Hearts of Stone: Analyzing Anarchic Bukhtarman Stonemason Communities in Eighteenth-Century Russia.

AuthorMaltsev, V. V.
  1. Introduction

    Is a strong state a necessity for the economic development of Russia? According to the dominant nativist perspective in Russia, autocracy is essential to the country's development. Nativists point to the Russian state's unique ability to "mobilize resources for long-term development," and historian Nikolai Karamzin argued that "Autocracy is the Palladium of Russia; on its integrity depends Russia's happiness" (Tsygankov 2014, pp. 5-6). According to Berdyaev (1948, p. 14), "Without the reform of Peter [the Great], the Russian State itself would have been incapable both of self-defence and of development." Nakhimova (2011, pp. 154-155) points out the increasing popularity of Stalin in modern Russian media and its call for a "new" Stalin to resolve the country's current economic problems. Finally, Vladimir Putin (2003) noted that "a strong and responsible government based on the consolidation of society is vital to preserve the country. Without strong power, it will also be impossible to move forward into the future."

    However, a burgeoning economics literature points out that a strong state can in fact be an impediment to growth and that countries where the state is minimal tend to show greater levels of development (Hall and Lawson 2014). Some works even show that under certain institutional conditions, the absence of formal institutions can lead to objectively greater wealth (Leeson 2007a). Private institutional arrangements can and do provide law and order when demanded by society (Benson 1989).

    Would such arrangements be possible in Russia? Following the nativist thought uncritically, the answer seems to be no. However, in this paper I attempt to show that the Russian people in fact were able to thrive under a socioeconomic system without a strong autocratic state. I examine the politically ungoverned Bukhtarman stonemason communities of the eighteenth century to show how Russians have thrived under anarchy. I argue that these communities of Old Believers and escapee peasants who fled from the Russian state to the mountainous region near the river Bukhtarma existed peacefully for almost fifty years and significantly improved their welfare without state control.

    Since almost no work in the economic literature examines the possibility of a functioning anarchy in Russia, this paper presents an important case study that aims to cast doubt on the necessity of a "unique" Russian way of development with a strong state at its core. Additionally, the paper seeks to further prove that anarchy can be a socially desirable system that does not degenerate into a Hobbesian war of all against all. Finally, the paper seeks to add another layer of complexity to the existing literature about institutional mechanisms that foster economic exchange in conditions of self-governance.

    My analysis uses a simple model by Peter Leeson (2006) that helps identify situations where anarchy can be efficient and desirable. I also draw on another paper by Leeson (2008) to explain the institutional mechanisms employed by stonemasons to overcome the problem of socially heterogeneous escapees in the region and reinforce their mechanisms of self-governance. Works by Scott (2009) and by Stringham and Miles (2012) demonstrate peculiar parallels between the mechanisms employed by the people of Zomia and the Bukhtarman stonemasons.

    I employ many Russian language sources due to a lack of Western literature on the Bukhtarman stonemasons. Of importance is the monograph by Beloborodov and Borovik (2017) that contains details about the various taxes and regulations imposed on the Old Believers, which eventually led to their escape from the Russian state. An Altai handbook of historical statistics (Golubev 1890) provides a chronology of laws in the Russian Empire that discriminated against the Old Believers. Seminal work by Blomquist and Grinkova (1930) contains a detailed historical overview of the stonemason communities, covering their initial formation, traditions, and way of life. Mamsik's (1989) research contains testimonies of the captured stonemason Fedor Sizikov, which gives us a rough estimate of the stonemasons' material well-being. Diaries of professor Carl Ledebour (1993), who traveled to stonemason villages in the early nineteenth century, also reinforce Mamsik's work. A paper by Osercheva (2011) includes a chronology of Bukhtarman stonemason communities, with dates of village constructions and population numbers.

    Section 2 of the paper examines the historical preconditions for the Bukhtarman stonemason communities' formation. It discusses the main reasons why these people chose to flee from the Russian state and live under anarchy. Section 3 applies Leeson's framework to explain the desirability of anarchy for Bukhtarman stonemasons and to show its benefits. Section 4 considers the main institutional conditions that allowed the stonemasons to achieve stability under anarchy. Section 5 explains the eventual return of stonemasons to the Russian state. Section 6 concludes.

  2. The Formation of Bukhtarman Stonemason Communities: A Historical Background

    The main precondition for the formation of Bukhtarman stonemason communities was the second phase of the schism in the Russian Orthodox Church that occurred in the year 1666 (Michels 1999, p. 3). The adherents of the old faith--Old Believers or raskolniki--were anathematized by the reformed church and began to flee from the state, which they dubbed the Kingdom of Satan. The raskolniki who could not or did not want to escape were tortured or burnt at the stake (Michels 1999, pp. 35, 157). At this time, the anarchic legend of Belovodye began to form. The Old Believers envisioned Belovodye as a promised land at the edge of the world, free from the diabolical hand of the state, to which all righteous Christians should relocate (Kovtun 2008, p. 547).

    The process of fleeing slowed down in the beginning of the eighteenth century due to the initially more lenient policy of Peter I toward the Old Believers (Riasanovsky 1985, p. 77). However, a new wave of escapees soon formed due to new taxes imposed by the tsar. To finance his political ambitions and the Greater Northern War in particular, Peter I required substantial government revenue, so he imposed new taxes on Russians. The Old Believers who remained within the Russian state were affected the most. Their taxes doubled starting in February 1716 (Riasanovsky 1985, p. 160). From 1719 onward, Old Believers had to pay a fine of six rubles for getting married under the Church anathema.

    By a 1722 decree of Peter I, Old Believers had to pay fifty rubles a year for wearing a beard. They could not avoid paying this tax by shaving, since wearing a beard was considered a prime religious requirement for the Old Believers. Additionally, they had to wear a long-sleeved coat with a red collar or be fined fifty additional rubles. This law was implemented to monitor the Old Believers, as they were considered the prime source of potential unrest and instability in the Russian Empire (Beloborodov and Borovik 2017, pp. 47-49). Finally, under Empress Anna Ioanovna in 1737, the Old Believers were subjected to forced labor in the state mining factories (Golubev 1890, p. 6).

    These factors, along with the spreading legend about the Kingdom of Opona, motivated more individuals to form communities beyond the state's reach. The conditions for escape were particularly favorable in Siberia's mountainous southern Altai region. Due to the weakening of Dzungar Khanate, the region's sovereign, by the Qing empire in the 1730s, the region near the Altai mountain river of Bukhtarma became a void of state power and lay outside the jurisdiction of neighboring states (Barisitz 2017, p. 173). This effectively made the area anarchic. Historical documents confirm the movement of Old Believers into the territory starting from 1740 (Osercheva 2011, p. 29). The general population of Russia called the denizens of the Altai mountains "stonemasons," or kamenschiks in Russian. Their proximity to the Bukhtarma river led to them being called Bukhtarman stonemasons.

    The fleeing of Old Believers into mountainous areas echoes the strategy of people fleeing into stateless areas of Southeast Asia, as described in a monograph "The Art of Not Being Governed" by James C. Scott (2009). Such movements act as a locational mechanism for repelling states, as pointed out by Stringham and Miles (2012, p. 13). They argue that "if the cost of physically traveling to the taxable population and returning collected taxes to the state center is significantly higher than what it costs the taxable population to move out of the way, the state is cost prohibitive."

    The first stonemason settlements were small villages of no more than five to six houses. Osercheva (2011, p. 29) documents the establishment of the first stonemason villages of Fykalka, Belaya, and Pechi in 1742. In 1746, the village of Bykovo was established, with fifty inhabitants (Chernykh 1981, p. 106). By 1791, the region had a total of...

To continue reading

Request your trial