07/16/2019 (Tue) 03:23:39
Interwar Germany was still in transition to an urbanized society. In the 1933 census there were 9 million agricultural workers, with 32.7% of the population in communities of less than 2,000 inhabitants and 56.8% in settlements of less than 20,000. Every party sans the KPD and SPD catered to the agrarian lobby, which was one of the players in Hitler’s rise to power and a significant faction within the NSDAP in the years to come.
Tooze stresses to his liberal readers that, though Nazi agrarians seem “atavistic”, “archaic” and “backwards-looking”, they had their feet firmly on the ground of the grave and real problems faced in the German countryside.
Long processes in the previous centuries of agricultural history are the backdrop to this story. Leaving their overcrowded continent, Europeans with an “insatiable urge to overcome scarcity” had conquered much of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania, decimated several native populations, overseen a demographic transfer of 70 million slaves and settlers to the New World and created a global commodity economy supplying their continent, where peasant populations continued to skyrocket. Productivity leapt with technological advances. Large monocultural estates in the Third World and farmer homesteads in America, both geared towards maximum capitalistic efficiency, outcompeted self-sufficient peasant economies, including in Europe, once transportation costs cheapened.
As a legacy of these conquests, several European states still had vast swathes of land in their colonial empires, but Germany had just been stripped of what little it had.
Liberalism, starting with the French Revolution, uprooted the old feudal order and made land into a commodity.
Urbanization and declining birthrates happened everywhere industrialization took hold.
German peasants were not the main winners of this. Their living conditions were poor: class photographs from rural elementary schools routinely captured images of row upon row of barefoot children, whose parents were too poor to afford shoes, at least for the summer months. Images of fieldwork show broken old people bent double over primitive ploughs pulled by worn-out cattle (p. 167). They were often overworked, some with over 12 hours of daily labour for six days a week for both men and women. Their income per hour was lower than urban workers; agrarians deemed this an injustice but it reflected lower rural productivity. Production methods were primitive and technology limited, with much labour still done by hand.
Birthrates, already declining in the cities since the 1870s, began to plunge in the fields after the Great War, reaching 20 per thousand in the 30s.
Urbanization reduced the rural workforce with every passing year and heightened the fertility reduction.
The food supply was not secure. As elsewhere in Europe, the lowest strata of society suffered chronic malnutrition even in times of affluence. The past century had seen many famines through the world as the global food economy was rearranged, but mass hunger and death weren’t far away in space and time, taking place in Eastern Europe through the 20s and 30s.
Food had to be imported and hostile powers could block its maritime trade routes, which is exactly what Britain did in the Great War, creating an epidemic of malnutrition blamed for 600,000 deaths. The distribution of food production favored Great Britain, France and the United States and they would rather see Germany remain just as a food importing economy.
Besides direct food imports, many inputs were of foreign origin, particularly animal feed, where maize, oilseeds and other items allowed some dairy and pig farmers to achieve high yields and profit. This was an issue for the balance of trade.