Merchants and Entrepreneurs in Imperial Russia

Merchants and Entrepreneurs in Imperial Russia

Merchants and Entrepreneurs in Imperial Russia

Merchants and Entrepreneurs in Imperial Russia

Synopsis

Alfred Rieber seeks to explain how Russia developed a capitalist economy and launched a major industrialization without giving rise to a mature bourgeoisie. His analysis concentrates on the deep-seated social divisions that prevented the political unity of the Russian middle classes even when their vital interests were threatened by powerful bureaucrats and a workers' revolution. He concludes that the fate of the Russian merchants and industrialists was part of a larger social fragmentation in Russia on the eve of World War I.

Excerpt

From 1750 to 1850 three groups of economic competitors assaulted the weak defenses of the merchantry -- noble industrialists, trading peasants, and foreign capitalists. Their ascendance was the result both of the slow growth of capitalism within the country and the rapid expansion of the imperial frontiers. New market conditions and the costs of westernization transformed subsistence agriculture, stimulated a money economy, and opened the way for enterprising nobles and their serfs to launch careers in commerce and manufacturing. At the same time, the state manipulated tariffs, taxation, and monopolies to nourish its most valuable service class -- the nobility -- often at the expense of merchant interests. The expansion of serfdom into newly acquired territories, which took place throughout the eighteenth century, also discriminated against the economic interests of the merchants, especially after 1762, when they were expressly forbidden to purchase serfs; it slowed the growth of a free labor force, artificially restricted the domestic market, and placed the peasant trader under the protection of the powerful landlord. Following territorial annexations the state generously granted special privileges to foreign capitalists in the areas of manufacturing and transit trade, which stimulated economic activities in western and southern borderlands. The merchants found it difficult to compete with noble industrialists because of their legal and financial obligations and their conservative commercial attitudes cultivated under a different set of expectations about the exclusive character of their socioeconomic role. The merchantry had not been created to fight off a ring of competitors aided and abetted by its own government. The functional rationale of Peter's service state crumbled into ruins around the embattled merchants.

Meanwhile, in the geographic center of the country the Great Russian merchantry was also surrounded by another competitor brought . . .

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