Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 4 (2014), 3 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: David L. Ransel


Častnoe predprinimatelstvo v dorevoljucionnoj Rossii. Ėtnokonfessionalnaja struktura i regionalnoe razvitie, XIX – načalo XX v. Otv. red. B. V. Ananič / D. Dalmann / Ju. A. Petrov. Moskva: Rosspėn, 2010. 551 S., Tab. = Ėkonomičeskaja istorija. Dokumenty, issledovanija, perevody. ISBN: 978-5-8243-1505-9.

Table of contents:



Historians of Russia have turned their attention in the past decade to the pre-Soviet world of private business, a subject that Marxist scholars usually treated superficially, when they treated it at all. To the extent that historians, east or west, studied private entrepreneurs the focus most often fell on the merchants of Moscow, an obvious starting point because of their central position and the fact that many of the papers concerning their organization and activities had been published. The first survey of other commercial communities was Alfred J. Rieber’s pioneering study “Merchants and Entrepreneurs in Imperial Russia” (Chapel Hill, 1982), in which he pointed out the contributions of peripheral groups such as the Poles, Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and Tatars, even if his primary focus remained on the Russians at the center.

Now Boris Anan’ich and his editorial colleagues have produced a study devoted exclusively to minority entrepreneurial communities. Although the editors unify the work conceptually by testing the ideas of Max Weber about religion and the rise of capitalism, what they have created is a valuable collection of four monographs, the first on the Old Believers, the second on the Kazan Tatars, the third on the Jews, and a smaller fourth section on western merchants, primarily Germans. Max Weber enters the discussion now and again, but only one contribution is specifically dedicated to his ideas: James West’s introductory essay on the Old Believers. He points out that although young historians in Russia nowadays like to assert the relevance of Weber for understanding the Old Believers, Weber’s theory is of limited utility in explaining the behavior of what is a varied and complex religious group whose role in Russia’s development requires detailed analysis of geography, theology and temporal periods. West finds that Weber’s ideas help to explain some Old Believer practices such as lending and insurance but that Weber’s views in regard to individualism have no parallel among Old Believers. Their objective was to save their belief and their communities that sustained it. It is interesting to observe, too, that although Weber took the trouble to learn Russian, he did not choose to apply his ideas to the Old Believers.

The first monograph is by Valerii Kerov and surveys the entrepreneurial history of the Old Believers, focusing on their various communal activities and on the fluctuating intensity of repression and persecution of these religious dissenters. Interestingly, in treating the historiography of Old Believer business culture, Kerov criticizes not just Soviet vulgarizations of these dissenters as fighters for freedom against tsarist repression but also rebukes James West (on the basis of his earlier work), James Billington, and Valentine Bill for peddling myths of the Old Believers as champions of resistance to tsarism. Kerov contends that once the Old Believers stopped hiding and began to organize businesses openly they met few barriers that they could not overcome by bribery (with the exception of the dark decade of repression from 1853–1863) and that from 1905 to the Revolution of 1917 they enjoyed what they themselves named a “golden age” of free enterprise.

The next monograph is on the Muslims and is the most instructive of the four because it brings into sharp focus the activities of a community that we know less of than the Old Believers, Jews, and Germans. This section is jointly authored by Ramil Salikhov and Radik Khairutdinov. It runs to 150 pages in small type and surveys in great detail the work of Muslim entrepreneurs, primarily in Kazan and its environs, from the late eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. After the publication of a series of books in the past decade written from a Russian perspective on Russian efforts to spread Orthodoxy in the east, it is refreshing to read about the work of Tatar business people who made great efforts to educate their people and to create opportunities for them. We also learn about the powerful resistance that the Tatars mounted against attempts to limit their commerce on Orthodox holy days and their insistent and successful demands for respect of their spiritual values and business practices. Here we meet again some of the families so vividly described by Karl Fuks in his early nineteenth-century descriptions and also their descendants, who in cooperation with the Jadidist intellectuals of the later century established schools, libraries, mosques, theaters, textbook publications, and even at the very end of the imperial era a gymnasium for Muslim girls and women. The successful ascent of Tatar business began in the eighteenth century with the opening provided by Catherine II’s reforms to encourage enterprise. Since Tatars were excluded from most government posts, those with financial resources threw themselves into commerce and manufacturing. In this regard, the authors believe that Weber’s thesis may be applied to the Tatars.

As the Tatar business elite expanded in size and wealth in the nineteenth century, many of its members came to enjoy the privileges of guild merchants and even honored citizens. They occupied positions on the boards of financial institutions and government consultative organizations. Nationalism grew among them in tempo with moves by the Orthodox Church and tsarist government to convert and to russify the Muslims, and a growing number of Tatar business people began to work with Jadidists to strengthen their confessional community. They sought to preserve the Islamic way of life by purging it of non-modern elements and adapting it to the challenges of an industrializing and urbanizing age. In this effort, they had to work not only against the Russian government’s efforts to russify Tatars but also against conservative leaders in their own community who joined tsarist officials in branding the Jadidists and their business supporters as religious fanatics.

While Salikhov and Khairutdinov bring unprecedented detail to their study of Tatars and even present discussions of the activities of Old Believer and Jewish commercial groups in Kazan, the study leaves something to be desired stylistically and theoretically. Wishing apparently to be comprehensive and inclusive, Salikhov and Khairutdinov repeatedly insert long lists of names of entrepreneurs into their account, a practice that sometimes lends the study the literary qualities of the Kazan telephone directory. They also use throughout the Marxist labels that were de rigueur in Soviet time (bourgeoisie, capitalism, and the like) as if they are well understood, stable, and undifferentiated analytical categories.

The section on Muslims closes with a short essay by Mikhail Shatsillo on the Muslim commercial communities in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The brief remarks simply note the small size of these communities and their involvement primarily in petty trade.

The section on Jewish entrepreneurs is broken into a series of short essays. The first is by Galina Ul’ianova and offers a detailed survey of the legislation affecting Jews in the imperial period. She points out the ambivalence of Russian policy in regard to the Jews.  Government officials felt the need to respond to the fears and prejudices of Russian merchants who wanted to confine Jews to the Pale of Settlement in order to avoid having to compete with them, yet officials also understood the value that Jewish entrepreneurs brought to the state when they were given the freedom to expand their commercial activities to other regions. Two further essays, one by Sergei Lebedev and another by Pavel Lizunov, focus on Jewish population, commerce, and philanthropy in Petersburg, each emphasizing a different period. Even so, all three of these essays exhibit unnecessary repetitiveness, as the Lebedev and Lizunov chapters rehearse the legal developments that have already been treated in Ul’ianova’s chapter. The section on the Jews finishes with an essay by Iurii Petrov, a business historian at the Central Bank of the Russian Federation. He writes a brief biography of a single, if highly significant businessman and banker, Lazar’ Poliakov, who was known as the “Russian Rothschild”. This fascinating account reminds us that private banks of the imperial era were little regulated and did not have to publish accounts of their activities, a circumstance that tempted Poliakov to engage in wildly speculative schemes and eventually brought him to ruin.

The final section which treats foreign and primarily German business people in Petersburg and Moscow, is likewise broken up into four chapters by different authors and explores the religious and commercial outlooks of the foreigners and how they differed from those of their Russian counterparts. These chapters also look closely at a series of particular commercial institutions in which Germans played important roles.

Most collections of scholarly analyses by multiple authors are a bit uneven. This one does better than most in allocating ample space to each confessional community and in maintaining a sound research foundation for each contribution. One could object that sections on the Greeks and Armenians in the south of the country should have been included, but the book is already very long. The editors deserve praise for gathering in a single volume a rich and densely packed survey of the four minority confessional commercial communities of imperial Russia that they chose. Some of these communities have been studied in depth before, but it is useful to see them in comparative perspective and to subject them to analysis on the basis of the Weberian model. This collection will for some time into the future be an essential starting point for students who wish to look into the variety of entrepreneurial communities in Russia.

David L. Ransel, Bloomington, IN

Zitierweise: David L. Ransel über: Častnoe predprinimatel’stvo v dorevoljucionnoj Rossii. Ėtnokonfessional’naja struktura i regional’noe razvitie, XIX – načalo XX v. Otv. red. B. V. Anan’ič / D. Dal’mann / Ju. A. Petrov. Moskva: Rosspėn, 2010. 551 S., Tab. = Ėkonomičeskaja istorija. Dokumenty, issledovanija, perevody. ISBN: 978-5-8243-1505-9, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Ransel_Ananic_Castnoe_predprinimatelstvo.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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