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Denmark's Grundtvigian farmer movement





It was Christian agitators who first aroused the Danish peasants politically in the 1820s. The essence of the revival, as formulated by the N.F.S. Grundtvig, was that the church did not consist of dogmas or clergy but of the congregation, of the people.

When the citizens of Copenhagen in the 1840s began to demand constitutional rule in Denmark, the peasants jumped on from the beginning. They considered that they were the people, they were in the majority, and they demanded the dividing of the estates, universal conscription and public education. The poor farmers who had to work on the estate went on strike and in 1845 the farmers arranged a mass meeting in Holbæk in support of their demands. The authorities banned farmers from holding meetings, but this only escalated the conflict; in the newly elected Riksdag, it turned out that a third consisted of peasant opposition. That proportion would only grow until the Grundtvig peasant movement around 1900 controlled about 90 percent of the mandates.

The movement's brilliant invention, however, was the popular high school, a new kind of school that would not be dominated by text reading but by discussion of both agricultural technology and citizenship. When the agricultural crisis hit Denmark in the 1870s, it was old popular high school students who organized new efficient production and marketing under the auspices of cooperatives that knocked the big estates out of market. In the co-operatives, the principle of one man one vote applied, and the famers demanded that this democratic principle also apply to society as a whole. Above an interior from a cooperative bacon wholesaler, below an exterior from the world's first cooperative dairy in Hjedding.

But success had its price. The more successful the farmers became, the more exclusive they became also. Crofters who could not afford to go to popular high school were not very welcome. And the labor movement was viewed with suspicion. Despite its democratic approach, Grundtvigianism was a matter for self-employed farmers who increasingly began to see themselves as successful entrepreneurs. At the end of the 20th century, the farmers’ political party is Denmark's leading neoliberal force and the strongest advocate of European empire building and the exclusion of foreign poor. Even the cooperatives are beginning to be replaced by joint-stock companies.

Peter Gundelach: Sociale bevægelser og samfundsændringer,, Politica 1988;
Flemming Just (ed): Co-operatives and farmers' unions in Western Europe, South Jutland University Press 1990



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