blame themselves and each other; even going so far as to point the finger at the most vulnerable members of society, such as those that require inhalers for debilitating asthma. Poor, working class women around the world who choose to have children are also unfairly accused of contributing to “overpopulation” (a non sequitur) and of “irresponsibly” bringing children into a world full of suffering. And while commercial exploitation of poorer countries’ water, food, labour, and resources is the real problem — as opposed to “overpopulation” — the capitalist class will always turn around and pin the blame on the people of those countries, especially African countries, and claim that they are starving because they “breed like rabbits” (to borrow an infamous phrase, regarding the 1943 Bengal famine, from Winston Churchill). Rather than advocating for sustainable energy, a centrally planned economy, and putting an end to overproduction, the capitalist class instead pushes crippling austerity measures which posits that human beings are nothing more than beasts of burden. The myth of overpopulation has indeed become a convenient and reliable cover for the capitalists who have no intention of redistributing wealth and resources, and who need to give the illusion that environmental concerns are being addressed. To add to the absurdity, the myth of overpopulation is becoming more widely accepted in Western “left” circles who seem to have forgotten that population control is a branch of eugenics.
The Crisis of Capitalism
Firstly, what is Malthusianism and how does it relate to the capitalist crises?
Malthusian thought originated from English economist Thomas Robert Malthus who is famous for his pamphlet titled An Essay on the Principle of Population where he developed the idea that overpopulation is the reason for poverty and the lack of sustenance, pushing the false notion that the population increases faster than the means of sustenance. He even (mis)attributed the French Revolution and the social unrest of late 1700s France as being the results of the population growing at a faster rate than the food supply, completely ignoring the fact that the aristocracy created the food shortages when they deregulated the grain market. Malthusian thought also posits that human development and improving the standard of living are affronts to nature. Friedrich Engels refutes this in an 1895 letter to Nikolai Danielson by explaining that, in reality, it is the means of sustenance that must exist before the population can grow, which is the opposite of the narrative put forth by Malthus:
“I think the note on Malthus in Vol. I [of Marx’s Capital ], Note 75, to Chapter XXII I, Ib ought to have been explicit enough for anybody. Moreover, I do not see, how anybody can speak of completing Malthus’ theory today, when that theory rests upon the assumption, that population presses on the means of subsistence, while corn in London is at 20/- the quarter, or less than half the average price from 1848 to 1870, and when it is universally acknowledged that the means of subsistence now press upon the population which is not large enough to consume them! As to Russia, if the peasant is compelled to sell the corn which he ought to eat, surely it is not pressure of [excess] population which compels him to do so, but pressure from the tax-gatherer, the landlord, the kulak* etc. etc. As far as I know, the low price of Argentinian wheat has more to do with agrarian distress all ever Europe, Russia included, than anything else.”
Karl Marx, who has also criticized Malthus in several of his writings, regarded the pamphlet as “a libel on the human race,” and explained that Malthusian ideas can and have been used for reactionary and bourgeois ends as the myth of overpopulation “was greeted with jubilance by the English oligarchy as the great destroyer of all hankerings after human development.” For instance, when discussing the Great Famine of Ireland in Chapter 25 of Capital Volume I, he demonstrates how the drastic decrease in the Irish population, due to the high death tolls as well as forced emigration, made the poor and working classes suffer even more during the crisis, while the ruling classes — especially the British colonists — benefited from it:
“But the lion’s share, which an inconceivably small number of land magnates in England, Scotland and Ireland swallow up of the yearly national rental, is so monstrous that the wisdom of the English State does not think fit to afford the same statistical materials about the distribution of rents as about the distribution of profits. Lord Dufferin is one of those land magnates. That rent-rolls and profits can ever be “excessive,” or that their plethora is in any way connected with plethora of the people’s misery is, of course, an idea as “disreputable” as “unsound.” He keeps to facts. The fact is that, as the Irish population diminishes, the Irish rent-rolls swell; that depopulation benefits the landlords, therefore also benefits the soil, and, therefore, the people, that mere accessory of the soil. He declares, therefore, that Ireland is still over-populated, and the stream of emigration still flows too lazily. To be perfectly happy, Ireland must get rid of at least one-third of a million of labouring men. Let no man imagine that this lord, poetic into the bargain, is a physician of the school of Sangrado, who as often as he did not find his patient better, ordered phlebotomy and again phlebotomy, until the patient lost his sickness at the same time as his blood. Lord Dufferin demands a new blood-letting of one-third of a million only, instead of about two millions; in fact, without the getting rid of these, the millennium in Erin is not to be.”
With the drastic Irish population decrease, much of the land was thrown out of cultivation and thus “greatly diminished the produce of the soil,” while the cost of rent increased and landlords’ profits rose. Furthermore, the surplus produce — which are products that are mass-produced in excess of what is necessary, exceeding the population growth — increased, despite the severe decrease in the labour force. As Marx explains,
“The scattered means of production that serve the producers themselves as means of employment and of subsistence, without expanding their own value by the incorporation of the labour of others, are no more capital than a product consumed by its own producer is a commodity. If, with the mass of the population, that of the means of production employed in agriculture also diminished, the mass of the capital employed in agriculture increased, because a part of the means of production that were formerly scattered, was concentrated and turned into capital.”
From here, we see one of the fundamental features of the general crisis of capitalism: the tendency of the rate of profit to fall over time as capitalists are increasingly deploying more advanced materials and machinery in production, using less wage-labour in the process. The new technology drives prices down through overproduction, while at the same time creating chronic mass unemployment, which in turn means less people are able buy the overproduced goods. This further heightens the contradictions between labour and capital. Because this crisis threatens capitalism, it becomes necessary for the capitalist class to forward alarmist messages about “overpopulation” which imply that poverty, hunger, unemployment, and the lack of equal distribution of resources are not systemic, and that instead they happen because “there are too many mouths to feed.” Such narratives also imply that impoverishment is to be blamed on the mere existence of the working classes. These false narratives about “overpopulation” are not only meant to distract the masses from seeing capitalism and imperialism at the root of poverty and environmental destruction, but they are intended to instill an extremely pessimistic, anti-human worldview that effectively de-mobilizes them.
Although the world has changed since the 1800’s, and in spite of Marx and Engels not foreseeing the advent of artificial intelligence (A.I.), a long standing feature of capitalism still remains: the capitalist bias towards technology and overproduction. This is not to say that technological advances are an inherent “evil”, especially if they help workers become more productive and help make their work and lives easier; they do indeed have the potential to serve human needs. However, that is not the case under the system of capitalism because capitalist ‘efficiency’ has never been about raising output or productivity for the sake of workers. Investment in technology under capitalism always means replacing and disposing of workers with machines, as the capitalists compete for a larger share of the market. They are always looking to expand profits so that they can be reinvested into expanding [capitalist] production and maximizing their gains. In the process of doing this, driving down the workers’ wages (who are already poorly paid and in constant fear of losing their jobs) is inevitable as per the logic of capitalist accumulation. Subsequently, this is followed by hiring as few workers as possible in order to cut labour costs and eliminate jobs, eventually replacing the workers with machines and automation.
Of course, Marx was addressing the material conditions of his time when he described the workers as being reduced to mere appendages to the machines; but overtime, the conditions have since evolved to a point where machines are actually replacing them all together, so that now workers are becoming increasingly obsolete. But despite these changes in material conditions, production under capitalism continues to be profit-driven rather than for use-value, and technological progress under such an anarchic system still frequently results in more unemployment as unlimited competition leads to labour being wasted. Thus, with increased efficiency, more and more products are being produced on a mass scale — but not necessarily being purchased at large because hardly anyone can afford them due to unemployment, or low and stagnant wages. And so, food is being wasted while millions of people around the world go hungry. Homes are being built everyday and yet no one is living in them because they are too expensive to buy, while there are many homeless people living on the streets. Also, landfills are overflowing with unused products that no one is buying. The United States is especially guilty of this since it holds the global monopoly, with the apparatus of production being centred around Wall Street.
In the age of imperialism, countries are targeted by U.S. foreign policy and are deliberately kept underdeveloped and backward, with their currencies decreased in value, as they are beholden to the global hegemony of the U.S. Dollar which facilitates cheaper exports created by cheap exploited labour in these Third World countries, who have low-state interference when it comes to the infiltration of foreign capital (especially U.S. capital). When any of these poorer nations gain independence and challenge U.S. global hegemony, as Cuba, and many other post-colonial successes like it have done to liberate themselves, the United States does what it can to cut them off from the world’s resources by any means necessary including by force. But over the years there has also been increasing unemployment in these poor Third World countries — which is essentially a death sentence — since their workforce, as exploited and extremely poorly paid as they already are, is gradually being reduced and replaced by machines and automation as well, which can create the cheaper exports at a much faster rate. Hence the mass migration crisis (also products of imperialist wars of aggression), which actually hurts the poor countries’ economies even more so as it not only depopulates them but causes a ‘brain drain’ which only leads them to become more underdeveloped, more susceptible to disease, and their children less intellectually stimulated as many of their best medical and educational professionals have the financial means to escape. And when their “best” leave, the populations they have left behind become more vulnerable and desperate, many of whom eventually attempt to follow suit even if they do not truly want to leave their home countries; they are really only trying to “follow the money”, so to speak. Of course, immigration has been an ‘easy target’ whenever the American right-wing needed to lie when seeking the support of the working class, as the Communist Party of Great Britain Marxist-Leninist (CPGB-ML) so eloquently writes:
“This is an easy target when seeking the support of working-class people, large numbers of whom have fallen for the endlessly-repeated lie that immigrants ‘take’ their jobs.
In reality, however, it is imperialist interests that are to blame, not immigrants. The political system of the USA demands the greatest profit possible from investment of capital. The greatest profits come from advanced robotic systems, which cut the workforce down dramatically, or from exporting jobs away from the US to low-wage, low state-interference countries.
Most immigrants are taken in to perform low-wage jobs that white American workers will not do, and, as is always the case, illegal immigrants are by far the cheapest to employ, since they have no rights and therefore cannot complain about their pay or conditions. The majority of applications for entry to the United States are from the countries to the south of its border, and so it is convenient for the capitalist class to depict the Latino/Hispanic worker as lazy, stupid, sly and totally without morals.
In truth, the immigrants’ intelligence, knowledge of work systems, eagerness to work/learn and morality are as diverse as those of any other peoples, but it must be recognised that most of those who either apply for US citizenship or try to cross the border illegally are doing so directly or indirectly because of the foreign policy of the USA, which is causing social upheaval or extreme price rises at home (the only exception to this would be a natural disaster).”
If there are no jobs and no resources being shared equally or being made affordable — despite there actually being an overproduction of products (which are then being wasted) — then how can we say that “humans are a cancerous tumor eating up the earth’s resources,” causing poverty because “there’s too many of them”? It is primarily through imperialism that capitalist accumulation is causing the world’s majority so much grief as the Global South’s wealth continues to be stolen and exploited. Not to mention, sanctions of mass destruction, bombing campaigns, funding terrorist proxy forces, and deliberately causing ‘brain drains’ also kill a large number of people who are unable to flee. So how is it reasonable to say that “the world needs to be depopulated!” when such an inherently and historically sinister thing is already happening?
Such is the logic of capitalism, when we can have too much food and yet not be able to feed everyone. The number of unemployed workers (whom Marx called the ‘reserve army of labour’) is growing not because they are “breeding like rabbits”, but because people are being forced to compete with machines that were designed for capitalist accumulation only, and not human needs or developing human potential.
Primitivism and “Useless Eaters”
The weaponization of modern population control and the capitalist co-optation of contraception can be traced back to the Rockefeller Foundation’s investment in various eugenics research programs that began in the 1920’s. This included their assistance in the development of the German eugenics program — the foundation of the Nazi’s racialist theories and their concepts of “useless eaters” (a derogotary term they used in reference to disabled people, who were among the victims executed in gas chambers). And so began Nazi Germany’s program of forcibly sterilizing people which reached between 300,000 and 400,000 of its population by 1934, just a year after Hitler took power. The Nazis were staunch adherents to the concept of “overpopulation” as they adopted Malthus’ ideas into their policies, which made it illegal for anyone to get married and have children if they had any kind of hereditary or genetic ailment; interracial marriages were also strictly forbidden. Indeed, Nazi Germany worked very hard to actively reduce their population, which is antithetical to socialist goals of striving towards a society in which every person born is seen as an asset and is uplifted and becomes an equal contributing member to society. In addition to drastically reducing Germany’s population, these sterilization programs — regardless of how advertently or inadvertently — resulted in a lack of genetic diversity. Genetic diversity, which has nothing to do with the social construct of race, refers to how further apart the mother and the father, who may or may not be of the same ethnicity, are genetically; the more distant the two parents’ genes are, the more likely that their descendants will have stronger and healthier genes. That topic as a whole, however, is beyond the scope of this article.
Neo-Malthusianism was not the only key foundation of the Nazis’ ideology. They also took inspiration from Tibetan feudalism, and the Hindu caste system, from which they adopted the Swastika symbol, as well. Tibetan feudalist society and Hindu fundamentalism were not necessarily Malthusian per se, but they did dovetail well with Malthusian thought because of their admiration and romanticization of poverty and primitivism in addition to being vehemently opposed to scientific progress. As the Nazis — who glorified the occult, Germany’s pre-Christian Norse pagan religions, and Eastern mysticism — looked in awe at these two very backward and rabidly anti-Communist societies and studied them, they saw the practices of both as remedies against class struggle.
The Nazis identified so much with the Hindu caste system and also admired poverty and primitivism, that in addition to the Swastika symbol they also adopted the term “Aryan.” This was a label that referred to the ancient noble classes who attributed their wealth and good fortune to “virtuous” past and present lives with the highest levels of “purity” — hence an inherent superiority. As a matter of fact, they believed themselves and Germans to be descendants of the noble classes of India’s antiquated Aryan society. It should also be noted that, for the sake of protecting or defending their “higher levels of purity”, the upper echelons of the Indian caste system would undergo extensive cleansing rituals if they were “contaminated” — including through physical contact via a simple touch in passing — by the lower classes, and especially by the ‘Untouchables’ who were often excluded from the caste system and performed the “dirtiest jobs” that hardly anyone wanted to do. The noble classes also argued that the poor should just live a humble life and accept their plight in the hopes of being reincarnated into a better life. Thus, we see the anti-science and fascist ideal of a “natural order” that sees large sections of the population as a burden, forming the basis behind the Nazis’ concepts of the “Aryan race” and “useless eaters”.
Tibet’s feudalist and theocratic society shared many commonalities with the Hindu caste system and, historically, was equally fetishized by the Nazis and European far-right. Far from being “peace” symbols and “perfected, enlightened spiritualists” that Hollywood portrays them as, the successive line of Dalai Lamas functioned as ancient god-kings whose despotic rule maintained serfdom and slavery. Chief among the shared commonalities with its Hindu caste counterpart is the idea that the poor “brought their troubles upon themselves because of their wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as a karmic atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve in their next lifetime,” as Michael Parenti describes. Not only that, but also much like the Indian Hindu caste system, protests for simple reforms were quickly and violently crushed, with union activists being assassinated or subjected to medieval forms of torture. Moreover, slave societies produce a class that is unable to overthrow such a system since slaves (unlike serfs who were treated better — albeit only slightly) were generally incapable of rebelling or escaping and thus cannot seize power because they were reduced to the same level as draft horses. Hence why there were very few strikes or protests. To be clear, Nazi Germany was not a slave society; but, the Tibetan kingdom in addition, to the Indian caste system did provide a major inspiration for the Third Reich in its goals of brutally putting an end to class struggle as German workers were increasingly becoming attracted to socialism and Marxist internationalism during the World War I and post-World War I economic crisis.
Hitler depicted Marxist internationalism as a Jewish conspiracy against the “pure German race” and that it can be attributed to a supposed genetic defect in Jews. Eugenics was essentially the underlying key aspect of Nazi ideology, which also saw Slavs, Roma people, and the disabled as subhuman. And by exterminating these “useless eaters”, they believed that they were restoring an ancient glorious civilization — what amounted to an overly idealized past. And true to Malthusian principles, the Nazi’s early anti-humanist propaganda promoted the idea that the disabled (who were the first to be targeted for state-sanctioned euthanasia) were a large expense on society and therefore they are a “life unworthy of life”. The most renowned and now-infamous poster from around 1938, which featured a disabled man, read:
“60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read ‘[A] New People’, the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP.”
Of course, the Nazis’ Malthusian “pure race” doctrine did not necessarily start there. The Nazis had adopted and continued the same eugenics practices that were used by the German colonists on the Herero and Nama people during the Namibian genocide that started in 1904. It was here in Namibia where the most notorious racialist physician and future Nazi Party member, Eugen Fischer, experimented on African prisoners of war, collecting their bones and skulls for his pseudo-scientific studies, and used the skull measurements (as well as the brain measurements and blood samples) of the local people — some of whom were victims of beheadings by German colonists — as validation and proof that race is real as opposed to being socially constructed, and that there is an inherent “purity” and superiority of the “white Aryan race” and the inherent inferiority of others. Fischer and his colleagues would eventually serve under the Nazis, heavily influencing the Nuremberg Laws and continuing to practice these same experiments on the Roma, Jews, and German-Africans. In other words, the Namibian genocide served as a precursor and a more direct blueprint for the European holocaust. Eighty percent of Namibia’s Herero population had been exterminated, as well as 50 percent of its Nama population; and to this day the descendants of those who survived the genocide are forced to live in overcrowded slums. Unsurprisingly, and as per tradition with many African nations, Namibia’s demands for reparations are ignored by the imperialists. As is commonplace, the imperialist nations simply blame the underdevelopment on Africans’ supposed inability to resolve conflicts and on “corruption” alone.
By no means is Germany an exception when it comes to atrocities committed in pursuit of profit; nor was it the first or the last of imperialist powers to contribute to Africa’s underdevelopment through the mass exploitation of its vast resources and economic coercion for the benefit of wealthy ‘first world’ nations. During the time that the Nazis were committing atrocities, at least 3 million people in Bengal, India died between 1943 and 1944 because of the Bengal famine which was created by the British policies for stockpiling on Indian grain during the war; it was essentially an economic drain on India which did not even participate in the Second World War. This has yet to be considered a genocide let alone a holocaust. While Hitler is widely reviled today for the most part (and rightly so), Winston Churchill is still highly regarded as a “fighter against fascism” despite being rabidly anti-worker, unabashedly racist, and having considerable sympathies for the Nazis prior to reluctantly joining the USSR-led Alliance. As already alluded to above, he asserted that the deaths in Bengal were the fault of the Indian people, the primary victims of the famine, because they “breed like rabbits”.
When Nazi Germany’s crimes were given an extraordinary amount of worldwide exposure, American neo-Malthusianists such as the neoconservative economist and jurist Richard Posner only lamented that Hitler gave eugenics “a bad name”. However, that did not stop John D. Rockefeller III and other powerful and highly influential capitalists, who were Malthusian adherents, from continuing to finance population control projects primarily targeting countries in the Global South and from making efforts to rebrand neo-Malthusianism. Plus, despite the fact that it is well known that the Nazis took many inspirations from feudalist Tibet and the Hindu caste system of India, the United States and other Western powers still continued to promote a romanticized image of these societies that often gave them a ‘hippie’ appeal and aesthetic. In fact, many Indian leftist and labour activists accused Britain of actively working with the Hindu fundamentalists “behind the scenes” in order to weaken the independence movement and keep India underdeveloped and a captive market for the imperialists; these criticisms extended to Gandhi as well, whom they believed to be a covert British agent sent to impede and divide the movement. Not only that, but the book Seven Years in Tibet, which was written by Nazi SS officer Heinrich Harrer who glorified the feudalist regime, is considered sacred among Western advocates of Tibet separatism and was adapted into a 1997 Hollywood film beloved by liberals. Furthermore, during the 1950’s the CIA armed violent pro-feudalist insurgents in Tibet in an attempt to destabilize the People’s Republic of China and partition the region.
Although expressions of hardline, openly reactionary ideas are no longer fashionable for the capitalist class’ propaganda campaigns, Hitler arguably helped (even if it was unintentional) to preserve the world-dominating philosophy of Liberalism, which is capitalism’s default standard of “business as usual” when there is no economic crisis or a significant threat of socialism arising. Nazism was largely seen as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and communism by the American and British ruling class prior to the formation of the Alliance against the Axis powers in WWII; and they probably would have staunchly remained on Nazi Germany’s side if it had not threatened the economic space of the U.S., Britain, and France and postured to take their territories, colonies, and semi-colonies by force. Other than that, Hitler not only raised the alarm over the need for population control and to stop the spread of communism, but he put these Malthusian principles to practice by categorically exterminating those who bear the brunt of the inhumanity of capitalism and those deemed to be burdensome “useless eaters”. It is, after all, what Lenin calls “the most banal liberalism” to suggest that merely being born into or existing in less-than-ideal conditions is “the problem” and the root of all economic hardship and suffering, while upholding individualism above all else, eschewing economic development that serves the collective material needs of people.
Neoliberalism and Re-branding Malthusianism
Neither fallacious Malthusian arguments—and I assert that Africa remains an underpopulated continent—nor the vacation resorts pompously and demagogically christened “reforestation operations” provide an answer. We and our misery are spurned like bald and mangy dogs whose lamentations and cries disturb the peace and quiet of the manufacturers and merchants of misery.—Thomas Sankara
In 1953, Rockefeller organized the Population Counsel in anticipation of an “overpopulation crisis” in the Global South and began pouring in even more money to finance extensive population control experiments. These projects were well-received by Washington because many of these countries’ populations saw inspiration in the Soviet Union and had the potential to lead progressive liberation movements (and indeed many of them did) that would help them break free from the yoke of imperialism. It was during this time that the United States was waging its Cold War against the USSR. Also during this era, the Rockefeller Foundation granted the Birth Control League (later renamed Planned Parenthood) $1,500,000 in the hopes of combating “overpopulation”.
Rockefeller was the founder of Standard Oil (now called ExxonMobil) and long-time member of a society that called themselves the ‘Neo-Malthusians’. Prior to providing assistance to the Nazis’ eugenics projects, on April 20, 1914 Rockefeller and the Neo-Malthusians sent Company Guards and the U.S. National Guard to a Southern Colorado encampment to terrorize and slaughter striking miners and their families who had been evicted from their homes which were owned by his company, killing 20 people in the process. This was known as the Ludlow Massacre. Rockefeller and the Neo-Malthusians had always argued that there were “too many people in the world” and that is the only reason why there are poor people in the world or why anyone would be demanding equal rights and fair liveable wages. Therefore, in order to protect Standard Oil’s (ExxonMobil) profits, the miners had to be killed.
The white, blond-haired, blue-eyed, Nordic “Master Race” (what the Nazis called the “Aryan Race”) was not an original creation from Hitler. It actually originated in the modern eugenics movement that started in the early 20th century in academic circles in Stanford, Yale, Harvard and Princeton which received patronages and funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Institution; these circles borrowed heavily from 1800’s Western European “race realism” theorists who adamantly tried to prove that African blacks are inherently stupid. Much like the 1800’s Western European racialist theorists, this American eugenics movement sought to “subtract emancipated Negroes, immigrant Asian laborers, Indians, Hispanics, East Europeans, Jews, dark- haired hill folk, poor people, the infirm and anyone classified outside the gentrified genetic lines drawn up by American raceologists,” (Black, 2003). California was considered the epicenter and was the third state to adopt laws that actively applied the pseudo-science of eugenics. These academic circles from the aforementioned private American universities not only espoused race theory and “race science” — none of which have any material, biological, or scientific basis — they also falsified and manipulated data to justify the practice of eugenics and enforce the racially-motivated laws in California and 26 other states:
“Elements of the philosophy were enshrined as national policy by forced sterilization and segregation laws, as well as marriage restrictions, enacted in 27 states. In 1909, California became the third state to adopt such laws. Ultimately, eugenics practitioners coercively sterilized some 60,000 Americans, barred the marriage of thousands, forcibly segregated thousands in “colonies,” and persecuted untold numbers in ways we are just learning. Before World War II, nearly half of coercive sterilizations were done in California, and even after the war, the state accounted for a third of all such surgeries.”(Black, 2003)
Seven years prior to California adopting those laws, then-Stanford University President, David Starr Jordan, pushed forward the concept of “race and blood” in his series of letters titled “Blood of a Nation”. In this body of work in particular, he declared that character traits and that living conditions, such as poverty, were passed down through blood — this ignores the fact that the former is learned; while the latter is only half-true because although someone can be descended from a generationally impoverished family, it is not genetic but rather it is systemic.
The Californian eugenics movement was not just a blueprint for Nazi Germany, but its major financiers from the Rockefeller Foundation had also donated around $410,000 to German eugenicsists and $250 000 towards the creation of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry, who would eventually assist the Nazi’s mass sterilization programs and lethal medical experiments on the afforementioned “useless eaters”. The state of California has since issued public apologies.
Considering that Hitler’s legacy, blatant racism, and the eugenics advocacy of the late modern period have left a stain on Malthusianism — and despite the fact that the global population rate had been in steep decline since 1971 (falling to 1.17%) — how were the capitalist class going to revive the hysteria around “overpopulation”? Or rather, how were they going to continue to push people out of the global economy and silently kill the “useless eaters” who “breed like rabbits”? Enter economist and Neoliberal philosopher Milton Friedman.
Neoliberalism is the higher stage of privatization and deregulation which advocates laissez-faire free markets, involves significantly rolling back state intervention in the economy, and lifting price controls. It is also the idea that printing more money causes inflation and that the central bank can simply double the money supply at will. Chile became its testing ground for its bald-faced brutality on September 11, 1973, when the CIA instigated and coordinated a coup led by Augusto Pinochet, and helped him to violently overthrow the democratically elected leftist government of Salvador Allende. The overthrow and the murder of Allende marked the opening-up of Chile to super-exploitation and the liberalization of its economy; the experiment was declared as the “Miracle of Chile” by the imperialists. It would also set a precedent, as Neoliberalism would eventually become the prevailing ideology from the 1980’s onwards that plays an ever-increasing role in determining people’s needs.
The puppet regime of the military dictator Pinochet was the brainchild and experiment of Milton Friedman and his team of University of Chicago students and academics who were well-versed in the Chicago school of economics. The team was otherwise known as the “Chicago Boys”. Their main tenets are that “free markets best allocate resources in an economy and that minimal or even no government intervention is best;” in short: capitalism that is severely deregulated, has no trade barriers, and has no entrenched interests. These Neoliberal ideologues also acted as Pinochet’s advisors and advocated lowering taxes — especially for the wealthy classes — the selling-off of state-run businesses, and allowing the unlimited flow of global capital into the country. This led to cuts to all government spending (except for the military), mass unemployment, the elimination of 117,000 industrial jobs, and the decline in wages. The country also saw a dramatic increase in food prices, with many families spending 74% of their income on food, and which also led to a severe malnourishment crisis that especially affected children’s growth and development. By 1988, 45% of the Chilean population fell below the poverty line. On top of that, Pinochet’s regime was notorious for its mass-murders, torture, and unlawful kidnappings of labour union activists and leftists. This brutality was well-documented by several human rights organizations which recorded 37,000 people being imprisoned and tortured. Although Pinochet had become a liability and was eventually forced out of power in 1990, none of it fazed the United States because they already achieved their goal of having U.S. interests infiltrate Chile. They had long since eliminated Allende’s government which they saw as a major obstacle, and they still maintain ties with the country’s wealthy comprador class. The damage was already done, and the “Miracle of Chile” caused the death or disappearance of more than 3,200 people.
From the 1980’s onward, Neoliberalism has been shifting allocation of funds and decision-making responsibilities away from government institutions and local authorities into the hands of private companies, which are given monopoly power to be able to run down public subsidies with actions such as: preferential pricing, the ability to file lawsuits against competitors with ease, acquisitions of competitors, and lobbying for patent protection for goods and services. Private companies would also begin eyeing healthcare as a potential commodity (with the exception of the United States which never had publicly-funded healthcare).
Neoliberalism has made it so that the privatization of the most basic and vital services, such as healthcare, has become an increasingly commonplace measure for governments to take, as capitalists see it as an ideal object to be exploited. Making health care a commodity to be bought and sold entails maximizing profits for private insurance companies, not providing essential products or services; and in the process of maximizing profits, wages are decreased. Nationalized health care, on the other hand, is not important to financial capital, because capitalism is able to survive with high turnovers of unhealthy employees and does not shy away from readily discarding workers en masse. When a socialized universal health care system is fully realized, there is no room for profit incentives or patents since the public has more oversight. However, even under established nationalized health care systems, the selling of medical supplies and equipment which were originally paid for by tax dollars is an attractive target for the capitalist class and it is where a profit can be made. In their efforts to gain access to these taxpayer funded goods and services, the capitalists often attempt to wrestle them from government regulations that are supposed to protect them from predatory free market fundamentalists. This includes making attacks against nurses’ and health workers’ unions. Overproduction is certainly not limited to food and housing, as the private medical industry continues to either push for the dismemberment of public universal health care, or to be the roadblocks to universal health care as they notoriously are in the United States, ensuring that their oversupply of unused medical products are inaccessible to the masses who need it most. Fast-forward to the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020, this is made all the more blatant when a medical company threatened to sue a group of emergency volunteers in Italy who used a 3D printer to make replicas of ventilator valves, mass-producing and selling them for only $1 USD each; normally, the company sells them for $11,000 USD each. The CEO of the medical company is a patent-holder, hence the threat of a lawsuit. But the fact that the CEO is a patent-holder makes it clear that the multibillion dollar private medical industry has always been profit-driven and for the wealthy, quality care is not in its interests, and it feels threatened whenever any signs of socialization of medical products arises, however minimal. It is also clear that private medicine treats patients as nothing more than consumers who need to pay full cost for treatments, as if health services are commercial products.
These free market fundamentalists and U.S. private companies have also continued to expand beyond borders — as per the logic of capitalism at its imperialist stage — to dominate every societal and economic sector in the global capitalist economy. In its globalist and Neoliberal phase, capitalism brings us to the likes of ‘nongovernmental’ organizations (NGO’s) such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations (whose founders are outspoken Malthusianists) and its “special interest” in Africa, where the need for contraception is overemphasized as it is continually accused of contributing to “overpopulation”. Their insistence that the continent is in desperate need of population control often demonizes poor African men as “unsupportive” mindless beasts of burden in the process. This is reminiscent of middle-class movements of Britain who self-identified as ‘radicals’ (not Marxists or socialists) from as far back as the 1860’s, who were Malthusian and anti-trade unionists and yet presented themselves as ‘progressive’; they have always taken a special interest in birth control and argued that birth control would solve the problems of working class poverty, which essentially intersects with Capitalism’s aims of killing the poor and not lifting people out of poverty because their goals included getting rid of the surplus labour. This is not to suggest that abortion and birth control on the basis of women’s autonomy should be totally opposed. However, pushing for contraception on the basis of Malthusian economics not only protects the capitalist class’ profits but also effectively divides proletarian women and men while doing nothing to alleviate poverty. Nor does it provide poor and working women a wide range of options in terms of reproductive rights that should also include socialized child care and maternity care, not just abortion or birth control alone. It should come as no surprise that the Gates Foundation and its partners, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Warren Buffett, and David Rockefeller have no real interest in helping the poor of Sub-Saharan Africa access clean water, education, public universal healthcare, and food. Not to mention, the Gates Foundation is in fact one of the world’s leading funders of privatized healthcare in West Africa and other parts of the Global South. Despite Africa’s very low population density, with sub-Saharan Africa sitting at 50.762 people per square kilometre (The World Bank, 2018). Despite Africa’s very low population density, with sub-Saharan Africa sitting at 50.762 people per square kilometre (The World Bank, 2018). Comparatively speaking, this means that “in every one hundred km sided square, there are half a million people in Africa compared to well over four million in England,” as Stephen Corry writes in a 2019 article. Corry also explains:
“Consumption” obviously includes far more than just what people eat, and perhaps the most important thing is how much energy is needed to produce their food, housing, transport and everything else they consume. This isn’t straightforward. To take a simple example, someone might drive an ancient and inefficient car which uses lots of polluting fuel but if they keep it for decades and never travel very far, they might use less energy, and produce less pollution, than an electric car which is frequently traded in for a newer model. The same energy goes on making a new car as running an old one for several years, and the energy needed to propel both is very broadly the same, whether the fuel comes from an onboard tank or is drawn from a power station. Of course, there are thousands of variables, but the basic point is that the more people consume, the more impact they have on the environment. There isn’t a good way to measure this, but to get some inkling we can turn to the common measure for wealth, Gross Domestic Product (GDP). To put it simply, people from countries with a high GDP are likely, as a broad assumption, to consume comparatively more than those with a low GDP.
Applying this to our example of sub-Saharan Africa, we find that the average American’s GDP is about forty times higher than that of an average African. So, Africa’s population is indeed growing quickly, that’s true, but it’s thinly populated and its consumption per head is extremely low. Whatever their aspirations, many people there never get on a plane or travel by private car, they don’t get a new washing machine or TV every couple of years, they don’t use much electricity or fossil fuel, and they tend not to throw away vast amounts of food daily.
The conclusion must be that if overpopulation is a problem because it strains the world’s resources, then the first and most efficient way to address it is not in Africa at all, it’s to reduce consumption in the North, which currently uses far more than its share of resources. Secondarily, if rates of population growth continue to fall when standards of living go up, then the easiest way of addressing that – inside Africa – would likely be to stop the massive resource outflow from the continent, and ensure more of its vast natural wealth remains with and starts fairly benefiting its natural owners.”
So why the absurd fixation with and the objectification of Africa from NGOs, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? The short answer is that it is part of the larger continuum of the seemingly unending scramble for Africa and its vast resources by colonial powers — imperialism, in other words; the accusation that its peoples have an “overpopulation problem” is yet another non-sequitur. More specifically, if all of Africa were to break free from the yoke of imperialism and gain independence, nationalizing health care would certainly be among the top priorities for nations who do not already have it, which would go hand in hand in allowing Africa to proactively replenish its diminished populations, reducing infant mortality rates and mother-to-child transmission of diseases such as HIV/AIDS. And of course, it would mean guaranteed access to safe vaccines as opposed to empty promises made by NGOs, or overpriced patented vaccines from private pharmaceutical companies. It would also mean that predatory NGO’s including the Gates Foundation which carry out the will of finance capital would be cut off. The Gates Foundation, Oxfam, and other NGOs are a means for the capitalists, who own the means of production, to wield control over monopolies and the world’s wealth. With the facade of “humanitarianism” and lofty sentiments that seem to espouse notions of “freedom of choice”, the capitalists are able to leverage debt onto African nations by lending them money at unreasonably high rates of interest, bleeding the continent dry economically as Wall Street accumulates over half of its wealth and holds back its development.
It should go without saying that the free market ideology is antithetical to human development as it deliberately jeopardizes human lives around the world in the name of profits. Indeed, such is the creed of individualism which gives the illusion of “free choice” under capitalism, when in reality this “everyone for themselves”-mindset leaves workers to individually decide what to do at the mercy of profiteers.
Anti-Human Thinking in the 21st Century
We are already laying the foundation of a new edifice and our children will complete its construction.
That is the reason—the only reason—why we are unconditionally the enemies of neomalthusianism, suited only to unfeeling and egotistic petty-bourgeois couples, who whisper in scared voices: “God grant we manage somehow by our selves. So much the better if we have no children.”—Vladimir Lenin
At the time of this writing, calls to eliminate the “useless eaters” come in the form of naive if not cynical calls for “herd immunity” as a solution for dealing with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. In this context, the “useless eaters” are the elderly, the immunocompromised, and those who have long-term debilitating health conditions — groups who are the most vulnerable to the virus. Most if not all of these calls for “herd immunity” advocate for it without a vaccine or proper treatment. In March of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance suggested, “probably about 60 percent” of people would need to be infected to achieve “herd immunity,” before the administration finally agreed to take protective measures. The suggestion was roundly criticized by the scientific community globally because “you don’t rely on the very deadly infectious agent to create an immune population,” as Yale School of Medicine virologist Akiko Iwasaki said; contrary to the anti-scientific thinking of right libertarians, ‘herd immunity’ is usually achieved with vaccines and not by allowing the general population to be exposed to widespread infection. Essentially, these rightist libtertarian calls for “herd immunity” entail allowing the novel Coronavirus — which is highly infectious and deadly, and has no corresponding vaccine as of yet — to run wildly out of control and cull and kill significantly large portions of the poor and the most vulnerable populations. Once again, we see echoes of the eugenics movement and “survival of the fittest” coming to the forefront. Coinciding with that, some financial circles have suggested that the world will emerge “leaner and fitter” and “more productive” once the pandemic ends, putting forth arguments such as: “Not to put too fine a point on it, from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, the COVID-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents.” Such sentiments echo one of Malthus’ arguments which insists that regular plagues and diseases (as well as starvation) are necessary, unavoidable, and beneficial in making economies more productive since, from his reactionary standpoint, there are “too many” ‘unproductive’ poor people. Nevermind the fact that productivity growth has nothing to do with “overpopulation” or if there are “too many useless eaters”; but rather, it depends on raising the productive forces and making historical and scientific progress.
It is true that the elderly, many of whom are retired workers themselves, as well as those with certain disabilities that make it impossible for them to work, are for the most part unproductive (but understandably so, given their conditions and circumstances) in generating value and profit for the capitalists. The capitalists justify the inhumane treatment of such groups — which includes health and social services specifically meant for them being gutted by free market fundamentalists –- because they have no labour to sell and to be exploited. This is “the immorality of the economist brought to its highest pitch,” as Engels defines it in his rebuttal of Malthus in “Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy”. It is in this modern day context that the elderly, for instance, are being subjected to what Engels described as the capitalist rationalization of treating them as if they are a “surplus population”, or an unwanted burden, and therefore “nothing should be done for them except to make their dying of starvation as easy as possible,” as the social theory of Malthusianism goes. It is also essentially the modern equivalent to the Hindu caste and Tibetan theocratic idea that the poor and other “undesirables” cannot do anything, nor should they be encouraged to demand a better life, but accept their plight because that is just the “natural order” of things. Indeed, such is the laissez-faire approach to human health and human life under neoliberalism.
Public healthcare, wherever it is available, is one of the few services that poorer people actually have access to in spite of living under neoliberalism, in addition to vaccines which are inexpensive and efficient since they are a form of modern preventative healthcare service. With cuts to services, an increasingly individualized laissez-faire approach, and threats of privatization, however, it is clear that healthcare is viewed as a privilege rather than a universal right under neoliberalism. Framing public health as a matter of individual choice is very much in line with primitivist, reactionary social forces’ desires to keep masses of people in disease, poverty, and illiteracy. Turning public health into a gamble — especially when workers age and reach a vulnerable stage in life — is not only suggestive of capitalism’s indifference towards human life, but the normalization of deadly diseases and suffering also helps to ensure that people will have no place in the economy, which is the underlying basis of Malthus’ theories. Cuts and privatization severely weaken health services, which disproportionately affects the poor; it also leads to more needless deaths of workers. Privatizing healthcare has everything to do with maximizing profits, and nothing to do with protecting lives or alleviating suffering.
Meanwhile, in highly privatized health care systems, preventative health and health education are generally disregarded because of deregulation and cuts to public services . One of the symptoms of the much larger disease of privatized health care is the misinformation and constant attacks on vaccines, which tend to be easily widespread if not outright encouraged by the very vocal multi-million dollar anti-vaccine movement — a movement that is just one of the consequences of the very much neglected public health education. But more importantly, what we are looking at is the complete rejection of science, ‘deconstructionist’ ideas, and identity politics, which are foundational to Liberal postmodernism. Hardline conservative and neoliberal icon, Margaret Thatcher, summed it up when she infamously said that “there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first.” If anything, casting the masses aside to “look after themselves first,”and encouraging them to see ailing members of society as burdens rather than people in need of help is nothing short of peak individualism. This stands in stark contrast to a socialized public health system such as that of the Soviet Union where “the health of the individual [was] the concern of society as a whole,” and where disease prevention was a major part of the larger goal in creating living and working conditions where illness is not a rampant occurrence that threatened human lives. It was also where citizens were actively encouraged and mobilized to see healthcare as a collective and social responsibility to protect one another from illness. Under a humanist-driven healthcare system in a socialist society, workers were not seen as easily replaceable cogs when they became ill or injured, nor were they a “surplus population” when they became older.
When they are not being laid off and replaced by A.I., it should be abundantly clear by now that working people are only a means to an end for capitalism’s goals in making a profit; and it becomes even more apparent when they become ‘too old’ and ‘too frail,’ especially when a crisis hits. Everyone who is physically able must work in a socialist society, and must be given guaranteed full employment that is fulfilling. However, that is not the case under a capitalist system which alienates people from the means of production. With workers being directed by the free market, their labour is not being used to enrich themselves, or society collectively. Further, under capitalism there are many instances where science is not being used in a progressive manner in order to properly analyze the problems facing humanity and to develop effective solutions. Although it is merely a tool, science has the potential to elevate humanity and heal the Earth. Capitalists will often claim to support human development and scientific progress, and yet seem to have no qualms in allowing primitivist thought and pseudoscience to permeate human society, thus hindering historical progress. Hence the pervasiveness of postmodernist theory, which disables collective class consciousness-raising and distorts material reality.
Ironically, despite postmodernist theorists’ tendency to reduce the concept of fascism to meaningless buzzwords such as “totalitarianism,” or to mere cultural attitudes such as acts of “repression”, censorship, or social conformity — thus completely obfuscating its economic roots — their cosmopolitan admiration for primitivism jibes well with not only the Nazis’ admiration for the Hindu caste system and Tibetan feudalism, but also with Italian fascist ideologue Julius Evola who advocated a “revolt against the modern world”. When Evola spoke of the “demonic nature of economy,” he, like many of his European far-right contemporaries, was championing antiquated civilizations for their ability to maintain ‘stability’ amid starvation by impoverishing their populations through brute force. As R. Palme Dutt says in his book, Fascism and Social Revolution:
“What speaks here through the mouth of the Fascists is nothing but the typical decadent parasitic glorification of blood and the caveman (already visible in its first signs in the invalids Nietzsche, Carlyle and other sick types, or later represented in the Ethel M. Dells and Hemingways of literature). Fascism in its ideology is nothing but the continuation of fin-de-siecle decadence into its necessary outcome in blood-lust and barbarism. All this is only the death-rattle of the dying bourgeois civilisation.” (152)
Thus, it is very important for a socialist movement to remember its scientific and humanistic roots “[a]gainst all this pessimism, decline, decay and filth, tragic destinies, self-heroisings,
idolisation of death, returns to the primitive, mysticism, spiritualism and corruption,” (Dutt, 152) in order to truly move forward and solve problems. Deconstructing and reducing the global human population, on the other hand, is nothing more than crude petty-bourgeois moralism which has no understanding of the economic essence of suffering or exploitation.
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