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3     URBANIZATION OR DISURBANIZATION?

Published onApr 23, 2021
3     URBANIZATION OR DISURBANIZATION?

ANY SOCIAL REVOLUTION MUST TAKE THINGS AS IT FINDS THEM AND IMMEDIATELY ELIMINATE THE MOST GLARING ABUSES.

F. ENGELS


In the western press today and among outstanding modern architects, a lively discussion is going on: should cities be built according to principles of concentration (centralization) of industry and trade at a few points (urbanization) or—the other way round—should it be done by dispersing industry and residential areas over as wide a territory (area) as possible by building small settlements and separating the living quarters from the industry (“garden cities,” “green cities,” etc.)?

The partisans of one or the other point of view, as a general rule, proceed from an idea that is based on economic relationships which they accept as being immutable. The bourgeois architect can, of course, see things no other way.

For him there is only the irrefutable premise of the capitalist system and its laws, with its reckless exploitation of the proletariat, its disregard for the most elementary needs of the laboring masses, and its brutish standard of living.

The terrifying living conditions of workers in capitalist countries, where they are deprived even of light and air and where their children spend their lives in dirty back yards near garbage dumps, give rise, among the better bourgeois architects, to the liberals’ ideas of “green cities,” “garden cities,” etc.

However, we understand perfectly well that these ideas, in spite of all their alluring qualities, are a pure and, what’s more, evil utopia, creating the illusion (false representation) of a possible escape from the situation without doing away with the capitalist system. These illusions blunt the proletarian’s will to fight. Capitalism gives the workers just enough to keep them from dying from starvation. The capitalist is not interested in how long a worker can survive under these barbaric life conditions into which he is driven; the reserve army of the unemployed is always at his service. “Disurbanization” is unthinkable under the capitalist system.

Urbanists, aware of the impossibility of disurbanization under capitalism, try to find a solution to the problem of reinvigorating life by means of technological services within the big cities. Sewer systems, water works, multilevel streets, green areas and similar nice things—that is the way of the urbanists.

However, life itself turns their schemes inside out in its own way. The reinvigorated quarters, as Engels already noted, are not actually lived in by the proletariat, because their life denies them the means to afford it.

1. THE NIGHTMARES OF THE “MODERN” METROPOLIS. LONDON.

2. NEW YORK

These controversies between the urbanists and disurbanists are also reflected here, assuming at times rather amusing forms.1

We must, however, phrase the whole problem differently. The question of restricted land for big cities is inapplicable here since we have destroyed private ownership of the land.

Any ideas about the necessity for maximum (more rational) use of “communally serviceable” areas is simply comical, since no such areas exist here.

But most important is the tremendous problem of the elimination of the differences between the city and the country.

This is why we must review the very meaning of the word “city.”

The modern city is a product of a mercantile society and will die together with it, merging into the socialist industrialized countryside. The problem has been presented by V. I. Lenin in the following way:

[The problem is] the unification of industry with agriculture on the basis of a conscious application of science, the combination of collective labor and a new distribution of mankind (with the elimination of rural desolation, its isolation from the rest of the world, its wildness, as well as the unnatural crowding of enormous masses into big cities).2

3. NEW YORK

4. A CORNER OF PARIS.

5. THE NIGHTMARES OF URBANISM. LE CORBUSIER’S PROJECT FOR THE RECONSTRUCTION OF PARIS.3

Karl Marx, in his Manifesto of the Communist Party, formulates this problem in this way:

The combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries, the gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country.4

Finally, F. Engels, in his exceptionally valuable book, The Housing Question, says:5

There is no sense in trying to solve the housing question by trying to preserve our big cities. The elimination of the difference between the city and the country is no more nor less utopian than the elimination of the difference between the capitalist and the hired worker. Each day it comes nearer being a practical necessity for both industrial and agricultural economy.… Only as uniform a distribution of the population as possible over the whole country, only an integral connection between industrial and agricultural production together with the thereby necessary extension of the means of communication—presupposing the abolition of the capitalist mode of production—would be able to tear the rural population out of the isolation and stupor in which it has vegetated for millenia. It is not utopian to declare that the complete emancipation of humanity from the chains which its historic past has forged will only be complete when the antithesis between the town and country has been abolished; the utopia begins only when someone undertakes from existing relationships (Engels has in view, of course, the capitalist conditions.—N. M.) to prescribe the form in which this or any other antithesis of present day society (capitalist.—N. M.) is to be solved.

In this way, socialist settlements will differ markedly from that which we see today in our city or countryside: they will be neither the one nor the other.

For us there can be no controversy about urbanization or disurbanization. We will have to settle the problem of the new redistribution of humanity after we have eliminated that senseless (for us) centralization of industrial production which gives birth to the modern city.

With the elimination of centralization (concentration) of production the notion of the centralization of habitation (the city) falls away, and consequently so do ideas about “garden cities,” etc.

On the other hand, we will do away with the extreme isolation of the country, which engenders the isolation and wildness of the rural population. This elimination, again, will ensue not from our settling the argument about the “principle” of urbanization, but from the mechanization of agriculture, which inevitably leads to its strengthening and to a certain amount of concentration.

The city and the town stretch out their hands to one another: thus will these arguments be solved.

6. HELL ON EARTH. THE IMAGE OF CONTEMPORARY CAPITALIST INDUSTRY

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