Few policy aims cut across political and economic systems to the same extent as the desire to keep urbanisation in check. Not only is the seemingly never-ending rural exodus usually regarded as one of the major social processes adversely affecting the ability of many Third World countries to develop their economies. The post-war centrally planned economies also all appear to view, or have viewed, rural retention as an important means of achieving economic and social ends. As for the latter group of countries, the identified arguments in favour of dissuading peasants and other rural dwellers from moving to urban areas have centred on the costs with respect to investments in the physical and social infrastructure. It is also likely that some governments have favoured keeping peasants and collective farmers on the land in order to ensure a necessary minimum output at times when the structure of incentives has been inimical to maintaining production levels in agriculture.(2) Furthermore, rural activities, and in particular agriculture, would seem to hold a better promise for being able to absorb surplus labour in polities committed to full employment for ideological and other reasons.
In order to achieve the above mentioned aims, several strategies have been devised and implemented. These may be part of "one-sided" or "two-sided" programmes, to use Alan Simmons' terminology, implying that measures may be taken in one region with or without complementary action in other areas.(3) As for the component parts of such programmes, we may point to the existence of attempts to use positive economic levers, i.e. providing attractive incentives, in order to make people stay in the countryside or even return from urban areas. Similarly, schemes have also been designed to reduce rural-urban and intra-rural inequalities by various means. As Michael Lipton has noted for developing countries, such policies - in contrast to those embarked upon with intra-urban equalisation in mind - will, if successful, reduce the incentives for the more enterprising among rural dwellers to move to town, thereby not only reducing the pressure on the urban sector but as importantly ensuring a healthier and more dynamic structure of the rural population." This line of reasoning applies equally well to the centrally planned economies and Roland Fuchs and George Demko, in surveying programmes launched in the Soviet Union and East Central Europe, found a wide variety of policy instruments devised to this end.(5) Most of these were "two-sided" and worked primarily through the creation of employment opportunities in regions or settlements less constrained by labour shortages than the major urban centres, where efforts were simultaneously made to cut back on aggregate demand for manpower.
Few of these measures were however specificauy designed to meet the needs of rural areas so as to reduce urban-rural differences. In their efforts to curb urbanisation, socialist countries largely appear to have employed negative measures, and then in the form of adminstrative restrictions rather than working through economic levers. As Fuchs and Demko note, such control measures (as opposed to incentives), "are usually identified with problems requiring immediate attention or amelioration,"(6) and generally intend to limit the growth of the population of selected settlements or regions. Additionally, most of the policy instruments discussed by these authors steer attention towards economic agents other than the prospective migrants per se. That is, by regulating demand for labour, authorities hope to indirectly influence migratory movements. Nevertheless, direct means of limiting the possibility of moving to town, such as police registration, were also employed.
Despite the existence of such restrictions, urbanisation has continued and today a sizeable part of the population of the Soviet Union and most countries of Eastern Europe live in areas designated urban. …