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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a member of Germany’s landed gentry, or Junkerdom—a class that evolved over the course of time, from a feudal to a capitalistic economy. The Junkers’ emergence dates back to the 16th century. Their social base was the knighted nobility— primarily that of East Prussia.

The economic preconditions for the development of the Junker class were the growing demand for grain in several Western European countries that were undergoing industrial expansion and the rising prices of grain on the world market. This led to an increase in grain production through intensified exploitation of the feudally bound peasants. With the increasing marketability of the output of the noble landowners’ estates, communal lands were seized and the corvée was intensified. The Junkers’ dominant position in the economy and in state, political, and military affairs was the chief determining factor in the establishment of a militarist police-bureaucratic regime, first in Prussia and then in the German Empire.

The abolition of feudal relations in land ownership through the development of capitalist relations was a slow process. Medieval customs were gradually adapted to capitalism and thus were preserved for a long time as vestiges of feudalism. Several land reforms were enacted, during the first half of the 19th century, beginning with the abolition of serfdom in 1807. These reforms, which regulated the peasants’ redemption of the corvée and of various feudal obligations, gave the Junkers one-third of the former peasant lands, in addition to enormous monetary compensations. The great mass of the peasantry was dispossessed of its land; latifundia constituted the new basis of capitalist agriculture.

The Junkers’ privileges, which they had partially lost during the Revolution of 1848–49, were restored in the period of reaction that followed. The Prussian system of land ownership was not crushed by the bourgeois revolution but “survived and became the basis of the Junker economy, which is essentially capitalistic, but involves a certain degree of dependence of the rural population” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 17, p. 129). In 1895, 25,000 estates with more than 100 hectares each accounted for 0.4 percent of all farms and for 24 percent of the land, while peasant farms accounted for 58.2 percent of the total number of farms but only 5.6 percent of the arable land. While exploiting the former peasant serfs, who had become day laborers with land allotments, the Junkers also enjoyed certain feudal privileges. According to the Statute on Domestic Serfs (abolished in 1918), the Junkers had the right to try the peasants on their own estates and to impose various forms of punishment, including imprisonment.

The transformation of the landlord, or Junker, economy into a capitalist economy was basically what distinguished the “Prussian path” in the development of capitalism in agriculture. In the course of this evolution, as Lenin pointed out, “feudal landlord economy slowly evolves into bourgeois, Junker landlord economy, which condemns the peasants to decades of most harrowing expropriation and bondage, while at the same time a small minority of Grossbauern (‘big peasants’) arises” (ibid., vol. 16, p. 216). Although in Germany the power relationship between the Junkers and the bourgeoisie had changed in the latter’s favor by the end of the 19th century, the Junkers maintained their dominant position in the state apparatus and especially in the army.

The November Revolution of 1918 in Germany did not produce any radical changes in social relations in the rural areas. The system of large-scale land ownership remained basically unaffected. Neither were the Junkers removed from the political arena, although they were forced into a secondary position by the bourgeoisie. The Junkers received large governmental subsidies from the state budget to implement the policy of “aid to the eastern regions.”

As active participants in the establishment of the fascist dictatorship in Germany in 1933, the Junkers enjoyed the protection of Hitler’s government. They benefited not only from the adoption of preferential customs tariffs but also from subsidies amounting to 1 billion marks for the development of their estates. The country’s agricultural production was controlled by the Junkers. After Germany’s defeat in World War II, the agrarian reform and other democratic changes in East Germany put an end to Junkerdom as a class.

In West Germany, where no democratic changes were enacted in agriculture, remnants of Junkerdom persisted in the postwar period, partly as a result of allotments of the lessees’ land to landlords who had fled from East Germany. In the former sense of the term, however, Junkerdom has now ceased to exist in the Federal Republic of Germany; the former landlords’ estates have been turned into large-scale capitalist agricultural enterprises that are part of the country’s system of state-monopoly capitalism. The owners of such enterprises are closely linked to finance and monopoly capital and usually take reactionary positions in politics.


Engels, F. “Prusskaia vodka v germanskom reikhstage.” K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 19.
Engels, F. “Prusskaia konstitutsiia.” Ibid., vol. 4.
Engels, F. “Krest’ianskaia voina v Germanii.” Ibid., vol. 7.
Engels, F. “Krest’ianskii vopros vo Frantsii i Germanii.” Ibid., vol. 22.
Lenin, V. I. “Agrarnaia programma sotsial-demokratii v pervoi russkoirevoliutsii 1905–1907 gg.” Poln. sobr. soch.,5thed., vol. 16.
Lenin, V. I. “Agrarnyi vopros v Rossii k kontsu XIX veka.” Ibid., vol. 17.
Pieck, W. “Zemli iunkerov—krest’ianam.” In his Izbr. stat’i i rechi. Moscow, 1976.
Petrushov, A. Agrarnye otnosheniia v Germanii (Po dannym sel’skokhoziaistvennykh perepisei 1882–1939gg.). Moscow, 1945.
Kuczynski, J. Ocherki islorii germanskogo imperializma. Moscow, 1952. [Translated from German.]
Dracheva, N. P. Agrarnye otnosheniia v FRG v usloviiakh integratsii sel’skogo khoziaisiva stran EES. Moscow, 1973.
Vogel, G. Agrarpolitik der Monopole: Die Rolle der Landwirtschaft in den imperialistischen Plänen der Monopole in Westdeutschland. Berlin, 1957.
Rechtziegler, E. Neue Entwicklungstendenzen in der Landwirtschaft der kapitalistischen Staalen. Berlin, 1968.
Scheringer, R., and W. Sprenger. Arbeiter und Bauern gegen Bosse und Banken. Frankfurt am Main, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.