This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.
World War III: Population and the Biosphere at the End of the Millenium
by Michael Tobias
New York: Continuum, 1998
296pp. pb.

reviewed by MC5

A long list of reviewers gave this book the thumbs up--William Shatner a.k.a. "Captain Kirk" of Star Trek fame and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)'s director and founder for example. There is no doubt that it will make a stir in the intellectual world, and MIM would like to recommend this book as well.

This is a book of many strengths and weaknesses, because it is highly opinionated in a petty-bourgeois way. MIM has some reservations about it as a political work; even though it is very progressive when compared with other works in the field of population. Our main objections to this book are its lack of understanding of politics in general and Chinese politics in particular.

MIM has been saying from its beginning in the 1980s that the current World War III is between the oppressor nations of imperialism and the oppressed nations. In contrast, Tobias sees World War III between the humyn species and the environment, other species in particular.

Malthusian crying wolf

There is more intellectual substance to this book than most written work by environmentalists. Tobias mentions Thomas Malthus, the famous Western economist who thought that population growth would outstrip food supply and lead to cyclical starvation, because Malthus is the progenitor of Tobias's own thinking.

Tobias starts the book talking about the sexual passions of the populace with some tough rhetoric. He seems to believe as MIM does that rhetoric should match the substance of reality in tone, and he believes we are in World War III and facing possible self-extinction.

The whole book is about population projections and statistics on how many children the average family has in each country, with a focus on the largest Third World countries. The heroes in the book are the family planners, often funded with imperialist money.

Tobias admits that he does not know what the limit is, but says there must be some limit to the consumption of the earth's biomass by humyns--a "biotic ceiling."(p. 20) In addition, he stands for "biodiversity," which is the notion that species should not be going extinct at the hands of humyns.

Tobias is wise not to say what the limit is. All previous such projections talking about limits to humyn population have proved wrong starting from Malthus hundreds of years ago.

"Small is beautiful"

The model for Tobias is the country of Bhutan where even ecological tourism is limited so as not to disturb the environment. It has a city of 20,000 at its largest and a total population of 1.3 million Buddhists.(p. 90) Sixty percent of Bhutan is still covered with primary forest.

Others that Tobias admires include the religion of the vegetarian Jains of India and a sect of Hindu called the Bishnoi.(p. 113) Another concrete favorite of his is a national park in Madagascar which also provides some employment and other benefits to villages.(p. 194) He also notes the ecological and non-violent sanity of the Todas of India, "the Lepcha of Sikkim, the Karen of the Thai-Myanmar border area, and the Tasaday of the Southern Philippines."(p. 246)

His experience with these cultures and pre-industrial "primitive communist" societies that dominated most of humyn history should have proved to Tobias that humyns' relationships amongst themselves is what determines their relationship to the environment. For most of humyn history, the humyn has lived without wholesale destruction of the environment. It is only the recent minority of societies that is destroying the environment on a wholesale basis.

To his credit, Tobias accepts the Marxist argument against "back-to-nature" anarchism shared by many environmentalists consciously and unconsciously. Those who have industrialized will not go back, and so we must look forward to new solutions, not backward.(p. 249)

The "Club of Rome" and a book called Small Is Beautiful have been influential amongst the petty-bourgeoisie and imperialists. Each talks about limits to growth. The "Club of Rome" study is an updated version of Malthus.

MIM's approach to "small is beautiful" divides into two. While MIM criticizes the decadent lifestyles of the imperialist countries, and supports the politics of sustainability and appropriate technology, we differ with the many who believe it is possible to live in small isolated communities.

The environment is actually the best reason for "big government" until classes are abolished. Until classes are abolished there will be those seeking to profit at the expense of others' environmental rights. Someone living in the United $tates can and does pollute the environment of people living in Mauritius, Brazil and China. Until this becomes impossible there will have to be "big government"--a dictatorship of the international proletariat allied with oppressed nations over imperialism.

Karl Marx on the environment

Karl Marx believed that the profit motive or more accurately, the appropriation of labor by a minority of capitalists results in the estrangement of the species from Nature as a by-product of the humyn's estrangement from other humyns that occurs in class society. Contrary to the bourgeois media and some ignorant environmentalists, Marx was an environmentalist and humyn-rights activist as a young man of his mid-20s before he detailed all the scientific work on classes that showed how his environmentalist and humyn liberation goals would be achieved. The result was so thorough that we now speak of Marxism and not vague ideas of humyn liberation.

In other words, what a worker would never do to his or her own environment if the matter were left to him or her happens because the worker does not control production: "It is just in the working-up of the objective world, therefore, that man first really proves himself to be a species being. This production is his active species life. . . In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labour tears from him his species life, his real species objectivity, and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him. . . Estranged labour turns thus: Man's species being both nature and his spiritual species property, into a being alien to him, into a means to his individual existence. It estranges man's own body from him, as it does external nature and his spiritual essence, his human being." (Karl Marx, "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844," Robert C. Tucker, The Marx-Engels Reader 2nd ed., (NY: WW Norton & Company, 1978), pp. 76-77)

MIM will accept the label of "anthrocentric" from some pseudo-environmentalist critics. Marx believed that humyns are different than other species, which is not in itself to say superior or capable of living outside the laws of Nature. Other animals have their unique characteristics. Marx believed something about production and science to be unique to humyns. The unique character of the humyn is taken away by capitalism according to Marx. Hence, Marx would object to saying that all animals are the same. In contrast with purely moral or religious ideas, Marx induces his ideas from examining animals concretely to figure out what is unique about humyns.

Biodiversity: idealism versus science

While Tobias correctly trashes Catholicism and Islam on reproductive "choice" questions, it is hard to avoid that most conceptions of "biodiversity" like Tobias's are rooted in some kind of religion. The bottom line is that catastrophic species extinctions happened in "Nature" before there were ever humyns. Hence, to say that humyn destruction of other species, even at a rapid pace is "unnatural" is a religious fib. Tobias claims there are only 300 species extinctions every million years.(p. 36) It is a dangerous fib, because it tempts the potential converts into thinking that the nature of Nature is stagnation when change and struggle are evident.

Later in the book Tobias admits that there have been at least five mass extinctions in natural history before, but he claims they were not the fault of a single species. To level "fault" like this in a moralistic way when Nature found ways to wipe out 99.9 percent of species seen on this planet thus far is an example of religious thinking. Today the humyn species is Nature's way of eliminating other species. Thus, an argument in favor of biodiversity resting on Nature's character is false. An argument for biodiversity needs to be based in the needs of the humyn species.

Many take to biodiversity religion in order to defend other species with firm principles, and not with a calculus of what is good for the humyn species. Like Amnesty International activists who don't concern themselves with the humyn right to clothing, shelter, food and non-toxic and non-militarist environments, because they are already middle-class themselves, most biodiversity activists are already well-off themselves and they scorn MIM for being humyn-centered or "anthrocentric." It's easy to be concerned about non-humyn species when you believe you yourself are going to survive.

As an example of where biodiversity religions lead, Tobias says that Kenyan elephants are endangered, but they have "only" killed 60 or 80 people in twenty years.(p. 186) Earth First! activists are the quintessence of this idea. MIM would never make a statement like that about elephants. We seek ways to keep humyns out of harm's way--whether by sharks or elephants, no matter how rare the problem.

MIM only supports biodiversity for its value to humyns. When other species are going extinct, the reason is usually that we are chopping down our forests and otherwise pillaging the land, water and air. These all have consequences for humyns including causing cancer and other public health problems.

Dialectical science in Marxism has always stressed the interconnected nature of reality. Cause and effect works in many wondrous ways. It is the ignorance of science and narrow concern for profit that has caused the imperialist country rulers to focus on those aspects of science utilization that destroy the environment, contrary to the needs of the people. It is not science or industry in themselves that are wrong.

Tobias predicts the humyns will destroy half of existing species and it will be possible to save the other half with an environmental movement.(p. 22) Of potential benefit to biodiversity is abolition of the profit motive. Just as pornography, drug-trading and arms-dealing get their impetus from the profit motive, poaching is also driven by indiscriminate motivator of profit. There are only 2,000 Indian musk deer left, but its pod of musk sells for 15,000 rupees or five years' salary for many Indians.(p. 104)

Beside the question of profit motive, MIM believes any biodiversity movement that does not rely on the spread of scientific thinking and application will fail. Tobias himself is a proven scientific thinker. He recognizes the interconnectedness of reality and has a sharp eye for cause and effect. He has a warped political sensibility common in environmental political circles, but he clearly gives credit to a variety of social causes for reducing the population growth rate. To his credit, he recognizes that in 45 countries becoming economically better off has resulted in slower population growth rates.(p. 26) He complains throughout the book that becoming well-off does not always work to reduce the birth rate. The way he complains on this score is in a sense not being satisfied with loaded dice. Over time, playing with loaded dice has certain results, but not in every instance. Likewise, the petty-bourgeois fanaticism of Tobias and most of the best non-proletarian environmentalists does not settle for playing with loaded dice. The petty-bourgeois fanatics want instant individual results, often by focussing on individual lifestyle in a counterproductive way.

Tobias also recognizes that the item that makes the public feel secure enough to cut back on the number of children planned varies from culture to culture. In Tamil Nadu province in India, the school lunch program assured parents that their children would survive, and hence they gave birth to fewer children.(p. 131) The case of Tamil Nadu would seem contrary to Malthusian logic, but Tobias wisely accepted the truth.

Aside from guaranteeing economic security for children and their parents faster than capitalism, socialism is able to spread science better than capitalism, because capitalism views science as an object of profits and the prerogative of elites. We Maoists in particular see science as carried out by the people and to be distributed as fast as possible without regard for property rights.

One area where there is now an historical problem for environmental science is the fact that the world's unproductive labor has been done in the imperialist countries. Hence, while Third World people work to support the lifestyles of the imperialist countries, only relatively small portions of Third World people could afford scientific educations commonly seen in the imperialist countries. After centuries of militarily imposing a global economic order and division of labor, ingrates from the imperialist countries now go the Third World and tell them that their environmental science is no good.

Third World trust

Although Tobias seems to be treating a different subject than MIM, actually he is not. He realizes that there is not much trust by Third World peoples of imperialist country attempts to limit population growth.

The World Bank is also criticizing environmentalists for wishing poverty on the Third World. However, we do not agree that the truth about imperialist country environmentalists is a justification for World Bank capitalism.

We believe that the sooner imperialism is eliminated, the sooner the world's people can share their scientific advances without concern for profit and thereby speed up the use of environmentally sound technologies. As long as technology is a matter of patents and profits, technology's application will be held back.

The West has tried to have it both ways. While the West robbed India into poverty it now complains that India will be adding over 70 million refrigerators by 2010 that are not state-of-the-art and use chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) just as Amerikans once did.(p. 42) CFCs are implicated in the 90 percent depletion of the ozone over Antartica and 20 percent in portions over Canada and Europe. MIM believes that environmentalists should get on board with the program of socialist dictatorship and reparations to the Third World. The health of the environment relies on the success of our establishing these reparations before the rest of the world copies the imperialist countries' mistakes.

This is how one Indonesian put it: "We are told, 'Look, Indonesia, you are a treasure for the world, maintain your forests. . .' If the tropical forest plays an important role, what do we get for not exploiting it? Everybody shouts, 'Save the forest.' But when you ask how do we meet the needs of the poor people, there is silence. 'I won't give you technology, I won't give you gene patents, you remain poor, you go to hell.' That is how your people (the Americans) look at us."(pp. 163-4) MIM agrees. It is gross hypocrisy for First Worlders to demand ecological purity of the Third World masses when those masses are not eating and have no health care. That is why the MIM program for reparations from imperialist countries to the Third World and indigenous peoples is the only true environmentalist program.

On the one hand the United $tates often funds sterilization programs. On the other hand, in the case of China, the U.$. reactionaries have managed to criticize the "one-child" policy of the state-capitalists.

Tobias criticizes the United $tates for criticizing China(p. 64) and in fact says that China did not go far enough with its one-child policy. We agree with him on its contemporary downfall caused by the return to private farming in China. With private farming and a decrease in economic security, Chinese are returning to their traditional security blanket--having kids to take care of them in old age.

On the other hand, we do not agree with Tobias that China should limit the populations of its "minority" nationalities. Likewise, it is hard to argue that Africa is truly overpopulated; although it certainly could be headed there, again thanks to the economic insecurity of parents caused by imperialist plunder.

Tobias acknowledges the dialogue with Third World people who he and other imperialist country people are asking to forgo economic development so as not to destroy the environment the way the United $tates and Europe already has. From the beginning of the book he also admits it is the Western consumer driving other countries to destroy their environments to support the Western style of life.

For that matter, when Indian government officials argue with environmentalists like Tobias, they point out that India has allowed its forests to be destroyed for energy uses. If India did not use forest wood for fuel, then India's demand for oil would push the price of oil over 100 dollars a barrel.(p. 100) Many believe such would make past oil crises look like tea-parties and global depression could result if socialism did not come into play.

Amerikkkan consumption

This book presents much information that backs MIM's opposition to economic demands of the imperialist country "working" class which is actually a bought-off petty-bourgeoisie. At the current time, our species does not know how to sustain the consumption of the Amerikan middle classes and middle classes of other imperialist countries without destroying the environment. To seek ever greater consumption is thus contrary to the interests of the international proletariat, especially via the reformist strategy Lenin derided as "economism." The success of "economism" is killing the environment and turning the imperialist country masses against the international proletariat.

By the year 2000 imperialist countries "will account for roughly 20 percent of the world's population, about 1.5 billion people, who will be responsible for some 80 percent of all global consumption, not necessarily individual consumption, but mass consumption."(p. 200)

"I'm not sure how I manage it, but in the space of about twenty-four hours I figure that I have conspicuously contributed to global greenhouse gases, to the rape of both temperate and tropical forests, to the death of countless animals (in spite of my being a vegan), to long-term ocean pollution, acid precipitation, ozone depletion, scandalously inefficient mobilization of energy, the purchase of a stealth bomber or two, yet another unneeded freeway, the government-subsidized butchering of cattle kept on public lands, and any number of other ecologically insane expenditures. By simply being an American, I have conspired with the tax collector, and the textile, computer solvents, plastics, and weapons manufacturers. My clothes, electricity, gasoline, phone calls, mail, travel, and packaged foods all contradict my deepest convictions. I seem to have lost touch with the most basic cause and effect, with the web of life's delicate connections. . . And I am told that in my own virtual backyard, five endemic California plant species are going extinct, because of people like myself."(p. 200) Tobias is having no children with his wife.

To MIM, this is the perfect testimony of the limits of petty-bourgeois thinking on the verge of revolutionary proletarian thinking. It really is enormously overwhelming and the solutions can only be at the system level, not the individual behavior level. To understand how the Amerikan child is born to do 280 times as much destruction to the environment as the child born in Nepal according to Paul and Anne Ehrlich,(p. 206) we must understand the system of imperialism.

No one has the right to make the choice to destroy everyone else's environment. Hence, the solution is not convincing individuals to change their lifestyles, because that implies those who do not change their lifestyles have the right to continue. A non-toxic environment is a non-negotiable humyn right which must be backed by force until pollution for private gain is unthinkable. Moreover, it is much easier to change production at the source before goods reach the consumer than to individually convince billions of individuals frustrated with pseudo-environmentalism's impotence.

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