Economic shifts

With any change of the economic foundation, the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations, a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic–in short, ideological forms in which men beccme conscious of this conflict [in the economic foundation] and fight it out ….[which] must be explained froman the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production.” Thus, the mode of production–the ultimate determinant of the nature and dynamics, indeed, the raison d’etre of the social formation– constitutes the econanomic base and must be differentiated from the the legal, political, cultural and ideological superstructure, which plays a vital and influencial role in reproducing and determining the form of the social formation, but which is, in the last analysis, circumscribed by the base. Two qualifications are important to avoid any misunderstandings.

Firstly, the base does not merely refer to the productive (primary and secondary industry) sphere of the economany. It denotes the whole range of evolving social and economic relationships which, of necessity, bind the members of society together in their crucial collective task of the material production and reproduction of society itself, at whatever stage of developnent it has reached. In other words, the base is comprised of the dialectical interactions between all spheres of economic life; the processes of production (including the service sector), distribution, exchange and consumption (the reproduction of people and of production) form the ‘seamless web’ of dynamic social and economic relationships which together define and sustain society.

This ‘seamless web’ constitutes the totality referred to in the definition of the city. While these four spheres of the economy form a canplementary unity, each growing out of and in turn reinforcing the other, there are at the same time contradictions embedded in their interaction, and once again it is the productive sphere which holds the ultimately decisive influence in their continual resolution. An understanding of the nature and dynamics of these unifying and opposing interactions is crucial to the comprehension of the evolutionary dynamics of the city–their spatial container and sustainer. This task lies outside the scope of this thesis, though the interactions , between production and reproduction, work and living, are briefly outlined in the following section. Secondly, the dialectical interaction between base and superstructure in the perpetual struggle to resolve or mitigate material contradictions generated in the evolution of society, must not be underplayed. The relationship is not a one-way flow from primary, determining base to secondary, determined superstructure.

Rather, each sector possesses a degree of autonomy, and therefore to a certain extent develops according to its own internal logic, while in their interaction, each has an important role to play in determining the nature of the outcomes, though the connection between the base and material existence designates to the base the power of setting limits and exerting pressures which ultimately circumscribe superstructural. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elemnents of the superstructure…also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form.” The most important purpose of this mutual interaction between base and superstructure is to create and maintain the conditions necessary for the perpetuation of the mode of production itself.

According to David Harvey: “This means the perpetuation of political, juridical and other ideological forms (including states of social consciousness) which are consistent with the economic basis, as well as the perpetuation of the various relationships (for example, division of labour) within the economic basis itself. The survival of an economic system requires, for example, the survival of the property relations upon which it is based.” It is in this respect that the various components of the superstructure play a vital role–maintaining things as they are, in some cases, and modifying existing social and econanic relations when they become untenable in the face of concerted opposition, but always preserving the essential characteristics of the mode of production. This conclusion pervades the historical study, where it was seen to be highly influential in determining the form of London‘s development. It will be developed more concretely in a subsequent section of this chapter.

From the above discussion of the mode of production, it follows that numerous qualitatively and quantitatively different modes of production can exist, either in different societies or in the same society in preceeding historical periods, depending on the concrete social and economic relationships developed by the society in question to ensure the material existence of its members at a certain level of development. Furthermore, because modes of production are social processes which cannot be expected to begin and end at discrete time periods, it is highly likely that a particular society will simultaneously contain different, and potentially conflicting modes of production, though one will dominate and can be considered to be the mode of production which characterizes that society and differentiates it from other social formations. Thus it is both legitimate and instructive to analyse ‘feudal’ versus ‘capitalist,’ or ‘competitive capitalist’ versus ‘monopoly capitalist’ modes of production, even though (and this should be accounted for in the analysis) elements of one are present in the other.

Finally, it should be clear that the existence of cities is not inevitable or predetermined in scne abstract manner, but is totally dependent on the nature and requirements of the prevailing mode of production. This fact has three important implications for the theory of urban developnent. Firstly, each mode of production will be characterized by a particular relationship between town and country. For example, a mode of production may not require, and therefore generate, urbanism–concentrations of people and wealth-in which case a theory of urban developnent would clearly be unwarranted! Secondly, in those modes of production which predicate urbanism, the nature and form of urbanismn will be determined by the characteristics and requirements of that mode of production, because it is the purpose of the city to serve the needs of the mode of production. This does not mean that the concrete form of two cities which are situated within similar modes of production, will be identical.

The concrete realization of urban form is a function of other criteria, discussed in a subsequent section of this chapter, which have a high degree of autoncany. Thus, these two cities could, and would in reality, exhibit vastly different social and spatial patterns, each of which lies within the limits set, and pressures exerted by the same mode of production. The differences among Paris, London and Los Angeles, referred to in Chapter 3, constitute an excellent example. Thirdly, urbanism must be seen as a dynamic process, always subject to change and constantly evolving into new forms of social and spatial structure as the mode of production evolves and changes. These considerations point to a conclusion that the theory of urban development must explain the origins and basis of particular variants of urbanism; in other words, it must account for itself. Class Struggle and Urbanian under Capitalism.

Up to this point, it may seenm as though I am implying that the processes of societal and urban development are essentially egalitarian and harmonious; and, therefore, that conflict and struggle between fundamentally opposed forces play a negligible part in these processes. However, this conclusion is blatantly contradicted by the historical study. London’s development was patently riddled with conflicts and struggles. Indeed, it was argued that the concrete form which the city assumed was fundamentally the resultant of their dynamic resolution.

And this latter conclusion clearly concords with our everyday experiences of modern urban reality. Turn on the television, open the newspaper, and you are bcmbarded with reports which have conflict and struggle as their cammon theme: labour unions on strike for higher pay, their bosses busing in blacklegs to turn the tide in their favour; suburban residents defending the practice of exclusionary zoning against the onslaught of the central city poor; landlords versus tenants over rent control; public-housing tenants demanding adequate maintenance from local councils; etcetera. Conflict and struggle are obviously crucial in the processes of societal and urban development. In fact, they give these processes their dynamism. Thus we must understand the nature and basis of these conflicts and struggles. We-can accomplish this task by dissecting the word ‘society’ which figures as an active agent in our definition of the city.


April 18, 2018

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