Comments on the City and the Countryside in the Southern Question
“It is well known what kind of ideology has been disseminated in innumerable ways by the propagandists of the bourgeoisie among the masses of the North: the South is the ball and chains that prevents a more rapid progress in the civil development of Italy; Southerners are biologically inferior beings, either semi-barbarians or out and out barbarians by natural destiny; if the South is underdeveloped it is nor the fault o the capitalist system, or any other historical cause, but of the nature that has made Southerners lazy, incapable, criminal and barbaric.” – Antonio Gramsci on ‘The Southern Question’
Antonio Gramsci provides an analysis of four dichotomies that are of particular interest in my work – the North/South, City/Countryside, Workers/Peasants and Bourgeoisie/Proletariats divides. For him, the then relatively industrialized Italian North and its bourgeoisie and cities exploited the Italian South and its peasants and their countryside that were predominantly agrarian. In his view it needed the workers, as a vanguard, to unite with peasants to lead the revolution against the bourgeoisie.
Such a revolution, however, is not anti-industry or even anti-state. Rather, it aims at reorienting industry and the state in line with agricultural production for the benefits of peasants. To that end Gramsci and his fellow Communists called for a replacement of the “capitalist State” with the “workers’ State” through the ousting of the ruling bourgeoisie from state power. This reorientation, they contended, would bring peace between the city and the countryside as well as between the North and the South.
My country – Tanzania – attempted to create a socialist state and society in the 1960s that would be based on an alliance between workers and peasants. Even though it did not claim that the workers would be the vanguard, it privileged them more than the peasants. It also concentrated it powers on the then capital city – Dar es Salaam – although its rhetoric focused on rural development. As a result the bourgeoisie tended to be located in the capital city and other cities. This urban primacy made the countryside poor. In a way the country also became divided, even if in imaginary terms, between the North and the South. Recent protests against the construction of a pipeline to distribute gas from the Southern region of Mtwara to Dar es Salaam attests to this. It would be interesting to apply Gramsci’s analysis to this situation given that the attempts at uniting the workers and peasants in Tanzania failed by the early 1990s.
Gramsci assertion – that the peasant question in Italy is historically determined with respect to the specificity of Italian history, as predicated on the Southern and Vatican questions, instead of the peasant and agrarian questions in general – notwithstanding, the following general questions emerge: What unite impoverished people? Is it regional or class affiliations? When and if it is both, how do they reconcile their differences with people of the same class in other regions? In Gramsci’s case of the poor of Sardegna, they opted for national class solidarity instead of a regional alliance with the Sardinian gentry. Could the same be said of Mtwara? Was it the poor or/and gentry of Mtwara who came together on a regional basis? Who supported them in Dar es Salaam and elsewhere? Was it the bourgeoisie and/or the poor in the cities that are benefitting, in varying ways, from urban primacy at the expense of the countryside?