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As Inste or agricultural laborers are called a peculiar especially for northern and eastern Germany type of Gutstagelöhnern on large estates. The whole family was involved. They reached their peak in the first half of the 19th century, before they were gradually ousted by wage workers .


Inste is the Low German form for inmates. In north-east German (up to East Prussia, etc. ) there is also the word Instmann / Instermann in the word meaning farm worker . Since the 17th and 18th centuries, it has been used to describe a population group who had neither land nor living space and therefore had to rent living space. The German dictionary of the Brothers Grimm describes an Instmann as a resident “who lives in another house and has no goods in the village”. The German legal dictionary shows the use of the term Instlude as early as 1486 and from that time on in numerous uses of the term.


In 1891, Max Weber published his work, The Conditions of Agricultural Workers in Germany , for the Association for Social Policy . In it he analyzed the agricultural conditions in eastern Germany. He paid particular attention to the East German residents. Around 1840 there were supposed to have been around 200,000 Insten. The number of family members and dependent servants was many times higher.

The Insten settled down with their family and one or two farmhands (called courtiers or Scharknechte) on an estate and worked for the landlord. They were bound to the landlord by a long-term contract. Their income consisted of several components. This included payment in cash and in kind. In addition, there was the right of use for their own small farms or for keeping cattle. In addition, there was a certain share of the yield of the property. The contractual relationship between the Inn and the landlords was a strange mixture. They were not wage laborers, but also had a relationship with the landlord. They were also involved in the yield of the soil.

In addition, they were both employees and employers to their servants. Weber describes the Insten as workers, small business owners and servants in one person. From these special circumstances it follows that the Insten shared many of the interests of the landowners. Hans-Ulrich Wehler compared the relationship between the Insten people because of their dependence on the landlord with medieval coroners. In fact, the situation of the Insten was a consequence of the abolition of serfdom and the land reforms around 1800. However, not all of the previously serfs were given leases. The rest of them had to work as a daily wage .


The composition of the remuneration varied. In the east the share of wages in kind was usually higher than in the more western areas. The wages in kind could consist of the apartment, land or seeds. In addition, there was food and the wages of the thresher as part of the harvest of the grain. The amount of wages in kind was linked to the work performed and the number of workers provided. About a third of the income came from monetary income for threshing the grain in the winter months. In addition, the family earned something on the land made available by the landlord. The house made available by the landlord and the property, the Instenstelle, made the insten families heavily dependent on the landlord. A rebellion would have meant the loss of the apartment.


The agricultural reforms at the beginning of the 19th century led to an increase in the number of inst people. They took the place of the previous subordinate farmers. However, the reforms also had a negative impact on the income opportunities of the Indians. The keeping of cattle on the commons fell away. Instead of foreign servants, the women and children served as court goers and crowd workers. The legal situation also deteriorated. From 1837 onwards, as well as the servants, were subjected to the police supervision of the landlords. They did not have the right to form a coalition or to strike until the November Revolution.

Overall, according to Weber's empirical studies, the social and economic situation of the Insten was better than that of qualified industrial workers. However, their very existence has been threatened by changes and modernization of agriculture. The importance of growing grain declined. Grain prices also fell. In addition, the introduction of threshing machines tended to forfeit a previously important task. The possibility of owning livestock was also restricted. In addition, due to the competition from industry, the Indians hardly succeeded in attracting courtiers or servants in the long term. Many of the Insten's children also preferred other activities. Since the middle of the 19th century the importance of the Insten decreased in favor of pure day laborers and wage workers.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm: German Dictionary , Volume 10, Sp. 2146 - Inste ( digitized from )
  2. ^ Friedrich Kluge: Etymological dictionary of the German language , 19th edition, Berlin 1963
  3. ^ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm: German Dictionary , Volume 10, Sp. 2146 - Instmann ( digitized from )
  4. Instmann in the German legal dictionary
  5. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German history of society vol. 2 p. 166f.
  6. Hans-Peter Müller: Max Weber . Cologne et al., 2007 p. 44
  7. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Deutsche Gesellschaftgeschichte Vol. 1 Munich, 1989 p. 427
  8. Georg Stöcker: Agrarian ideology and social reform in the German Empire . Göttingen, 2010 p. 35
  9. ^ Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German history of society . Vol. 3 Munich, 1995 p. 839
  10. Georg Stöcker: Agrarian ideology and social reform in the German Empire . Göttingen, 2010 p. 35
  11. ^ Rene Schiller: From the manor to the large estate . Berlin, 2003 p. 72
  12. Gerd Vonderach: Country life yesterday and today . Münster, 2004 p. 88


  • Rudolf Thimm: The proletarian as an Instmann in the country from his cradle to the grave , Verlag von Oskar Leimer, Berlin 1848 ( digitized version )
  • Max Weber: Development tendencies in the situation of the East Elbe farm workers. In: Ders .: Collected essays on social and economic history. Edited by Marianne Weber. Tübingen 1988 online version
  • Max Weber: The conditions of agricultural workers in East Elbe Germany (Prussian provinces East and West Prussia, Pomerania, Posen, Silesia, Brandenburg, Grand Duchies of Mecklenburg, Duchy of Lauenburg). Represented on the basis of the surveys organized by the Association for Socialpolitik Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1892 (= Writings of the Association for Socialpolitik, LV. The conditions of agricultural workers in Germany; Vol. 3)
  • Jan Schlürmann : Butter War and Insten Strike : Schleswig and Holstein and the Social Question , in: AufBruch & BürgerKrieg. Schleswig-Holstein 1848-1851. Volume 1 , Kiel 2012, pp. 185–193.
  • Heinrich Dräger: The Inst people or Insten in Schleswig-Holstein: their history, their importance for the large company and their remuneration. Beyer, 1927, 105 pages

Web links

Wiktionary: Inste  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations