Peasant class

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Free farmers from Ruokolahti , Finland (Severin Falkman, 1882)

The peasant class (also the peasantry , the peasantry ) consists of owners or tenants who run a family farm independently as their main occupation .


The task of the peasant class is the extraction of foodstuffs , foodstuffs, natural materials, energy raw materials, i.e. the entirety of agriculture , and partly of forestry . As a result of the agricultural use, the work of the farmer creates the cultural landscape of the rural area , which today is increasingly shaped by industry and commerce.

Farming is not just a profession ( farmer as a job title), but for some it is a way of life, or at least an independent form of culture. An idealized image of the independent, organically grown and religiously bound peasantry in Europe emerged in the modern age and has been cultivated since the Romantic era in dealing with the problems of industrial society , after the peasants were the lowest level for centuries.

History of the farmers in Central Europe

A farmer sharpening a scythe. Detail from a series of monthly sheets by Caspar Luyken around 1700
Farmers at a fair - iron etching by Daniel Hopfer

Legal status

In the historical context there is a difference between unfree and free peasantry . Free farmers cultivated their own landed property, interest farmers were personally free, but had to pay taxes to the landlord, servants had to do labor and taxes, serfs were the personal property of the landlord.

Historical development since the Middle Ages

According to Saxon law , property was indivisible and was bequeathed to a son. Under Franconian law , however, property was divided among the sons. Since the High Middle Ages the farmers became increasingly dependent on their landlords, the farmers only occasionally asserted their freedom (e.g. Dithmarschen , Land Hadeln , East Friesland , Tyrol , Bregenzerwald , Hümmling ). Outside of these areas there were only a few passed farmers . Some peasants were personally free, but the disposition of their property was limited by the dependence on the manor . A large part of the peasants were even serfs themselves . In many areas of West Germany, farmers in clustered villages did not have permanent ownership of their fields, but their share of the harvested land , which was regularly redistributed. In contrast, in areas with scattered settlements, every farm had its arable land. In areas that were colonized during the Middle Ages, every farm had a hoof (Hube).

Depending on the scope and market usage rights, there were different classes of farms in northwest Germany, called full heirs, half-berries, Erbkotten and Markkotten. Brinksitzer , Wördener and Kirchhöfer had no authority in the marrow .

Already Philip the Magnanimous put the Bauernlegen 1545 law to an end. The nobility and bailiffs in the Landgraviate of Hesse were thus forbidden to acquire indebted farm estates in order to expand their manors. His heirs in the four Hessian landgravates created by division expanded this ban in 1567 at the Treysa Landtag to include the entire nobility.

For example, in the Upper County of Katzenelnbogen, the core territory of the Landgraviate of Hessen-Darmstadt, a distinction was made between three types of farm goods. On the one hand, most of the farms were freely owned by the respective farmer, who was then able to dispose of his hereditary farms independently. Second, the in stately were property related farms and lands either leasehold or term lease to a Beständer awarded. Overall, around 77 percent of the agricultural area in the Upper County of Katzenelnbogen was owned by farmers.

Under monument protection , Hofreite in Rodau, a place in the former Hesse-Darmstadt office of Lichtenberg

In the Odenwald the so-called Hubengüter were peasant property and free of any manorial power. The Hesse-Darmstadt Office of Lichtenberg also knew of the above-mentioned farm property and castle courtyards that were not on duty. In total, over 88 percent of the agricultural area there and in the Zwingenberg district was owned by farmers.

These freehold farm estates were ultimately so-called bad interest goods . The farmer had to pacify the real participation of the landlord or lord of the landlord in the form of money or a contribution in kind . Otherwise, however, he had free access to his farm without any restrictions or interference from the landlord and / or landlord. Bad interest goods (Latin bona censitica ) were not only a reality in the Landgraviate of Hessen-Darmstadt, these free interest goods were also available in the Electorate of Saxony .

The farmer as an interest man could not be driven out if interest had not been paid on the bad interest property . The hereditary interest as a real burden was unchangeable for the estate and the farmer was in no way dependent on patrimonial rule.

Townspeople who lived on agriculture were not called farmers, but arable citizens . Noblemen who did not live on compulsory taxes, but operated their own already entrepreneurial agriculture, were also not called farmers, but were landlords . If their estate was so small that they had to work with them in the fields, they were called herb junkers .

Among the peasants who were subject to feudal landlords, there was a strong social differentiation according to property size and legal position. The ownership structure developed differently from region to region, depending on whether the property was divided or not allowed to be divided ( inheritance law ). The farmers with full rights in the village community are also referred to as neighbors . Depending on whether they were obliged to labor with horses or without , a distinction was made between tension farmers and hand farmers. If the tension farmer's possession comprised a hoof (Hube), this full farmer was referred to as Anspänner , Pferdner , Hüfner , Vollspänner or Ackermann , different locally and temporally . Only a few farm estates, often those of the testers , contained several hooves. In Lower Saxony and Westphalia, as well as in Austria, large independent farmers were called Meier . Men who married the heiress of a Meierhof often took the family name of their wife. In many areas there was a plurality of Teilhüfnern, as Dreiviertelhüfner , half farmer , Halbspänner , Halbhüfner , district farmer , horse carriage , Spitzspänner or carters are referred to in the sources. - Teilhüfner smaller usually owned by about a quarter or Achtelhufe were also the hand farmers or Handfronbauern that in the sources as Hintersättler , tenants , rear settlers , Kötner , cottagers or Kossäten but, in central Germany or Electorate as gardeners called become. Farmers who harnessed their dairy cows to a plow or wagon because they did not own horses were also called cow farmers .

See: The gardener as a small farmer .

Any attempt to sort out the names occurring (see also history of concepts to bring), are set by the large number of occurring in the sources variations limits. Until well into the 17th century, the farmers in many villages were not marked as such in the church registers , but only their name and place are given, as is the case with the non-rural villagers. Indiscriminately for all villagers, residents and later residents were also used locally . Only on the basis of local knowledge of the local history and above all by using the court trade books and tax lists can it be decided in individual cases whether terms such as "wealthy", "wealthy resident", "inherited" etc. are definitely a farmer and with what size of property. For this reason, such information on the size of the property, the tax classification and the selling price of the goods should not be missing in local history, local history and genealogical works and should be just as mandatory as the life data of the people. The original names found in the sources, such as Hüfner, Anspänner, etc., should always be used in these works and not replaced by farmers or farmers , as valuable social and linguistic information would be lost.

In villages where there were predominantly full farmers, offices were to the 17th century in the municipality and parish as, Schulze and judges, church father , alderman , etc. transmitted almost exclusively at full farmers, so if only one such in the parish registers Office is indicated, it can be concluded almost with certainty that it is a full farmer. However, gardeners or even cottagers began to take on such offices in some places in Saxony as early as the 18th century .

From the 16th to the 18th century, the rural social structure underwent a dynamic development through which the proportions of peasant property sizes not only shifted objectively, but also subjectively the limits in which a villager was assigned to one or the other category. A "possessed man" could e.g. B. be something different than in the 16th century. For anyone who deals with the social history , economic history and population history of this time, the differences that are reflected in the rural social structure belong to the basic knowledge, since this social inequality is related to the marriage circle and the social mobility of persons and families.

The attempt to dissolve this feudal order through peasant revolts failed. In the 19th century the peasants were liberated or the dependency on the manor was replaced.

Demonstration by farmers in Bonn (1971)

The farm farmer was always seen as the core of the peasantry in Central Europe. H. the farmer who runs his own business only with his family or with workers ( servant , maid ). The increase in grain supply due to the improvement of cultivation technology, and since 1870 also through overseas imports, led to growing indebtedness of the farmers (agricultural crisis) and thus to a mass migration to the newly created industrial areas ( rural exodus ). Farmers' self-help institutions became the cooperatives , state measures to protect farmers were particularly the protective tariffs introduced in 1879 (agricultural policy).

National Socialism implemented efforts, which had been conceived before 1933, to achieve a reorganization (indivisibility of landed property, succession , Aryan proof ) through the Hereditary Court Law ( Reichserbhofgesetz ) .

The state laws enacted in the western occupation zones after 1947 are again based on the old court law. The Soviet occupation zone and the GDR experienced the establishment of new farms after 1945 and later the forced collectivization of agriculture.

Hereditary farm laws continue to apply in Austria and South Tyrol .

Peasantry in Marxism

Around the 1890s, the peasantry began to play a central role in the labor movement, which had become a mass movement. A large part of the peasantry was on the one hand, like the petty bourgeoisie, an ally to be won over for a socialist order; on the other hand, parts of the peasantry were also associated with the ruling class. The peasantry retained this importance in the following decades in the global communist movements, especially in agrarian societies such as Russia and China.

Marx and Engels

The treatment of the peasantry in Marx and Engels can be divided into different phases. At the beginning, the peasantry is primarily analyzed as a historically outdated class with little revolutionary potential. Through his studies of Russian village society and the unrest in Russia, Marx later differentiated his thoughts on the peasantry. As the labor movement grew into political mass parties, old Engels was confronted with practical political questions relating to the inclusion of the peasantry.

According to Marx, historically the “expropriation of the rural producer, of the peasant, of land ... would be the basis of the whole process” of capitalist development. A wage-dependent working class can only emerge, which produces other goods and machines on a large scale, because a small part of the population produces the immediate social subsistence in agriculture and animal husbandry. The traditional cultivation of land by the individual peasants was brought into capitalist form in this process at the same time, "large industry with its machines provides the constant basis of capitalist agriculture, radically expropriating the vast majority of the rural population". The remaining old peasantry, who farmed land on a small scale and individually depending on capital, would be "isolated from each other" because of their mode of production. This leads to the inability “to assert their class interests in their own name [...]. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. ”It would therefore be the task of the working class that the remaining peasantry“ recognize their natural ally and leader in the urban proletariat, whose task it is to overthrow the bourgeois order ”.

After social revolutionary movements spread increasingly in Tsarist Russia towards the end of the 19th century, Marx and Engels made a few revisions to their ideas about Russian society and devoted themselves more precisely to the situation in Russia. In his 1881 letter to Vera Sassulitsch , Marx describes the “historical inevitability” of the “expropriation of the arable farmers” from their means of production by the capitalist mode of production - as he postulates it in Capital - “expressly restricted to the countries of Western Europe”. According to his special studies on Russian conditions, he would be “convinced that this village community is the base of the social rebirth of Russia.” However, Marx also sees the village community here as a fundamentally passive element, so one would have to “first consider the destructive influences from all sides storm on it, [note: from the outside] eliminate it and then ensure the normal conditions of natural development for it. ”As Engels later explained, the village community soon became a historical relic.

However, since the reduction of the old peasantry was to continue for decades in the Western European countries as well, the question of how to deal with the large peasantry that still existed became increasingly central.

Size of goods and businesses in the present

In some areas, a distinction is still made today according to the size of the farm: full farmers ( full-length , Hufner , Einsassen) and half-farmers (half-horse, half-horse). The following information on the size of farms relates to the present. In the 19th century and up to the middle of the 20th century, the lower limits would have to be set significantly lower.

  • Large farms have 80 hectares or more of land,
  • medium-sized farms have 20 to 80 hectares of land and
  • smallholders on less than 20 hectares of land.

The size of the company alone says little about the economic size of a company, as criteria such as soil quality, water resources, weather conditions and other factors have to be added and these are very different in German-speaking countries. The size of the individual areas is also important for economically viable processing.

Smaller farms are often no longer sufficient for self-sufficiency; their owners ( cottagers , Büdner, Hüttner, Häusler , worker) are dependent on a side job. Larger holdings are estates. - For the historical development of these farm sizes and names, see the following section and under rural social structure .

See also


  • Wilfried Gerbig: Professional designations of the rural population in the German-speaking area. In: Familienkundliche Nachrichten. 8/1992, No. 13, pp. 305-307b.
  • Herrmann Grees : Lower classes with real estate in rural settlements in Central Europe. In: Gerhard Henkel (Ed.): The rural settlement as a research subject of geography. (= Ways of research. 616). Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1983, ISBN 3-534-08697-X , pp. 193-223. With table on p. 194 about the designations for peasant classes and lower classes and their regional distribution.
  • Rolf Hecker : Farmers. In: Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism . Volume 2, Argument-Verlag, Hamburg 1995, Sp. 67-76.
  • Heinrich Niehaus : The farmer in the economic and social order . 1948.
  • Werner Rösener : The farmers in European history. (= Build Europe ). Beck, Munich 1993, ISBN 3-406-37652-5 .
  • Rudolf Schmidt: The electoral Saxon offices in the area of ​​the lower Muldental from the middle of the 16th to the beginning of the 18th century (social structure of the rural population and official constitution). Dissertation . In: Messages for the history of the city of Meissen. 9/1913, H. 1-3.
  • Johann Schwendimann: The peasant class through the millennia . Benziger, Einsiedeln-Cologne 1945.
  • Farm . In: Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon , Volume 2. Leipzig 1905, pp. 462–463 ( digitized version ).

Web links

Commons : Peasants  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Bauer  - Explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Johann Christoph Adelung: Grammatical-critical dictionary of the high German dialect. Part 3, 1808, p. 73.
  2. ^ A b c Winfried Noack: Landgrave Georg I of Hesse and the Upper County of Katzenelnbogen (1567–1596) . Publishing house of the Historical Association for Hesse, Darmstadt / Mainz 1966, OCLC 251661225 , p. 199 .
  3. Walter Sperling : The northern front Odenwald. The development of his agricultural landscape under the influence of economic-social conditions . In: Institute for Human Geography, Urban and Regional Research of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University (Hrsg.): Rhein-Mainische Forschungen . Issue 51, 1962, ISSN  0080-2662 , pp. 21 .
  4. Peter Fleck: Agrarian reforms in Hessen-Darmstadt - Agrarian constitution, reform discussion and replacement of basic loads (1770-1860) . tape 43 - Sources and research on Hessian history. Publishing house of the Hessian Historical Commission and the Historical Commission for Hesse , 1982, ISSN  0930-5629 , p. 54 .
  5. Georg Ludwig von Maurer : History of the Fronhöfe, the farms and the court constitution in Germany . tape 3 . Verlag Ferdinand Enke, Erlangen 1863, p. 221-222 ( digitized version ).
  6. ^ Winfried Noack: Landgrave Georg I of Hesse and the Upper County of Katzenelnbogen (1567–1596) . Publishing house of the Historical Association for Hesse, Darmstadt / Mainz 1966, OCLC 251661225 , p. 201 .
  7. ^ Johann Caspar Bluntschli : German private law . 2nd Edition. Cotta'sche Buchhandlung , Munich 1860, p. 186 ( digitized version ).
  8. ^ Wilhelm Theodor Richter: Repertory on the legislation of the Kingdom of Saxony . 2nd Edition. Trauchnitz, Leipzig 1845, p. 271 ( digitized version ).
  9. Hans Lerch: Hessian agricultural history of the 17th and 18th centuries . Verlag Ott, Hersfeld 1926, OCLC 251661225 , p. 23 .