What Shall We Do? : Chapter 06
(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, ....)
• "If, in former times, Governments were necessary to defend their people from other people's attacks, now, on the contrary, Governments artificially disturb the peace that exists between the nations, and provoke enmity among them." (From : "Patriotism and Government," by Leo Tolstoy, May 1....)
The inhabitants of these houses belonged to the lowest population of the town, which in Moscow amounts to perhaps more than a hundred thousand. In this house, there were representative men of all kinds,—petty employers and journeymen, shoemakers, brushmakers, joiners, hackney coachmen, jobbers carrying on business on their own account, washerwomen, secondhand dealers, money-lenders, day-laborers, and others without any definite occupation; and here also lodged beggars and unfortunate women.
Many who were like the people I had seen waiting at Liapin's house lived here, mixed up with the working-people. But those whom I saw then were in a most wretched condition, having eaten and drunk all they had, and, turned out of the public-house, were waiting, as for heavenly manna, cold and hungry, to be admitted into the free night-lodging-house,—and longing day by day to be taken to prison, in order to be sent back to their homes. Here I saw the same men among a greater number of working-people, at a time when by some means or other they had got a few farthings to pay for their night's lodging, and perhaps a ruble or two for food and drink.
However strange it may sound, I had no such feelings here as I experienced in Liapin's house; on the contrary, during my first visiting-round, I and the students had a sensation which was rather agreeable than otherwise. Why do I say “almost agreeable?” It is not true. The sensation called forth by the companionship of these men—strange as it may seem—was simply a very agreeable one.
The first impression was, that the majority of the lodgers here were working people, and very kindly disposed. We found most of them at work,—the washerwomen at their tubs, the joiners by their benches, the bootmakers at their lasts. The tiny rooms were full of people, and the work was going on cheerfully and with energy. There was a smell of perspiration among the workmen, of leather at the bootmaker's, of chips in the carpenter's shop. We often heard songs, and saw bare, sinewy arms working briskly and skillfully.
Everywhere we were received kindly and cheerfully. Nearly everywhere our intrusion into the daily life of these people excited no desire in them to show us their importance, or to rate us soundly, which happens when such visits are paid to the lodgings of well-to-do people. On the contrary, all our questions were answered simply, without any particular importance being attached to them,—served, indeed, only as an excuse for merriment and for jokes about how they were to be enrolled on the list, how such a one was as good as two, and how two others ought to be reckoned as one.
Many we found at dinner or at tea; and each time, in answer to our greeting, “Bread and salt,” or, “Tea and sugar,” they said, “You are welcome”; and some even made room for us to sit down. Instead of the place being the resort of an ever-shifting population, such as we expected to find, it turned out that in this house were many rooms which had been tenanted by the same people for long periods.
One carpenter, with his workmen, and a bootmaker, with his journeymen, had been living here for ten years. The bootmaker's shop was very dirty and quite choked up, but all his men were working very cheerily. I tried to talk with one of the workmen, wishing to sound him about the miseries of his lot, what he owed to the master, and so forth; but he did not understand me, and spoke of his master and of his life from a very favorable point of view.
In one lodging, there lived an old man with his old wife. They dealt in apples. Their room was warm, clean, and filled with their belongings. The floor was covered with straw-matting which they got from the apple stores. There were chests, a cupboard, a samovár, and crockery. In the corner were many holy images, before which two lamps were burning: on the wall hung fur cloaks wrapped up in a sheet. The old woman with wrinkled face, kind and talkative, was apparently quite delighted with her quiet, respectable life.
Iván Fedotitch, the owner of the inn and of the lodgings, came out and walked with us. He joked kindly with many of the lodgers, calling them all by their names, and giving us short sketches of their characters. They were as other men, did not consider themselves unhappy, but believed they were like everyone else, as in reality they were. We were prepared to see only dreadful things, and we met instead objects not only not repulsive, but estimable. There were so many of these, compared with the ragged, ruined, unoccupied people we met now and then among them, that the latter did not in the least destroy the general impression. To the students it did not appear so remarkable as it did to me. They were merely performing an act useful to science, as they thought; and, in passing, made casual observations: but I was a benefactor; my object in going there was to help the unhappy, ruined, depraved men and women whom I had expected to meet in this house. Suddenly, instead of unhappy, ruined, depraved beings, I found the majority to be workingmen: quiet, satisfied, cheerful, kind, and very good.
I was still more strongly impressed when I found that in these lodgings the crying want I wished to relieve had already been relieved before I came. But by whom? By these same unhappy, depraved beings whom I was prepared to save! And this help was given in a way not open to me.
In one cellar lay a lonely old man suffering from typhus-fever. He had no connections in the world; yet a woman,—a widow with a little girl,—quite a stranger to him, but living in the corner next to him, nursed him, gave him tea, and bought him medicine with her own money.
In another lodging lay a woman in puerperal fever. A woman of the town was nursing her child, and had prepared a sucking-bottle for him, and had not gone out to ply her sad trade for two days.
An orphan girl was taken into the family of a tailor, who had three children of his own. Thus, there remained only such miserable unoccupied men as retired officials, clerks, men-servants out of situations, beggars, tipsy people, prostitutes, children, whom it was not possible to help all at once by means of money, but whose cases it was necessary to consider carefully before assisting them. I had been seeking for men suffering immediately from want of means, whom one might be able to help by sharing one's superfluities with them. I had not found them. All whom I had seen, it would have been very difficult to assist materially without devoting time and care to their cases.
From : Gutenberg.org
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