God! How come it did not strike him
before: Transcaucasia, you know,
is a colony!
The project of the Russian Transcaucasian Company was written in 1828 in Tiflis by Alexander Griboedov, who at the time served as Russian minister plenipotentiary in Persia, and Petr Zaveleisky, the vice-governor of Tiflis. The text of the project is lost except for two surviving pieces: “A Note on the Founding of the Russian Transcaucasian Company” and “Introduction to the Project of the Charter” of the Russian Transcaucasian Company. However, General Mikhail Zhukovsky’s critique of the project on ethical and economic grounds, entitled “Comments on the Note about the Founding of the Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Trade Company,” gives us a good idea of the project’s main points.
The authors of the project were seeking governmental assistance in founding a chartered company in Transcaucasia that would have privileges similar to the ones the British East India Company enjoyed at the time of its beginning. In return they promised to promote economic and cultural development in the region and bring high revenues into the empire’s treasury. Their critic, however, thought that the authors’ plans to monopolize trade and production in Transcaucasia would benefit neither the empire nor the region, while undermining the principles of social justice.
So far scholars have either criticized the project as colonialist and oppressive or justified it as one that would have hastened the advance of capitalism in the Caucasus and thus would have contributed to historical progress. This article seeks to provide a more complex account of both Griboedov and of the project. In doing so, it will situate the project within the context of Russian discourse from that time about imperial expansionism in the Caucasus and also within the context of Enlightenment thinking about human equality, subjugated peoples, and the “Other.”
Together, the project and Zhukovsky’s criticism read as an ongoing polemic about the proper management of the colonies, where each side’s argument continues along a thread of thought coming down from the thinkers of the eighteenth century. Zhukovsky criticizes the authors of the project from the viewpoint of a supporter of free trade and free enterprise, whose negative opinion on monopolies and chartered companies was modeled on the ideas of Adam Smith. Griboedov and Zaveleisky’s position is close to that of the French Enlighteners, Raynal, Diderot, and other contributors to A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies, whose “discussion of Russia’s potential role in East-West trade constituted a brief for imperial expansion.”
The latter, like Adam Smith, denounced many colonial practices, among them the founding of exclusive chartered companies, as economically ineffective and oppressive towards the inhabitants of the colonies. Yet at the same time Raynal and his collaborators “occasionally revealed enthusiasm” for colonial trade as a stimulator of industrial development worldwide and showed admiration for British successes in this type of endeavor. They encouraged their own country not to give up on its involvement with the colonies, but to seek new mutually beneficial ways of collaborating with them. In some passages, Raynal actually argues in favor of big trading companies, while Diderot goes further to specify certain circumstances when, in his opinion, successful trade requires the existence of a monopoly.
The authors of the project for the Russian Transcaucasian Company share the French thinkers’ desire for their own country to successfully compete with the British. National pride, which was long recognized as one of the important features of Griboedov’s personality, contributed to his ambition to become an entrepreneur who knew “the art of making all other nations tributary to his own.” At the same time, like the French Enlighteners, he believed in the possibility of mutually beneficial collaboration between the mother country and the colony.
No One’s Land
And then there were suspicious sultanates
and khanates, either Persian or Turkish,
or no one’s.
In their project, Griboedov and Zaveleisky retroactively justify colonial appropriation of land by claiming that the local population is not able to take advantage of its natural resources. One of the two surviving documents of the project, “Note on the Founding of the Russian Transcaucasian Company,” opens with the following assertion: “Upon careful examination of Transcaucasian lands anyone will become convinced that there nature prepared everything for man; but people hitherto have not made use of nature.” In the “Introduction to the Project of the Charter of the Russian Transcaucasian Company,” the authors expand this statement by describing the bountiful nature of Transcaucasia. According to them, “the natural resources of Transcaucasia are so varied and so abundant” that the only thing left is to decide which of those resources one should choose to explore. They go on to claim that greedy, shortsighted, and corrupt entrepreneurs and inept producers have not been able to benefit from its generosity. Raynal, in his History, provides a similar account of colonized lands and their populations:
Nature had provided for the happiness of the Malays … land lavish in its supply of delicious fruit, enough to provide for uncivilized man, but capable of the cultivation of all the production needed for the society.… Nature had done all for the Malays; but society had done them every possible injury.
These statements aim to justify the appropriation of “wasted natural resources” and the idea of legitimate ownership based on “improvement” of the land, expressed by such Enlighteners as John Locke and Emmerich de Vattel. Griboedov and Zaveleisky were not the first of their Russian contemporaries to exploit this notion. Thus, Decembrist Pavel Pestel, in his major outline of reforms that the provisional government was supposed to undertake in the event of a successful uprising, argued in favor of subjugating the Northern Caucasus because, among other considerations, it was important that its natural resources be used efficiently:
The land they inhabit from time immemorial is known as a blessed country, where all the products of nature could reward human labor with abundance, and which once flourished and prospered, it is now desolate and is of benefit to no one, because semi-savage peoples own this beautiful country.
Claiming that they are able to reap the benefits of otherwise wasted natural resources, Griboedov and Zaveleisky admit that the lands they request should be returned to the state if after fifteen years at least a quarter of them will not be effectively used for growing cotton and other cash crops. A similar policy, according to Adam Smith, contributed to the rapid economic development of the North American colonies, where a law stated that if the owner of the land does not “improve” at least a certain part of it, the land becomes grantable to another person.
To make the idea of “wasted resources” apply to Transcaucasia, Griboedov and Zaveleisky exaggerated the bounty of the land and understated the work already invested in it. Thus, they argued, grapes grew in the region without requiring any care. These naturally growing grapes were of such a high quality that, even though the local population did not know how to make wine, the wine they made was almost as good as the French wines.
It is the “tsarist” General Zhukovsky who takes upon himself the task of rehabilitating the local population: “One cannot say that no basis has been established there by industriousness and activity. On the contrary, there is already agriculture, winemaking and gardening, crafts and trade, government and sciences.” He argues that the people of Transcaucasia already possess all those qualities that the authors of the project enumerate as prerequisites to building a strong and enduring state:
Who could say that Georgians and other inhabitants of the Transcaucasian provinces do not have enough means for sustenance, clothing, housing adapted to the climate, and income to the extent of the conveniences and pleasures of their lives? Consequently they also have those virtues, which are the bases of the strength and durability of a state.
According to Diderot, the very idea of ownership based on the fact of “mixing one’s labor with the land” is wrong. Within a country, he argues, “an individual should be allowed to leave his land uncultivated, if that suits him,” and the government’s interference in this case would result in circumscribing property rights and liberty. On the global scale, Diderot points out that basing ownership on the European idea of land use results in declaring land that does not belong to any European power to be “no one’s land.” The latter is exactly the way Griboedov and Zaveleisky refer to the lands they are planning to acquire in Transcaucasia with the intention to “improve” them through their care and labor. Their future Company with its development and cultivation, its enterprises and buildings, and the very “instruments” and “hands” used to create it all “will give value to those plots that in their wild state were abandoned in neglect as if they did not belong to anyone.”
Diderot believed that “an entirely uninhabited land is the only one that may be appropriated,” and “its first properly attested discovery constituted a legitimate taking of possession.” In his view, “conquest is not more binding than theft,” and he recognizes the right of colonized peoples to fight for their liberty. Furthermore, Diderot argues, “the authority of one nation over another can only be based on … general consent, or conditions which have been proposed and accepted.” However, he believes that “the consent of forefathers cannot commit their descendants; and there are no conditions which do not exclude the sacrifice of liberty.” These last remarks apply very well to the situation in Georgia.
For many Russians, the protection of their fellow Christians served as a moral justification for Russia’s involvement in the Caucasus and Transcaucasia. They especially cherished the idea that Georgia was not conquered but voluntarily joined Russia, a point of view that persisted throughout Russian history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In their project, Griboedov and Zaveleisky do not forget to specify that, while other parts of Transcaucasia were acquired through conquest, Georgia had asked for the patronage of Russian sovereigns: “Russians, having stepped over the Caucasus, were first and foremost concerned with standing with firm foot in Georgia, which herself asked for the patronage of our sovereigns, as well as in khanates, acquired with the help of the emperor’s arms.”
“Standing with a firm foot” in Georgia, which had itself asked for patronage, means not only protecting it from the rival powers of Persia and Turkey, but also overcoming strong resistance within Georgia itself. The formula of voluntary joining did not quite reflect the complexities of the history of Russia’s annexation of Georgia, which resulted in the abolition of both the Georgian dynasty and subsequently the autonomy of its church. Together with the restructuring of the entire society and introduction of the new rule, without much regard for Georgian culture, this led to resentment in almost every social class in Georgia, and a series of insurrections followed. A conspiracy aimed at the restoration of the Georgian monarchy, in which Griboedov’s father-in-law Prince Alexander Chavchavadze was involved, was brewing right around the time when Griboedov was writing his project.
While never questioning the legitimacy of Russian power in Transcaucasia, the authors of the project do acknowledge the inevitability of the resentment it had generated in the local population. They outline the major causes of “mutinies” that have taken place “within the newly acquired provinces” as the introduction of new order and new social structures and “exacting authorities, who wished for speedy execution, obedience,” admitting that those are the sorts of “changes no people submit to voluntarily.” In principle, the authors of the project subscribe to Smith’s argument that the colonies will always resist the imperial domination and to his reminder of the price that should be paid to force that submission: “it is not very probable that they will ever voluntarily submit to us; and we ought to consider, that the blood which must be shed in forcing them to do so is, every drop of it, the blood either of those who are, or of those whom we wish to have for, our fellow-citizens.”
Smith argues that imperial domination is not only ruinous for the economy of the colonies but in the long run disadvantageous for the mother country also. Yet, he does not entertain the illusion that understanding these disadvantages would prompt mother countries to renounce their colonies. Smith identifies the main obstacles for such renouncement, which in his opinion would be best for every party, as national pride and the gains of the governing and commercial elite made at the expense of their fellow-citizens.
Being skeptical about the prospect of Great Britain ever giving away its North American colonies, Smith suggests as a remedy that American voters and taxpayers get representation in the British parliament in the hope that it would give them a sense of belonging to the empire and control over the decisions made by its government. Using a somewhat similar approach, the authors of the project argue that including Transcaucasian stockholders in their company would make the natives feel that they had some control over the economic and political development of their land.
They also make it clear that the major reason the people of Transcaucasia did not take advantage of their natural resources was the war itself: “a Transcaucasian resident did not have time to think about the improvement of his farm; his house, household utensils, harness, cart, cattle and almost all his real estate could at any time be requested for public needs during the advancement of the troops.” Diderot and Raynal expressed a similar notion of war as not only morally wrong but economically ruinous, “for pillage, fire and the sword nourish neither the soil nor men.” Colonial war, in their opinion, is disadvantageous for all parties involved, including the conquerors: “Even the victorious nations succumbed beneath the burden of their conquest, and seizing more territory than they could retain or cultivate, destroyed themselves, so to speak, in the destruction of the enemy.” Moreover, the History contains direct advice to Russia to be “cautious of exposing the lives of its subjects” and to “renounce the rage of conquest, to apply solely to the arts of peace.” “The desire of increasing a territory already too extensive” would, in the authors’ opinions, hinder its ability to “form a close and compact state, or become an enlightened and flourishing nation.”
This idea of limiting the expansion and concentrating instead on the development of existing territories had its supporters among Griboedov’s contemporaries. Thus, the Decembrist Pestel wrote in his constitutional project, Russkaia pravda, that “one should not be concerned with broadening the boundaries but to care solely about bringing well-being to this vast domain.” It should be mentioned, however, that Pestel considered “good boundaries” an important condition for a safe and prosperous state, and his idea of “good boundaries” included not only those parts of the Caucasus and Transcaucasia that belonged to Russia at the time of his writing, but also certain additional annexations, such as the Caucasian coast of the Black Sea that at the time belonged to Turkey, which he claimed were vital for the Empire. These annexations, as well as the retention of Caucasian provinces already conquered by Russia, required forceful subjugation of the Caucasian peoples, which Pestel and many other “progressive representatives of Russian society” justified for reasons of security and state interests.
Like Pestel, Griboedov was aware of the danger of seizing too much territory. At the time of the Erevan campaign, while still supporting empire-building rhetoric in principal, he was already skeptical about the expediency of Russia’s further acquisitions. In his travel notes on the “Erevan campaign,” he writes about “the real friend of the people,” Adrian, the Roman emperor, who renounced the territories of Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Armenia, conquered by his predecessor. Yet, in their “Note about the Establishment of the Russian Transcaucasian Company,” Griboedov and Zaveleisky outline their own idea of “good boundaries” in a way similar to that of Pestel, and they make a “suggestion” about annexing the port of Batumi “from the side of Asiatic Turkey,” which would bring their company “the utmost conveniences.”
The project of the Russian Transcaucasian Company thus reflects Griboedov’s desire for a shift in empire-building policies from further acquisition of territories to making use of the territories that are already acquired, as well as his desire to prove that Russia is capable not only of “retaining” but also of “cultivating” the lands it has acquired and thus is their rightful owner. For Griboedov and Zaveleisky, Russia’s acquisition of Transcaucasia brings both an opportunity for the Russian Empire to rise in economic power and political prestige and the prospect of economic and cultural development for Transcaucasia.
Unlike the authors of the project, their critic General Zhukovsky argues that the aim of the conquest was purely strategic: to create safer borders and not to civilize the Caucasus while economically exploiting it. Commenting on Griboedov and Zaveleisky’s wish to change the general opinion in Russia that the acquisition of Transcaucasia was economically burdensome, Zhukovsky notices with indignation that it would be insulting to think that the great sacrifice of Russian blood was made for “some revenues and sugar plantations.” This comment resonates with Adam Smith’s argument that only statesmen influenced by shopkeepers would try to “find some advantage in employing the blood and treasure of their fellow-citizens, to found and maintain such an empire.”It is also in tunewith Raynal’s assessment of “the benefits and harm Europe has received from the discovery of the New World,” where he asks the following questions: “Are these frivolous benefits, so cruelly won, so unequally shared out, so ferociously disputed, worth one drop of the blood that has been and will be shed? Can they be compared to the life of a single human being?”
While Zhukovsky, in this particular criticism, is primarily concerned with the lives of Russian soldiers, Raynal, starting with an assessment of European losses in colonial enterprises, ends up reminding the reader of the value of any human being’s life. It is less obvious whose benefits Griboedov had in mind when he was thinking about “the real friend of the people,” Emperor Adrian. His suggestion to curtail conquest was supposed to benefit the Russian Empire, but his use of the word liudi (people, human beings) rather than narod (a people, the people) may imply his desire, as Raynal puts it, to rise “above the prejudices of national glory in order to consider the happiness of mankind.” Although in most of Griboedov’s personal correspondence the romantic nationalism of his generation outweighs the universal humanism of the eighteenth century Enlighteners, in his official letters he does show concern for the well-being of the people of Transcaucasia, whom he sees as new subjects of the Russian Empire. The critic of the project, Zhukovsky, shares its authors’ concerns about the residents of newly acquired territories and, while always guarding national interests, includes them in his idea of the nation.
A keen sense of national pride characteristic of Griboedov and many Decembrists, among them Pestel, was an important motivational force behind the project of the Russian Transcaucasian Company. The company was conceived in an attempt to compete with foreign, and primarily British, primacy in colonial trade and industrial development. It should therefore come as no surprise that their ideas and aspirations closely resembled those of the History of the Two Indies, whose authors expressed “great, even envious, admiration” for the successes of the British while trying to “rethink French colonial policy after the losses of the Seven Years’ War.”
Thus, despite his statement that “an entirely uninhabited land is the only one that may be appropriated,” Diderot does not resist the temptation to propose an alternative way of founding new colonies in already inhabited lands. This alternative colonization would be founded on the principles of harmonious coexistence and beneficial collaboration between the old inhabitants and the newcomers. The only justifiable way for Europeans to explore new lands would be to send small groups of individual settlers, who would be ready to share their knowledge and skills with the local population and work towards satisfaction of “mutual needs.” The best way to ensure peaceful and friendly collaboration, in Diderot’s opinion, is intermarriage between the locals and the newcomers: “The men would have married the women of the country and the women the men. Consanguinity, the most pressing and strongest of bonds, would soon have made the newcomers and the natives of the land one single family.” These settlers would have more chances to succeed than the colonizers with “the lordly and domineering tone of superiors and usurpers.” They could pursue their own interests, while at the same time enjoying the friendship and trust of the local people.
The project of the Russian Transcaucasian Company is concerned with making use of a region that had already been acquired through military conquest. Yet, in the “Introduction to the Project of the Charter of the Russian Transcaucasian Company,” Griboedov and Zaveleisky declare the establishment of peaceful, mutually beneficial relations as one of their important goals. The “Introduction” stresses the need to soften the divide between the conquerors and the conquered by encouraging the kind of personal interaction that Diderot describes. Up to now, Griboedov and Zaveleisky argue, the local people thought of the Russians as proud and unapproachable, because they knew them only as imperial officials, “vested with power imperious and strict.”
Griboedov and Zaveleisky contend that the establishment of the company would create common economic interest between its Russian and Transcaucasian participants, with the latter presumably constituting the majority of the stockholders. Working in the same business would foster a practice of visiting each other’s homes and traveling to each other’s homelands. Socializing thus on a personal level would introduce some sense of equality between the peoples: “Peaceful, pleasant relations for one’s own benefits, mutual services of all kinds, will establish certain equality between the members of one and the same society.” This, according to the authors of the project, would be the only way to overcome the prejudices and the sharp divide between Russia and the Caucasus: “only thus will the prejudices that established sharp boundaries between us and our subject peoples disappear.”
Although one could hardly expect intermarriage to be mentioned as one of the steps of a business proposal, Griboedov’s own marriage to Princess Nina Chavchavadze was represented by contemporaries in the context of establishing strong bonds between Russia and Transcaucasia. Nineteenth-century Russian Orientalist discourse developed the metaphor of a “voluntary and mutually benefiting … happy marital union” between Russia and Georgia, and the marriage of Griboedov and Nina Chavchavadze becomes its real life example.
The influence of Diderot’s arguments and rhetoric on the authors of the project creates an interesting example of transforming the genre of “philosophical history” into that of an economic and political proposal. This transformation can be clearly seen in the change of verb modes. Diderot tries to imagine what would have been a better way of interacting with the world outside Europe, what should have been done differently. Griboedov and Zaveleisky try to make a reality of Diderot’s hypothetical alternative history. Thus, in their project, the conditional past turns into the future perfective. Without questioning the political legitimacy and economic advantages of conquest, the authors of the project want to smooth over its moral damage and thus repair history.
History will repair itself, according to Smith, only when the colonized people become as powerful as the colonizers. Ideally, he explains, the Europeans’ discovery of new lands and new commercial routes should have benefited the entire world by allowing everyone to enjoy products that are not available in their own countries and by encouraging improvements in agriculture and manufacturing. Yet to the inhabitants of the colonized lands, all the benefits they could have received “have been sunk and lost in the dreadful misfortunes which they have occasioned.” These misfortunes, however, were possible only because at the time of the discoveries “the superiority of force happened to be so great on the side of the Europeans, that they were enabled to commit with impunity every sort of injustice.”
Smith is hopeful that someday the natives of the colonies “may grow stronger, or those of Europe may grow weaker,” and the inhabitants of all parts of the world will “arrive at that equality of courage and force” which alone can stop injustice by “inspiring mutual fear” and making all the independent nations respect the rights of one another. He believes that “nothing seems more likely to establish this equality of force than that mutual communication of knowledge, and of all sorts of improvements, which an extensive commerce from all countries to all countries naturally, or rather necessarily, carries along with it.”
The British East India Company as an Anachronistic Model for the Russian-Transcaucasian Company
It was a peaceful rivalry, a very
polite one, Russia was gaining the
importance of, damn it, England!
It is their respect for commerce that, according to Raynal, allowed the British to get ahead of the world in their social and industrial achievements. They were the ones who “first considered commerce as the proper science and support of an enlightened, powerful, and even a virtuous people.”While both Diderot and Raynal denounced the cruelty of colonial exploitation and the detrimental role of monopolies in the development of industry and commerce, they did show their admiration for British industrial and commercial achievements and considered their “art of making all other nations tributary to” their own worthy of emulation. They admit that British commercial activity entailed “a constant desire of dominion, which implies that of enslaving other people.” But, they argue, those who conquer others by means of commerce rather than war “necessarily introduce industry into the country, which they would not have subdued if it had been already industrious, or in which they would not maintain themselves, if they had not brought industry in along with them.”
Using similar reasoning, Griboedov and Zaveleisky attempted to achieve their double goal of “enrichment” of Transcaucasia and “veritable benefit” for the empire by building upon the experience of the British East India Company. However, the British East India Company was an anachronistic model for the Russian Transcaucasian Company. Throughout the history of its existence, the activities of the British East India Company continuously changed in scope and character. In the beginning of the seventeenth century, it started as a company committed to peaceful trade and was granted trading monopoly and privileges by the crown. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the company was transformed “from trader to sovereign.” Together with military, administrative, and economic control over the territories, the company assumed certain responsibilities in promoting development and well-being in the territories under its control. At the same time, when the company achieved this “sovereignty,” it lost its former monopoly and trading privileges.
The authors of the project aimed for combining the features of the earlier and the later periods of the East India Company. They requested that the Russian government grant them a monopoly and privileges similar to those the British East India Company had in its earlier period. At the same time, they proclaimed the economic and cultural development of Transcaucasia to be one of their main goals, trying to assume the “stewardship” over the region similar to the one the British company had over India in its later period.
From the very beginning, the Russian Transcaucasian Company was conceived as an agricultural, manufacturing, and trading company, and the monopolies and privileges they requested from the government were not only in the sphere of trade, but also production. Griboedov and Zaveleisky especially emphasized the importance of exports for the development of the region. They argued that the merchants of Tiflis at that time were already successful in importing goods from Leipzig into Transcaucasia and also selling them in Persia. This trade, according to the authors of the project, benefited only the merchants without changing the condition of the region’s agricultural producers or introducing the development of industry.
In order to overcome this situation, the Russian Transcaucasian Company would introduce new technologies in cultivating and processing the region’s agricultural produce. These new technologies would improve the quality of the produce and allow it to compete in Russian and European markets. Transcaucasia would become a major supplier of “produce of the warm and the hot climates,” such as wine, silk, cotton, dyes etc. As a result, Russia would gain by producing within its own territory what it had to import for high prices and by selling it to Europeans, who, attracted by the proximity of Transcaucasia in comparison with their own overseas colonies, would “rush racing each other” to its ports and markets.
Griboedov and Zaveleisky’s project is consistent with the main ideas of mercantilism, the economic theory that dominated European economic policies at the time the British East India Company began its existence. In accordance with this theory, which argues that the total wealth of a state increases with exports and decreases with imports, European countries of the time strove to maintain a positive balance of trade by producing domestic substitutes for imported goods and improving the quality of their own production in order to make them competitive on international markets.
Not only was the importation of manufactured goods avoided when possible, but so was that of raw materials, and a country’s self-sufficiency in procuring exotic raw materials was regarded as the basis of its people’s national pride. Thus, according to Raynal, it was considered not only “more advantageous” but “more honorable” to “search” for luxury goods “across an immense ocean,” i.e., to establish one’s own colonies rather than buying “from rivals.” The “exotic raw materials” derived by the British from their colonies were “perceived as indigenous to wider Britain.” In the particular case of the Russian Empire, this translated into an aspiration to produce in its own contiguous colonies and to offer for the European market “the colonial goods, in the same amount and of the same quality” that were previously searched for “in the other hemisphere.” Pride in possessing in one’s own country the products of all climatic zones reveals itself in the text of Griboedov and Zaveleisky’s project: “in Russia, in our beloved fatherland all the roads to achieving the highest well-being are open to us. Its vast provinces contain all climates, all products, from the cold north to the blessed south.”
However, the authors of the project add, the recent wars and instability in Transcaucasia, as well as the uneven economic and cultural development of the Russian provinces, prevented the Russian Empire from reaping benefits from these southern regions. As a result, while Russia provides itself in full with the products of northern and temperate climates, it is “forced to borrow” the “products of warm and hot climates” from western and southern Europe and Central Asia. Moreover, Griboedov and Zaveleisky claim that most of Russia’s imports are the goods produced in warmer climates. This claim is illustrated by a table of annual imports of dyes, pharmaceutical products, fruits, olive oil, wine, cotton, and silk amounting to one hundred nineteen millions. The company would take upon itself the task of producing at least one-fourth of all these products domestically, which would save the empire money and allow its citizens to enjoy these goods without “owing” this opportunity to foreigners.
While striving to reduce imports, if a country cannot avoid buying certain products, according to the mercantilist economic theory, it should prefer to buy them in a raw form. When exporting its own goods, however, it should offer them in processed manufactured form to maximize the profits. The authors of the project therefore stress the importance of processing agricultural produce in order to attract both domestic and foreign buyers. They regret that foreign ships put in to the shores of Mingrelia only to try selling their own goods on a new market while finding local products not suitable for European usage because of their “lack of perfection.”
This lack of perfection, they argue, can be overcome by introducing new processing techniques. Thus they describe a French silk-winding master, who had recently arrived to Tiflis and had proven that silk from the Transcaucasian region of Shamakha, if properly processed, is not inferior to silk from Italy. The authors of the project hoped that the silk from Shamakha, while going for three to five times cheaper than foreign varieties on the Moscow market, would in time be preferred to Italian silk and thereby increase its market value.
Similar desires to match the technological achievements of rival countries, to a great degree stimulated by mercantilist ideas, played a large part in the development of manufacturing in European countries. Thus the endeavor to match the quality of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese commodities by imitating the skills and technologies of their producers was an important stage in the development of British industry, when imitation bordered on and lead to invention. According to Raynal, the “spirit of emulation” of the French and their ability to “greatly surpass their rivals” in manufacturing skills allowed them to make “a double profit” on “the materials” they received from their colonies and “the workmanship of the manufactures.”
This competition against foreign manufacturers took not only the positive form of outperforming them in production technologies and the quality of the finished products, but also relied on such “artificial” measures as banning or imposing high duties on imported goods. Consistent with this mercantilist trend, the authors of the project requested from the government that “if the company will be able to replace with any of its products foreign ones of the same kind that are being imported from abroad, then upon notifying the government the importation of such products must be banned or the duty on their importation must be considerably increased.”
Commenting on this request, Zhukovsky argues that if the company’s products will be of inferior quality but nonetheless more expensive than their foreign equivalents because of restrictions on imports, then the company will be putting domestic consumers at a disadvantage. His reasoning follows that of Adam Smith, who argues that if a domestic product of equal quality is cheaper than its foreign equivalent, then regulation is simply useless, whereas if it is more expensive, then regulation is hurtful. Just as “it is the maxim of every prudent master of a family never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy,” the international division of labor can be beneficial for each of the trading sides. He does, however, mention that a short prohibition on importation can be used as retaliation for a prohibition imposed by another country if there is a hope that such a policy will restore free trade between the two sides.
Raynal is similarly critical of the mercantilist “presumption” that other nations’ industries and trade can “flourish” only “at the expense” of one’s own. Yet, while denouncing mercantilist regulations in principle, he argues that one should not expect a country to drop them unilaterally. If all European countries, in their attempt “to dispense with foreign industry” and “liberate” themselves from “dependence,” ban imports of English and French manufactured goods, then why should the latter two countries “open their ports to those who are, so to speak, forcing them to shut up shop.” Failing to find an outlet for their products in Europe, they strive to use their colonies as markets for their manufactured goods. Griboedov and Zaveleisky similarly justify their plans. The “excessive duties on Russian goods” imposed by foreign countries make it “anxiously search for new ways of selling its production.” The residents of Transcaucasia, whose well being, according to the authors of the project, will greatly increase as a result of the activities of the Russian Transcaucasian Company, will eagerly buy the Russian goods that they would not be able to afford otherwise.
However, it was not Griboedov and Zaveleisky’s intention simply to turn Transcaucasia into a supplier of raw material for Russia and the market for its manufactured goods. As an agricultural, manufacturing, and trading company the Russian Transcaucasian Company took upon itself the role of a steward responsible for the economic development of the region. Its future leaders stressed that by processing the produce locally, rather than exporting it in a raw form, the company will bring industrial development to Transcaucasia. The need for new technologies would promote education in the region and create a large number of new professionals, a “mass of useful people” there.
Their proposal implied that they envisioned for their company a beginning that in an important way differed from that of the British East India Company. The latter, starting as a mere trader interested in its profits rather than in the economic development of the region it was gradually taking under its control, was accused of causing the deindustrialization of India by suppressing its manufacturing production. Another difference intended for the benefit of Transcaucasia was that a big percentage of the company’s future stockholders were supposed to be local landlords and merchants. The establishment of the company would stimulate cooperation between Russian and Transcaucasian stockholders of the company. This common interest would promote rapprochement of the Russian and Transcaucasian nations and improve the “moral and political” climate in the region.
Commenting on the authors’ plans to open factories in Transcaucasia, Zhukovsky argues that they may well benefit the local economy but will not contribute much to the well-being of the empire on the whole or eliminate poverty in Russia proper. He immediately adds that he does not mean to discourage new industrial enterprises in Transcaucasia, but they should be established “without extraordinary sacrifices of indigenous institutions and general state laws and order.”
Zhukovsky’s reluctance to endorse the project of economic reform in Transcaucasia that Griboedov and Zaveleisky were trying to achieve through the establishment of the new company was often interpreted as his reactionary, imperialist unwillingness to see the peripheries of the empire become strong and independent. Yet he was as concerned as the authors of the project with the well-being of all sides involved. While Griboedov and Zaveleisky claimed that their company would bring economic benefits to both the empire and Transcaucasia, their commentator doubted it and tried to prevent the intentional and unintentional damage that he believed would be inflicted by the founders of the company.
Besides suspecting the “gentlemen innovators” of promoting their own self-interest under the mask of care for the public well-being, Zhukovsky expected their future chartered company to develop according to the same pattern as its European predecessors, regardless of the initial intentions of its authors. Zhukovsky’s view of such companies was shaped by the critics of mercantilism and supporters of free trade, the most convincing and influential of whom was Adam Smith. The latter argues that the “mercantile habits” of the members of the British East India Company made them“incapable of considering themselves as sovereign” of their Indian domains “even after they havebecome such.” As “a company of merchants” they strove to increase their mercantile profits by buying goods in India for the lowest possible prices and selling European goods there for the highest prices. Meanwhile, as a sovereign concerned with the economic development of India, theywere supposed to do exactly the opposite. Hence, regardless of theirinitial intention, “almost necessarily, though perhaps insensibly” theyturned their colony into a supplier of cheaper raw material and a market for more expensive manufactured goods.
While Griboedov and Zaveleisky look forward to growing “tropical” or, as they otherwise call them, “colonial products” in Transcaucasia, Zhukovsky thinks that it would be more prudent to establish enterprises not with “tropical plants,” but “plain ones” with “certain improvements” in their quality. He argues that by turning Transcaucasia into a supplier of “products of warm and hot climates,” Russia in its turn will have to provide it with grains. Or in other words, as a grower of plantation and industrial crops for export, Transcaucasia will not have enough food crops for its subsistence. He was certainly aware of the situation in British East India, where both Adam Smith and Raynal believed that the policies of the company greatly exacerbated the dreadful consequences of famines. It should be mentioned, however, that in the late nineteenth century British officials referred to the authority of Adam Smith when they refrained from organizing famine reliefs in India that could have had saved many lives. They were influenced by Smith’s belief in the harm of governmental intervention in attempts to “remedy the inconvenience of dearth” and his confidence in the ability of free trade to alleviate it.
Zhukovsky’s reservations about the project were prompted not only by his doubts concerning the benefits that the empire could receive from endorsing it but also by his reluctance to view Transcaucasia as a colony for growing cash crops, which enrich only those few who trade in them without improving the well-being of states and peoples: “One can ask those peoples in whose lands expensive plants of luxury grow whether they enjoy the well-being of educated peoples. Aren’t they more oppressed by the greed of those who trade in the expensive products of their land?”
Like Adam Smith and to a certain degree Raynal, Zhukovsky considers a chartered company of the kind that Griboedov and Zaveleisky wanted to establish to be “a stumbling block” in the development of the region which was to fall under their supervision. He argues that, like a private individual, the company will put its short-term commercial profits before the public benefits to either Russia or Transcaucasia, and its activities will not be compatible with its declared role of an agent of economic and cultural development in Transcaucasia. That role, in Zhukovsky’s opinion, belongs to the government.
Zhukovsky’s view of the role of government coincides with those of Adam Smith, who thought that the government’s responsibility is first of all to ensure safety and justice, as well as to support those “institutions” and “public works” that are “beneficial to the whole society” but not profitable enough to interest private undertakers. As a supporter of free trade and free enterprise, Zhukovsky disapproved of the idea of the government’s interference in production and commerce: “It would be strange to think that the government should supervise the house expenditures of every entrepreneur.” But he stresses its role as the guarantor of equal rights for producers and entrepreneurs: “It depends on the government to promote the prosperity of the region with the means that the government has at its disposal, such as laws, justice, and protection from internal and external enemies.”
When Zhukovsky was writing his comments on the project in 1828, the tension between the British East India Company and the British state was very high. It was a transitional time, when the company “entered an age of social and economic planning” of its involvement in India, but was “no longer a free-standing and independent trading company.” It was undergoing gradual incorporation into the “state machinery of the empire,” transforming into “a limb of the government” or “a department of state.” By that time the company had already been stripped of most of its privileges, support for free trade was prevailing in British society, and the attitude towards monopolies was negative.
The text of the introduction to the project reveals that support for free trade in Russia was strong enough that Griboedov and Zaveleisky felt compelled to justify their request for privileges. The authors of the project had to specify that, although monopolies must be avoided whenever possible, they are vital at the very beginning of such a difficult undertaking as developing a territory where the economy is still in its “infancy.”
Support for free trade in Russia was not unanimous. Thus, among the Decembrists there were both supporters of free trade and those who argued for the necessity of protecting Russia’s commercial interests by means of monopolies. For example, Kondraty Ryleev, Griboedov’s friend and one of the leaders of the Northern Society, worked for a short period as a manager for the Russian-American Company, at which time he wrote a note substantiating the necessity of preserving the company’s monopoly on procurement and trade in fur and fish on the territory under its authority. Meanwhile, another leader of the Northern Society, Mikhail Lunin, named the establishment of free trade as one of the goals of the uprising.
Similarly, the head of the Southern Society, Pavel Pestel, in his constitutional outline of future reforms, Russkaia pravda, stated that it was necessary to “make every effort in order to eliminate all those numerous obstacles and inconveniences that presently so hamper commerce and oppress traders.” In his opinion, “the most unfortunate peoples [in
the Russian Empire] are those who are under the government of the
[Russian-] American company. It oppresses them, plunders them, and does not in the least care about their well-being.” For that reason, Pestel argues it is absolutely necessary to free these people from the governance of the company.
Like Pestel, Zhukovsky supported free trade and suspected that the proposed company would economically exploit the residents of Transcaucasia. He also guarded the interests of the state, accusing the authors of the project of trying to “shackle” “not only Transcaucasians” but also the Russian government. He regards as “shackling” Griboedov and Zaveleisky’s request to grant them privileges for fifty years, not only in those Transcaucasian provinces that belonged to the Russian Empire at the time, but also those that might be annexed to it “from this side” in the future.
On the contrary, the only case in which he thinks that granting privileges to the company would be justified is when the company would help the state to expand and consolidate its imperial power. The authors of the project requested for their future company the right to enter into relations and to sign special commercial treaties with the “owners of Transcaucasian provinces” that are “only in indirect possession of Russia, or under its patronage.” Zhukovsky’s opinion was that the company’s attempt to explore provinces not yet completely subdued by the Russian state by establishing commercial ties with them could benefit the empire in the long run, hence, “here among other mountaineer peoples who are not subject to Russia it seems that the company could fairly seek exclusive rights of the kind similar companies enjoy from England in East India or from Russia on North American islands.” Zhukovsky, who aligned himself with the interests of the Russian state, thought that privileges can be granted where Russian power does not have a strong hold, and where they can help to spread Russian economic and political influence, whereas in territories already belonging to the empire, granting privileges to any company would make no sense. He supports his argument by referencing a similar pattern of development in the relations between Britain and the British East India Company. Indeed, the British state granted the company its privileges at a point when the state was unable to acquire and maintain colonies, and afterwards tried to abridge them. Eventually, after its demise in 1858, the company handed over control of the territory it had appropriated to the British state.
It should be mentioned that Zhukovsky justifies the additionof territories in the Caucasus and Transcaucasia by security considerations rather than by a preconceived imperative for expansion. In this he is similar to Pestel who, while asserting the right of powerful states to absorb smaller nations that, in his opinion, do not stand a chance of surviving independently, specifies that it should only be done “taking into consideration the establishment of security, and not some vain expansion of state borders.”
The specific circumstances under which Zhukovsky approves the granting of privileges are similar to those cited by Diderot, who justifies monopolies when the trader is in constant war with the inhabitants of the region. Zhukovsky sees privileges as fair among hostile “mountaineers” but not in Georgia and other Transcaucasian provinces that are already “parts” of Russia’s “body.” In the former case the privileges would be granted to the company for its potential role in breaking through the antagonism created by military conquests (and exacerbated by attempts at pacification) and establishing collaboration through commercial ties. In the latter case, these privileges would not only be restrictive for Russian traders and industrialists and of no benefit for the empire, but would be unfair with respect to the residents of Transcaucasia, “people who already earned their rights and privileges incompatible with other privileges.”
Here again, as in a number of other important issues, Zhukovsky’s ideal of the future empire was very similar to that of the Decembrist Pestel. While neither questioned the legitimacy of Russia’s power over other peoples, both believed that in a unified Russian empire citizens of different nationalities should have equal rights, which included the rights of free trade and free enterprise. They differed from Griboedov and Zaveleisky in viewing Transcaucasian provinces not as a colony but as “in essence already parts of the body of Russia,” the only real Russian colonies being, in Pestel’s opinion, those in North America. Hence, assisting Griboedov and Zaveleisky in their attempt to found a chartered company like the British East India Company or Russian-American Company was, in Zhukovsky’s opinion, unjustified.
The British East India Company was in a very important way different from the company proposed by the authors of the project. It started as a trading company without the goal of acquiring territories. Only in the process of its 250 years of development did it become a territorial power that eventually transferred its authority to the British state. The company proposed by the authors of the project was supposed to take charge of the territories already conquered by the tsarist military forces, and the tsarist regime considered it an infringement on its own authority in the region. Yet in defending the interests of the autocratic state in Transcaucasia, Zhukovsky was also protecting that region from what he saw as social injustice and economic oppression. His unwillingness to have in Transcaucasia a chartered company that could potentially develop into a status in statu was certainly motivated by his desire to strengthen centralized imperial power there. But an equally important motivation was Zhukovsky’s belief that if given the power, the alternative “government of merchants,” as Adam Smith puts it, would in its turn be “necessarily” “despotic” in its attempt to make people submit to its oppressive rules.
 Iurii Tynianov, Smert´ Vazir-Mukhtara (Leningrad: Priboi, 1929), 116. All translations in this article are mine unless otherwise noted.
 I. K. Enikolopov, Griboedov v Gruzii (Tbilisi: Zaria Vostoka, 1954), 59; Laurence Kelly, Diplomacy and Murder in Tehran (London: I. B. Tauris, 2002), 166.
 Aleksandr Sergeevich Griboedov, “Zapiska ob uchrezhdenii rossiiskoi zakavkazskoi kompanii” and “Vstuplenie k proektu ustava,” in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v trekh tomakh (St. Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 2006), 3: 325–44 and 561–75. Hereafter, citations from this edition will be listed as: Griboedov, PSS, followed by the volume and page numbers.
 Mikhail Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia na zapisku ob ustroistve zemledel´cheskoi, manufakturnoi i torgovoi kompanii,” appendix to Enikilopov, Griboedov v Gruzii, 130–57.
 Muriel Atkin, Russia and Iran: 1780–1828 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980), 27.
 Abbé Guillaume-Thomas-François Raynal, A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies, trans. J. O. Justamond (London: Printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1783), 8: 192.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 334–39.
 Tynianov, Smert´ Vazir-Mukhtara, 242.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 339.
 Ibid., 3: 328.
 Abbé Guillaume-Thomas-François Raynal, A History of the Two Indies, trans. and ed. Peter Jimack (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006), 7.
 Iakov Gordin, Kavkaz: Zemlia i krov´ (St. Petersburg: Zhurnal “Zvezda,” 2000), 8–9.
 Pavel Pestel´, Russkaia pravda: Nakaz vremennomu verkhovnomu pravleniiu (St. Petersburg: Kul´tura, 1906), 47.
 Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Edinburgh: Printed for S. Doig and A. Stirling, 1817), 2: 410.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 328.
 Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia,” 137.
 Denis Diderot, Political Writings, trans. and ed. John Hope Mason and Robert Wokler (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 180.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 341.
 Raynal, A History of the Two Indies, 112.
 Ibid., 267–68.
 Ibid., 268.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 326.
 Ronald Grigor Suny, The Making of the Georgian Nation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 70.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 326.
 Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 2: 484.
 Ibid., 475–76.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 338–39.
 Raynal, A History of the Two Indies, 274.
 Ibid., 274–75.
 Raynal, Europeans in the East and West Indies, 3: 125.
 Pestel´, Russkaia pravda, 13.
 Ibid., 48.
 Boris Tomashevskii, Pushkin (Moscow-Leningrad: Akademiia nauk SSSR, 1956), 1: 407–08.
 Aleksandr Sergeevich Griboedov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v trekh tomakh (St. Petersburg: Notabene, 1999), 2: 339, 2: 608.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 344.
 Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia,” 140.
 Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 2: 472.
 Raynal, A History of the Two Indies, 277.
 Ibid., 145–46.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 297, 321–24.
 Nikolai Piksanov, Griboedov: Issledovaniia i kharakteristiki (Leningrad: Izdatel´stvo pisatelei, 1934), 177.
 Ibid., 181.
 Peter Jimack, “Introduction” to Raynal, A History of the Two Indies, xxvii.
 John Hope Mason and Robert Wokler, “Introduction” to Diderot, Political Writings, xxvii.
 This statement is from a passage that Diderot added to Raynal’s book in 1780. Raynal, A History of the Two Indies, 112; Jimack, “Introduction,” xxiii–iv.
 Ibid., 123–24.
 Ibid., 123.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 338–39.
 Ibid., 334.
 Ibid., 339.
 Susan Layton, Russian Literature and Empire: Conquest of the Caucasus from Pushkin to Tolstoy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 209.
 Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 2: 489.
 Tynianov, Smert´ Vazir-Mukhtara, 116.
 Raynal, Europeans in the East and West Indies, 8: 184–85.
 Ibid., 192.
 Ibid., 185.
 Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia,” 136.
 H. V. Bowen, “‘No Longer Mere Traders’: Continuities and Change in the Metropolitan Development of the East India Company, 1600–1834,” in The Worlds of the East India Company, ed. Bowen et al. (Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press, 2002), 19.
 Philip Lawson, The East India Company: A History (London: Longman, 1993), 126–43.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 327.
 Ibid., 3: 328, 3: 333–34.
 Ibid., 3: 328.
 Ibid., 334.
 Harsha Ram, The Imperial Sublime: A Russian Poetics of Empire (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), 134.
 Robert B. Ekelund and Robert F. Hebert, A History of Economic Theory and Method (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975), 31.
 Raynal, Europeans in the East and West Indies, 2: 221.
 Maxine Berg, “From Imitation to Invention: Creating Commodities in Eighteenth-Century Britain,” The Economic History Review 55: 1 (2002): 16.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 334.
 Ibid., 325.
 Ibid., 325–26.
 Ibid., 336.
 Ibid., 325.
 Ibid., 327.
 Ibid., 328.
 Berg, “From Imitation to Invention,” 1–2, 7, 15.
 Ibid., 16.
 Raynal, Europeans in the East and West Indies, 8: 186.
 Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia,” 151.
 Ibid., 151–52.
 Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 2: 243.
 Ibid., 258–60.
 Raynal, Europeans in the East and West Indies, 8: 214.
 Raynal, A History of the Two Indies, 205.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 337.
 Ibid., 335.
 O. F. Akimushkin et al., “Comments,” in Griboedov, PSS, 3: 574–75.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 338.
 Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia,” 139.
 Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 2: 507.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 333.
 Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia,” 156.
 Ibid., 131.
 Raynal, Europeans in the East and West Indies, 2: 186–87.
 Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (London: Verso, 2001), 31–33.
 Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia,” 133.
 Ibid., 137.
 Ibid., 140–41.
 Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 3: 246–47.
 Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia,” 135.
 Lawson, The East India Company, 152.
 H. V. Bowen, The Business of Empire: The East India Company and Imperial Britain, 1756–1833 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 53–83.
 Ibid., 83; Bowen, “No Longer Mere Traders,” 28.
 Lawson, The East India Company, 156–59.
 Griboedov, PSS, 3: 331–32.
 Kondratii Ryleev, Stikhotvoreniia. Stat´i. Ocherki. Dokladnye Zapiski. Pis´ma. (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1956), 292–94.
 Mikhail Lunin, Sochineniia i pis´ma (St. Petersburg: Vsemirnaia literatura, 1923), 75.
 Pestel´, Russkaia pravda, 72–73.
 Ibid., 50.
 Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia,” 141.
 Ibid. 153.
 Ibid., 137.
 Lawson, The East India Company, 159–62.
 Pestel´, Russkaia pravda, 14.
 Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia,” 137.
 Sergei Chernov, Pavel Pestel´: Izbrannye stat´i po istorii dekabrizma (St. Petersburg: Liki Rossii, 2004), 159–60.
 Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia,” 137.
 Pestel´, Russkaia pravda, 40.
 Zhukovskii, “Zamechaniia,” 136.
 Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 2: 507–08.