Ivan Tikhonovich Pososhkov on the Merchants and the Peasants in the Early 18th Century

[excerpted from Anthology of Russian Literature From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Leo Wiener, ed. and Tr. Pt. 1 (New York, 1902), pp. 205-210]


The merchant guild must not be disregarded, for without merchants no country, neither large nor small, can exist. The merchant is the companion of the military: the soldier fights, and the merchant aids him by furnishing him
with all the necessaries. For this reason an unstinted care should be bestowed upon them, for as the soul cannot exist without a body, even so the soldier cannot get along without the merchant; nor can the merchant get along without the soldier. A country expands through the profession of war, and is beautified through commerce. Consequently the merchants must be protected against offenders, so that they receive not the least insult from government officials. Many unthinking people disdain the merchants, loathe them and offend them without provocation, and yet there is no condition of life which can get along without the merchant.

But the merchants must be guarded not only against outside offenders : they must not interfere with each other as well, and men from other ranks must not enter the merchant guild and thus cause them no end of disturbance. Commerce should be free, so that they themselves may be benefited and the interests of his Imperial Highness be guarded.

If commerce were free for the Russian merchants, and neither men from other ranks nor foreigners would in the least impair the commerce of Russians, the revenue would be increased. I am of the opinion that without changing the duties, the revenue would be doubled or trebled, whereas now the greater half is lost through the traders from the other ranks.

If a person belonging to some other rank, whether he be senator, or officer, or nobleman, or government official, or clerical, or peasant, should wish to carry on commerce, let him leave his former rank and join the merchant guild, and trade in a straightforward manner, and not by stealth, and pay his duties and other merchant taxes, and let him never again do anything by stealth, as before, without consent of the Merchant Commander, and escape the paying of imposts.

Every rank must behave in such a manner as not to sin before God and do wrong before the Tsar; and they should live as is their profession: if one be a soldier, let him be a soldier, and if he have another vocation, let him devote himself entirely to that vocation.

Our Lord Himself has said: No man can serve two masters. So let the soldier, or man of another rank, stay in his profession, and let him not enter into another rank, for if he devote himself to commerce, he will curtail his military duties. The Lord Himself has said: Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also. And St. Paul the apostle has said that no soldier can find favour with his captain who meddles with commerce. There is a popular saw which says, Choose one or the other, war or commerce.

For these reasons it does not behoove the soldier or man of another rank to trade. If, however, he have a desire to become a merchant, let him join the guild.

If there be no prohibition for external merchants, from the ranks of the nobles, officers or peasants, the merchants will not be able to become enriched, and it will not be possible for the revenue to be increased.

. . . At the present time boyars, noblemen and their people, soldiers and peasants carry on commerce, without paying any tax, and many merchants carry on trade in their names, and pay no tax. Not half the revenue is collected, nor ever can be collected, if commerce is not to be made free from the nobles and officials, since many mighty people have taken to trade, and some who are not themselves powerful but are not subject to the magistrate.

I know, for example, one case in a Novgorod county where there are a hundred or two of merchant- peasants, and who do not pay a farthing's worth of taxes. And if a collector, seeing them, tries to collect the revenue, the gentry take the peasant's part and send the collector away more dead than alive, and the government officers look on, and dare not interfere. And there are some wealthy men, who have some five or six hundred peasants carrying on such illicit trade, and pay not a farthing to the Great Tsar. If all be arranged as I have proposed, commerce will awaken as if from a dream.

It is a very bad custom the merchant people have, to do each other wrong by cheating each other. Both foreigners and Russians are in the habit of showing good-looking wares
that are badly made within or filled up with bad stuff; or bad wares are mixed with wares of a good quality and are sold as if of good quality, taking for them an unfair price, and greatly deceiving inexperienced people. They give wrong weights and measures, deceive in price, and do not think all that to be a sin, although they cause so much injustice to the inexperienced. Yet those who deceive are in the end ruined through their own iniquity, and become impoverished.

In order to establish justice in the Merchant Rows, let there be appointed hundred-men and fifty-men and tenmen, and over the shop where there is an hundred-man let there be nailed a round board, painted white. so that it can be easily seen, and on that board let there be written "hundred-man." Do the same with the shop of the fiftyman and ten-man, so that those who purchase any goods may know where to show their wares, if they should want to find out whether they have received the right weight, or measure, or whether the wares are good or bad, and whether they have paid the correct price for them.

If a merchant have received more than the worth of the wares, let him be fined a dime or two for every unfair kopek, and let him be beaten with rods or a whip, that he may not do so again in the future; and if he repeat his offence, let the fine and punishment be increased.

But if one give wrong measure and weight, or sell different goods from what the buyer demanded, and give him inferior goods, let his punishment be much more severe, and the fine be ten times the price of the goods.

And if an hundred-man, or fifty-man, or ten-man be guilty of such a transgression, let the :fine for the ten- man be tenfold, for the fifty-man fiftyfold, and for the hundred-man hundredfold, and let the punishment be with the knout, as many strokes as may be decided upon. The hundred-men and fifty-men should receive very stringent instructions to watch without relenting the ten-men and not to be indulgent to them, but to fear the law like fire, lest their transgressions reach the ears of high personages. And the ten-men should watch all the shops under their charge, and see to it that no inferior wares are adulterated by the admixture of better material, but that they are sold such as they are, the good wares as good wares, the mediocre as mediocre, and the poor as poor, and that right weights and measures be given, and that the prices be not raised on the goods, and that there be no adulterations. Let only the right price be asked, and let them measure foreign stuffs, brocade, calamanco and silks from the first end, and not from the last. And no matter what buyer there come, whether rich or poor, whether experienced or inexperienced, let them all be treated in the same fair manner, and let there not a kopek be added to the price of one rouble or ten roubles.

Whatever fine is to be collected should be collected by the hundred-men, without delay, on the day the offence has been committed. All the fines ought to be entered in a ledger which should be reported every month in the proper office. No transaction, neither great nor small, should take place with the foreigners who frequent the fairs, without the permission of the Chief Commander of the Merchant Guild. Whoever dares to sell even a rouble's worth of goods to these foreigners without the permission of the Chief Commander shall be fined a hundredfold, a hundred roubles for every rouble sold, and the punishment shall be administered with the knout, as many strokes as may be decreed, that they should remember them and never do so again.


Much might be added to the protection of the peasantry if their houses were rebuilt so that they could live more freely and peacefully; for much damage is done to them through overcrowding: if one man's house take fire, the whole village is threatened, and frequently not a single house is left. This leads to endless poverty. If they had not been so much crowded in their settlements, they would not be so easily ruined. It is against this ruin that they ought to be protected. Let them build their houses farther from each other, nor join yard to yard, but with intervals, a few houses
in a lot; the streets ought to be wide, where there is sufficient space, not less than two hundred feet in width; where the space is crowded, not less than one hundred feet in width. In this way, if there should be a fire, all the neighbours would run to put it out: there being intervals between the houses, it would be easy to reach them from all sides, and as there would be little danger for the neighbouring houses, the peasants would not rush, as before, to save their own possessions, but would aid their unfortunate neighbour. As the settlements are now arranged, it is utterly impossible for the neighbours to bring aid; they rush for their own, which they cannot all save, but generally lose everything they have. Thus they are ruined and become impoverished.

Not a small degree of annoyance is caused the peasants from not having literate people among them. There are many villages of twenty or thirty houses that have not a single man that can read; if any come to them with an ukase, or without an ukase, pretending to have one, they believe him, and suffer damages; for they are all blind,they see nothing and understand nothing. They are not able to dispute with the people that pretend having ukases, and they frequently pay unwarranted taxes to them. To guard the peasants from such losses, it seems to me, they ought to be compelled to send their children of ten years and less to some subdeacon to be instructed how to read and write. I think it would not be a bad thing if the smallest village were not without a literate man, so there ought to be a strict law compelling the peasants to have their children instructed for three or four years. And there ought to be a severe punishment for those who do not have their children taught anything for four years, or who do not have them instructed at all as they grow up.

Having learned to read and write, they will not only conduct more intelligently the affairs of their masters, but they will be also useful in the Government, being eligible as hundred-men and fifty-men, and no one would abuse them and mulct them for nothing.