Bag people

Bag people

Bag people (мешочники, meshochniks, or "people with bags") is a term in Russian and other Slavic languages that refers to people doing small trade for personal profit, recognizable by their large sacks.

Some of them were people from the cities who travel to the countryside to buy food for small scale trade or for personal consumption, often exchanging it for material goods from farmers due to collapse of the monetary system. Others were the people from the countryside doing the opposite trade.

Historically, the bag people have appeared in response to economic and political collapse that ended organized delivery and distribution of food in the cities. The phenomenon was very widespread during and soon after the Russian Revolution. It also flourished throughout Eastern Europe and Germany after the devastation of World War I. No well-known English language term for this phenomenon exists.

With the devastation of the economy during the Russian Civil War and the period of war communism with its policy of prodrazvyorstka (food requisition by state), meshochniks from countryside were seen as profitters, periodical with campaigns of prosecution by Cheka.

The meshochnik phenomenon was revived on a different scale with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Modern meshochniks would travel abroad to exchange cheaply purchased Soviet goods for goods scarsely produced or altogether absent in Soviet Union (and post-Soviet states). Among popular destinations were Poland, Turkey and China.

In literature, bag people are mentioned, for example, in Remarque's The Road Back and Karel Čapek's The Absolute at Large.

References

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