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The theory that population increases more rapidly than the food supply unless held in check by epidemics, wars, or similar phenomena.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a system of bourgeois views on population, according to which the condition of the working people is determined not by social conditions under the capitalist system but by the “eternal” laws of nature, according to which the growth of the means of subsistence lags behind the growth of population.

Malthusianism, which is named after the British bourgeois economist T. R. Malthus, is one of the main trends in bourgeois demography. Malthus emphasized the determining significance of biological factors in reproduction and believed that, owing to the biological characteristics of human beings, the population tends to grow by a geometrical progression. The means of subsistence, however, can increase only by an arithmetic progression. According to Malthus, the ratio of the population to the means of subsistence is regulated by epidemics, hunger, wars, and excessively hard labor, all of which exterminate great masses of people. These misanthropic ideas are very similar to racist fabrications that high rates of population growth in Asian and African countries threaten humanity as a whole. Aggressive imperialist circles drew heavily on these ideas in unleashing wars of conquest. At the present time, Malthusianism helps intensify the exploitation of the working people and contributes to the fight against the national liberation movements.

The classics of Marxism-Leninism demonstrated the reactionary essence of Malthusianism, referring to it as “the most open declaration of war of the bourgeoisie upon the proletariat” (F. Engels, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 2, p. 504). They proved that in human society there are not and cannot be “eternal natural laws of population.” Contrary to Malthus, there is no “law of the diminishing fertility of the soil.” Every social system has its own population law. Under capitalism there is relative overpopulation—that is, unemployment is an inevitable result of the universal law of capital accumulation. The reproduction of the population and “the conditions for human propagation depend directly on the structure of different social systems” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1, p. 476).

The neo-Malthusians—for example, A. Peacock, K. Boulding, and W. Vogt (USA), F. Osborn (Great Britain), and G. Bouthal (France)—try to apply Malthus’ principles to contemporary conditions, arguing that the high rates of population growth in the developing countries confirm the correctness of Malthus’ teaching. In reality, the contemporary demographic situation in developing countries is determined by the level of their social and economic development and by the considerable decline in the death rate as a result of progress in medical science, and it has nothing to do with the uncontrolled ability of man to reproduce. The objective necessity of regulating demographic processes cannot be met by neo-Malthusian appeals to limit childbirth. Rather, it demands a comprehensive program of broad, progressive socioeconomic reforms capable of changing people’s working and living conditions.

The supporters of neo-Malthusianism are very close to the advocates of neocolonialism, inasmuch as they emphasize birth control rather than social and economic reforms in developing countries and try to convince public opinion in these states that a reduction in the rate of population growth is an extremely important prerequisite for overcoming backwardness. At the same time, by trying to make industrialization dependent on a decrease in the rate of population growth, the neo-Malthusians try to prove and justify theoretically the efforts of the ruling circles of the imperialist states to maintain the developing regions of the earth as agrarian and raw materials appendages of the capitalist world.

Contemporary followers of Malthus such as G. R. Taylor (Great Britain) and P. Ehrlich (USA) maintain that population growth contributes to the depletion of the world’s mineral and food resources, thus necessitating scientific and technological progress, the consequences of which contribute to the destruction of the environment. This reasoning ignores the real possibilities for contemporary society to consciously transform the environment. As Marx pointed out, under socialism “the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature, achieve this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favorable to and worthy of their human nature” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 25, part 2, p. 387).

The principles of Malthusianism and of neo-Malthusianism clearly confirm the reactionary character of bourgeois ideology. Thus, the Marxist-Leninist classics repeatedly insist on the necessity of a resolute, uncompromising, merciless struggle against all facets of Malthusianism and neo-Malthusianism and “against attempts to impose that reactionary and cowardly theory on the most progressive and strongest class in modern society, the class that is best prepared for great changes” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 23, p. 257).


Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1, ch. 23. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., vol. 23.
Lenin V. I. “Rabochii klass i neomal’tusianstvo.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 23.
Smulevich, B. Ia. Kritika burzhuaznykh teorii i politiki narodonaselenia. Moscow, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.