Women and the Birth of Russian Capitalism: A History of the Shuttle Trade

By the mid-1990s, shuttle trade - a practice in which individual peddlers travel abroad and then return with foreign merchandise in their suitcases for resale-constituted the backbone of Russian consumer trade and was a substantial source of revenue. Despite its importance to the Russian economy, there has been very little scholarship dedicated to the shuttle trade and its participants, most of whom were women. In this enlightening study, Irina Mukhina assesses the reasons why women were attracted to this business, the range of the personal experiences of female shuttle traders, and the social impact of women's involvement in this sort of economic activity. By analyzing the social and gendered dimensions of the shuttle trade, Mukhina argues, we can begin to understand more broadly how gender shaped the transition period associated with the end of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. She demonstrates how women traders facilitated the transition to the market economy in Russia as well as how the difficulties that these women faced highlight the gap between the rhetoric of free market economy and the actual market practices. In doing so, Mukhina reveals that the shuttle trade became not only an avenue of female suffering but also of survival and even empowerment during the time that most Russians now call the wild 1990s.