Konstantin Pätsi „Maa-küsimus“ ja selle ajalooline kontekst [Abstract: Konstantin Päts’s “The land question” and its historical context]

Margo Roasto


At the beginning of the 20th century, most rural land in the provinces of Estland and Livland belonged to the Baltic German landlords. Although a growing number of peasant farms had emerged, most of the peasantry remained landless. Therefore, the problem of land ownership or the land question was particularly important for the Estonian population. The Russian Revolution of 1905 had a far-reaching impact on the development of Estonian political thought. Following the October Manifesto, the first Estonian political parties were founded. As the First State Duma convened in St. Petersburg at the end of April 1906, it was expected that the land question would be resolved.
In May of 1906, the Russian Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets) drafted a land reform bill proclaiming a partial expropriation of private land and the formation of a state land reserve. In the subsequent months, the draft bill launched a public debate in local Estonian and Baltic German newspapers. At the heart of the dispute lay the question of how to redistribute the expropriated land. The liberal newspaper Postimees called for the sale of the expropriated land as small farms. More radical newspapers Vaatleja, Sõnumed, Koit and Virulane supported the perpetual lease of expropriated land. The Baltic German newspapers used legal as well as economic arguments against the radical land reform bill. In fact, the Baltic Germans found the bill to be an unfeasible utopia that could devastate Russian agriculture.
The aim of this article is to examine Konstantin Päts’s “The land question” (1907) in the context of the aforementioned debate and to throw light on the origins of Päts’s political ideas. “The land question” is the most comprehensive text written by Päts from that period. In “The land question”, Päts outlines his land reform programme, which favours the partial expropriation of private land, the formation of a provincial land reserve and the redistribution of expropriated land to landless peasants under the perpetual lease system. Päts points out that long-term leasehold has several advantages compared to small farm ownership and concludes that lease in perpetuity is especially beneficial for less-wealthy farmers.
Päts contests the claim that private land ownership is the prerequisite for agricultural development. At the same time, Päts clearly discerns himself from socialists and argues that the expropriation of land for public purposes is not unknown to liberal ideology. Päts’s land reform proposal differs from the Kadets’ land reform bill in that it requests a larger land norm and demands local autonomy in all decisions regarding the provincial land reserve. Hereby Päts insists on unifying Estland and northern Livland into one national autonomous province.
At the beginning of “The land question”, Päts gives an overview of agrarian reform in New Zealand. For Päts, New Zealand’s agrarian policy is an excellent model for the Baltic provinces. In New Zealand, the government had bought land from large landowners. As a result, small farmers had an opportunity to acquire land on perpetual lease. When justifying his land reform proposal, Päts repeatedly quotes the works of Adolf Damaschke, the leader of the Union of German Land Reformers. Indeed, Damaschke’s standpoint concerning the common ownership of land had significantly influenced the political views of Päts. More broadly, Päts’s belief in the social nature of land property reflects the impact of contemporary land reform movements at that time initiated by the American social thinker Henry George.

KEYWORDS: Konstantin Päts, land reform proposals, perpetual lease, Russian Revolution of 1905, Baltic provinces, Estonian political thought.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.12697/AA.2014.4.02

ISSN 1406-3859 (print)
ISSN 2228-3897 (online)
Journal DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12697/issn1406-3859