Extralegal payments to state officials in Russia, 1750s–1830s: assessing the burden of corruption

Published Online:
23 Feb 2018
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This article uses the records of expenditures from a set of estates that belonged to the Golitsyn family to assess the level of ‘routine corruption’ in Imperial Russia in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The data from these books allow us to identify individual cases of unofficial facilitation payments made by the estates and by peasant communes to district‐level officials; to delimit key types of payment situations; and to calculate the sums expended for payments by a given estate in a given year. The resulting numbers are compared to the overall volume of obligations borne by the serfs to the state and to their landlords. Our conclusion is that while the facilitation payments were ubiquitous and accompanied any interaction with the state, the volume of these ‘routine’ payments (as opposed to other forms of extraction) was quite low and they did not put a significant burden on the peasants, while at the same time securing hefty extra incomes for top district officials. Rather, by the last decades of the eighteenth century Russian Imperial officials at the district level might have switched from a tribute‐like extortion from the population at large to acquiring vast sums by collecting unofficial payments in more targeted ways.

© Economic History Society 2018

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