An odd demand

When discussing the Communist Manifesto in class, both my students and I were puzzled by the ninth item on the list of demands: “Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.” It became less clear as it went on — the combination of agriculture with manufacturing makes sense (presumably to increase food production), but why is a more equable distribution of population such a priority that it belongs on this list of ten basic demands? (I apologize if I’m missing something obvious.)

10 thoughts on “An odd demand

  1. Here’s a brief critical comment on that demand, connecting it with a later piece by Engels:

    “The last remark [i.e., the demand in question] is ambiguous, and ought to be borne in mind. Apart from anything else, it seems at odds with Marx’s affirmation of capitalist urbanization, for now he posits a postcapitalist city based around a small-scale urban ideal, in symbiosis with nature and resembling the precapitalist, artisanal town he formerly condemned. Engels, in 1872, would oddly follow suit. In an almost throwaway passage, in the supplementary part 3 of The Housing Question, … Engels offers a version of socialism that both reconnects industrial and agricultural production and provides ‘as uniform a distribution as possible of the population over the whole country.’ Earlier in the text, in another flippant comment, Engels wrote, ‘The modern big cities, however, will be abolished only by the abolition of the capitalist mode of production’ (348; emphasis added).” —Andy Merrifield, Metromarxism (2002), p. 24

  2. In addition to the obvious point raised by Cameron, I’d wager that Marx, like most of his contemporaries, could have had the misapprehension that cities were, on the whole, more violent than the countryside was, on the whole. And, like his contemporaries, he could have believed that the (non-existent) increase in interpersonal violence and crime was a consequence of both urbanization and industrialization. Presumably, in his view, reducing the urban population would function to decrease disorder in the cities while increasing the rural population would have a civilizing effect.

  3. I am way out of my element in regards to Marxism and the Communist Manifesto but I have some knowledge of the evolution of the “city” from 1900 to present. To me, the idea of linking agriculture and industry so closely with population distribution would seem to be owed to the fact that cities used to be centers for not only population but also industry. Perhaps this was just a two-pronged attack to de-centralize that urban filth. Linking agriculture and industry might pull some of the smoke-spewing factories out into the country and re-distributing the population might allow more people to live outside of those 1900 coal-stained urban cores.

  4. Odd indeed, because the phrase “by a more equable distribution of the population over the country” doesn’t occur in the manifesto at all. It might be an addition for the 1888 translation by Engels and is almost certainly not what was originally being intended.

    Look, a couple of pages earlier they write about the “idiocy of rural life”. This has to end, because keeping the rural life in itself (even when combined with land reform) would mean that classes are *not* abolished. So yes, it is a very essential demand.

  5. Also, the countryside must produce for the cities, leading to a situation where producers are alienated from their product, and the decisions about production are not made at the point of production but in a remote location by the beneficiaries of rural agricultural production.

  6. Abolition of the distinction between the town and the countryside was, I think, a fairly common socialist demand in the nineteenth century. I think (but I’m not sure) that it comes out of the eighteenth-century anxieties about fashioning a modern economy whose agricultural and manufacturing sectors will grow in parallel, without one coming to dominate the other. These debates were particularly prominent in France (spinning out of, especially, Fénelon’s Telemachus, but running throughout the eighteenth century, down to the Revolution, and beyond), and the early socialist theorists were, by and large, French.

  7. Important to note that later (particularly after the Paris commune and a shift in the view of Marx and he on the state) Engels said in the introduction to the Manifesto that he had changed his mind about the specific demands and that it had annoyed him that people had taken a long time talking about them at the detriment of the rest of it.

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