The Landarbeiterbewegung and Reaction in Northwest Germany, 1918-1924

Paper to be presented in April 2010 at the International Conference of the European Social Science History Association in Ghent, Belgium

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    The revolution that overthrew the Imperial German state was accompanied by a widespread unionization of rural laborers and a consequent strike wave in the years 1918-1923. The paper focuses on three counties - Emden, Jever, and Hadeln - where the concentration of rural agricultural workers (Landarbeiter) was the highest in northwest Germany and the strike wave was the most intense. The Marsch areas that are the focus of the work were extremely fertile, drained wetlands characterized by a sharp social differentiation between a handful of well-to-do proprietors (Booren) and a large mass of dependent laborers (Arbeider). Before the Great War, these areas were strongholds of the agrarian conservative Bund der Landwirte, which in addition to its public concern with tariffs was also intrumental in creating and maintaining a system of labor control. The revolution of 1918 brought an end to the old Bund - it would be succeeded by a new organization, the Landbund - and the privatized set of controls that it maintained. It also unleashed political forces - aggressive labor unions only partially controlled by the moderate Social Democratic party - and anti-Semitic, fascistic political parties who blamed jews and Communists for the destruction of traditional relationships in the countryside. Using the local press, oral histories, government documents and the GIS that I created for Peasants and Jews, I suggest how local elites, represented in the Landbund, were able to maintain both their electoral and economic hegemony against challenges from both Left and Right.