What Shall We Do? : Chapter 04
(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.)
• "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....)
• "...for no social system can be durable or stable, under which the majority does not enjoy equal rights but is kept in a servile position, and is bound by exceptional laws. Only when the laboring majority have the same rights as other citizens, and are freed from shameful disabilities, is a firm order of society possible." (From : "To the Czar and His Assistants," by Leo Tolstoy, ....)
• "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....)
By my request I was appointed to make the census of the section of Khamovnitchesky police district, near the Smolensky Market in the Prototchni Lane between the Shore Drive and Nicolsky Lane. In this district are the houses known under the name of Rzhanoff House or Rzhanoff Fortress. In bygone times these houses belonged to the merchant Rzhanoff, and are now the property of the merchants Zeemin. I had long before heard that this was considered the lowest circle of poverty and vise, which was the reason why I asked the officers of the census to assign this district to me.
My desire was gratified.
Having received the appointment from the Town Council, I went alone, a few days before the census, to inspect my district. With the help of a plan I soon found the Rzhanoff Houses,—approached by a street which terminated on the left-hand side of Nicolsky Lane—a gloomy building without any apparent entrance. From the aspect of this house I guessed it was the one I was in search of. Descending the street, I came across some boys, from ten to fourteen years old, in short coats, who were sliding down the frozen gutter, some on their feet, others upon a single skate.
The boys were ragged, and, like all town boys, sharp and bold. I stopped to look at them. An old woman in torn clothes, with hanging yellow cheeks, came round the corner. She was going up-hill to Smolensky Market, gasping painfully at every step, like a horse out of wind; and when abreast of me, stopped with hoarse, choking breath. In any other place, this old woman would have asked alms, but here she only began to talk.
“Just look at them!” she said, pointing to the sliding boys; “always at mischief! They will become the same Rzhanoff good-for-nothings as their fathers.” One boy, in an overcoat and cap without a peak, overhearing her words, stopped. “You shut up!” he shouted. “You're only an old Rzhanoff goat yourself!”
I asked the boy if he lived here. “Yes, and so does she. She stole some boots,” he called out, and, pushing himself off, slid on.
The old woman began a torrent of abuse, interrupted by coughs. During the squabble an old white-haired man, all in rags, came down the middle of the street, brandishing his arms, and carrying in one hand a bundle of small rusk rings. He seemed to have just fortified himself with a glass of liquor. He had evidently heard the old woman's abuse and took her side.
“I'll give it you, you little devils!” he shouted, pretending to rush after them; and, passing behind me, he stepped on the pavement. If you saw this old man in the Artat, a fashionable street, you would be struck with his air of , feebleness, and poverty. Here he appeared as a merry workman returning from his day's labor.
I followed him. He turned round the corner to the left into Prototchni, an alley, passed the front of the house and the gate, and disappeared through the door of an inn. Into this alley opened the doors of the latter, a public-house, and several small eating-houses. It was the Rzhanoff Houses. Every thing was gray, dirty, and foul-smelling,—buildings, lodgings, courts, and people. Most of those I met here were in tattered clothes, half naked. Some were passing along, others were running from one door to another. Two were bargaining about some rags. I went round the whole building, down another lane and a court, and, having returned, stopped at the archway of the Rzhanoff Houses.
However after a little hesitation I went in. The moment I entered the court I was conscious of a most revolting stench. The court was dreadfully dirty. I turned round the corner, and at the same instant heard steps running along the boards of the gallery and down the stairs.
First a gaunt-looking woman, with tucked-up sleeves, a faded pink dress, and shoes on her stockingless feet, rushed out; after her, a rough-haired man in a red shirt, and extremely wide trousers, like a petticoat, and goloshes on his feet. The man caught her under the stairs: “You sha'n't escape me,” he said, laughing.
“Just listen to the squint-eyed devil!” began the woman, who was evidently not averse to his attentions; but, having caught sight of me, she exclaimed angrily, “Who are you looking for?” As I did not want anyone in particular, I felt somewhat confused, and went away.
This little incident, though by no means remarkable in itself, suddenly showed me the work I was about to undertake in an entirely new light, especially after what I had seen on the other side of the courtyard,—the scolding woman, the lighthearted old man, and the sliding boys. I had meditated doing good to these people by the help of the rich men of Moscow. I now realized, for the first time, that all these poor unfortunates, whom I had been wishing to help, had, besides the time they spent suffering from cold and hunger in waiting to get a lodging, several hours daily to get through, and that they must somehow fill up the rest of the twenty-four hours of every day,—a whole life, of which I had never thought before. I realized now, for the first time, that all these people, besides the mere effort to find food and shelter from the cold, must live through the rest of every day of their life as other people have to do, must get angry at times, and be dull, and try to appear lighthearted, and be sad or merry. Now, for the first time (however strange the confession may sound), I was fully aware that the task which I was undertaking could not simply consist in feeding and clothing a thousand people (just as one might feed a thousand head of sheep, and drive them into shelter), but must develop some more essential help. When I considered that each one of these individuals was just another man like myself, possessing also a past history, with the same passions, temptations, and errors, the same thoughts, the same questions to be answered, then suddenly the work before me appeared stupendous and I felt my own utter helplessness;—but it had begun and I was resolved to go on.
From : Gutenberg.org
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