Bread, Sweat, and Tears? The Ascendance of Capitalist Accumulation Strategies in the Russian Republic of Karelia, 2001-2002

Mark Wesley Abbott

PhD Thesis 2008

This dissertation is an ethnographic study of small business entrepreneurship and developing capitalism in the Russian Republic of Karelia. The entrepreneurial-minded individuals at the heart of my research began organizing labor and production in the mid 1990's to create businesses that are now thriving within a spirit of capitalism that is emerging locally as a part of their efforts. Their energy and imagination unite Western-inspired ideas with Soviet-era structural continuities to accumulate capital at impressive rates. I examine the inner workings of their enterprises and the business networks within which they operate, focusing both on labor control and on how the entrepreneurs effectively socialize and retain workforces that can withstand the demands of a new market economy. This dissertation is based upon 15 months of field work in 2001-2002, which included months of participant-observation as a production worker in commercial cake and bread bakeries and also extended interactions with entrepreneurs and their managers.

I use the language and concepts from the French Regulation School, which focuses on how regimes of capital accumulation operate and the regulating forces and institutions necessary to sustain them, to explore the relationship between structural continuities from the Soviet mode of regulating the economy and the emerging capitalist regime of accumulation. In this way, I focus on the underpinnings of capitalist circulation in Karelia—the ways in which individuals, institutions, and sectors are coordinating a process that at its essence seeks to reproduce social life through commodity production. I draw two fundamental conclusions from my research. First, Russia's shift to a capitalist system of accumulation, especially within the small business sector of the economy, has been less problematic than many scholars have understood or acknowledged. Second, anthropological investigations of capitalism must focus on the general logic of the underlying structures that control, promulgate and replicate the conditions necessary for capital to effectively accumulate, in addition to the unique characteristics associated with particular capitalist economies.