Meshchanstvo

Meshchanstvo

 

(from Polish, mieszczanin, “townsman”), in prerevolutionary Russia, a social class that comprised various categories of townspeople, such as craftsmen, tradespeople, and small householders. From the 14th to the 17th century, townspeople in the southern and western regions of Russia belonging to Lithuania and Poland were called meshchane, and in the 17th century the term was applied to the townspeople of the Smolensk area. Under the provincial reforms of 1775, posadskie liudi (traders and artisans) who owned less than 500 rubles were classified as meshchane. The meshchane paid a poll tax and were obligated to provide recruits for military service; their freedom of movement was limited.

Membership in the meshchanstvo class was hereditary. Meshchane who grew wealthy rose into the kupechestvo (merchant class), and bankrupt merchants became meshchane. Some emancipated serfs also became meshchane. The meshchane of each city, posad (traders’ and artisans’ quarter), and small town constituted a separate community headed by an elder (meshchanskii starosta) and his assistants. In 1811 there were 949,900 meshchane in Russia, accounting for 35.1 percent of the urban population; by 1897, the number increased to 7,449,300, or 44.3 percent of urban dwellers. As a result of the reforms of the 1860’s many meshchane entered government service or became members of the liberal professions. As a social class the meshchanstvo existed in Russia until the Great October Socialist Revolution.

In a figurative sense the term meshchane is applied to philistines—people whose views and behavior are characterized by egoism and individualism, money grubbing, and indifference to political issues, ideas, and principles.

References in periodicals archive ?
1) Because of the multiple meanings associated with and difficulty of adequately translating certain key words in this essay, I use some Russian words throughout the text (khoziainkhozaieva, khoziaistvo, meshchanstvo and its adjectival form meshchanskii, and blai).
Two great satirists and coauthors of the Soviet era, Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov, exposed and ridiculed the meshchanstvo in the USSR; a few fragments of their work are provided below.
Prominent in depictions of homemakers vis-a-vis the decorative realm over which they presided were two key Russian concepts: meshchanstvo and kul'turnost'.
Gleb Uspenskii (1843-1902) was a chronicler first of the morals of the provincial Russian petty bourgeoisie, or meshchanstvo, and then, from the 1870s, of the way of life of the post-emancipation peasant community.
125) In the discourse of the late nineteenth-century intelligentsia, the 'narrowness, flatness and lack of individuality' of the meshchanstvo was regularly counterposed to its own creative individualism and its commitment to liberate the 'vital forces of the people'.
Praskov'ya Tatlina, a member of the meshchanstvo, or burger estate, which among the intelligentsia was a byword for smug ignorance, reads Plato and frets about whether she has carried out her children's upbringing in the right way; the aristocratic Princess Elizaveta L'vova amuses herself in her nursery by pretending to be a poor widow who has to mend chair-webbing to feed her children.
Fear of peasant violence, especially in the wake of the high taxation and land hunger of the early twentieth century, could unite both nobles and the meshchanstvo - shopkeepers, local officials and even some members of the working class.
Others saw a different nationalist specter in attendance: with the triumph over Socialist Realism, and its workers and peasants, still fresh in the cultural memory, Komar & Melamid's Russian Most Wanted suggested that a restoration of prerevolutionary meshchanstvo or kitsch taste may be a new force to contend with.
At one point in his book, Kagarfitsky defines the intelligentsia as the polar opposite of meshchanstvo, that blend of mediocrity and vulgarity with an occasional dash of brutality best captured in Chekhov's plays and stories.
Worthwhile attention is paid to the cultural and social contexts of the time, to meshchanstvo (petite bourgeoisie), NEP (New Economic Policy), proletarian virtues, the attitude to family life, the relationship between the sexes, the emancipation of women, and much more.
The pre-Petrine Orthodox hierarchy was a socially mixed group of men, derived from the nobility, clerical estate, bureaucracy, meshchanstvo (the townspeople, composed of merchants, petty traders, and unskilled labor), and the army.
11) Since Engelstein's seminal The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search For Modernity in Fin-de-Siecle Russia, the boulevard has appeared mainly as the playground of celebrities such as Anastasiia Verbitskaia or the meshchanstvo (middle-class philistines)--as a space of supposedly middlebrow cultural forms like variety theater, operetta, and cinema.