What Shall We Do? : Chapter 07
(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.)
• "...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, ....)
• "Only by recognizing the land as just such an article of common possession as the sun and air will you be able, without bias and justly, to establish the ownership of land among all men, according to any of the existing projects or according to some new project composed or chosen by you in common." (From : "To the Working People," by Leo Tolstoy, Yasnaya P....)
• "People who take part in Government, or work under its direction, may deceive themselves or their sympathizers by making a show of struggling; but those against whom they struggle (the Government) know quite well, by the strength of the resistance experienced, that these people are not really pulling, but are only pretending to." (From : "A Letter to Russian Liberals," by Leo Tolstoy, Au....)
These unfortunate necessitous ones ranged themselves in my mind under three heads: First, those who had lost former advantageous positions, and who were waiting to return to them (such men belonged to the lowest as well as to the highest classes of society); Secondly, women of the town, who are very numerous in these houses; and Thirdly, children.
The majority of those I found, and noted down, were men who had lost former places, and were desirous of returning to them, chiefly of the better class, and government officials. In almost all the lodgings we entered with the landlord, we were told, “Here we need not trouble to fill up the card ourselves: the man here is able to do it, provided he is not tipsy.”
Thus summoned by Iván Fedotitch, there would appear, from some dark corner, the once rich nobleman or official, mostly drunk, and always half-dressed. If he were not drunk, he willingly undertook the task: he kept nodding his head with a sense of importance, knitted his brows, inserted now and then learned terms in his remarks, and carefully holding in his dirty, trembling hands the neat pink card, looked round at his fellow-lodgers with pride and contempt, as if he were now, by the superiority of his education, triumphing over those who had been continually humbling him.
He was evidently pleased to have with the world which used pink cards, with a world of which he himself had once been a member.
To my questions about his life, this kind of man not only replied willingly, but with enthusiasm,—beginning to tell a story, fixed in his mind like a prayer, about all kinds of misfortunes which had happened to him, and chiefly about his former position, in which, considering his education, he ought to have remained.
Many such people are scattered about in all the tenements of the Rzhanoff Houses. One lodging-house was tenanted exclusively by them, women and men. As we approached them, Fedotitch said, “Now, here's where the nobility live.”
The lodging was full. Almost all the lodgers—about forty persons—were at home. In the whole house, there were no faces so ruined and degraded-looking as these,—if old, flabby; if young, pale and haggard.
I talked with several of them. Almost always the same story was told, differing only in degree of development. One and all had been once rich, or had still a rich father or brother or uncle; or either his father or his unfortunate self had held a high office. Then came some misfortune caused by envious enemies, or his own imprudent kindness, or some out-of-the-way occurrence; and, having lost everything, he was obliged to descend to these strange and hateful surroundings, among lice and rags, in company with drunkards and loose characters, feeding upon bread and liver, and subsisting by beggary.
All the thoughts, desires, and recollections of these men are turned toward the past. The present appears to them as something unnatural, hideous, and unworthy of attention. It does not exist for them. They have only recollections of the past, and expectations of the future which may be realized at any moment, and for the attainment of which but very little is needed; but, unfortunately, this little is out of their reach; it cannot be got anywhere: and so one has wasted one year, another five, and a third thirty years.
One needs only to be dressed respectably in order to call on a well-known person who is kindly disposed toward him; another requires only to be dressed, have his debts paid, and go to some town or other; a third wants to take his effects out of pawn, and get a small sum to carry on a law-suit, which must be decided in his favor, and then all will be well again. All say that they have need of some external circumstance in order to regain that position which they think natural and happy.
If I had not been blinded by my pride in being a benefactor, I should have needed only to look a little closer into their faces, young and old, which were generally weak, sensual, but kind, in order to understand that their misfortunes could not be met by external means; that they could be happy in no position while their present conception of life remained the same; that they were by no means peculiar people in peculiarly unhappy circumstances, but that they were like all other men, ourselves included.
I remember well how my intercourse with men of this class was particularly trying to me. I now understand why it was so. In them I saw my own self as in a mirror. If I had considered carefully my own life and the lives of people of my own class, I should have seen that between us and these unfortunate men there existed no essential difference.
Those who live around me in expensive suites of apartments and houses of their own in the best streets of the city, eating something better than liver or herring with their bread, are none the less unhappy. They also are discontented with their lot, regret the past, and desire a happier future, precisely as did the wretched tenants of the Rzhanoff Houses. Both wished to be worked less and to be worked for more, the difference between them being only in degrees of idleness.
Unfortunately, I did not see this at first, nor did I understand that such people needed to be relieved, not by my charity, but from their own false views of the world; and that to change a man's estimate of life he must be given one more accurate than his own, which, unhappily, not possessing myself, I could not communicate to others.
These men were unhappy not because, to use an illustration, they were without nourishing food, but because their stomachs were spoiled; and they required, not nourishment, but a tonic. I did not see that in order to help them, it was not necessary to give them food but to teach them how to eat. Though I am anticipating, I must say that of all these people whose names I put down I did not in reality help one, notwithstanding that everything some of them had desired was done to relieve them. Of these I became acquainted with three men in particular. All three, after many failures and much assistance, are now in the same position they were in three years ago.
From : Gutenberg.org
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