Frederick Engels

The Position of the Danish Members of the International on the Agrarian Question

Engels’ Record of his Report at the General Council Meeting of December 5, 1871

The Eastern Post, December 9, 1871



A report was received from Denmark referring chiefly to the condition of the agricultural labourers, and the agitation taking place amongst them. In Denmark there are but two official political parties — the “Doctrinaires” who represent the capitalist class, and the “Peasants Friends,”as they call themselves, who represent the landed proprietors including the landed nobility, and the large peasant owner. They also pretend to represent the agricultural labourers, but as a matter of course nothing was ever done for them. The nobility are comparatively powerless in Denmark, so the large peasant holders form the bulk of the “Peasants Friends” party. The small farmers and labourers have hitherto been led by them, for though a few representatives of the latter class had been elected to Parliament, they acted under the influence of the large peasant holders, and were used as mere instruments by them.

The International aims at freeing the small peasants and agricultural labourers from this submission to the men who grow rich out of their labour, and is endeavouring to form them into an independent party — distinct from the so-called “Peasants Friends,”but in intimate union with the working men of the towns. This new labourer’s party starts with the basis laid down by the Congress of Basle, the Nationalisation of the Land.

It is a truth more and more acknowledged,” says Socialisten our Copenhagen organ, “that the land is the common property of the people, that the people ought to cultivate it in common, enjoy its common produce, and hand over its excess (rent) to the state for common purposes.”

But as the land in Denmark is principally the property of a numerous class of Peasant Proprietors, each holding from 50 to 100 acres of good soil, the immediate expropriation of such a considerable body would be impossible. A plan has therefore been proposed, which offers many advantages to the holder as well as to the labourers, that is, to establish Agricultural Co-operative Societies consisting of peasant holders and labourers, for the common cultivation of the land, now cultivated by them individually. The small and medium farms would thus be replaced by farms of 500 acres and upwards, and would allow of the introduction of agricultural implements, steam culture, and other modern improvements, which cannot be taken advantage of, when agriculture is conducted on a small scale. The necessary capital is to be advanced by the state on the security of the land belonging to each association; these propositions are necessarily of a very elementary character, but they appear to be well adapted to the intellect and capacity of the agricultural population, whilst the constant reference to the Nationalisation of the land as the ultimate end of the movement, will powerfully assist in breaking up that political subserviency in which the large landowners, with the help of the parson, the village schoolmaster, and the government official, have hitherto held the agricultural labourers.


Marx - Engels