What Shall We Do? : Chapter 17

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(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....)
• "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....)
• "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 17


Money! Then what is money?

It is answered, money represents labor. I meet educated people who even assert that money represents labor performed by those who possess it. I confess that I myself formerly shared this opinion, although I did not very clearly understand it. But now it became necessary for me to learn thoroughly what money is.

In order to do so, I addressed myself to science. Science says that money in itself is neither unjust nor pernicious; that money is the natural result of the conditions of social life, and is indispensable, first, for convenience of exchange; secondly, as a measure of value; thirdly, for saving; and fourthly, for payments.

The fact that when I have in my pocket three rubles to spare, which I am not in need of, I have only to whistle and in every civilized town I can obtain a hundred people ready for these three rubles to do the worst, most disgusting, and humiliating act I require, it is said, comes not from money, but from the very complicated conditions of the economical life of nations!

The dominion of one man over others does not come from money, but from the circumstance that a workingman does not receive the full value of his labor; and the fact that he does not get the full value of his labor depends upon the nature of capital, rent, and wages, and upon complicated connections between the distribution and consumption of wealth.

In plain language, it means that people who have money may twist round their finger those who have none. But science says that this is an illusion; that in every kind of production three factors take part,—land, savings of labor (capital), and labor, and that the dominion of the few over the many proceeds from the various connections between these factors of production, because the two first factors, land and capital, are not in the hands of working people; and from this fact and from the various combinations which result from it this domination proceeds.

Whence comes the great power of money, which strikes us all with a sense of its injustice and cruelty? Why is one man, by the means of money, to have dominion over others? Science says, “It comes from the division of the factors of production, and from the consequent combinations which oppress the worker.”

This answer has always appeared to me to be strange, not only because it leaves one part of the question unnoticed (namely, the significance of money), but also because of the division of the factors of production, which to an unprejudiced man will always appear artificial and out of touch with reality. Science asserts that in every production three agents come into operation,—land, capital and labor; and along with this division it is understood that property (or its value in money) is naturally divided among those who possess one of these agents; thus, rent (the value of the ground) belongs to the land-owner; interest belongs to the capitalist; and wages to the worker.

Is this really so?

First, is it true that in every production only three agencies operate? Now, while I am writing proceeds the production of hay around me. Of what is this production composed? I am told of the land which produces the grass; of capital (scythes, rakes, pitch-forks, carts which are necessary for the housing of the hay); and of labor. But I see that this is not true. Besides the land, there is the sun and rain; and, in addition, social order, which has been keeping these meadows from any damage which might be caused by letting stray cattle graze upon them, the skill of workmen, their knowledge of language, and many other agencies of production,—which, for some unknown reason, are not taken into consideration by political economy.

The power of the sun is as necessary as the land, even more. I may mention the instances when men (in a town, for example), assume the right to keep out the sun from others by means of walls or trees. Why, then, is the sun not included among the factors of production?

Rain is another means as necessary as the ground itself. The air too. I can imagine men without water and pure air because other men had assumed to themselves the right to monopolize these essential necessaries of all. Public security is likewise a necessary element. Food and dress for workmen are similar factors in production; this is even recognized by some economists. Education, the knowledge of language which creates the possibility to apply work, is likewise an agent. I could fill a volume by enumerating such combinations, not mentioned by science.

Why, then, are three only to be chosen, and laid as a foundation for the science of political economy? Sunshine and water equally with the earth are factors in production, so with the food and clothes of the workers, and the transmission of knowledge. All may be taken as distinct factors in production. Simply because the right of men to enjoy the rays of the sun, rain, food, language, and audience, are challenged only on rare occasions; but the use of land and of the instruments of labor are constantly challenged in society.

This is the true foundation; and the division of the factors of production into three, is quite arbitrary, and is not involved in the nature of things. But it may perhaps be urged that this division is so suitable to man, that wherever economic relationships are formed these three factors appear at once and alone.

Let us see whether this is really so.

First of all, I look at what is around me,—at Russian colonists, of whom millions have for ages existed. They come to a land, settle themselves on it, and begin to work; and it does not enter the mind of any of them that a man who does not use the land can have any claim to it,—and the land does not assert any rights of its own. On the contrary, the colonists conscientiously recognize the communism of the land and the right of every one of them to plow and to mow wherever he likes.

For cultivation, for gardening, for building houses, the colonists obtain various implements of labor: nor does it enter the mind of any of them that these instruments of labor may be allowed to bring profit in themselves, and the capital does not assert any rights of its own. On the contrary, the colonists consciously recognize among themselves that all interest for tools, or borrowed corn or capital, is unjust.

They work upon a free land, labor with their own tools, or with those borrowed without interest, each for himself, or all together, for common business; and in such a community, it is impossible to prove either the existence of rent, interest accruing from capital, or remuneration for labor.

In referring to such a community I am not indulging my fancy but describing what has always taken place, not only among Russian colonists, but everywhere, as long as human nature is not sinned against.

I am describing what appears to everyone to be natural and rational. Men settle on land, and each member undertakes the business which suits him, and, having procured the necessary tools, does his own work.

If these men find it more convenient to work together, they form a workmen's association. But neither in separate households, nor in associations, will separate agents of production appear till men artificially and forcibly divide them. There will be simply labor and the necessary conditions of labor,—the sun which warms all, the air which they breathe, water which they drink, land on which they labor, clothes on the body, food in the stomach, stakes, shovels, plows, machines with which they work. And it is evident that neither the rays of the sun, nor the clothes on the body, nor the stakes, nor the spade, nor the plow, with which each man works, nor the machines with which they labor in the workmen's association, can belong to anyone else than those who enjoy the rays of the sun, breathe the air, drink the water, eat the bread, clothe their bodies, and labor with the spade or with the machines, because all these are necessary only for those who use them. And when men act thus, we see they act rationally.

Therefore, observing all the economic conditions created among men, I do not see that division into three is natural. I see, on the contrary, that it is neither natural nor rational.

But perhaps the setting apart of these three does not occur in primitive societies, only when the population increases and cultivation begins to develop it is unavoidable. And we cannot but recognize the fact that this division has occurred in European society.

Let us see whether it is really so.

We are told that in European society this division of agencies has been; that is, that one man possesses land, another accomplished the instruments of labor, and the third is without land and instruments.

We have grown so accustomed to this assertion that we are no longer struck by the strangeness of it. But in this assertion lies an inner contradiction. The conception of a laboring man, includes the land on which he lives and the tools with which he works. If he did not live on the land and had no tools he would not be a laborer. A workman deprived of land and tools never existed and never can exist. There cannot be a bootmaker without a house for his work built on land, without water, air, and tools to work with.

If the peasant has no land, horse, water or scythe; if the bootmaker is without a house, water, or awl, then that means that some one has driven him from the ground, or taken it from him, and has cheated him out of his scythe, cart, horse, or awl; but it does not in any way mean that there can be country laborers without scythes or bootmakers without tools.

As you cannot think of a fisherman on dry land without fishing implements, unless you imagine him driven away from the water by some one who has taken his fishing implements from him; so also you cannot picture a workman without land on which to live, and without tools for his trade, unless somebody has driven him from the former, or robbed him of the latter.

There may be men who are hunted from one place to another, and who, having been robbed, are compelled perforce to work for another man and make things necessary for themselves, but this does not mean that such is the nature of production. It means only that in such case, the natural conditions of production are violated.

But if we are to consider as factors of production all of which a workman may be deprived by force, why not count among these the claim on the person of a slave? Why not count claims on the rain and the rays of the sun?

One man might build a wall and so keep the sun from his neighbor; another might come who would turn the course of a river through his own pond and so contaminate its water; or claim a fellow-being as his own property. But none of these claims, although enforced by violence, can be recognized as a basis. It is therefore as wrong to accept the artificial rights to land and tools as separate factors in production, as to recognize as such the invented rights to use sunshine, air, water, or the person of another.

There may be men who claim the land and the tools of a workman, as there were men who claimed the persons of others, and as there may be men who assert their rights to the exclusive use of the rays of the sun, or of water and air. There may be men who drive away a workman from place to place, taking from him by force the products of his labor as they are produced, and the very instruments of its production, who compel him to work, not for himself, but for his master, as in the factories;—all this is possible; but the conception of a workman without land and tools is still an impossibility, as much as that a man can willingly become the property of another, notwithstanding men have claimed other men for many generations.

And as the claim of property in the person of another cannot deprive a slave of his innate right to seek his own welfare and not that of his master; so, too, the claim to the exclusive possession of land and the tools of others cannot deprive the laborer of his inherent rights as a man to live on the land and to work with his own tools, or with communal tools, as he thinks most useful for himself.

All that science can say in examining the present economic question, is this: that in Europe certain claims to the land and the tools of workmen are made, in consequence of which, for some of these workmen (but by no means for all of them), the proper conditions of production are violated, so that they are deprived of land and implements of labor and compelled to work with the tools of others. But it is certainly not established that this accidental violation of the law of production is the fundamental law itself.

In saying that this separate consideration of the factors is the fundamental law of production, the economist is doing the very thing a zoölogist would do, if on seeing a great many siskins with their wings cut, and kept in little cages, he should assert that this was the essential condition of the life of birds, and that their life is composed of such conditions.

However many siskins there may be, kept in paste-board houses, with their wings cut, a zoölogist cannot say that these, and a tiny pail of water running up rails, are the conditions of the birds' lives. And however great the number of workpeople there may be, driven from place to place, and deprived of their productions as well as their tools, the natural right of man to live on the land, and to work with his own tools, is essential to him, and so it will remain forever.

Of course there are some who lay claim to the land and to the tools of workmen, just as in former ages there were some who laid claim to the persons of others; but there can be no real division of men into lords and slaves—as they wanted to establish in the ancient world—any more than there can be any real division in the agents of production (land and capital, etc.), as the economists are trying to establish.

These unlawful claims on the liberty of other men, science calls “the natural conditions of production.” Instead of taking its fundamental principles from the natural properties of human societies, science took them from a special case; and desiring to justify this case, it recognized the right of some men to the land on which other men earn their living, and to the tools with which others again work; in other words, it recognized as a right something which had never existed, and cannot exist, and which is in itself a contradiction, because the claim of the man to the land on which he does not labor, is in essence nothing else than the right to use the land which he does not use; the claim on the tools of others is nothing else than the assumption of a right to work with implements with which a man does not work.

Science, by dividing the factors of production, declares that the natural condition of a workman—that is, of a man in the true sense of the word—is the unnatural condition in which he lives at present, just as in ancient times, by the division of men into citizens and slaves, it was asserted that the unnatural condition of slavery was the natural condition of life.

This very division, which science has accepted only for the purpose of justifying the existing injustice, and the recognition of this division as the foundation of all its inquiries, is responsible for the fact that science vainly tries to explain existing phenomena and, denying the clearest and plainest answers to the questions that arise, gives answers which have absolutely no meaning in them.

The question of economic science is this: What is the cause of the fact that some men, by means of money, acquire an imaginary right to land and capital, and may make slaves of those who have no money? The answer which presents itself to common sense is, that it is the result of money, the nature of which is to enthralled men.

But economic science denies this, and says: This arises, not from the nature of money, but from the fact that some men have land and capital, and others have neither.

We ask: Why do persons who possess land and capital oppress those who possess neither? And we are answered: Because they possess land and capital.

But this is just what we are inquiring about. Is not deprivation of land and tools enforced slavery? And the answer is like saying, “A remedy is narcotic because its effects are narcotic.” Life does not cease to put this essential question, and even science herself notices and tries to answer it, but does not succeed, because, starting from her own fundamental principles, she only turns herself round in a vicious circle.

In order to give itself a satisfactory answer to the question, science must first of all deny that wrong division of the agents of production, and cease to acknowledge the result of the phenomena as being their cause; and she must seek, first the more obvious, and then the remoter, causes of those phenomena which constitute the matter questioned.

Science must answer the question, Why are some men deprived of land and tools while others possess both? or, Why is it that lands and tools are taken from the people who labor on the land and work with the tools?

And as soon as economic science puts this question to herself she will get new ideas which will transform all the previous ideas of sham science,—which has been moving in an unalterable circle of propositions,—that the miserable condition of the workers proceeds from the fact that they are miserable.

To simple-minded persons it must seem unquestionable that the obvious reason of the oppression of some men by others is money. But science, denying this, says that money is only a medium of exchange, which has no connection with slavery of men.

Let us see whether it is so or not.

From : Gutenberg.org


November 30, 1903 :
Chapter 17 -- Publication.

February 19, 2017 16:19:04 :
Chapter 17 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

May 28, 2017 15:35:51 :
Chapter 17 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.


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