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European states and the agricultural world from 1870 to 1939

European states and the agricultural world from 1870 to 1939


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At a time of debates on the Common Agricultural Policy, it is interesting to see how the agricultural policies emerged between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. There are several reasons for such policies: weight of the agricultural world justifies these policies and above all justifies analyzing and understanding these policies to better understand the society of the time. States will seek to conserve rural populations.

The agrarian paradigm will seek to protect the rural world by despising the urban world: we must prevent the whole of society from becoming an industrial society. Thus this period is characterized by the will of States to meet many challenges: the protection of agricultural populations, modernizing agriculture and productivity and facing the first total conflict and its consequences. This is how History for All offers you through this study another look at the relationships between the State, the economy and society through a comparative analysis of agricultural policies German, French and Italian.

In view of the number of people concerned, States must be concerned with this population which, in the middle of the century, represents a very large part of the working population. States like France, Germany and Italy are interesting cases because they combine industrial revolution and agricultural power, which is no longer the case for England, because it sacrificed its agriculture with the Corn Laws in 1846 and Spain, which did not enter into the industrial revolution during the period 1870-1939. These considerations explain why we are only interested in the three countries mentioned above. It is important to note that the Italian and German states were under 20 years old in 1870. In 1880, 44% of the German population worked in the agricultural world, 47% in France and 66% in Italy. These three states have more or less different political cultures ranging from German protectionism to Italian liberalism, and France falls in between.

Managing the agricultural crisis 1870-1914

In 1870, the European States have been leading, since the 1860s, a liberal policy aimed at increasing productivity and transforming agrarian structures by the laws of the market. In France, Napoleon III wanted workers to be able to eat at low prices. But with the arrival of new competitors like the United States flooding the European market, the agrarian structures do not have the means and the time to adapt to the competition. The weakness of productivity is such that it causes a considerable fall in the price of wheat (around 30% for the three countries), which also encourages a drop in production (27%). However, these States obviously do not wish to sacrifice this economy which is upset by the changes it is going through. Indeed, agriculture must henceforth be profitable in the face of competition. This crisis is reshaping landscapes and starting to question traditional polyculture. The regions are starting to specialize, particularly in the vineyard in Languedoc: from subsistence agriculture, it is transformed into commercial agriculture. But the pressure from farmers is such that States must curb the effects of this crisis and in particular return to the “fair price” which guarantees the subsistence of producers.

Under pressure from the landowners (the Junkers), Germany adopted a protectionist policy in 1879. France and Italy joined it soon after. The Junkers in East Prussia are very active thanks to their prominent place in the German state. In France and Italy, we also want to keep the structures in place to a certain extent. We are thus witnessing a customs war which is symbolized by the Franco-Italian customs war which saw tariffs and taxes succeed one another in the 1880s. In France, tariffs were voted in 1881 and then the famous Méline tariff in 1892. The Italy follows this movement: the first tariffs are established in 1883 then in 1887. Germany temporarily abandons this policy in the first half of the 1890s but under pressure is forced to put it back in place in 1906. The tariffs are then no longer. modified until the advent of the First World War: in 1913, taxes can be assessed for Germany in a range of 27 to 29%, France from 27 to 31% and Italy around 22%. These policies aim to preserve agrarian structures as much as possible, but states have realized that it is still necessary to help modernize agriculture.

State subsidies are there to help agriculture modernize. These subsidies can even be a kind of race between the two countries: the example of subsidies in the field of sugar between Germany and France is particularly striking. In 1896, Germany introduced export bonuses for sugar; France introduced such bonuses in 1897. But these countries also tried to develop their territory to improve productivity. France is setting up the Improvements Service, which aims to coordinate all the work that can be carried out for isolated farmers or trade union associations to increase production on a sustainable basis. Italy and Germany are improving their lands: in the river plain of the Po for Italy and in the eastern provinces for Germany with the help of internal colonization. States also help and regulate agricultural credits. Agricultural education as well as competitions are there to highlight agriculture and its progress. But the First World War with its necessities breaks these policies.

Agriculture in the war economy 1914-1918

States at war are caught between two contradictions: to continue the policy they have started or to have wheat at a constant price and to supply the population. This problem is materialized in Italy by the separation of the Ministry of Agriculture from that of Commerce and Industry. Agriculture, like all sectors, enters the war industry. However, the fighting at the front led to a desertification of the countryside. States are seeking to fill the labor shortage or at least ensure that all land is cultivated. In France, for example, 15,000 Spaniards and Portuguese, 2,000 Italians and 50,000 prisoners are employed. But that’s relatively few compared to the 3.7 million rural workers. Antonio Gibelli, professor of contemporary history at the University of Genoa, speaks of the army of the Great War as an "army of peasants" in Italy, which illustrates the importance of the agricultural world among the combatants. But the problem of uncultivated land is still present.

In Germany, the state, through financial measures and controls, encourages the agricultural world to increase its production. France requisitions the land left fallow but this measure has little effect because the means of cultivating it are not specified by law. The requisitions also take place in Italy. The central planning of German agriculture was implemented in May 1916 with the Kriegsernährungsamt which acts as the central management of the agricultural world. The Ministry of Agriculture in Italy sets the prices. The other two countries also set the prices. Steps are also being taken to freeze the situation: the freeze on farmers' rents is put in place, contracts are extended and the debt of sharecroppers is reduced by authoritarian measures to facilitate the work of farmers. But these countries must all the same call for foreign foodstuffs, hence the levying of taxes at the start of the war to avoid domestic problems.

The situation in France and Italy is generally under control. Only Germany is struggling because of the blockade it failed to hold. This is one of the causes of the German final defeat. Italy has encouraged the pooling of agricultural equipment and machinery and the creation of fertilizer cooperatives, which has earned the state many criticisms and in particular that of practicing "agrarian war collectivism". Controls are frowned upon in Germany. France's agricultural policy is also not exempt from criticism. All this illustrates the attachment of farmers to a certain liberalism. The agricultural world wants to be helped without being under state supervision. States notice this very well and, at the end of the war, more or less quickly, they will abandon the war economy in the agricultural world. France in 1918 abrogated the measures put in place during the war while Italy and Germany abandoned them due to internal difficulties respectively in 1920 and 1923. But this war transformed the rural world and the States had to face a new economic and social context.

Managing the difficulties resulting from the First World War and the new crisis

France, at the end of the war, is fortunate not to know the discontent of the agricultural world because of the glorious image of the hairy man and with him of the French peasant. French agriculture was experiencing a period of prosperity which put the French state aside from the conflicts in Germany and Italy. The Junkers are losing some of the influence they had in the Prussian state, but state aid in the east (theOsthilfe) is maintained. On the other hand, the agricultural employees were torn from the servitude of the junkers from November 12, 1918. Despite this, revolts took place in Pomerania, which were suppressed by the Junkers. In Italy, the revolts are more radical and there are occupations of large estates. On September 2, 1919, a decree regulates the occupation of the land in exchange for its cultivation. The government grants uncultivated or poorly cultivated land: 25,000 owners acquire 250,000 hectares. A crackdown on these occupation movements is taking place. The Italian latifundiaires (the large agricultural landowners) are supported by the average property which also uses agricultural workers. But these measures will contribute to the advent of the fascist state and with it an ambitious agricultural policy.

While in France, cultivated land decreased (66% to 61%) in the interwar period, Italy accentuated the policy of land reclamation and increased cultivable areas. The result is the cultivation of 65,000 hectares. But this policy has a generic name: "The Battle of the Wheat" (La battaglia del grano). It takes into account the need for the modernization of agriculture. In the process of cultivation that the state is developing, the latter provides 20 hectares, the material, the stables and the farm, by settlers. The state also provides 30% of the investments. These new tenants become full owners after reimbursement to the State of the sum advanced. But these policies are met with resistance in the south of the peninsula, the Mezzogiorno of the large landowners. The fascist state still contributes and promotes sharecropping. This policy also made its own propaganda in textbooks as well as at the National Grain Exhibition opened in 1927 in Rome. This policy increased some problems, but the economic crisis of 1929 disrupted this policy and those of other Europeans.

After the maintenance by France and the prosperity of small and medium-sized property, these again found themselves in difficulty. Governments are unable to respond to the crisis and it is not until the Popular Front comes to power for the State to attempt a response to it, which is the creation of the Wheat Board which determines the conditions of the timing of purchases from producers and the price of wheat. The wheat trade is under the state monopoly but delegates this monopoly to the cooperatives. The state ensures that Crédit Agricole is the obligatory intermediary for payments for the purchase of wheat. Nazi Germany attempted to promote farms of less than 125 hectares by granting Bauer status to these farmers. These bauers become the masters (führers) as of right of their lands. The state subsidizes land clearing and amendments, supplies fertilizers at a favorable price and guarantees the sale of the produce. This system (theErbhof) can, however, place the operator under the supervision of the State. Italy is forced to scale back its projects and in the end only carried out 58% of the drainage works and 28% of the irrigation works.

Thus, the policies of these three countries have generally succeeded in bringing the agricultural world into the industrial era. There is an increase in productivity and a decline in the agricultural population throughout this period. After WWII in 1950, 17% of the German population worked in agriculture, 30% in France and 44% in Italy. Agricultural policies are protectionist and conservative in most cases, but refuse pooling and take liberal positions in the priority and use of land to some extent. We must not forget that for governments, concern for these populations is motivated by considerations of public security and also electoral considerations. Certain tensions were able to explode all the same, such as the revolt of the Languedoc winegrowers in 1907. Despite everything, certain regions remain behind in agricultural development, such as East Prussia or the Mezzogiorno. Globally, small and medium-sized farms triumph during this period. Mechanization has progressed even if it does not reach the level of the United States. In the end, yields improved significantly in all three countries. The Second World War disrupts these policies deeply and this is one of the reasons why we preferred to stop our study on the eve of this great conflict. So in a way, these policies foreshadow what the CAP will be and it can be noted that the three countries in our study will be at the heart of this policy.

Indicative bibliography

On rural societies in Europe

- BAIROCH Paul, Agriculture in developed countries, 1800 to the present day: production, productivity, yields, Paris, Economica, 1999.

- MAYAUD Jean-Luc, LUTZ Raphaël (dir.), History of contemporary rural Europe: From village to state, Paris, A. Colin, 2006.

In addition, the many books related to the issue of CAPES 2006-2007 on Campaigns in social and political developments in Europe, from the 1830s to the end of the 1920s are useful for the topic.

For France there is the reference on the agricultural world:

- DUBY Georges, WALLON Armand (dir.), History of rural France, volume 3. From 1789 to 1914, Threshold, 1992.

- DUBY Georges, WALLON Armand (dir.), History of rural France, volume 4. Since 1914, Threshold, 1992.

- Annie MOULIN, Peasants in French society, Paris, Seuil, 1988.

On Italy and Germany, generalist monographs on national history provide interesting information on the subject:

- BERSTEIN Serge, MILZA Pierre, Germany from 1870 to the present day, Paris, Armand Colin, 2010.

- FORO Philippe, Fascist Italy, Paris, Armand Colin, 2006.

- PÉCOUT Gilles, Birth of contemporary Italy, 1770-1922, Paris, Armand Colin, 2004.