United Farmers' League (UFL)

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The United Farmers' League (UFL) was a radical farmers' group that first sprang up in the Dakotas during the 1920s. It was one of several such groups, some of which came to eclipse the UFL in history.

The UFL was the brainchild of a Norway native named Alfred Knuston. Born in 1880, Knuston entered the United States at age nineteen. He was a carpenter by trade and a radical by political orientation. By 1915, he was affiliated with the Non-Partisan League, an agrarian radical group. A wave of anti-left sentiments during the 1920s basically destroyed the League, but a similar group called the Farm Labor Party emerged from its ashes during the early to mid 1920s. The name change appears to indicate that Knuston was attempting to link agrarian and industrial interests. Such a linkage and its viability or lack thereof has always been something of a contentious point in radical political theory. Indeed, the attempt to make such a link was the goal of a Soviet program known as the Red Peasant International.

Knuston reformed the Farm Labor Party into the United Farmers' Educational League(UFEL), which was established in Bismarck, North Dakota, in 1925. The organization began publishing a periodical, United Farmer, in March 1926. In 1929, the UFEL became the UFL. The UFL/UFEL was radical, but not explicitly Communist. For example, as the UFEL, the organization praised the Red Peasant International, but did not formally ally itself with it.

In a handful of places, the UFL served as an alternative to the radical and better known Farm Holiday Association. Members of the UFL engaged in activities similar to those of the Farm Holiday Association. They interfered in foreclosure auctions, for example, either through outright riots or the use of "penny auctions," wherein members of the League or friends of the farmer would crowd an auction and bid only a pittance. Sometimes, the mere threat or possibility of UFL action was known to forestall foreclosure and force the bank to renegotiate with the farmer. That the UFL and the organizations that spawned it could have achieved even the modest political and economic successes that they did in relatively conservative territory is a testimony to how bad the situation was, and to the political skills of Knutson and the UFL membership.

The UFL supported Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election. Ironically, Roosevelt's activities, particularly the enactment of massive public works projects and the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), made the UFL irrelevant, and first its influence and then the organization itself slowly faded out of existence. In the end, farmers mainly wanted a better deal than they had been getting. They were not radicals at heart; radicalism was merely a means to an end. By 1938, the Dakotas had so returned to their conservative ways that they were ready to elect Republicans again.



Choate, Jean. "Debt, Drought, and Depression: South Dakota in the 1930s." Journal of the West 31 (October 1992): 33–45.

Dyson, Lowell K. "The Red Peasant International in America." Journal of American History 58 (1972): 958–973.

Matthews, Allan. "Agrarian Radicals: The UFL of South Dakota." South Dakota History 3 (1973): 408–421.

O'Connell, Thomas Gerald. Toward the Cooperative Commonwealth: An Introductory History of the Farmer-Labor Movement in Minnesota (1917–1948). Ph.D. diss., Union Graduate School (Union Institute), 1979.

Remele, Larry. "The North Dakota Farmers Union and the Non-Partisan League: Breakdown of a Coalition." North Dakota Quarterly 46 (1978): 40–50.

Shover, John L. "The Communist Party and the Midwest Farm Crisis of 1933." Journal of American History 51 (1964): 248–266.

Steven Koczak

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United Farmers' League (UFL)

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United Farmers' League (UFL)