Opposition Between City and Countryside

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Opposition Between City and Countryside


the antagonistic contradictions between the city and the countryside inherent in all class-antagonistic socioeconomic formations and reflected in the level of development of productive forces, education, science, culture, and everyday life. The opposition between the city and countryside arose when cities appeared as a result of the development of productive forces and the social division of labor, and it developed as new branches of production “broke off” from farming and became concentrated in cities. The nature of the opposition between the city and countryside changes substantially with social development, as does the socioeconomic content of the antithetical subsystems—the city and countryside. However, the opposition between city and countryside is always an opposition between the ruling classes of the city and the working people of the countryside, between the ruling classes of the city and countryside, and between the ruling classes of the countryside and the working people of the city.

The history of the opposition between city and countryside is the history of the countryside’s subjugation and exploitation by the city. As early as the Middle Ages, everywhere and without exception, through its monopoly prices, “the town exploits the land economically with its system of taxation, its guild organization, its direct commercial fraudulence, and its usury,” although the countryside at that time “exploits the town politically wherever feudalism has not been broken down by exceptional urban development, as in Italy” (K. Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch, 2nd ed., vol. 25, part 2, p. 365).

The opposition between the city and countryside reaches its culmination under capitalism, when the city subjugates the countryside in every way—economically, politically, and culturally. Capitalist relations in the countryside evolve under the decisive influence of the city. The history of the development of capitalism is also the history of urbanization. Although cities have played an important role in the history of mankind since antiquity, their share of the world’s population was negligible until the 19th century. Whereas in 1800 city dwellers made up only 3 percent of the world’s population, by 1900 they accounted for 14 percent. The city grows at the expense of the countryside, and the urban population increases at the expense of the rural population. “It is in the nature of capitalist production to continually reduce the agricultural population as compared with the nonagricultural population, because in industry … the increase of constant capital at the expense of variable capital goes hand in hand with an absolute increase in variable capital despite its relative decrease; on the other hand, in agriculture the variable capital required for the exploitation of a certain plot of land decreases absolutely; it can thus only increase to the extent that new land is taken into cultivation, but this again requires as a prerequisite a still greater growth of the non-agrarian population” (K. Marx, ibid., p. 187; V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 3, pp. 24–25). The bourgeoisie overcomes the various constraints on the freedom of capitalist development (constraints that served the interests of the previously dominant landowners) and the vestiges of feudalism that hinder the growth of cities by transferring its industrial activity to the countryside. As Lenin said, “the muzhik is not allowed to go to the factory, so the factory goes to the muzhik” (ibid., p. 524).

Capitalist development leads to the concentration of wealth and culture in the towns and of poverty and ignorance in the countryside. “The towns exploit the countryside to an ever greater extent, taking the best labour forces away from the farmers and absorbing an ever greater portion of the wealth produced by the rural population” (V. I. Lenin, ibid., vol. 4, p. 91).

The idea of eliminating the opposition between city and countryside, first proposed by the Utopian socialists, was scientifically substantiated in Marxist-Leninist theory. The abolition of the opposition between the city and the countryside is a programmatic demand of scientific communism. “The fact that we definitely recognize the progressive character of the big cities in capitalist society, however, does not in the least prevent us from including in our ideal... the abolition of the antithesis between town and country.... This is necessary in order to bring these treasures [of science and art] within the reach of the entire people, in order to abolish the alienation from culture of millions of the rural population” (ibid., vol. 5, p. 150).

Under present conditions, the opposition between the city and countryside depends on the socioeconomic system and developmental level of various countries.

In the advanced capitalist countries, the opposition has remained, although its forms have changed. The countryside’s share of the population and production has decreased sharply. It has become largely nonagricultural; people engaged in agriculture are a minority even among rural inhabitants. In the early 1970’s in the most urbanized countries of Europe and North and South America, as well as in Australia, the rural population accounted for less than 20–30 percent of the total population (Federal Republic of Germany [FRG], Australia). Moreover, the gainfully employed agricultural population constituted 4 percent of the total work force in Great Britain, 8 percent in the Netherlands, 6 percent in the USA, and 8 percent in Canada. The educational level and way of life of rural inhabitants are essentially similar to those of urban people. The machinery, technology, and organization of agricultural production have changed greatly on the basis of scientific and technological progress. The countryside has become capitalistic and market-oriented. Nevertheless, the countryside continues to be exploited by the city and to lag behind the city in living standard and especially cultural life.

The income of the agricultural population is substantially lower than that of the nonagricultural population. For instance, the average annual wage of a farm worker in Italy in 1970 was only 39 percent of the average wage of a worker in nonagricultural branches; in Japan the proportion was 50 percent and in the FRG, 60–70 percent. Today, agriculture in the advanced capitalist countries is characterized by intense competition, the ruin of small-scale farmers, and a decrease in the number of farms. The governments of several capitalist countries where small-scale landownership had evolved historically have adopted a policy aimed at the capitalist rationalization of agriculture and the elimination of small farms (France, FRG). Agricultural producers are exploited by both monopolies and the bourgeois state through unequal exchange and taxes.

In the developing countries that are following the capitalist path, the opposition between city and countryside most closely resembles the type studied by the founders of Marxism-Leninism. A striking feature of many of these countries is “superurbanization”—the excessive growth of the urban population (compared with employment opportunities) through the influx of people from the countryside. This phenomenon usually coincides with agrarian overpopulation.

The triumph of socialism leads to the elimination of the opposition between city and countryside and creates the conditions for overcoming the substantial differences between them. The city and the country are coming closer together in all aspects of their life in every country of the world socialist system. In this respect the best experience has been that of the first socialist country, the USSR, where the opposition between city and countryside has been abolished, although substantial differences between them have remained in the social-class structure, in the level of income and living standard, and in everyday life and culture.

Beginning with the first five-year plan (1929–32) the USSR underwent very rapid urbanization, associated with the country’s industrialization. The proportion of city dwellers in the total population increased from 18 percent in 1926 to 33 percent in 1939, 48 percent in 1959, 56 percent in 1970, and 60 percent in 1974. The pace of urbanization has been considerably higher in the USSR than in the developed capitalist countries.

Industrial work is spreading in the countryside, and urban ways and culture are supplanting the traditional rural way of life. The main path of agricultural development, outlined in the agrarian policy of the CPSU, consists in agricultural specialization and concentration, as well as cooperation between farms. A characteristic feature is the creation of agrarian and industrial conglomerates. Two forms of socialist ownership—state and kolkhoz-cooperative—are rapidly coming together. The working class is playing an important role in overcoming the opposition between city and countryside and in the all-around advancement of the countryside.

The collectivization of agriculture, through which the last exploiter class—the kulaks—was destroyed, was of fundamental importance in eliminating the contradictions between the city and countryside. Major advances in bringing the city and countryside together were made in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The social-class structure changed as the proportion of workers and office employees increased and that of kolkhoz farmers decreased. Whereas in 1959 workers made up 29 percent of the gainfully employed rural population, in 1970 they constituted 46 percent. The proportion of collective farmers among the gainfully employed rural population had declined to 39 percent by 1970; only in six Union republics (the Ukrainian, Uzbek, Georgian, Moldavian, Tadzhik, and Turkmen SSR’s) did kolkhoz farmers account for more than half of the gainfully employed rural population. Today, the socioeconomic status of kolkhoz farmers more closely approximates that of workers. In 1965 wages on kolkhozes were brought in line with the wages on sovkhozes, and the wages in the state sector of agriculture grew more rapidly than in any other branch of the national economy. Pensions and social insurance have been introduced for kolkhoz farmers. The countryside has also come much closer to the city in terms of the population’s educational and cultural level. The introduction of universal secondary education will make it possible to equalize the education level of all the country’s young people. Efforts are being made to reorganize rural housing and the everyday life of the rural population.

In all these areas, however, differences between the city and countryside persist and will take a long time to overcome. Moreover, there are some natural distinctions, for example, the use of land as the chief means of production in agriculture, the seasonal nature of farm work, and certain aspects of the rural way of life. An important socioeconomic distinction between the contemporary Soviet countryside and the city is the existence of personal subsidiary plots, which contribute substantially to the income of the rural family. The gradual elimination of such plots depends on the level of development of socialized agriculture, farm mechanization, and the degree to which the food needs of the rural population are met by social production.

The CPSU Program emphasizes that “the elimination of socioeconomic and cultural-everyday differences between the city and countryside will be one of the greatest achievements of the construction of communism” (Moscow, 1974, p. 85).


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.