What is a peasant movement for?
The mid- to late nineteenth century witnessed the foundation of agrarian political movements throughout Central and Eastern Europe. In this period, the globalisation of agricultural markets led to the increasing peripheralisation of the region. The result was the ever-present “peasant problem,” which was widely understood by local elites to have been the cause of political, economic, and social under-development. According to most of these elites, the key to resolving the problem was to reshape politics. This chapter argues that Central and Eastern European agrarian political thought can be split into four distinct strands: “nation builders,” for whom the peasant was the soul of the nation but was unaware of their situation, thanks to other ethnic communities; “state builders,” for whom peasants and the rural economy were the key to a strong state; “classists,” for whom rural poverty was caused by the class system; and “technocrats,” who believed in a technological approach to resolving the problems of the countryside. In each approach, the peasant was considered both the problem and the solution to achieving a final goal that would resolve “backwardness.” However, these approaches would frequently conflict with one another. This conflict continued to dominate agrarian political thinking into the twentieth century.