chapter  9
45 Pages

The Peasantries and Peasant Parties of Interwar East Central Europe

WithRobert Bideleux

Peasant households made up at least half the population in each of the interwar East Central European nations, other than the semi-industrial Czech nation. Moreover, the peasant parties were arguably the most distinctive, interesting, and constructive ones that were active in interwar East Central Europe (understood here to include the Balkans). However, most Western (and some East Central European) liberal, conservative, and Marxist writers on East Central Europe have long tended to portray the region’s peasant parties rather patronizingly, even condescendingly, and to dismiss their ideologies, programs, policies, and mentalities as naive, essentialist, backward-looking, impractical wishful thinking, or “romantic utopianism.” Relatively few have given the region’s “peasantist” parties’ ideas and programs the serious consideration they have deserved. This chapter offers sympathetic and unprejudiced portrayals of peasant parties and programs in interwar East Central Europe, arguing that these were considerably more viable, noncoercive, rewarding, and humane than those that most liberals, conservatives, and Marxists promoted as panaceas for the problems that afflicted interwar East Central Europe’s largely peasant societies. Liberals and Marxists mainly advocated rapid, large-scale, very costly, and very polluting capitalist industrialization, urbanization, and absorption of the region’s allegedly large “rural population surpluses” into urban-industrial expansion, whereas most conservatives endeavored to uphold the socioeconomic and spiritual status quo. However, this region would arguably have become a much less violent, repressive, impoverished, downtrodden, and conflicted place, as well as more “appropriately developed,” if East Central Europe’s peasant parties’ policies, programs, and priorities had prevailed.