German Peasants and Agrarian Politics, 1914-1924: The Rhineland and Westphalia

German Peasants and Agrarian Politics, 1914-1924: The Rhineland and Westphalia

German Peasants and Agrarian Politics, 1914-1924: The Rhineland and Westphalia

German Peasants and Agrarian Politics, 1914-1924: The Rhineland and Westphalia

Synopsis

Robert Moeller investigates the German peasantry's rejection of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s and provides a new interpretation of Catholic peasant conservatism in western Germany. According to Moeller, rural support for conservative political solutions to the troubled Weimar Republic was the result of a series of severe economic jolts that began in 1914 and continued unabated until 1933.

During the late nineteenth century, peasant farmers in the Rhineland and Wesphalia adjusted their production to a capitalist market and enjoyed an unprecedented period of prosperity that lasted until the outbreak of World War I. After August 1914 peasant producers confronted state intervention in the agricultural sector, regulation of prices and markets, and the subordination of agrarian interests to the demands of urban consumers. A controlled economy for many agricultural products continued into the postwar period.

Focusing on the Catholic peasantry, Moeller shows that peasant rejection of the Weimar Republic was firmly grounded in the immediate circumstances of the war economy and the uneven process of postwar recovery. He challenges the dominant view that rural support for conservative political solutions was primarily the product of the peasantry's hostility toward industrial capitalism and of long-term social and political affinities dating from the nineteenth century. Moeller's findings show that conservative agrarian ideology was carefully formulated in response to the specific peasant grievances that originated in this period of continuing economic and political crisis.

Originally published in 1986.

Excerpt

Peasants were not among the supporters of the Weimar Republic. Any student of Weimar's collapse knows that the 30 percent of all Germans who still earned their living from agriculture in the 1920s were overrepresented among those most ready to back the right-wing causes that wished nothing more than an end to parliamentary, democratic government in Germany. However, despite the generally acknowledged significance of the peasantry in shaping the electoral fortunes of the Nazis and in contributing to the demise of parliamentary politics in the 1920s, there are surprisingly few investigations that analyze the sources of peasant antagonism toward Weimar democracy. Most works that do examine this phenomenon concentrate largely on the late 1920s and the Nazis' turn to rural voters, and these studies tend to trace the political radicalization of the countryside to the agrarian crisis of Weimar's later years.

Another established framework of analysis identifies the origins of the peasants' antagonism toward Weimar and their support for right-wing political solutions not in the Great Depression of the 1920s but in the "Great Depression" of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. From this perspective, peasant acceptance of National Socialism is the final step along a straight path that originates with peasant rejection of industrial society in the late nineteenth century. Antidemocratic, antisocialist, antiparliamentary, anticapitalist attitudes, entrenched in the German countryside long before the 1920s, survive with little difficulty into Weimar and find their culmination in the triumph of the Nazis.

At key points, the long- and short-term explanations of peasant antagonism toward Weimar converge. Common to both is an emphasis on the peasantry's willingness to follow the lead of others -- whether traditional, aristocratic, conservative elites, or those espousing a populist rhetoric of Blut und Boden. Not only were peasants unable to articulate their own interests; with apparent ease, they were manipulated by outsiders to support policies and programs that often contradicted those interests.

This book rejects both of these alternatives and locates the sources of agrarian antagonism toward Weimar in a different context. It focuses on the First World War and the early years of Weimar democracy and argues that an explanation of the peasantry's hostility toward parliamentary politics must be found there. This study questions those analyses that concentrate only on the years immediately preceding Weimar's collapse as well as those that stress the continuities in rural political attitudes from the late nineteenth century to the 1920s. Instead, it . . .

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