merits of this discussion
cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Wed Nov 12 11:54:34 MST 2003
The issue isn't at all what Marx and Engels indulged in in the German
CB: The point is you have pronounced that your posts represent the Marxist
position on these questions. So, Marx and Engels' pertinent writing is an
"issue" in response to you.
it's the historical signifcance of the emergence of population control
ideologies at any given moment.
CB: It's whether Marxism considers population growth in its analyses. Your
insistence on lumping all analysis of population growth under reactionary
"population control ideologies" is getting to be bad faith on your part.
You may not like what Brenner has to say about the origins of capital, but
the one thing he did, which we should all acknowledge and applaud, is to
demolish the Malthusian notions of the decline of feudalism, and locate that
history squarely in a class struggle.
CB: Actually , I believe Brenner turns the cause of the transition from
feudalism to capitalism into a non-struggle class thing. The feudal lords
just morph into capitalists, without any struggle between the lords and the
bourgeoisie. The transition from feudalism to capitalism is based on class
peace, not struggle, according to the Brenner thesis.
Again, he seems to specifically contradict Marx's thesis on the process.
It has been plainly demonstrated, and not by just Marxists, that the
Malthusian ideologies, besides being based on total pseudo-science, are
nothing but the sales pitch of those who find austerity, gender repression,
maintenance of the ruling order the order of the day. Look at the history of
the practitioners of this pseudo-science, look at what this "ideology," and
not just German, has meant in India, the US, China, the colonies of the UK,
to minorities, to the colonized, to the unprivileged.
CB: So, your position is that population size can have no impact on any
social or economic process ? And any claim that it can can only be a
Malthusian and reactionary claim ?
Are birth control/population control laws in China reactionary,
Malthusianism, gender oppression ?
Also look at patterns of population growth and you will find as everyone has
that overall economic development is the best contraceptive available. When
children don't die in infancy or childhood, when their labor isn't required
to support the subsistence of the poor in society, when women have equal,
and protected, status, birth rates decline. So I would hope all those
concerned wtih population growth would jump on the communist development
CB: Your claim is that we are not on the communist development bandwagon ?
You are arguing in bad faith.
As I would hope it was made clear in the brief exchange with the moderator--
the issues of overcrowding, population pressure, infection vectors are truly
economic, social issues, informed and determined by the modes of production
and the property relations. And human beings are never going to escape the
risk of infection from other animal populations, particularly when in that
glorious future where we are all reconciled with our environment, we, the
lions, lay down with the lambs-- but, as Louis has pointed out, infections
can be minimized through proper prevention. And human beings are never going
to stop altering their natural environment, what did Marx write (wasn't it
also in the German Ideology?) "You can distinguish man from animals anyway
you like. Man however distinguishes himself from animals when he creates the
means of his own subsistence" (Think that's right, it's from my memory) --
that's what distinguishes us as human beings-- And that change too can be
mitigated, controlled, mastered, but only by the collectivity of human
CB: So, do you or don't you want to include _The German Ideology_'s ideas to
inform what is a Marxist approach to things ? And of course even when human
beings distinguished themselves from animals by creating their own
subsistence, natural disasters such as floods, fires, earthquakes , etc.
could force a change in the mode of subsistence.
You may argue that not every issue is determined in its finest detail by
capitalist property relations-- and I may or may not agree with you-- but
this issue--- population growth and "carrying capacity" most certainly is.
OK, six and gone.
CB: It may very well be that scholarly discussions about oil depletion in
the next 50 years did not impact the specific decision to invade Iraq, but
we better have Marxists becoming experts on those discussions, and not leave
it to the bourgeois intellectuals. The dimensions of population size, growth
and "carrying capacity" are elementary logical considerations once the issue
of depletion of a resource that is so strategic to the current technological
regime is raised.
Below are excerpts from _The German Ideology_ , sections that you and I
First Premises of Materialist Method
The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but
real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination.
They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions
under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those
produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely
The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of
living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the
physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relation to
the rest of nature. Of course, we cannot here go either into the actual
physical nature of man, or into the natural conditions in which man finds
himself - geological, hydrographical, climatic and so on. The writing of
history must always set out from these natural bases and their modification
in the course of history through the action of men.
Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or
anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from
animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step
which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their
means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material
...History: Fundamental Conditions
Since we are dealing with the Germans, who are devoid of premises, we must
begin by stating the first premise of all human existence and, therefore, of
all history, the premise, namely, that men must be in a position to live in
order to be able to "make history". But life involves before everything else
eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things. The first
historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs,
the production of material life itself. And indeed this is an historical
act, a fundamental condition of all history, which today, as thousands of
years ago, must daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain
human life. Even when the sensuous world is reduced to a minimum, to a stick
as with Saint Bruno [Bauer], it presupposes the action of producing the
stick. Therefore in any interpretation of history one has first of all to
observe this fundamental fact in all its significance and all its
implications and to accord it its due importance. It is well known that the
Germans have never done this, and they have never, therefore, had an earthly
basis for history and consequently never an historian. The French and the
English, even if they have conceived the relation of this fact with
so-called history only in an extremely one-sided fashion, particularly as
long as they remained in the toils of political ideology, have nevertheless
made the first attempts to give the writing of history a materialistic basis
by being the first to write histories of civil society, of commerce and
The second point is that the satisfaction of the first need (the action of
satisfying, and the instrument of satisfaction which has been acquired)
leads to new needs; and this production of new needs is the first historical
act. Here we recognise immediately the spiritual ancestry of the great
historical wisdom of the Germans who, when they run out of positive material
and when they can serve up neither theological nor political nor literary
rubbish, assert that this is not history at all, but the "prehistoric era".
They do not, however, enlighten us as to how we proceed from this
nonsensical "prehistory" to history proper; although, on the other hand, in
their historical speculation they seize upon this "prehistory" with especial
eagerness because they imagine themselves safe there from interference on
the part of "crude facts", and, at the same time, because there they can
give full rein to their speculative impulse and set up and knock down
hypotheses by the thousand.
The third circumstance which, from the very outset, enters into historical
development, is that men, who daily remake their own life, begin to make
other men, to propagate their kind: the relation between man and woman,
parents and children, the family. The family, which to begin with is the
only social relationship, becomes later, when increased needs create new
social relations and the increased population new needs, a subordinate one
(except in Germany), and must then be treated and analysed according to the
existing empirical data, not according to "the concept of the family", as is
the custom in Germany.  These three aspects of social activity are not of
course to be taken as three different stages, but just as three aspects or,
to make it clear to the Germans, three "moments", which have existed
simultaneously since the dawn of history and the first men, and which still
assert themselves in history today.
The production of life, both of one's own in labour and of fresh life in
procreation, now appears as a double relationship: on the one hand as a
natural, on the other as a social relationship. By social we understand the
co-operation of several individuals, no matter under what conditions, in
what manner and to what end. It follows from this that a certain mode of
production, or industrial stage, is always combined with a certain mode of
co-operation, or social stage, and this mode of co-operation is itself a
"productive force". Further, that the multitude of productive forces
accessible to men determines the nature of society, hence, that the "history
of humanity" must always be studied and treated in relation to the history
of industry and exchange. But it is also clear how in Germany it is
impossible to write this sort of history, because the Germans lack not only
the necessary power of comprehension and the material but also the "evidence
of their senses", for across the Rhine you cannot have any experience of
these things since history has stopped happening. Thus it is quite obvious
from the start that there exists a materialistic connection of men with one
another, which is determined by their needs and their mode of production,
and which is as old as men themselves. This connection is ever taking on new
forms, and thus presents a "history" independently of the existence of any
political or religious nonsense which in addition may hold men together.
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