What Shall We Do? : Chapter 02

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1904

People

(1828 - 1910) ~ Father of Christian Anarchism : In 1861, during the second of his European tours, Tolstoy met with Proudhon, with whom he exchanged ideas. Inspired by the encounter, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana to found thirteen schools that were the first attempt to implement a practical model of libertarian education. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "...the dissemination of the truth in a society based on coercion was always hindered in one and the same manner, namely, those in power, feeling that the recognition of this truth would undermine their position, consciously or sometimes unconsciously perverted it by explanations and additions quite foreign to it, and also opposed it by open violence." (From : "A Letter to a Hindu: The Subjection of India- Its....)
• "There are people (we ourselves are such) who realize that our Government is very bad, and who struggle against it." (From : "A Letter to Russian Liberals," by Leo Tolstoy, Au....)
• "The Government and all those of the upper classes near the Government who live by other people's work, need some means of dominating the workers, and find this means in the control of the army. Defense against foreign enemies is only an excuse. The German Government frightens its subjects about the Russians and the French; the French Government, frightens its people about the Germans; the Russian Government frightens its people about the French and the Germans; and that is the way with all Governments. But neither Germans nor Russians nor Frenchmen desire to fight their neighbors or other people; but, living in peace, they dread war more than anything else in the world." (From : "Letter to a Non-Commissioned Officer," by Leo Tol....)

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Chapter 02

CHAPTER II

When I talked to my town friends about this pauperism which surrounded them, they always replied, “Oh! you have seen nothing yet! You should go to the Khitrof Market, and visit the lodging-houses there, if you want to see the genuine ‘Golden Company.’”

One jovial friend of mine added, that the number of these paupers had so increased, that they already formed not a “Golden Company,” but a “Golden Regiment.”

My witty friend was right; but he would have been yet nearer the truth had he said that these men formed, in Moscow, not a company, nor a regiment, but a whole army,—an army, I should judge, of about fifty thousand.

The regular townspeople, when they spoke to me about the pauperism of the city, always seemed to feel a certain pleasure or pride in being able to give me such precise information.

I remember I noticed, when visiting London, that the citizens there seemed also to find a certain satisfaction in telling me about London destitution, as though it were something to be proud of.

However, wishing to inspect this poverty about which I had heard so much, I had turned my steps very often towards the Khitrof Market,—but on each occasion I felt a sensation of pain and shame. “Why should you go to look at the suffering of human beings whom you cannot help?” said one voice within me. “If you live here, and see all that is pleasant in town life, go and see also what is wretched,” replied another.

And so, one cold, windy day in December, two years ago (1883), I went to the Khitrof Market, the center of the town pauperism.

It was on a week-day, about four in the afternoon. While still a good distance off I noticed greater and greater numbers of men in strange clothes,—evidently not originally meant for them,—and in yet stranger foot-wear; men of a peculiar unhealthy complexion, and all apparently showing a remarkable indifference to everything that surrounded them.

Men in the strangest, most incongruous costumes sauntered along, evidently without the least thought as to how they might look in the eyes of others. They were all going in the same direction. Without asking the way, which was unknown to me, I followed them, and came to the Khitrof Market.

There I found women likewise in ragged capes, rough cloaks, jackets, boots, and goloshes. Perfectly free and easy in their manner, notwithstanding the grotesque monstrosity of their attire, these women, old and young, were sitting, bargaining, strolling about, and abusing one another.

Market-time having evidently passed, there were not many people there; and as most of them were going up-hill, through the market-place, and all in the same direction, I followed them.

The farther I went, the greater became the stream of people flowing into the one road. Having passed the market, and gone up the street, I found that I was following two women, one old, the other young. Both were clothed in some gray ragged stuff. They were talking, as they walked, about some kind of business.

Every expression was unfailingly accompanied by some obscene word. Neither was drunk, but each absorbed with her own affairs; and the passing men, and those about them, paid not the slightest attention to their language, which sounded so strange to me. It appeared to be the generally accepted manner of speech in those parts. On the left we passed some private night-lodging-houses, and some of the crowd entered these; others continued to ascend the hill towards a large corner house. The majority of the people walking along with me went into this house. Before it, people all of the same sort were standing and sitting, on the sidewalk and in the snow.

At the right of the entrance were women; at the left, men. I passed by the men: I passed by the women (there were several hundreds in all), and stopped where the crowd ceased.

This building was the “Liapin free night-lodging-house” (“doss-house”). The crowd was composed of night-lodgers, waiting to be let in. At five o'clock in the evening this house is opened and the crowd admitted. Hither came almost all the people whom I followed.

I remained standing where the file of men ended. Those nearest stared at me till I had to look at them. The remnants of garments covering their bodies were very various; but the one expression of the eyes of all alike seemed to be, “Why are you, a man from another world, stopping here with us? Who are you? Are you a self-satisfied man of wealth, desiring to be gladdened by the sight of our need, to divert yourself in your idleness, and to mock at us? or are you that which does not and can not exist,—a man who pities us?”

On all their faces the same question was written. Each would look at me, meet my eyes, and turn away again.

I wanted to speak to some of them, but for a long time I could not summon up courage. However, eventually our mutual exchange of glances introduced us to each other; and we felt that, however widely separated might be our social positions in life, we were still fellow-men, and so we ceased to be afraid of one another.

Next to me stood a peasant with a swollen face and red beard, in a ragged jacket, with worn-out goloshes on his naked feet, though there were eight degrees of frost.[1] For the third or fourth time our eyes met; and I felt so drawn to him that I was no longer ashamed to address him (to have refrained from doing so would have been the only real shame), and I asked him where he came from.

He answered eagerly, while a crowd began to collect round us, that he had come from Smolensk in search of work, to be able to buy bread and pay his taxes.

“There is no work to be had nowadays,” he said: “the soldiers have got hold of it all. So here am I knocking about; and God is my witness, I have not had any thing to eat for two days.”

He said this shyly, with an attempt at a smile. A seller[2] of warm drinks, an old soldier, was standing near. I called him, and made him pour out a glass. The peasant took the warm vessel in his hands, and, before drinking, warmed them against the glass, trying not to lose any of the precious heat; and whilst doing this he related to me his story.

The adventures of these people, or at least the stories which they tell, are almost always the same: He had had a little work; then it had ceased: and here, in the night-lodging-house, his purse, containing his money and passport, had been stolen from him. Now he could not leave Moscow.

He told me that during the day he warmed himself in public-houses, eating any stale crust of bread which might be given him. His night's lodging here in Liapin's house cost him nothing.

He was only waiting for the round of the police-sergeant to lock him up for being without his passport, when he would be sent on foot, with a party of men similarly situated, to the place of his birth.

“They say the inspection will take place on Thursday, when I shall be taken up; so I must try and keep on until then.” (The prison and his compulsory journey appeared to him as the “promised land.”) While he was speaking, two or three men in the crowd said they were also in exactly the same situation.

A thin, pale youth, with a long nose, only a shirt upon his back, and that torn about the shoulders, and a tattered cap on his head, edged his way to me through the crowd. He was shivering violently all the time, but tried, as he caught my eye, to smile scornfully at the peasant's conversation, thinking thus to show his superiority.

I offered him some drink.

He warmed his hands on the tumbler as the other had done; but just as he began to speak, he was shouldered aside by a big, black, hook-nosed, bare-headed fellow, in a thin shirt and waistcoat, who also asked for some drink.

Then a tall old man, with a thin beard, in an overcoat fastened round the waist with a cord, and in bark shoes, had some. He was drunk.

Then came a little man, with a swollen face and wet eyes, in a coarse brown jacket, with his knees protruding through his torn trousers and knocking against each other with cold. He shivered so that he could not hold the glass, and spilled the contents over his clothes: the others began to abuse him, but he only grinned miserably, and shivered.

After him came an ugly, deformed man in rags, and with bare feet. Then an individual of the officer type; another belonging to the church class; then a strange-looking being without a nose,—all of them hungry, cold, suppliant, and humble,—crowded round me, and stretched out their hands for the glass; but the drink was exhausted. Then one man asked for money: I gave him some. A second and a third followed, till the whole crowd pressed on me. In the general confusion the gatekeeper of the neighboring house shouted to the crowd to clear the pavement before his house, and the people submissively obeyed.

Some of them undertook to control the tumult, and took me under their protection. They attempted to drag me out of the crush. But the crowd that formerly had lined the pavement in a long file, had now become condensed about me. Every one looked at me and begged; and it seemed as if each face were more pitiful, harassed, and degraded than the other. I distributed all the money I had,—only about twenty rubles,—and entered the lodging-house with the crowd. The house was an enormous one, and consisted of four parts. In the upper stories were the men's rooms; on the ground-floor the women's. I went first into the women's dormitory,—a large room, filled with beds resembling the berths in a third-class railway-carriage. They were arranged in two tiers, one above the other.

Strange-looking women in ragged dresses, without jackets, old and young, kept coming in and occupying places, some below, others climbing above. Some of the elder ones crossed themselves, pronouncing the name of the founder of the refuge. Some laughed and swore.

I went up-stairs. There, in a similar way, the men had taken their places. Among them I recognized one of those to whom I had given money. On seeing him I suddenly felt horribly ashamed, and made haste to leave.

With a sense of having committed some crime, I returned home. There I entered along the carpeted steps into the rug-covered hall, and, having taken off my fur coat, sat down to a meal of five courses, served by two footmen in livery, with white ties and white gloves. A scene of the past came suddenly before me. Thirty years ago I saw a man's head cut off under the guillotine in Paris before a crowd of thousands of spectators. I was aware that the man had been a great criminal: I was acquainted with all the arguments in justification of capital punishment for such offenses. I saw this execution carried out deliberately: but at the moment that the head and body were severed from each other by the keen blade, I gasped, and realized in every fiber of my being, that all the arguments which I had hitherto heard in favor of capital punishment were wickedly false; that, no matter how many might agree that it was a lawful act, it was literally murder; whatever other title men might give it, they thus had virtually committed murder, that worst of all crimes: and there was I, both by my silence and my noninterference, an aider, an abettor, and participator in the sin.

Similar convictions were again forced upon me when I now beheld the misery, cold, hunger, and humiliation of thousands of my fellow-men. I realized not only with my brain, but in every pulse of my soul, that, whilst there were thousands of such sufferers in Moscow, I, with tens of thousands of others, daily filled myself to repletion with luxurious dainties of every description, took the tenderest care of my horses, and clothed my very floors with velvet carpets!

Whatever the wise and learned of the world might say about it, however unalterable the course of life might seem to be, the same evil was continually being enacted, and I, by my own personal habits of luxury, was a promoter of that evil.

The difference between the two cases was only this: that in the first, all I could have done would have been to shout out to the murderers standing near the guillotine, who were accomplishing the deed, that they were committing a murder, and by every means to try to hinder them,—while, of course, knowing that my interference would be in vain. Whereas, in this second case, I might have given away, not only the drink and the small sum of money I had with me, but also the coat from off my shoulders, and all that I possessed at home. Yet I had not done so, and therefore felt, and feel, and can never cease to feel, that I myself am a partaker in a crime which is continually being committed, so long as I have superfluous food whilst others have none, so long as I have two coats whilst there exists one man without any.

From : Gutenberg.org

Chronology

November 30, 1903 :
Chapter 02 -- Publication.

February 18, 2017 19:44:33 :
Chapter 02 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

March 20, 2019 08:25:38 :
Chapter 02 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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