Grey Room

The Constitution of Rural Labor

Max Weber


[The Verein für Socialpolitik (German Economic Association, hereinafter referred to as the Verein) had from December 1891 to February 1892 conducted a national survey of rural labor. Weber had been asked in the spring of 1892 to write up the material on East Elbia and to address the general meeting of the Verein, planned for the autumn of 1892, on the general results of the inquiry. An outbreak of cholera in Posen, the planned venue, resulted in the meeting being postponed until the spring. Weber’s written report on East Elbia was published in December 1892 as Max Weber, “Die Lage der Landarbeiter im ostelbischen Deutschland,” Schriften des Vereins für Socialpolitik 55, no. 3 (1892). Weber, at twenty-eight years old, delivered the presentation now known as “Die ländliche Arbeitsverfassung” (The constitution of rural labor) to the meeting on March 20, 1893.—Trans.]

[…] The most important demand that has at the moment to be raised in this area is the absolute exclusion of Russian and Polish workers from the German East. […] It is not possible to allow two nationalities with different physical constitutions—different digestive systems, to be quite plain—to compete as workers in one and the same area. The needs of the German worker would have to go back a cultural stage, analogously to those agricultural enterprises that have become uncompetitive because they would have to go back a cultural stage in order to compete with agricultural enterprises in Russia, Argentina, and America. There can be a situation in capitalistically disorganized economies where the higher culture is not superior but weaker in the struggle for existence with lower cultures. We find ourselves now in just such a situation. We hope to have soon dealt with our own Poles [polnische Volksgenossen]; we hope to be able to raise the home Polish proletariat to the level of German culture. But that will be impossible if the continuing flood of Eastern nomadic swarms regularly destroys once more this cultural work and turns it into its opposite.