University of Jyväskylä

Dissertation: 27 Feb 2015: The Statistican for Crofters (Jussila)

Start date: Feb 27, 2015 12:00 PM

End date: Feb 27, 2015 03:00 PM

Location: Seminaarinmäki, Historica, H320

Petri Jussila
Petri Jussila
M.A. Petri Jussila defends his doctoral dissertation in Finnish History ”The Statistican for Crofters. Edvard Gylling’s thought and activities regarding agricultural policy in the period between the general strike of 1905 and the Finnish Civil War in 1918”. Opponent akademilektor Ann-Catrin Östman (Åbo Akademi) and custos Professor Pirjo Markkola (University of Jyväskylä). The event is in Finnish.

This is a study of Edvard Gylling’s (1881–1938) thought and activities regarding agricultural policy in the period between the general strike of 1905 and the Finnish Civil War in 1918. During that time, Gylling was the agricultural policy expert of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Finland and therefore had an important impact on the party’s policies as well as throughout Finnish society in general.  Because he was also a social scientist, an analysis of his own research makes it possible to create a complete picture of his agricultural policy guidelines and solutions. The strongest unifying factor in Gylling’s research and his political activity is agriculture, specifically the issue of improving the position of tenant farmers and the landless population. Gylling was the leading expert of the party’s agricultural policy, particularly because he combined strong research competence with practical political activity. His expertise was widely used in parliamentary work, national crofters’ meetings and working groups of the party. 

Gylling gradually adopted the history of Marxist philosophy and the notion that capitalism develops through certain patterns and allows the emergence of socialism. Although the SDP’s long-term objective was to implement Marxist socialism in agriculture, the party was, in the short term, ready to strengthen the rights of private ownership in the cultivation of land. As has been stated in previous articles on Gylling’s career as a researcher, he was, above all, a social demography statistician who drew a lot of attention to historical development. 

Under his influence, in 1906 the SDP made forced cultivation the key requirement in agricultural policy. Forced cultivation meant that when landowners chose not to cultivate their arable land, they had to submit it to a tenant farmer for cultivation. This allowed landless people to become settlers and gave smallholders the opportunity to expand their crops.  In 1909, the Tenancy Act froze tenancies up to 1916. During this time, the aim was to solve the problem once and for all. The new tenancy law was a compromise in which no political party had been fully satisfied.  Under Gylling’s leadership, the SDP stood down on its demand for forced cultivation within five years, because it turned out to be an unrealistic requirement. Even the new alignment was not a socialist one. Starting in 1911, the party’s intention was to turn tenant farmers into owners, even if, in principle, it still did not accept private land ownership. It believed, however, that such a change would assure the crofter’s work effort and property as much as it is possible in a capitalist society. After this, the SDP appealed to have the tenant farmer’s actual right of occupancy respected, and on the basis of their work also their right to redeem the farm with a good contract.

The SDP and bourgeois parties subsequently agreed on the need for emancipation of the crofters, but they disagreed on the means. The parties were unable, however, to resolve the issue before the outbreak of the First World War. Similarly, no progress was made on work to improve the status of the rest of the landless population.  The discussions in parliament came to a head in 1917, at the same time that the social situation was becoming increasingly unstable. In debates, Gylling actually warned the bourgeois representatives of impending revolution by the tenant farmers and the working class. At the same time, he worked actively within the party against armed action and tried to initiate negotiations with the Agrarian Party. Gylling’s ultimate purpose was apparently to pressure the non-socialist parties to accept the liberation of the crofters by political means, so that the pressure of the revolutionary forces would subside. As is already known, these efforts failed, and civil war broke out in January 1918. In July 1918, after the end of the war, the rump parliament approved the Crofters Act, which gave tenant farmers the right to redeem the rented farms.

keywords: Edvard Gylling, agricultural policy, tenant farmer, crofter, socialism, marxism, statistics 

The dissertation is published in the series of Työväen historian ja perinteen tutkimuksen seura, Vantaa 2015, 286 p. ISBN 978-952-5976-32-8, ISBN 978-952-5976-35-5 (PDF). It is available at

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Petri Jussila