Peasant Agriculture and Land Reform in Eastern Europe
Toward the end of the war and in the years immediately following, peasant unrest became significant throughout eastern Europe, manifesting itself in the withholding of produce from the market as well as in political disorders. In economic terms, the problems of peasant agriculture arose from the fact that it was undercapitalized, labor intensive and low in productivity. But to the peasant the problem seemed to lie entirely in his lack of enough land to farm, and he looked enviously at the land of large estates. Assuaging this land hunger became the conditon for retaining peasant loyalty. In July, 1917, when German armies overran Rumania, and neighboring Russia was torn apart by revolution, the Rumanian government committed itself to a radical measure of land reform. This called for the expropriation of large holdings and distribution of land to peasants on easy terms. Other eastern European states soon adopted land reforms. In Russia the Bolsheviks found it necessary to ratify wholesale land seizures; Czechoslovakia in 1919 and Poland in 1925 carried out expropriations of large holdings, although these were less extreme than in Rumania. The direct economic effect of the reforms is not at all clear, although probably they tended to reduce productivity by increasing the number of inefficient small holdings. In any case land reform did not touch the fundamental problems of limited capital, low levels of technology, and rural overpopulation in eastern Europe.
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- The Rumanian land reform involved three legal steps: an amendment to Article 19 of the Constitution, which forbade interference with private property; a law of December, 1918, carrying out the expropriation; and a law of 1921 providing greater detail. The above document is the constitutional amendent passed in July, 1917, setting out the broad lines of the reform. It is reprinted in Mitită Constantinesco, L’Evolution de la propriete rurale et la reforme agraire en Roumanie (Bucharest: Cultura Natională, 1925 ), pp. 307–309, translated by the editors.Google Scholar