The end of the 19th century in Russia was linked with rapid economic growth, and one of the drivers of this growth was Old Believer capitalists — those who had not fled. Mamontov, Morozov, Ryabushinsky, Tretyakov (the art lover, philanthropist and patron who founded the Tretyakov Gallery) — these were the names of Russia’s Rosthchilds and Rockefellers.
There is a temptation here to recall Mark Weber’s book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” and compare the wealth of the Russian Old Believers with the Protestant ideas of righteous acquisition and salvation through work. This mistake is often made. In reality, the difference is very great. Strictly speaking, the Old Believers’ money was not their own.
The various Old Believer communities created a whole parallel economy, gave their fellow-believers favorable, interest-free and even non-repayable loans, and engaged in what would now be called social security and charity.
Old Believer businessmen managed the communities’ assets and passed them off as their own, in order to ease the tax burden and avoid pressure and extortion by the authorities. At the beginning of the 20th century, Old Believer capitalists became seriously involved in politics, while, at the same time, making life easier for the workers in their factories and trying to get reasonable labor legislation passed.
This “social responsibility” was also entirely in the spirit of ancient Orthodox collectivism. In parallel with this, some members of Old Believer financial and industrial clans were flirting with the revolutionaries and providing them with money — mainly in order to put pressure on the czarist government. By the start of the 1917 Revolution, the Old Believers were strong enough to put pressure on the czar.
Passion is the element in which we live; without it, we hardly vegetate.