What Shall We Do? : Chapter 11
(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.)
• "It usually happens that when an idea which has been useful and even necessary in the past becomes superfluous, that idea, after a more or less prolonged struggle, yields its place to a new idea which was till then an ideal, but which thus becomes a present idea." (From : "Patriotism and Government," by Leo Tolstoy, May 1....)
• "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 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....)
This visit gave the last blow to my self-deception. It became very evident to me that my aim was not only foolish, but even productive of evil. Yet, though I knew this, it seemed my duty to continue the project a little longer: first, because of the article I had written and by my visits I had raised the expectations of the poor; secondly, because what I had said and written had awakened the sympathy of some benefactors, many of whom had promised to assist me personally and with money. And I was expecting to be applied to by both, and hoped to satisfy them as well as I was able.
As regards the applications made to me by those who were in need, the following details may be given: I received more than a hundred letters, which came exclusively from the “rich poor,” if I may so express myself. Some of them I visited, and some I left unanswered. In no instance did I succeed in doing any good. All the applications made to me were from persons who were once in a privileged position (I call such persons privileged who receive more from others than they give in return), had lost that position, and were desirous of regaining it. One wanted two hundred rubles in order to keep his business from going to ruin, and to enable him to finish the education of his children; another wanted to have a photographic establishment; a third wanted money to pay his debts, and take his best clothes out of pawn; a fourth was in need of a piano, in order to perfect himself and to earn money to support his family by giving lessons. The majority did not name any particular sum of money: they simply asked for help; but when I began to investigate what was necessary, it turned out that their wants increased in proportion to the help offered, and nothing satisfactorily resulted. I repeat again, the fault may have been in my want of understanding; but in any case I helped no one, notwithstanding the fact that I made every effort to do so.
As for the philanthropists who were to co-operate with me, something very strange and quite unexpected occurred: of all who promised to assist with money, and even stated the amount they would give, not one contributed anything for distribution among the poor.
The promises of pecuniary assistance amounted to about three thousand rubles; but of all these people, not one recollected his agreement, or gave me a single kopeck. The students alone gave the money which they received as payment for visiting, about twelve rubles; so that my scheme, which was to have collected tens of thousands of rubles from the rich, and to have saved hundreds and thousands of people from misery and vise, ended in my distributing at random some few rubles offered by the students, with twenty-five more sent me by the town-council for my labor as manager, which I positively did not know what to do with.
So ended the affair.
Then, before leaving Moscow for the country, on the Sunday before the Carnival, I went to the Rzhanoff house in the morning in order to distribute the thirty-seven rubles among the poor. I visited all whom I knew in the lodgings, but found only one invalid, to whom I gave something,—five rubles, I think. There was nobody else to give to. Of course, many began to beg; but, as I did not know them, I made up my mind to take the advice of Iván Fedotitch, the tavern-keeper, respecting the distribution of the remaining thirty-two rubles.
It was the first day of the carnival. Everybody was smartly dressed, all had had food, and many were drunk. In the yard near the corner of the house stood an old-clothes man, dressed in a ragged peasant's coat and bark shoes. He was still hale and hearty. Sorting his purchases, he was putting them into different heaps,—leather, iron, and other things,—and was singing a merry song at the top of his voice.
I began to talk with him. He was seventy years of age; had no relatives; earned his living by dealing in old clothes, and not only did not complain, but said he had enough to eat, drink, and to spare. I asked him who in the place were particularly in want. He became cross, and said plainly that there was no one in want but drunkards and idlers; but on learning my object in asking, he begged me five kopecks for drink, and ran to the tavern for it.
I also went to the tavern to see Iván Fedotitch, to ask him to distribute the money for me. It was full; gaily-dressed tipsy prostitutes were walking to and fro; all the tables were occupied; many people were already drunk; and in the small room someone was playing a harmonium, and two people were dancing. Iván Fedotitch, out of respect for me, ordered them to leave off, and sat down next me at a vacant table. I asked him, as he knew his lodgers well, to point out those most in want, as I was entrusted with a little money for distribution, and wished him to direct me. The kindhearted man (he died a year after) gave me his attention for a time in order to oblige me, although he had to wait on his customers. He began to think it over, and was evidently puzzled. One old waiter had overheard us, and took his part in the conference.
They began to go over his lodgers, some of whom were known to me, but they could not agree. “Paramonovna,” suggested the waiter.
“Well; yes, she does go hungry sometimes; but she drinks.”
“What difference does that make?”
“Well, Spiridon Ivanovitch, he has children; that's the man for you.”
But Iván Fedotitch had doubts about Spiridon too.
To him I myself objected: I had just seen him. This was an old man of eighty years of age, without any relatives. One could scarcely imagine any condition to be worse; and yet I had just seen him lying drunk on a feather bed, cursing at his comparatively young mistress in the most filthy language.
They then named a one-armed boy and his mother. I saw that Iván Fedotitch was in great difficulty owing to his conscientiousness, for he knew that every thing given away by me would be spent at his tavern. But as I had to get rid of my thirty-two rubles, I insisted, and we managed somehow or other to distribute the money. Those who received it were mostly well-dressed, and we had not far to go to find them: they were all in the tavern. The one-armed boy came in top-boots and a red shirt and waistcoat.
Thus ended all my benevolent enterprises; and I left for the country vexed with everyone, as it always happens when one does something foolish and harmful. Nothing came of it all, except the train of thoughts and feelings which it called forth in me, which not only did not cease, but doubly agitated my mind.
From : Gutenberg.org
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