Nizhnii Novgorod had a strong history of a middle-class economy which defied the traditional distribution of social strata, so heavily promoted by the Soviet Marxist historians throughout the 20th century. This class mixing was a result of the heavy levels of commerce which defined the city. Official records of occupations show that there were thousands of artisans and many thousands more middle class workers, including 5,000 soldiers, in a twon of 41,000. There was everything from gingerbread makers (4 masters and 18 workers and apprentices) to organ and piano makers (4 masters and 10 workers and apprentices), in addition to a strong focus on ironworks (343 master blacksmiths and 79 workers and apprentices), a legacy which would turn into the heavy industry later in the century (Evtuhov 110).
These people were the litmus test of social life in Nizhnii Novgorod, and provide a colorful portrait of the commercial vibrancy which is more characteristic of Russia than is often popularly assumed. A recent author bemoans the stereotypical and
dreadfully inaccurate portrayal of Russia than as characterized exclusively by an agricultural mode of production” (Evtuhov 113). Russians, even in the medieval period, were involved in trade and small-scale production, and it was these activities which they turned to after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the official records make no tally of religious affiliation. Doing so provides a fascinating look into the diversity of Nizhnii Novgorod (or at least more diversity than might be expected). Among the inhabitants there were 39,784 Orthodox, 260 Old Believers, 1 Armenian-Gregorian, 471 Roman Catholic, 364 Protestant, 354 Jewish, and 173 Muslim, worshipping in fifty five different churches (Evtuhov 113). Nizhnii Novgorod both defies the stereotype, while also revealing that the stereotype was not entirely accurate after all.