Author : Leo Tolstoy
All slavery is based solely on the fact that one man can
deprive another of his life, and by threatening to do so
can compel him to do his will. We may see for certain
that whenever one man is enslaved by another, when,
against his own will and by the will of another, he does
certain actions contrary to his inclination, the cause, if
traced to its source, is nothing more nor less than a
result of this threat. If a man gives to others all his
labor, has not enough to eat, has to send his little children
from home to work hard, leaves the land, and devotes
all his life to a hated and unnecessary task, which happens
before our own eyes in the world (which we term civilized
because we ourselves live in it), then we may certainly say
that he does so only because not to do so would be
equivalent to loss of life.
Therefore in our civilized world, where the majority
of the people, amid terrible privations, perform hated
labors unnecessary to themselves, the greater number of
men are in a slavery based on the threat of being deprived
of their existence. Of what, then, does this slavery
consist? Wherein lies this power of threat?
In olden times the means of subjugation and the threat
to kill were plain and obvious to all: the primitive means
of enslaving men then consisted in a direct threat to kill
with the sword.
An armed man said to an unarmed, “I can kill thee,
as thou hast seen I have done to thy brother, but I do
not want to do it: I will spare thee,—first, because it is
not agreeable for me to kill thee; secondly, because, as
well for me as for thee, it will be more convenient that
thou shouldst labor for me than that I should kill thee.
Therefore do all I order thee to do, but know that, if
thou refusest, I will take thy life.”
So the unarmed man submitted to the armed one and
did everything he was ordered to do. The unarmed man
labored, the armed threatened. This was that personal
slavery which appeared first among all nations, and which
still exists among primitive races.
This means of enslaving always begins the work; but
when life becomes more complicated it undergoes a
change. With the complication of life such a method
presents great inconveniences to the oppressor. Before
he can appropriate the labor of the weaker he must
feed and clothe them and keep them at work, and so their
number remains small; and, besides, this compels the
slave-holder to remain continually with the slaves, driving
them to work by the threat of murdering them. And
thus another means of subjugation is developed.
Five thousand years ago (according to the Bible) this
novel, convenient, and clever means of oppression was
discovered by Joseph the Beautiful.
It is similar to that employed now in the menageries
for taming restive horses and wild beasts.
It is hunger!
This contrivance is thus described in the Bible (Genesis xli.,
And he (Joseph) gathered up all the food of the seven
years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the
food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round
about every city, laid he up in the same.
And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very
much, until he left numbering; for it was without
And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the
land of Egypt, were ended.
And the seven years of dearth began to come, according
as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands;
but in all the land of Egypt, there was bread.
And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the
people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said
unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he said to
And the famine was over all the face of the earth:
And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto
the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of
And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to
buy corn; even because that the famine was so sore in all
Joseph, making use of the primitive means of enslaving
men by the threat of the sword, gathered corn during the
years of plenty in expectation of years of famine which
generally follow years of plenty,—men know all this
without the dreams of Pharaoh,—and then by the pangs
of hunger he made all the Egyptians and the inhabitants of
the surrounding countries slaves to Pharaoh more
securely and conveniently. And when the people began
to be famished, he arranged matters so as to keep them
in his power forever.
(Genesis xlvii., 13–26.) And there was no bread in all
the land; for the famine was very sore, so that the land
of Egypt and all the land of Canaan fainted by reason
of the famine.
And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found
in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, for the
corn which they bought: and Joseph brought the money
into Pharaoh's house.
And when money failed in the land of Egypt, and in
the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came unto Joseph,
and said, Give us bread: for why should we die in thy
presence? for the money faileth. And Joseph said, Give
your cattle; and I will give you for your cattle, if money
fail. And they brought their cattle unto Joseph: and
Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses, and for
the flocks, and for the cattle of the herds, and for the
asses: and he fed them with bread for all their cattle
for that year.
When that year was ended, they came unto him the
second year, and said unto him, We will not hide it from
my Lord, how that our money is spent; my lord also
hath our herds of cattle; there is not ought left in the
sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands: Wherefore
shall we die before thine eyes, both we and our land?
buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land
will be servants unto Pharaoh: and give us seed, that we
may live, and not die, and that the land be not desolate.
And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh;
for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the
famine prevailed over them: so the land became
Pharaoh's. And as for the people, he removed them
to cities from one end of the borders of Egypt even to
the other end thereof.
Only the lands of the priests bought he not; for the
priests had a portion assigned them of Pharaoh, and did
eat their portion which Pharaoh gave them: wherefore
they sold not their lands.
Then Joseph said unto the people, Behold, I have bought
you this day and your land for Pharaoh: lo, here
is seed for you, and ye shall sow the land. And it shall
come to pass in the increase, that ye shall give the fifth
part unto Pharaoh, and four parts shall be your own,
for seed of the field, and for your food, and for them of
your households, and for food for your little ones.
And they said, Thou hast saved our lives: let us find
grace in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's
And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto
this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part; except
the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh's.
Formerly, in order to appropriate labor, Pharaoh had
to use violence towards them; but now, when the stores
and the land belonged to Pharaoh, he had only to keep
these stores by force, and hunger compelled the men to
labor for him.
All the land now belonged to Pharaoh, and he had all
the stores (which were taken away from the people); and
therefore, instead of driving them to work individually
by the sword, he had only to keep food from them and
they were enslaved, not by the sword, but by hunger.
In a year of scarcity, all men may be starved to death
at Pharaoh's will; and in a year of plenty, all may be
killed who, from casual misfortunes, have no stores of
Thus comes into operation the second means of enslaving,
not directly with the sword,—that is, by the
strong man driving the weak one to labor under threat
of killing him,—but by the strong one having taken
away from the weak the stores of corn which, keeping
by the sword, he compels the weak to work for.
Joseph said to the hungry men, “I could starve you to
death, because I have the corn; but I will spare your
lives, but only under the condition that you do all I
order you for the food which I will give you.” For the
first means of enslaving, the oppressor only needs
soldiers to ride to and fro among the inhabitants, and
make them fulfill the requirements of their master under
threat of death. And thus the oppressor has only to
pay his soldiers. But with the second means, besides
the soldiers, the oppressor must have different assistants
for keeping and protecting the land and stores from the
These are the Josephs and their stewards and distributors.
And the oppressor has to reward them, and to give Joseph
a dress of brocade, a gold ring, and servants, and corn
and silver to his brothers and relatives. Besides this,
from the very nature of the second means, not only the
stewards and their relations, but all who have stores of
corn become participators in this violence, just as by
the first means, based upon immediate force, every one
who has arms becomes a partner in tyranny, so by this
means, based upon hunger, every one who has stores of
provision shares in it, and has power over those who have
The advantage of this method over the former consists,
first and chiefly, in the fact that the oppressor need no
longer compel the workmen to do his will by force, for
they themselves come to him and sell themselves to him;
secondly, in the circumstance that fewer men escape from
his violence. The drawback is, that he has to employ
a greater number of men. For the oppressed the advantage
of it consists in the fact that they are no longer
exposed to rough violence but are left to themselves; and
can always hope to pass from being the oppressed to
becoming oppressors in their turn, which by fortunate
circumstances they sometimes really do. The drawback
for them is, that they can never escape from participating
in the oppression of others.
This new means of enslaving generally comes into
operation together with the old one; and the oppressor
lessens the one and increases the other according to his
desires. But this does not fully satisfy the man who
wishes to take away as much as possible of the products
of the labor of as many working-people as he can find,
and to enthralled as many men as possible; and, therefore,
a third means of oppression is evolved.
This is the slavery of taxation, and, like the second, it is
based upon hunger; but to the means of subduing men by
depriving them of bread is added the deprivation of
The oppressor requires from the slaves so much of the
money he himself has coined, that, in order to obtain it,
the slaves are compelled to sell not only stores of corn in
greater quantity than the fifth part which was fixed by
Joseph, but the first necessaries of life as well,—meat,
skins, wool, clothes, firewood, even their buildings; and
therefore the oppressor always keeps his slaves in his
power, not only by hunger, but by thirst, cold and other
And thus the third means of slavery comes into operation,
a monetary, tributary one, consisting in the oppressor
saying to the oppressed, “I can do with each of
you just what I like; I can kill and destroy you by taking
away the land by which you earn your living; I can,
with this money which you must give me, buy all the
corn upon which you feed, and sell it to strangers, and
at any time annihilate you by starvation; I can take from
you all that you have,—your cattle, your houses, your
clothes; but it is neither convenient nor agreeable for
me to do so, and therefore I let you alone, to work as
you please; only give me so much of the money which
I demand of you, either as a poll-tax, or according to
your land or the quantity of your food and drink, or
your clothes or your houses. Give me this money, and
do what you like among yourselves, but know that I
shall neither protect nor maintain widows nor orphans nor
invalids nor old people, nor such as have been burned out:
I shall only protect the regular circulation of this money.
This right will always be mine, to protect only those who
regularly give me the fixed number of these pieces of
money: as to how or where you get it, I shall not in the
least trouble myself.” And so the oppressor distributes
these pieces of money as an acknowledgment that his
demand has been complied with.
The second method of enslaving consisted in this, that,
having taken away the fifth part of the harvest, and collected
stores of corn, Pharaoh, besides the personal
slavery by the sword, received, by his assistants, the
possibility of dominion over the working-people during
the time of famine, and over some of them during misfortunes
which happen to them.
The third method consists in this: Pharaoh requires
from the working-people more money than the value of
the fifth part of corn which he took from them; he and
his assistants get a new means of dominion over the
working-class, not merely during the famine and their
casual misfortunes, but permanently.
By the second method, men retain some stores of corn
which help them to bear indifferent harvests and casual
misfortunes without going into slavery; but by the third,
when there are more demands, the stores, not of corn
only but of all other necessaries of life are taken away
from them, and at the first misfortune a workman, having
neither stores of corn nor any other stores which he
might exchange for corn, falls into slavery to those who
To set the first in motion an oppressor need have only
soldiers, and share the booty with them; for the second,
besides the protectors of the land and the stores, he must
have collectors and clerks for the distribution of the
corn; for the third, besides the soldiers for keeping the
land and his property, he must have collectors of taxes,
assessors of direct taxation, , custom-house
clerks, managers of money, and coiners of it.
The organization of the third method is much more
complicated than that of the second. By the second, the
getting in of corn may be leased out, as was done in
olden times and is still the custom in Turkey; but by
putting taxes on men there is need of a complicated administration,
which has to ensure the right levying of
the taxes. And therefore by the third method the oppressor
has to share the plunder with a still greater number of
men than by the second; besides, according to the very
nature of the thing, all the men of the same or of the
foreign country who possess money become sharers with
The advantage of the third method over the first and
second consists chiefly in the following fact: that by it
there is no need to wait for a year of scarcity, as in the
time of Joseph, but years of famine are established forever,
and (whilst by the second method the part of the labor
which is taken away depends upon the harvest, and cannot
be augmented ad libitum, because if there is no corn,
there is nothing to take) by the new monetary method the
requirement can be brought to any desired limit, for the
demand for money can always be satisfied, because the
debtor, to satisfy it, must sell his cattle, clothes, or
houses. The chief advantage to the oppressor of this
method is that he can take away the greatest quantity
of labor in the most convenient way; for a money-tax,
like a screw, may easily and conveniently be turned to the
utmost limit, and golden eggs be obtained though the
bird that lays them is all but dead.
Another of its advantages for the oppressor is that its
violence reaches all those also who, by possessing no
land, formerly escaped from it by giving only a part of
their labor for corn; whereas now, besides that part
which they give for corn, they must now give another
part for taxes. A drawback for the oppressor is that he
has to share the plunder with a still greater number of
men, not only with his direct assistants, but also with all
those men of his own country, and even of foreign
countries, who may have the money which is demanded
from the slaves.
Its for the oppressed is only that he is
allowed greater independence than under the second
method; he may live where he chooses, do what he likes;
he may sow or not sow; he has to give no account of his
labor; and if he has money, he may consider himself
entirely free, and constantly hope, though only for a
time, to obtain not only an independent position, but
even to become an oppressor himself, when he has money
The drawback for the oppressed is, that on a general
average their situation becomes much worse, and they
are deprived of the greater part of the products of their
labor, because the number of those who utilize their
labor has increased, and therefore the burden of keeping
them falls upon a smaller number of men.
This third method of enslaving men is also very
and comes into operation with the former two without
entirely excluding them.
These three methods of enslaving men have always
been in operation.
They may all be compared to screws which secure the
board laid on the work-people which presses them down.
The fundamental, or middle screw, without which the
other screws could not hold, which is first screwed up,
and which is never slackened, is the screw of personal
slavery, the enslaving of some men by others under
threat of slaughter; the second, which is screwed up after
the first, is that of enslaving men by taking away the
land and stores of provisions from them, such alienation
being maintained by the threat to murder; and the third
screw is slavery enforced by the requirement of certain
money taxes; and this demand is also maintained under
threat of murder.
These three screws are made fast, and it is only when
one of them is tightened more that the others are slackened.
For the complete enslavement of the workman, all
three are necessary; and in our society, all three are in
operation together. The first method of personal slavery
under threat of murder by the sword has never been
abolished, and never will be so long as there is any oppression,
because every kind of oppression is based on
We are all quite sure that personal slavery is abolished
in our civilized world; that the last remnant of it has
been annihilated in America and in Russia, and that it
is only among the barbarians that real slavery exists, and
that with us it is no longer in being. We forget only
one small circumstance,—those hundreds of millions of
standing troops without which no state exists, and with
the abolition of which all the economical organization of
each state would inevitably fall to pieces. Yet what are
these millions of soldiers but the personal slaves of those
who rule them? Are not these men compelled to do the
will of their commanders under the threat of torture and
death,—a threat often carried out? the difference consisting
only in the fact that the submission of these slaves
is not called slavery, but discipline, and that slaves are
slaves from their birth, but soldiers only during a more
or less short period of their so-called “service.”
Personal slavery, therefore, is not only not abolished in
our civilized world, but, under the system of conscription,
it has of late years been confirmed; and it has remained
as it has always existed, only slightly changed from its
original form. And it cannot but exist, because, so long
as there is the enslaving of one man by another there will
be this personal slavery too, this slavery which, under
the threat of the sword, maintains serfdom, land-ownership,
It may be that this slavery of troops is useful, as it is
said, for the defense and the glory of the country; but
this kind of utility is more than doubtful, because we see
how often in the case of unsuccessful wars it serves only
for the subjugation and shame of the country. But of
the expediency of this slavery for maintaining that of the
land and taxes there is no question.
If Irish or Russian peasants were to take possession of the
land of the proprietors, troops would be sent to dispossess
them. If you build a distillery or a brewery and do not
pay excise, then soldiers will be sent to shut it up.
Refuse to pay taxes, and the same thing will happen to
The second screw is the method of enslaving men by
taking away from them their land and their stores of provisions.
This method has also always been in existence
wherever men are oppressed; and, whatever changes it
may undergo, it is everywhere in operation.
Sometimes all the land belongs to the sovereign, as
in Turkey, and there one-tenth is given to the state
treasury. Sometimes a part of the land belongs to the
sovereign, and taxes are raised on it. Sometimes all the
land belongs to a few people and is let out for labor,
as in England. Sometimes more or less large portions
of land belong to the land-owners, as in Russia, Germany,
and France. But wherever there is enslaving there exists
also the appropriation of the land by the oppressor, and
this screw is slackened or tightened only according to the
condition of the other screws.
Thus, in Russia, when personal slavery was extended
to the majority of the working-people there was no need
of land-slavery; but the screw of personal slavery was
slackened in Russia only when the screws of land and tax
slavery were tightened. Only when the government had
appropriated the land and divided it among private individuals,
and had instituted money payments and taxation,
did it give the peasants personal freedom.
In England, for instance, land-slavery is preeminently
in operation, and the question about the nationalizing of
the land consists only in the screw of taxation being
tightened in order that the screw of land appropriation
may be slackened.
The third method of enslaving men, by taxes, has also
been in operation for ages; and in our days, with the
extension of uniform standards of money and the
strengthening of state powers it has become an especially
This method is so developed in our days that it tends
to be a substitute for the second method of enslaving,—the
It is obvious from the state of the political economy
of all Europe, that it is by the tightening of this screw
that the screw of land slavery is slackened.
In our own lifetime we have witnessed in Russia two
transformations of slavery. When the serfs were liberated,
and their landlords retained the right to the greater
part of the soil, the landlords were afraid they would
lose their power; but experience has shown that having
let go the whole chain of personal slavery, they had only
to seize another,—that of the land. A peasant was short
of corn; he had not enough to live on. The landlord
had land and stores of corn: and therefore the peasant
still remained the same slave.
Another transformation was caused by the government
screw of taxation being pressed home. The majority of
working-people, having no stores, were obliged to sell
themselves to their landlords and to the factories. This
new form of oppression held the people still tighter, so
that nine-tenths of the Russian working-people are still
working for their landlords and in the factories to pay
these taxes. This is so obvious, that, if the government
were to remit taxation for one year only, all labor would
be stopped in the fields of the landlords, and in the
factories. Nine-tenths of the Russian people hire themselves
out during and before the collection of taxes.
All these three methods have never ceased to operate, and
are still in operation, but people are inclined to ignore them
or to invent new excuses for them. And, what is most remarkable
of all is, that the very means on which everything
is based, that screw which is screwed up tighter
than all others, which holds everything at the moment
in question, is not noticed so long as it holds. When in
the ancient world the entire economical order was upheld
by personal slavery, the greatest intellects did not notice
it. To Plato, as well as to Xenophon, and Aristotle,
and to the Romans, it seemed that it could not be otherwise,
and that slavery was an unavoidable and natural
result of wars, without which the existence of mankind
was inconceivable. Similarly, in the Middle Ages, and
till recently, people did not apprehend the meaning of
land-ownership, on which depended the entire economical
organization of their time.
So also, at present, no one sees or wants to see,
that in our time the slavery of the majority of the
people depends on taxes collected by the government from
its own land slaves, taxes collected by administration and
the troops,—by the very same troops which are maintained
by these taxes.
From : Gutenberg.org.
November 30, 1903 : Chapter 20 -- Publication.
February 19, 2017 : Chapter 20 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.
May 28, 2017 : Chapter 20 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.
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