[Marxism] Rural to urban migration

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 3 08:48:22 MST 2004

(Since Marx had not really been confronted by the full dimensions of 
imperialism, it is understandable that he could write "The country that 
is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the 
image of its own future" in the preface to the 1867 German edition of V. 
1 of Capital. These words could be interpreted as supporting the view 
that all countries might go through an evolution similar to Great 
Britain's, something that Marx himself would begin to move away from in 
his letters to Zasulich and Danielson in the early 1880s. If you do not 
have a full appreciation of the role of imperialism, it might be 
possible--for example--to mistakenly view the stampede of dispossessed 
peasants to the city in places like Mexico and the Philippines as a 
necessary evil that will facilitate industrialization and modernization. 
This assumes that industrial jobs are being created as they were in 
Manchester in the early 1800s. In reality there are far too few jobs and 
those that exist are typical maquila jobs that do not result in future 
capital accumulation. This article by Fred Magdoff supports that 

Monthly Review, February 2004
A Precarious Existence: The Fate
of Billions?
by Fred Magdoff


Fred Magdoff is professor of plant and soil science at the University of 
Vermont in Burlington. He is author of numerous scientific articles; 
coauthor, with Harold van Es, of Building Soils for Better Crops 
(Sustainable Agricultural Network, 2000); and coeditor, with John 
Bellamy Foster and Frederick H. Buttel, of Hungry for Profit: The 
Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment (Monthly 
Review Press, 2000).

This essay was written as an extended reflection on Samir Amin’s “World 
Poverty, Pauperization, & Capital Accumulation,” in the October 2003 MR.
  The Wretched of the Earth

The number of people living a precarious existence has been increasing 
in many countries of the world, with hunger all too widespread. There 
are approximately 6 billion people in the world, with about half living 
in cities and half in rural areas. Between the poor living in cities and 
those in rural areas, a vast number of the world’s people live under 
very harsh conditions. It is estimated that that about half of the 
world’s population lives on less than two dollars per day, with most of 
those either chronically malnourished or continually concerned with 
where their next meal will come from. Many have no access to clean water 
(1 billion), electricity (2 billion), or sanitation (2.5 billion).

Of the 3 billion inhabitants of cities, a recent United Nations report 
indicates that close to 1 billion live in slums—that number vastly 
expanded during the so-called boom years of the 1990s. It is estimated 
that over the next 50 years the number living in slums will increase by 
about 300 percent (The Challenge of Slums—Global Report on Human 
Settlements 2003, UN Human Settlements Program).

The other half of the world’s population—about 3 billion people—live in 
rural areas. Most of them are producing food for themselves and/or to 
sell to others. Many rural inhabitants live in difficult conditions, but 
those with access to land can usually provide food for their families.

The situation is far from static. A continuing mass migration of people 
from rural regions into the cities of the third world is underway. Some 
20 to 30 million people leave their villages each year, swelling the 
ranks of urban populations. People move to the cities in response to 
difficult conditions in rural areas (thinking that there are better 
prospects in the cities) or because they are pushed off their farms when 
an expanding capitalist farming sector takes over land or mechanizes 

In the core countries the migration of the peasants and farmers to the 
cities began as capitalism first developed in the 16th through early 
19th centuries—and continued through the 20th century. As the population 
moved to the cities new job opportunities were being created by 
industrialization at the same time as increased agricultural 
mechanization and productivity were decreasing the need for labor to 
farm the land. There was also another outlet for people pushed off the 
land in Europe when there were not sufficient jobs in the cities. 
Millions of people migrated to colonies and former colonies—the United 
States, Canada, and Australia—where land and other resources 
appropriated from indigenous peoples provided, for a while, a seemingly 
endless frontier.

What is occurring today in the third world, beginning in the late 20th 
century, is something very different. It is the migration of farmers, 
peasants, and landless rural families to cities that do not have 
sufficient jobs to absorb the newcomers productively. Although some 
manage to migrate to the core capitalist countries, this outlet for 
“excess” population has been effectively closed to the masses of people. 
The result has been the explosive growth of slums in the third world, 
accompanied by misery and hungry people without access to land to grow 
their own food.

full: http://www.monthlyreview.org/0204magdoff.htm


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