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The Population Ecology of Corporations in the Russian Empire, 1700–1914

  • Thomas C. Owen (a1)


In investigations of the evolution of the corporation in Europe, North America, and the Far East, historians have illuminated variations in the structure of large enterprises in different times and places and investigated responses to legal environments. In tsarist Russia as well, the development of corporations on the national, regional, and sectoral levels was influenced by legal and economic institutions. Data on Russian corporations, however, have been inadequate for the complex statistical tests applied to the European and North American economies. This article offers a preliminary overview of trends in Russian corporate development from 1700 to 1914 in light of a new database and the recently articulated theory of organizational ecology. Although the theory provides stimulating approaches to the history of Russian corporations, it also appears unduly specific in some respects to the history of western Europe and the United States.



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Research for this article was funded by the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX); the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies; the Harriman Institute for Advanced Studies of the Soviet Union; the Hoover Institution; the American Philosophical Society; and the National Science Foundation (grant no. SES-8419943). The author wishes to thank Sidney Monas and two anonymous referees for their helpful criticism of an earlier draft.

1. In the immense monographic literature in this field, recent landmarks of crosscultural synthesis are Horn, Norbert and Kocka, Jürgen, eds., Recht und Entwicklung der Grossunternehmen, 1860-1920 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1979), containing articles in English and German; Chandler, Alfred D. Jr., and Daems, Herman, eds., Managerial Hierarchies: Comparative Perspectives on the Rise of the Modern Industrial Enterprise, Harvard Studies in Business History, no. 32 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), on the United States, Britain, Germany, and France; and the Fuji series in Japan, for example, Nakagawa, Keiichiro, ed., Government and Business: Proceedings of the Fifth Fuji Conference [1978] (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1980). In contrast, only one Soviet monograph, albeit a model of positivist erudition, has examined tsarist policies toward the corporation as an institution and offered statistics to illustrate trends of corporate development over the decades: Shepelev, Leonid E., Aktsionernye kompanií v Rossii (Leningrad: Nauka, 1973). Shepelev, , “Aktsionernoe uchreditel’stvo v Rossii,” in Iz istorii imperializmu v Rossii, ed. Viatkin, M. P. (Leningrad: Akademiia nauk, 1959), 134182 , gives a detailed account of the creation and survival of companies, with special attention to banks and railroads, in the late imperial period. Additional information is contained in Shepelev, , “Tsarizm i aktsionernoe uchredítel’stvo v I870-1910-kh godakh,” in Problemy kresťianskogo zemlevladeniia i vnutrennei politiki Rossii: dook-tiabr’skiiperiod, ed. Nosov, N. E. (Leningrad: Akademiia nauk, 1972), 274318 .

2. Criteria of inclusion and other technical aspects of the database are discussed in the Ruscorp codebook, 18-26. Unless specified, all information in the tables and graphs in this article are drawn from RUSCORP files and associated corporate directories mentioned in the Appendix, with the exception of data on bank branches in graph 2, from Lyashchenko, Peter I. [Liashchenko, Petr I.], History of the National Economy of Russia to the 1917 Revolution, trans. Herman, L. M. (New York: Macmillan, 1949), 703 . Shepelev’s figures of annual incorporation vary only slightly from those of Ruscorp, so that peaks and troughs occur in the same years in both time series, but the Ruscorp files separate domestic from foreign companies after 1901, as Shepelev, Aktsionernye kompanii, 225, does not. Research in Russian business history is unfortunately hampered by the loss of many corporate records in the 1920s and 1930s at the hands of negligent Soviet archivists. See Golikov, A. G., “K voprosu o sostave, soderzhanii i sokhrannosti dokumentov aktsionernykh kompanii,” in Istochnikovedenie otechestvennoi istorii: sbornik statei, 1979, ed. Budagov, V. I. (Moscow: Akademiia nauk, 1980), 134156 .

3. The eighteenth century companies were mostly commercial or hunting and fishing enterprises modeled on those in Britain, France, and the Netherlands, but without the slightest financial success. Scherer, Jean-Benoît, Histoire raisonnée du commerce de la Russie, 2 vols. (Paris: Cuchet, 1788); Firsov, Nikolai N., Russkie torgovo-promyshlennye kompanii v pervuiu polovinu XVIII stoletiia (Kazan’: Universitet, 1896); Lappo-Danilevskii, Aleksandr S., “Russkie promyshlennye i torgovye kompanii v pervoi polovine XVIII veka,” Zhurnal ministerstva narodnogo prosveshcheniia, 320 (December 1898) part 2: 306366, and 321 (February 1899): 371436 ; and Iukht, A. I., “Torgovye kompanii v Rossii v seredine XVIII v.,” Isto-richeskie zapiski 111 (1984): 238295 . Several short-lived trading and insurance companies were founded in Odessa in the early nineteenth century.

Foreign companies operating in Russia, of which 262 were recorded in 1914, are not included in this study because statistics of their creation and growth are lacking and they are peripheral to the issue of domestic corporate entrepreneurship. On foreign corporations in Russia, see McKay, John P., Pioneers for Profit: Foreign Entrepreneurship and Russian Industrialization, 1885-1913 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970); Girault, René, Emprunts russes et investissements français en Russie, 1887-1914 (Paris: Colin, 1973); Carstensen, Fred V., American Enterprise in Foreign Markets: Studies of Singer and International Harvester in Imperial Russia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984); and Kirchner, Walther, Die deutsche Industrie und die Industrialisierung Russlands ¡815-1914 (St. Katharinen: Scripta Mercaturae, 1986).

4. Aldrich, Howard E., Organizations and Environments (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979), 2728 . For an early statement of the theory, see Hannan, Michael and Freeman, John, “The Population Ecology of Organizations,” American Journal of Sociology 82 (March 1977): 929964 . Achievements of the method are discussed in Carroll, Glenn R., “Organizational Ecology,” Annual Review of Sociology 10 (1984): 7193 . These and other sociological works were kindly suggested to me by Elaine Backman, Andrew L. Creighton, and W. Richard Scott.

5. As in the articles in Chandler, and Daems, , eds., Managerial Hierarchies, and Hannan, Michael T. and Freeman, John, Organizational Ecology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989).

6. See Owen, Thomas C., “Four Episodes of Corporate Law Reform in the Russian Empire, 1836-1914,” Research in Economic History 11 (1988): 277-299 , and idem, The Corporation under Russian Law, 1800-1917: A Study in Tsarist Economic Policy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991). On this and other aspects of imperial corporate law, Shepelev, Aktsionernye kompanii, provides a wealth of documentation, much of it verbatim, from the ministerial archives.

7. Shepelev, Aktsionernye kompanii, 30, noted that corporate charters denied by the state between 1799 and 1836 included four in insurance, three in transport, two in municipal services, one in agriculture or animal products, and five in other commercial or industrial fields. Documents of an agricultural improvement company that failed to win a charter in the late 1830s are given in Kusheva, E. N., “Proekt uchrezhdeniia aktsionernogo ‘obshchestva uluchsheniia chastnogo sel’skogo khoziaistva’ 30-kh godov XIX v.,” Isto-richeskii arkhiv 7 (1951): 4695 .

8. Shepelev, , Aktsionernye kompanii, 28 (on the reduction from 5 percent to 4 percent in 1830); 67 (on the reduction from 4 percent to 3 percent in mid-1857); 83 (on the cessation of stock exchange speculation by the issuing of 5 percent banknotes in mid-1869); 144 (on reductions from 5 percent and 4.5 percent to 4 percent of the interest rate on government-guaranteed bonds in 1889-1894); and 145 (on reductions in land banks from 6 percent to 5 percent in 1891-1892 and from 5 percent to 4.5 percent in 1898).

9. See the insurance company’s jubilee history: V pomať 75-ti tonego iubileia Pervogo Rossiiskogo strakhovogo obshchestva, uchrezhdennogo v 1827 godu (St. Petersburg: Marks, 1903). Until 1896, when it began issuing transport and accident insurance policies, its name was the First Russian Fire Insurance Company. The eminent German historian of foreigners in Russia, Amburger, Erik, chronicled the history of his family, which included several managers of this company, in Deutschen in Staat, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Russlands: Die Familie Amburger in St. Petersburg, 1770-1920 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1986).

10. Shepelev, , “Aktsionernoe uchreditel’stvo,” 169174 , traces the establishment and demise of Russian commercial banks, but his list is not complete before 1900. Additional data for graph 4 were drawn from Lewin, J. [Levin, Isaac I.], Der Heutige Zustand der Aktienhandelsbanken in Russland (1900-1910) (Freiburg: Poppen, 1912), 1519 .

11. A Spearman coefficient of +1.0 indicates perfect agreement in the rank order of two lists; 0 denotes the presence of as many similarities as differences; and -1.0 signifies a complete reversal of rank order in the two lists. Coefficients for the eighteen pairs of consecutive quinquenniums ranged from lows of + .6240 in 1831-1835/1836-1840 and +.6494 in 1901-1905/1906-1910 to highs of +.9259 in 1856-1860/1861-1865 and +.8951 in 1876-1880/1881-1885. Throughout this analysis, the three-year period from 1 January 1911 to 31 December 1913 is called a quinquennium for the sake of convenience.

12. Shepelev, , Aktsionernye kompanii, 235 .

13. Aldrich, , Organizations, 6869 .

14. See Gefter, Mikhail Ia., “Iz istorii monopolisticheskogo kapitalizme v Rossii: sakharnyi sindikat,” Istoricheskie zapiski 38 (1951): 104153 (151 on the importance of excise taxes in the state budget) and Laverychev, Vladimir Ia., Gosudarstvo i monopolii v dorevoliutsionnoi Rossii (Moscow: Mysl’, 1982), 101117 . Munting, Roger, “The State and the Beet Sugar Industry in Russia before 1914,” in Crisis and Change in the International Sugar Economy, ed. Albert, Bill and Graves, Adrian (Norwich, U.K.: ISC Press, 1984), 2129 , is a good overview in English.

15. A recent account, markedly empirical by Soviet standards, is Bovykin, Valerii I., Formirovanie finansovogo kapitala v Rossii: konets XIX v.-1908 g.> (Moscow: Nauka, 1984), chap. 4, which, however, bears a traditionally teleological subtitle: “Consolidation of the Monopolies.” The efforts of the tsarist bureaucracy to weaken the coal cartel shortly before World War I are discussed in Shepelev, Leonid E., Tsarizm i burzhuaziia v 1904-1914 gg.: Problemy torgovo-promyshlennoipolitila (Leningrad: Nauka, 1987), 235 , and by a mining engineer in the coal industry, Fenin, Aleksandr I., Coal and Politics in Late Imperial Russia: The Memoirs of a Russian Mining Engineer, trans. Fediaevsky, Alexandre, ed. McCaffray, Susan P. (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1990), 5354 . For a contemporary complaint against “coercion” of coal producers by the state, see S—m, “Pochemu podpisyvaiut dogovory s kaznoiu,” Gorno-zavodskoe delo 18:10 (12 March 1910), 337. Useful material on cartels may be found in Rieber, Alfred J., Merchants and Entrepreneurs in Imperial Russia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982).

16. Aldrich, Organizations, 69.

17. Pervushin, Sergei A., Khoziaistvennaia kon”iunktura: wedenie v izuchenie dinamiki russkogo narodnogo khoziaistva za polveka (Moscow: Ekonomicheskaia zhizn’, 1925), 184213 . Pervushin’s pioneering research on Russian business cycles has been unjustly neglected by Soviet historians.

18. Aldrich, Organizations, 171.

19. Aldrich, Organizations, 169-170 on Peter the Great, citing Bendix, Reinhard, Work and Authority in Industry (New York: Wiley, 1956 ). Bendix’s chapter on Russia needs fundamental revision in light of recent research on workers and managers under the tsars. Governmental policies inimical to enterprise under Peter I and Catherine II are stressed in Kahan, Arcadius, The Plow, the Hammer, and the Knout: An Economic History of Eighteenth-Century Russia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 263264 . On the role of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in securing property rights that stimulated both public and private capital markets in England, see North, Douglass C. and Weingast, Barry R., “Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England,” Journal of Economic History 49 (December 1989): 803832 .

20. The restrictive laws are discussed in Shepelev, Aktsionernye kompanii, 122-123, and Owen, Corporation, 118-132. The protest of the sugar men appeared in “Polozhenie sakharnoi promyshlennosti . . . (zapiski sakharozavodchikov),” Pravo (27 March 1905), col. 918..

21. On tariffs and other aspects of economic policy, see Kahan, Arcadius, Russian Economic History: The Nineteenth Century, ed. Weiss, Roger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), chap. 2, a classic article originally published in 1967. Levin, Isaak I., Aktsionernye kommercheskie banki v Rossii, vol. 1 [no more published] (Petrograd, 1917), 230231 , gives a richly detailed account of Reutern’s handling of the bank crisis of 1875.

22. Chandler, Alfred D. Jr., Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1962), 23 (quotation), 32-38 (quotation); chaps. 2 to 5 on the multidivisional giants.

23. On the financial woes of railroads in the 1880s, see Georgievskii, Pavel I., Finansovye otnosheniia gosudarstva i chastnykh zh.-dorozhnykh obshchestv v Rossii i v Zapadno-evropeiskikh gosudarstvakh (St. Petersburg: Benke, 1887), esp. 101104 , 286-307. Survival data from RUSCORP. Mileage figures from Westwood, John L., A History of Russian Railways (London: Alien and Unwin, 1964), 142 . On strategic lines built in 1904-1913, “Nasha zheleznodorozhnaia seť i ee istoricheskoe razvitie,” Vestnik finansov, promyshlennosti i torgovli 16 (20 April 1914), 133.

24. On the allocation of freight cars by the southern coal and iron producers in 1879-1889, after which the Ministry of Transportation established its own committee for coal and iron cars (Komitet po perevozku gorno-zavodskikh gruzov), see Nikolai Stepanovich Avdakov (Khar’kov, 1915), appendix to Gornozavodskoe delo 4647 (1915), 10-11.

25. Shmelyev, Nikolai P. [Shmelev] and Popov, Vladimir, The Turning Point: Revitalizing the Soviet Economy, trans. Berdy, Michele A. (New York: Doubleday, 1989), 9394 .

26. Kaczkowski, Józef, “Towarzystwo akcyjne w państwe rosyjskiem: studium prawnoekonomiczne,” Ekonomista 8 (1908), vol. 1, 103104 ; Shepelev, Aktsionernye kompanii, 115, 196-201; Owen, Corporation, chaps. 3, 5.

27. See Entrepreneurship in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union, ed. Guroff, Gregory and Carstensen, Fred V. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983); Tolf, Robert W., The Russian Rockefellers: The Saga of the Nobel Family and the Russian Oil Industry (Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1976); Hildermeier, Manfred, Bürgertum und Stadt in Russland 1760-1870 (Cologne: Böhlau, 1986), esp. 370544 ; and Amburger, Deutschen.

28. Conversation with author, Harvard Business School, 19 May 1988; Daems, Herman, The Holding Company and Corporate Control (Boston: Nijhoff, 1978). Aldrich briefly discusses networks as units of analysis, for example, interlocking directorates among United States banks and regional groups linked by banks and insurance companies (Organizations, 344-346).

29. Some of the Soviet work is summarized by Rieber, Merchants, 364-365, who notes, for example, that on the eve of the Bolshevik revolution “eleven leading banks controlled 468 enterprises, representing slightly more than 50 percent of all the joint-stock capital invested in the country. In heavy industry the figure was even higher, around 60 percent” (quotation from 365). He pays scant attention, however, to the Petersburg commercial-industrial elite’s resentment of the systematic irrationality of tsarist economic policy. Rieber, chap. 4, describes the “Moscow Entrepreneurial Group,” which established a half-dozen corporations in the 1850s and 1860s. A richly documented restatement of the familiar Soviet interpretation is Bovykin, Formirovanie. The largest holding companies, those founded in Britain in 1912 and 1913 as “trusts” to control Russian petroleum and tobacco production, are discussed in Naumova, Galina R., Rossiiskie monopolii (istochnikovedcheskie problemy) (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Moskovskogo universiteta, 1984), 31 . On interlocking directorates, see Bovykin, Valerii I. and Shatsillo, Kornelu F., “Lichnye unii v tiazheloi promyshlennosti Rossii nakanune pervoi mirovoi voiny,” Vestnik, Moskovskogo universiteta, seriia 9: istorila, 1962, no. 1, 5574 .

30. Hannan and Freeman, Organizational Ecology, 10.

The Population Ecology of Corporations in the Russian Empire, 1700–1914

  • Thomas C. Owen (a1)


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