The Elbe-Trieste Line

The Elbe-Trieste Line
Part A.
Directions: Examine the following resources and answer the questions that follow.
The Agricultural Revolution in England
Many landowners, seeking to increase their money incomes, began
experimenting with improved methods of cultivation and stock raising. They
made more use of fertilizers (mainly animal manure); they introduced new
implements (such as the drill seeder and horse-hoe); they brought in new crops,
such as turnips, and a more scientific system of crop rotation; they attempted to
breed larger sheep and fatter cattle. An improving landlord, to introduce such
changes successfully, needed full control over his land. He saw a mere barrier to
progress in the old village system of open fields, common lands, and semicollective methods of cultivation. Improvement also required an investment of
capital, which was impossible so long as the soil was tilled by numerous poor and
custom-bound small farmers.
The old common rights of the villagers were part of the common law. Only
an act of Parliament could modify or extinguish them. It was the great landowners
who controlled Parliament, which therefore passed hundreds of "enclosure acts,"
authorizing the enclosure, by fences, walls, or hedges, of the old common lands
and unfenced open fields. Land thus came under a strict regime of private
ownership and individual management. At the same time small owners sold out or
were excluded in various ways, the more easily since the larger owners had so
much local authority as justices of the peace. Ownership of land in England, more
than anywhere else in central or western Europe, became concentrated in the
hands of a relatively small class of wealthy landlords, who let it out in large
blocks to a relatively small class of substantial farmers.1
A French Peasant's Attitude toward the Old Regime
I am miserable because they take too much from me. They take too much
from me because they do not take enough from the privileged classes. Not only do
the privileged classes make me pay in their stead, but they also levy upon me their
ecclesiastical and feudal dues. When, from an income of a hundred francs, I have
given fifty-three francs and more to the tax collector, I still have to give fourteen
to my seignior and fourteen more for my tithe and out of the eighteen or nineteen
francs I have left, I have yet to satisfy the excise-officer and the salt-tax-farmer.
Poor wretch that I am, alone I pay two governments – the one, obsolete, local,
which today is remote, useless, inconvenient, humiliating, and makes itself felt
only through its constraints, its injustices, its taxes; the other, new, centralized,
ubiquitous, which alone takes charge of every service, has enormous needs and
pounces upon my weak shoulders with all its great weight. 2
R. R. Palmer et al., A History of the Modem World, 9th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002), 429-30.
Hippolyte Taine, Ancien Regime, quoted in The Era of the French Revolution, Louis R. Gottschalk
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1929), 39.
Russian Aristocrats and Serfs
The Russian peasants lived isolated in their villages; the nineteenth-century
Russian revolutionary Alexander Herzen described them as "that magnum
ignotum, that people – muted, poor, semi-barbarous – which concealed itself in its
villages, behind the snow, behind bad roads, only appearing in the streets of Saint
Petersburg like a foreign outcast, with its persecuted beard and prohibited dress –
tolerated only through contempt." And those peasant villages were far distant
from twentieth-century daydreams about rural communities; they were small,
squalid collections of mud huts within whose dank precincts the families from
elders to children gathered in concentric rings of precedence around the lifegiving stove. Here the laws on beards and clothes penetrated only vaguely and
here the foreign fashions of Petersburg were seen only during the summer visits
of the serving gentry; the peasants themselves wore their homespun blouses,
shaggy sheepskin jackets, and baggy trousers, and wrapped their feet in cloth for
the cruel winters or shuffled in bark sandals. Here came no news of distant
Amsterdam or London, no plays fresh from the Paris stage; here rather the small
church staffed by its priests no richer and no more educated than the peasants
themselves served their souls and their bodies through their short and narrow
lives; existence revolved around three recurring rituals of birth, marriage, and
death. . . .
The peasant's attitude toward his government was doubly disturbed. On the
one hand, the government was the agency which ordered his conscription; no
peasant parting for twenty-five years of service in the army could reasonably
expect to see his family again. He was forced to fight in distant climes for
advantages quite unclear to him and for a Tsar who seemed more a foreigner than
an all-protecting father. If the peasant escaped the annual harvesting of troops, he
might just as easily find himself ordered to the distant Don or to Ingria on some
labor project. And if he were a state peasant who escaped either conscription,
perhaps he might be honored by a trip to the Urals for "temporary" work in the
mines and forges, or find his village purchased by some strange industry. If by
some incredible stroke of fortune he survived all these attentions, he could be
certain that the burden of taxes would grow incessantly and that the new poll tax
would ignore his privileges and customary distinctions and lump him and all his
cohorts across the land into one desperate serfdom.3
L. Jay Oliva, Russia in the Era of Peter the Great (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969). 109-10.
Cartoon A
A Russian landowner in
Oriental garb addresses
his serf.
Cartoon B
A French peasant,
depicted as one of the
barnyard animals,
addresses a French noble.
Cartoon C
An English yeoman, driven
off the land by an
enclosure act, is ignored by
a wealthy landowner.
After World War II, what line in modern Europe appeared to resemble closely the ElbeTrieste line?
What characteristic appears to be the major distinction between the two agrarian zones in
18th century Europe?
In which country does the position of the peasant appear to have been the least humane?
Which of these three states in the eastern agrarian zone – Prussia, Hungary, or Russia – was
the least "Western" in character?
In which state was the peasant the most estranged from the ruling class?
In which country was the economic security of the agrarian workers the most unstable?
Which group of peasants suffered from an agricultural revolution during the 18th century?
Which state appears to have employed a process of double taxation?
In which state does it appear that an industrial labor pool was being made available?
10. How would you account for the numerous peasant rebellions in Russia when peasant
disturbances in England and France were minimal during most of the 18th century?
11. Today, how far to the east has the traditional division between the two worlds shifted?
How do you account for the change?
12. What conclusions can you draw regarding the significance of the Elbe-Trieste line in
modern European History?