The wild green communist cities of the future: On abolishing the distinction between country and city, between agriculture and industry

“(ix) Construction, on public lands, of great palaces as communal dwellings for associated groups of citizens engaged in both industry and agriculture and combining in their way of life the advantages of urban and rural conditions while avoiding the one-sidedness and drawbacks of each.”
— Engels, “Principles of Communism”

This post began life as a response to someone’s question on /r/communism101.

I can provide an incomplete answer, though I definitely look forward to others’ fuller answers. I haven’t read any Marx or Mao on this subject–though this concept definitely always made sense to me. I’ve always lived in suburbs or cities, so I may display some chauvinism toward the countryside and agriculture, and if people spot this (or any other errors in my thinking), please feel encouraged to correct me. Anyhow:

Part of the idea here is that these differences in material existence create different kinds of consciousness, which then generate antagonism and antipathy between these groups.

For instance, to live in the countryside means encountering far fewer people on a regular basis, and probably, therefore, having a less well-rounded cultural experience, and perhaps therefore tending toward a more individualistic and narrow-minded mindset. That probably makes one less able to contribute meaningfully to participating in a mass democratic process. For instance, the CPI (Maoist) is mostly composed of peasants, but they take very seriously the idea that a communist party must have proletarian leadership, so they take pains to recruit in the city, and to proletarianize peasants. 

I can’t speak for any other communist, but I think there are also drawbacks to to living in our current cities: in general, it creates a disconnect in understanding our (humans’) place in the natural world. A consciousness that fails to respect that we are one part of a global ecosystem is very dangerous for our ability to exist in a fully sustainable way in that ecosystem. I also think experiencing nature is very good for the human psyche, and so being exposed to nature will probably solve certain problems of alienation and addiction that may currently tend to afflict city-dwellers. Our overcoming these problems would both free up resources and allow for a chiller, more harmonious society.

Similarly, industry and agriculture depend on each other, but the way the two forms of production are socially separated from each other means that workers in each area end up with a different consciousness. Agricultural workers probably think more carefully about how human life interfaces with the natural world, where industrial workers probably tend to have a better grasp on the material needs of the human masses.

As long as these material differences persist, these differentiated groups will clash, and that clash will consume resources needlessly as well as create unnecessary divisions among the people, which decreases the people’s ability to unite, thereby decreasing their ability to oppose the rise of revisionism in the party and thus making the country more susceptible to the return of capitalism.

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As for what it will look like, I try to imagine it a lot, but really only have the vaguest of ideas.

* People should be exposed to and encouraged to pursue a broader range of occupations, so they have sympathy for and understanding of people in areas of production other than their chief specializations. Some of what Marx thought about this is suggested in this quote:

> In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

* I think we need to shift to a system where way more things are produced locally, so as to minimize dependence, which can give rise to exploitative relationships, as well as to undo the scars imperialism has left on our global productive apparatus.

* I also think a lot of what is being pioneered in terms of urban agriculture (e.g., in Cuba) will be increasingly applicable.

* I think in general we need to massively contract and pull back from the countryside (de-suburbanize) while simultaneously creating more green spaces in the cities, and build transportation systems that will allow people to arrive in wilderness quite easily and rapidly. I imagine more cities in total, but ones that are smaller, more compact, and less sprawling.

* In general, although we will have to work with what we already have in the decades immediately after we win, in the decades and centuries going forward we should probably try to carefully plan entire cities whole cloth.

* We will probably try to create a certain uniformity among all the cities of the world (while acknowledging that there will and should continue to be differences generated by cultural variation), so as to produce a more or less common consciousness among all the world’s people. With that said, there’s also the principle of like, a harmony from greater diversity is greater than a harmony from a lesser diversity, so to some extent too much uniformity is also a problem. It seems like this might be one of the contradictions that will linger even after class society is abolished that will continue to propel the development of society.

* One principle I think we’ll have to follow is making sure these everywhere-the-same cities are genuinely universally appealing–trying to force people to like something is a doomed strategy. We should make sure that what we build is something people universally love and flourish from.

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Edit: I suspect (though am not sure) that to some extent the idea of people’s communes as it was being developed in revolutionary China contained principles that we will adopt going forward when it comes to carefully planning the way we lay human habitations and sites of production across the land. Here’s a book about those (click the “Скачать (PDF)” link).

There is also some (I think) interesting reflection on this in chapter 12 (beginning p. 155 of the pdf), which is about communes, of Towards a New Socialism.

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Edit 2: Some more resources, which I offer with the caveat that I have either only very cursorily scanned them or not read them at all:

A thread on this subject on the forum (which is often shitty, but there seems to be at least some decent discussion here).

Another thread on this subject on revleft.

Mao’s “On the Ten Major Relationships”

I would guess Marxist geography has something to say on this question, with David Harvey’s works in particular being the best place to look.

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Edit 3 (2016 03 18 0115): I just read the quote “cities do not consume what they produce; rather, they make others produce what they wish to consume” which is apparently translated from Spanish from Yolanda Guerrero Navarrete, “Aproximación cualitativa y cuantitativa a la dieta urbana en el siglo XV” in Estudios de historia medieval: Homenaje a Luis Suárez.

This really seems to superbly capture some aspect of the contradiction that has to be abolished.

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Edit 4 (2016 05 14 1315): I just remembered a conversation I had with a communist comrade with confessed (but not-acted-on) anti-civilization tendencies who was saying like, well what if some people just want to be hermits in communism?

And my response was basically a paraphrasing of what I wrote above: “We’ll have to make sure these everywhere-the-same cities are genuinely universally appealing.”

And I added that if we weren’t striving to accommodate people whose physiology made it harder for them to live in these cities than it was for other people, that’s a problem–that would mean our communism wasn’t real communism, and instead that it was perpetuating disability and thereby perpetuating oppression and exploitation. In orer our for our society to not be ableist, we would have to actively seek out why some people were born wanting to be hermits (that is, to not live in our society), and adapt our cities and society until it was found acceptable to all people, regardless of the physiology they are born with or what changes to their physiology occur over the courses of their lives. And what’s more, the greater the diversity of neurologies and physiologies our society accommodates and fully includes, the greater the harmony that will be produced by our society.

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Edit 5 (2016 05 30 0232 CDT): My current best guess is tight cities with lots of deeply green spaces and urban agriculture and very fast rails that get people deep into wilderness fast.

What’s more, the need to achieve perfect recycling in order to achieve perfect sustainability provides a strong argument for more or less “sealed” cities, where even the soil is kept inside. This would allow all litter, trash, and debris of whatever sort to be slowly filtered through various mineral recovery apparatuses (including phytomining) so that not even the smallest portions of nonrenewable resources are left unrecovered.

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Edit 6 (2016 09 17 0428 CDT): Another perhaps vital reason for cities to be domed is climate control. Since one of the most significant aspects of climate change is an increase in the frequency of extreme weather, and another is a drastic overall increase in temperature, it may be that in order for human life to continue in most places on the planet, and for agriculture to continue uninterrupted, it will all have to be moved under domes. This would allow us to continue to inhabit most of the regions of the earth and not be forced to live only at the areas close to the poles.

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Edit 7 (2017 04 04 0625 CDT): This might sound outrageous, but I think it genuinely is related to this same question. The abolition of narrow self-interest in human beings, the material conditions that make it possible for human beings to reliably grind down their own “thorns” and in fact produce a culture scientifically derived to systematically grind down thorns, mean that we will be able to fit more of us in more closely, not just physically but a higher number of people will be able to share tight intimacy with each other at any given time. A way of saying something similar is, the more thorns are ground down, the more scientifically unity can be produced, and so the more effective thoroughgoing, all-around communication can be between people, even when that communication needs to be incisive criticism.