Stuart Elden and Adam David Morton – Henri Lefebvre, From the Rural: Economy, Sociology, Geography – a new collection of writings forthcoming with University of Minnesota Press, 2022
(cross-posted with Progress in Political Economy)
Perhaps granted much less attention than it merits, Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space directly draws the reader’s attention to Marx’s Capital, Vol.3, and a focus on the ‘trinity’ formula (land, labour, capital) that transcends the capital-labour binary. Lefebvre asks us: ‘What of the part played by land, as concept and reality, in this context?’. By so doing, he engages Marx on a cluster of factors revolving around land, the landowning class, ground-rent and agriculture, engaging the latter’s reflections not simply on the ownership of land but also underground and submarine resources as well as livestock breeding and construction. ‘What excuse could there be today’, Lefebvre then asks, ‘for not going back to this exemplary if unfinished work─not with a view to consecrating it in any way but in order to put questions to it?’.
The import of these interventions by Lefebvre on a Marxist theory of ground-rent travel widely and easily beyond the magnum opus that is The Production of Space. It is for these reasons that we have collaborated for the first time in bringing together an anthology by Lefebvre collecting his writings on the rural. Entitled From the Rural: Economy, Sociology, Geography (forthcoming with University of Minnesota Press, 2022), the book reveals just how reductive it would be to treat Lefebvre solely as a critic of the historically unfolding dialectic of urban space. With a total of twelve chapters, all but two translated for the first time from French and some newly discovered, we believe the book will deliver to readers a thinker that moves across the unity of the rural and the urban in addressing the uneven development of the production of space.
Ten of the texts are translated by Robert Bononno, with one chapter each translated by Matthew Dennis and Sîan Rosa Hunter Dodsworth. We have edited the translations, adding explanatory editorial notes, completing Lefebvre’s often incomplete references and comments. The volume also includes a major interpretative co-authored introduction. One way to receive From the Rural: Economy, Sociology, Geography is as a companion piece to State, Space, World: Selected Essays, edited by Neil Brenner and Stuart Elden, or to sit alongside his better-known Writings on Cities, The Urban Revolution or Marxist Thought and the City.
What treats are in store? The translations include the first half of Lefebvre’s book Du rural à l’urbain, including his crucial essays ‘Problems of Rural Sociology’ and ‘Perspectives on Rural Sociology’, along with ‘The Theory of Ground Rent and Rural Sociology’ (which we previously edited for publication in Antipode, and available open access), and the essays tracking the twin processes of urbanisation and industrialisation. We have supplemented these essays with some additional texts, including two pieces published in France which were not included in Du rural à l’urbain, a conference paper delivered in Milan, and a long text only published in Spanish. The last two texts are largely unknown and are not discussed in the literature on Lefebvre, but add crucial empirical and conceptual detail. The volume concludes with some crucial chapters from Lefebvre’s study of the Pyrenean valley of Campan.
Embedded within his reflections on rural sociology, historical sociology, and a Marxist theory of ground-rent is the ‘limit case’ of Lacq-Mourenx (pictured), a ‘new town’ development from the 1950s in the French province of Béarn, in the Pyrenees mountains. With the frontier of capital accumulation commissioning gas production units, housing plans, and factory structures, Lefebvre viewed the urbanisation process there as a ‘Béarnasian Texas’:
‘It is the transition from the rural to the urban that is taking place, is being prepared before our very eyes and for our consideration’.
Through recourse to a historical sociology method attuned to the condition of uneven development, agrarian reform, the transformation of the peasantry and class formation, and the remnants, residues, and sediments embedded in everyday life, these essays bring forth the struggle for land and the centrality of territory. The essays also ripple in complex forms across agrarian structures confronted by contending conditions of uneven development and the survivals and revivals of everyday life. Ground-rent as a precapitalist survival, underdevelopment, dispossession through extra-economic pressure, and arrested and deflected development pervade these essays, which relationally connect and ripple through the conditions of agrarian reform across Europe, Latin America, North Africa, and Asia.
Presaging current debates led by figures such as Kevin Anderson in Marx at the Margins, on the late writings by Marx covering non-Western and precapitalist societies, Lefebvre writes in his 1964 essay ‘The Marxist-Leninist Theory of Ground-Rent’ in relation to Marx that: ‘just before his death he had already begun researching a huge number of documents in reference to Russia’, to thus focus on the multilinear conditions of social development.
It is for that reason that with this volume we hope readers of Lefebvre will further appreciate that today, more than ever, class struggle is inscribed in urban and rural space. We are excited to see this book move into production and look forward to seeing it ripple in new ways to continue to reshape the futures of Lefebvre and his intellectual and political legacy.