The Russian Soldiers’ Artel’, 1700–1900 A History and Interpretation

  • John Bushnell

Abstract

The history of the soldiers’ artel′ is roughly the history of how Russian soldiers ate during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The subject is humble, certainly, but it lies along a critical seam in modern Russian history. Its interest inheres not in the food, but in the providing of it: soldiers had, by and large, to provide for themselves, and more during settled peacetime service than when on campaign. To feed themselves, soldiers formed spontaneously into the egalitarian and self-governing associations — artels — that Russian common folk organised whenever they set out to work as a group. In following this custom, soldiers unwittingly introduced organisational and -social, even cultural, discord into the very core of the Russian army: organisational, because the artel′ violated the principles of hierarchy and centralisation inherent in modern armies, the Russian included; social and cultural, because the artel′ endured as a premodern folk institution within an otherwise modern social system. Nor is that all. The army was modern Russia’s most important modern institution. The persistence of the soldiers’ artel′ thus serves as an emblematic example of the deepseated tensions between modern and traditional elements in Russian society.

Keywords

Europe Amid Expense Straw Bedding 

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NOTES AND REFERENCES

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© School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London 1990

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  • John Bushnell

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