Peasants and Jews: Anti-Semitism and Rural Politics in Northwest Germany

Chapter 2: Agarians and Anti-Semites (1893-1902)

The focus area for this chapter in the 19th Hanoverian Reichstag constituency. Forming a crescent along the North Sea coast from Hamburg to Bremerhaven, the district had well-established networks of Liberal activists and before 1893 regularly sent National Liberal representatives to Berlin. In this chapter, I will describe how the Liberal electorate fractured into National Liberal and Agrarian factions, locating the conflict both spatially and within village political life. I will focus on two individuals: Diederich Hahn (a native of the district, a turn-coat Liberal, and Director the Agrarian League) and Gustav Stille (a best-selling anti-Semitic author and small town doctor). Hahn and Stille demonstrated the dilemma facing anti-Semites in the northwest. Although Hahn developed a national reputation as an anti-Semite, he needed Liberal votes to win, and hence kept his distance from the likes of sectarians such as Stille.

My spatial and statistical analysis will focus on the national elections of 1893, 1898, and 1903, linking out via hyperlink to color maps and data sets.

In this chapter, I examine the “long depression” and the rise of anti-Semitism and the rural crisis of the early 1890s that resulted in February 1893 in the formation of the Agrarian League (Bund der Landwirte or BdL). Here I will confront and correct a large literature on German rural politics, including traditionalist, revisionist, Eley school, and post-revisionist work on Agrarianism. I critique the extensive literature on Imperial German anti-Semitism, beginning with Hans Rosenberg and continuing through Peter Pulzer, Richard Levy, and Oded Heilbronner. I will demonstrate that an autonomist "Every man his own Agrarianism" mentality existed in the countryside, with peasant producers in different regions and sub-regions creating their “own” League.  I will also argue that, contrary to the accepted view, anti-Semitism was not a central element holding the League together and that individual member and constituent sub-groups had very different views on Jews and their role in German society.

I argue that Agrarianism formed the central nexus of a conservative coalition in the six Imperial parliamentary constituencies in my study area.  Conservatives, Imperialists, Anti-Semites and occasionally National Liberals participated in a general conservative electoral coalition held together by the glue of Agrarianism. I argue that the key to Agrarian success was the extent to which they could attract the votes of Liberal peasants. This meant tamping down anti-Semitic enthusiasm at the local level and distancing themselves from anti-Jewish utterances by the BdL's national leadership.

The general literature on Wilhelmine political culture, exemplified by Margaret Anderson and Jonathan Sperber has become much more nuanced and less class-determinist than the work that came before. The literature on regional politics in this period is almost exclusively in German, usually in the form of dissertations, Habilitationsschriften and graduate theses written by schoolteachers. My contribution, through its use of local polling place data, is going to force a reorientation of the way we think about Wilhelmine German politics.