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New Left Review I/137, January-February 1983

Wally Seccombe

Marxism and Demography

The primary form of Marxism’s traditional address to demography, dating back to Marx himself, has been through a virulent denunciation of its Malthusian versions. These polemics, however programmatically justified in countering largely reactionary Malthusian population policies, nevertheless have had an anaesthetic effect upon historical materialism—placing the demographic realm itself beyond the pale of legitimate scrutiny and investigation. In the process of dismissing Malthus and his successors, Marxists have abandoned the terrain to our enemies. And with the notable exception of some analysts of the Third World like Meillassoux, [1] Maidens, Meal and Money, London 1980. this abdication has been perpetuated within contemporary Marxism. Indeed there has been an unfortunate counterposition of the socio-economic to the demographic, as if these two dimensions of social relations were materially separable under capitalism or elsewhere, and as if the lines of causality ran, undialectically, only one way from the socio-economic and political to the demographic.

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