Illegal Activities of Private Entrepreneurs in the Kharkiv Meat Trade (Second Half of the 1920s – Early 1930s)
The article examines the shadow activities of private entrepreneurs in the Kharkiv meat trade at the tail end of the NEP. The author analyzes the source base and historiography of the problem and finds that the understanding of this subject, despite certain positive shifts in recent decades, remains rather one-sided, which justifies its further in-depth study. The source base of the article is represented by various groups of reliable documents and provides a sufficient basis for a thorough consideration of the problem. The article illuminates the operating conditions of the meat trade in Kharkiv, uncovers the reasons for the development of illegal entrepreneurship, and characterizes the factors that contributed to the involvement of private capital in this sphere. The role of the Bolshevik state is highlighted: with its ‘class policy’ regarding the institution of private entrepreneurship, it squeezed out entrepreneurs into the sphere of illegal commerce. The paper explores the forms of adaptation of shadow entrepreneurs/hustlers to the conditions of the winding down of the NEP and the methods of illegal entrepreneurial activity in the Kharkiv meat trade and analyzes various ways of avoiding state control and taxation by meat trade hustlers. In order to avoid control by state authorities over their activities, the ‘bigwigs’ of the meat trade employed a number of means: they evaded the claiming of patents (patent-free trade) or used dummies for this purpose, claimed patents for smaller-category enterprises, used peasants for covering up their commercial activities, bribed employees of state structures (village councils, veterinary inspections, staff of state slaughterhouses), and resorted to various forms of social mimicry (such as the status of an employee in specially created fake cooperatives, a joint-stock form of entrepreneurship, etc.) to hide shadow activity. The forgery and falsification of financial documents and their deliberate destruction were also common. Among the shadow hustlers operating in the meat trade, there were many individuals with a criminal past and deviant behavior, which in general had a negative impact on the image of the trade. As the NEP was being phased out, in its efforts to fight shadow entrepreneurship and destroy the illegal meat trade the Bolshevik state actively applied both strict economic and (mainly) administrative and repressive measures. The systematic use of such measures towards the end of the NEP in fact aimed at the complete eradication of private commercial activity (including legal) in this sphere.
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