Cottage worker, home worker; a peasant engaged in cottage industry (kustarnaya promyshlennost ) to earn cash, usually in combination with agricultural production.
Cottage industry became an important source of income for rural peasants in some parts of Russia by the sixteenth century and developed extensively during the nineteenth century, producing a wide range of wooden, textile, metal, and leather goods. It was usually a family enterprise, although some peasants formed producer cooperatives and worked under the supervision of an elected elder. Some cottage workers independently produced and sold their production, while others participated in a putting-out system in which they worked for a middleman who furnished them with raw or semifinished materials and collected and marketed the finished products. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the state, zemstvos, and cooperatives had established schools, credit banks, and warehouses to assist cottage workers in producing and marketing a wide variety of goods.
The socioeconomic position of Russian cottage workers was the subject of many debates in the decades preceding the revolution. Populists argued that most cottage workers remained peasant agriculturists and engaged in cottage industry only to supplement their earnings from agriculture, while Marxists contended that cottage workers were becoming proletarianized and wholly dependent on the income they earned from selling manufactured goods to middlemen.
Despite increasing competition from factories, cottage industry continued to account for a large share of Russian manufactured goods until the end of the tsarist regime, and enjoyed a brief revival in the 1920s under the New Economic Policy. Notwithstanding the importance of cottage industry in the Russian economy, there is no reliable data for the number of cottage workers in the country as a whole. Estimates range from 2.5 million to 15 million peasants engaged in cottage industry at the end of the nineteenth century.
See also: peasant economy; peasantry
Blum, Jerome. (1961). Lord and Peasant in Russia from the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Crisp, Olga. (1976). Studies in the Russian Economy Before 1914. London: Macmillan.
Gatrell, Peter. (1986). The Tsarist Economy, 1850–1914. London: Batsford.
Salmond, Wendy R. (1996). Arts and Crafts in Imperial Russia: Reviving the Kustar Art Industries, 1970–1917. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
E. Anthony Swift