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Since most studies of Russian industrialization tend to examine the capitalist system as a whole and downplay the role of individual firms, Jonathan Grant's Big Business in Russia fills an important niche. Originating from his Ph.D. dissertation (University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1995), this in-depth study of the St. Petersburg-based Putilov Company, Imperial Russia's largest arms manufacturer, advances our understanding of Russian industrial history at the micro level. The few specialists who have explored business activity in Imperial Russia have focused either on firms established by foreigners or non-industrial firms (e.g. banking, publishing, or insurance). Grant, now an assistant professor of modern Russian history at Florida State University in Tallahassee, poses the question: "Did Russian businessmen conduct their affairs in a unique way based on an essentially different understanding of the market and state, or did they pursue strategies for growth that would have been intelligible to their contemporaries in Britain, France, Germany, and the United States?" (p. 1). Grant concludes that Putilov's market behavior did not differ from that of the key Western arms manufacturers such as Krupp, Skoda, Vickers, and Scneider-Creusot. Thus, Grant maintains, Russian business behavior was not "deviant." The board of directors at the Putilov Company followed expansionist strategies as aggressive as any of its Western counterparts, hesitating neither to jettison old product lines, nor to invent new ones based on market forecasts. Hence Grant's study shows that the state's role in the Putilov Company-still extant today as the Kirovsky Zavod--has been exaggerated.
The book is divided into seven chronological chapters: 1) "The Rise and Fall of a Rail Manufacturing Giant: N. I. Putilov and the Putilov Company, 1868-1885;" 2) "Engineering Growth: Locomotives, Artillery, and Diversification Strategies, 1885-1900;" 3)"The Russian Krupp: Putilov and the Artillery Business, 1900-1907; 4) "Banks, Boards, and Naval Expansion: The Question of Bank Dominance, 1907-1914;" 5) "Putilov at War, 1914-1917; 6) "Conclusion: Between State and Market;" and 7) "Epilogue: Putilov's Successors." Grant's Introduction skillfully reviews the scholarly literature on Russian industrial history.
Because the Putilov factory had experiences typical of other industrial enterprises in Late Imperial Russia, Grant's choice of a case study is ideal. Originally purchased and owned by Nikolai Ivanovich Putilov (1817-1880), the factory was dependent on the tsarist state, then sold out to foreign investors whence it became a joint-stock company (p. 4).
Grant's wide use of foreign archival documents contributes to the book's uniqueness. He draws extensively on the Putilov factory's correspondence with banks and government offices from the Russian State Historical Archive (RGIA) in St. Petersburg, as well as its correspondence with the tsarist army and navy from the Russian State Archive of the Navy in St. Petersburg and from the Russian State Military-Historical Archive in Moscow. For the discussion of Putilov's armaments production in Chapters Two and Three, Grant used the records of the Main Artillery Administration (Glavnoe Artilleriiskoe Upravleniye), as well as British Admiralty intelligence reports located in the British Public Record Office (Kew, Surrey, United Kingdom). In addition, he found the company's published annual account books, housed at the Moscow-based Lenin Library, to be largely reliable, despite rumors by a Soviet scholar that they may have been falsified (p. 15).
While Grant defends admirably his argument about the Putilov Company, one wishes he had extended it a bit farther. If "the image of Russia as fundamentally exceptional in its economic development should be discarded," and if Russian capitalists before the Bolshevik Revolution were just as astute as their Western counterparts, what made Soviet Russia so vulnerable to the mythology of Marxist economic and political theory?
In any case, serious graduate students interested in Russian and European business history should read Big Business in Russia: The Putilov Company in conjunction with other key works such as Susan McCaffray's The Politics of Industrialization in Tsarist Russia: The Association of Southern Coal and Steel Producers, 1874-1914 (Northern Illinois University Press, 1996); Thomas C. Owen's Entrepreneurship in the Russian Empire, 1861-1914 (M.E. Sharpe, 1996); and Ruth A. Roosa's and Thomas Owen's Russian Industrialists in an Era of Revolution: the Association of Industry and Trade, 1906-1917 (M.E. Sharpe, 1997).---Johanna Granville, Ph.D., Stanford University