[Marxism] Rural to urban migration
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
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
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.
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