Cities: working out a socialist critique

April 1, 2012

Twenty-first century socialism needs a critique of cities. Why don’t we ask ourselves whether these monsters in which most of us live – at the same time awful and wonderful – will survive in a communist future?

Kibera slum outside Nairobi (population estimated between 170,000 and 1 million)

We might question the assumptions in much twentieth-century socialist thinking that cities are a necessary part of human development … and revive and rethink nineteenth-century communist ideas that envisaged communism breaking down the division between city and countryside.

This article sets out some ideas on this, and aims to put in context a prescient article on this subject written by Amadeo Bordiga, the Italian left communist, in 1952 – which People & Nature publishes here in a new English translation for the first time.

The rise of the city is one of capitalism’s most obvious achievements. In 1800, the urban population was 3% of the world’s total population (27 million people); in 1900, it was 14% (225 million); and in 2000 it was 47% (2.9 billion).  In this decade, the majority of humans – in 2010, 50.5% (3.5 billion) people – are living in urban areas for the first time, according to a recent UN report.[1]

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