Catherine Pickering-Antonova
(PhD, Queens College, City University of New York)
There Was No Proto-Industrialization: How Regions are the Key to Understanding Russian Economic Development
The presentation shows how the historiography of proto-industrialization in Russian textiles was based on misunderstandings of textile processes as well as ideological assumptions (not just Marxism and anti-Marxism, but assumptions that the more complex a machine the better its product, and the more urban the worker the more complex their work). My paper will explain the technical misunderstandings that plague the work of all the major histories of early textile industrialization (such as Blackwell, Gestwa, Daniel, Meshalin, and others), and offer in contrast technically accurate examples of early textile industry in Russia during the same period (c. 1800-1860) that show not "stages of development" but instead regional variations: based on differential access to fairs, markets, or transportation networks, differences in the cost-effectiveness of importing raw materials versus raising flax or wool, or local specializations that offered advantages in training and what we would now call "branding." I will show that "skilled laborers" are not synonymous with "urban," "free," or male workers, but instead that there was a range of specialized craftspeople including serfs apprenticed in towns and serfs who did highly-skilled work within their own izba or in an estate outbuilding, while the workers first consolidated into workshops or early factories were sometimes--depending on the textile process involved--actually less skilled and produced lower-quality goods. While it is traditional to divide the central provinces of pre-Emancipation Russia into "black earth" versus "non-black earth" regions or an industrial "north" or "center" versus an agricultural "south," these generalizations derive from assumptions about a supposedly empty and undifferentiated "provintsiia" and they obscure how early industrial development actually occurred. The key factors determining what could be made, where, and when, were mostly local.