Landbouw en maatschappij : analyse van een boerenbeweging in de crisisjaren

J.H. de Ru

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


In the early 1930s a farmers' movement began in de northern parts of the Netherlands, which also extended to the national level. The 1920s had been a decade of no prosperity for agriculture. The Great Depression became in the early thirties a catastrophe. Discontent was widespread. In 1931, action groups and crisis committees were springing up in many rural areas. Out of these scattered actions crystallized the farmers' movement "Landbouw en Maatschappij" ("Agriculture and Society"), which is subject of this study. The movement is analyzed from its emergence in 1931 to its decline and end in 1940, after the German invasion in the Netherlands. In November 1940, a fusion occurred between Landbouw en Maatschappij and the agrarian organization of the N.S.B., the Dutch national- socialist movement. This does not mean, however, that the movement should be characterized as an extremist "political" movement from its very beginning. On the contrary, it did not radicalize until the end of the thirties, after continuous frustration of its rather moderate demands.

The movement rose in those areas - such as the sandy soils and the peat-colonies - which were hit most severely by the economic crisis and least supported by government policies for agriculture. It centered in the province Drenthe and adjacent areas. Farmers were not only disgruntled and articulate because of the economic distress, but also because of the relative deprivation they experienced.
In 1922, prices of farm products were about half the 1920 level. From 1928 on, they were halved again within a few years. Farm prices fell more rapidly and much more severely than did prices of industrial products, and in 1931, dropped below the 1910-1914 level. Wages still averaged at that time about twice the pre-war level. According to Jan Smid, agricultural economist and the well-known ideological leader of Landbouw en Maatschappij, this disparate movement of prices and wages was largely due to the controlling power of the large industrial enterprises over prices and the power of the unions to resist wage reduction. Farmers, lacking such power, were facing the extremely low and unstable world prices. Further rationalization of individual farms would offer no solace, as Smid pointed out, and farmers' cooperatives, another form of self-help, would not solve the economic problems. The goal of Landbouw en Maatschappij was, therefore, aimed at influencing legislation affecting farm prices.
Political parties were to be supported only in so far as they would endorse the goals of the movement. The movement's program was formulated by Smid. He diagnosed and explained the economic malaise and sketched the outlines for a new farm
policy. Several of his ideas won rather general acceptance by the end of the 1940s, although in the thirties they were heavily criticized. Landbouw en Maatschappij had "socialistic" as well as "capitalistic" adversaries, but the three large farm organizations in the Netherlands also opposed its "political" activities. The movement was considered a rivalling group that might further divide the farm population, and could harm the position and influence of the established organizations.
In spite of a promising start. the movement did not succeed in overcoming the religious. socioeconomic, and political divisions of the farm population and in uniting farmers in a kind of powerful "green front". The bargaining strategy, directed toward the political parties with the votes of the members as exchangeable value, had some success in the early thirties, but failed afterwards. Membership of the movement was not large enough and the movement could not command a total loyalty, as soon became clear.
A parity income in agriculture was not realized in the 1930s - so to that date the movement did not achieve an appreciable
measure of success. Certainly, it stimulated the political awareness of many farmers; it re-evaluated the worth of the
farm population by emphasizing its social and cultural importance; and it enhanced the self-esteem of many farmers. However, the movement could not do without any economic success. This was clearly realized by its leaders, and indicated by the calming of enthusiasm and the stabilization and later decline of the movement's membership in the second half of the 1930s.
Failure to achieve some tangible success and an increasing alienation from the established political parties contributed, as noted earlier, to the radicalization of the move ment. It should be mentioned also. that, already in the thirties, the movement was severely discredited by the charge of having "fascist sympathies". After the fusion with the agrarian organization of the N.S.B., in November 1940, Landbouw en Maatschappij lost the greater part of its memberships. Several of its most important leaders, however, sooner of later joined the national-socialist movement.

The book gives a detailed analysis of conditions influencing the rise and development of Landbouw en Maatschappij.
The global theoretical framework of the analysis, outlined and evaluated in the first chapters, is mainly based on ideas developed by Smelser in his Theory of Collective Behavior.
Notwithstanding all criticism that might be leveled - and is leveled - against Smelser's theoretical model, his discussion of the major determinants of a social movement: structural conduciveness, structural strain, growth and spread of a generalized belief, mobilization of participants for action, operation of social control, is highly interesting. Theoretically fruitful is the idea of the value-added process, as a means for organizing the determinants into an explanatory model. Of course, the model - as perhaps all important theoretical models in sociology - falls short in explanatory power when the study of a concrete social movement is attempted. It is too abstract and static, the variables are too global. As a theoretical orientation, however, the model is very useful, particularly when the sociologist (or historian) is interested in the differential development of a movement.
The analysis of Landbouw en Maatschappij is based on the determinants mentioned, situationally specified. More than Smelser, the author emphasizes the relevance of the movement's strategy for its course of development. The interaction between the movement and its relevant social environment is extensively dealt with. Several specific hypotheses, mainly derived from studies of Turner and Landsberger, were tested, others, very tentatively formulated. (Needless to say, in this "case-study" of a movement no vigorous testing of hypotheses is possible.)
The study indicates the importance of a "diachronic" analysis of a movement for a better understanding of the factors influencing its development.
Smelser's theoretical approach implies that the several determinants should be present at the same place and the same time for a movement to occur. The present analysis cannot demonstrate that those factors are all necessary and together constitute the sufficient condition for the emergence of a movement. This proposition, in view of the global character of the variables, can scarcely be tested. In spite of this, it was possible to show how the presence of a combination of different factors facilitated the rise and development of the movement, and how the absence of certain conditions has prevented its development into a truly national movement. In Drenthe and surrounding areas, conditions were favorable for the emergence and development of Landbouw en Maatschappij; elsewhere they were much less conducive to its growth. The analysis of the movement is based mainly on a variety of qualitative data. Only for one variable, the heterogeneity of the farmers' group, could some reliable statistical information on group (i.e. municipality) level be applied. Heterogeneity here refers to differences in farm size, religion, and political affiliation; all variables that in the preceding qualitative analysis seemed pertinent to the differential development of the movement. With these quantitative variables and an index for the degree of organization of Landbouw en Maatschappij, an ecological analysis was performed. Although the group correlations, also worthwhile in themselves, cannot be used as substitutes for individual correlations, the results of the regression analysis generally correspond with the conclusions of the earlier qualitative analysis.

Original languageDutch
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Hofstee, E.W., Promotor
Award date27 Feb 1980
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publication statusPublished - 1980


  • agriculture
  • interest groups
  • social sciences
  • history
  • institutions
  • private organizations
  • semiprivate organizations
  • netherlands
  • fascism
  • agricultural history
  • relations between people and state

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