Bag people

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This article is about the Russian term. It is not to be confused with bag lady or bagman.

Bag people (Russian: 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 travelling 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 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 profiteers and persecuted by the Cheka.

The meshochnik phenomenon was revived on a different scale in the Soviet Union in the end of the 1980s. Soviet people traveled abroad (e.g. to Poland) to exchange cheaply purchased Soviet goods for goods scarcely produced or altogether absent in Soviet Union (and post-Soviet states). See also Shuttle trading.

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

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