What Shall We Do? : Chapter 21
(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.)
• "You are surprised that soldiers are taught that it is right to kill people in certain cases and in war, while in the books admitted to be holy by those who so teach, there is nothing like such a permission..." (From : "Letter to a Non-Commissioned Officer," by Leo Tol....)
• "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....)
• "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....)
No wonder that the slaves themselves, who have always been enslaved, do not understand their own position, and that this condition in which they have always lived is considered by them to be natural to human life, and that they hail as a relief any change in their form of slavery; no wonder that their owners sometimes quite sincerely think they are, in a measure, freeing the slaves by slacking one screw, though they are compelled to do so by the over-tension of another.
Both become accustomed to their state; and the slaves, never having known what freedom is, merely seek an alleviation, or only the change of their condition; the other, the owners, wishing to mask their injustice, try to assign a particular meaning to those new forms of slavery which they enforce in place of the older ones. But it is wonderful how the majority of the critics of the economic conditions of the life of the people fail to see that which forms the basis of the entire economic conditions of a people.
One would think the duty of a true science would be to try to ascertain the connection of the phenomena and general cause of a series of occurrences. But the majority of the representatives of modern Political Economy are doing just the reverse of this: they carefully hide the connection and meaning of the phenomena, and avoid answering the most simple and essential questions.
Modern Political Economy, like an idle, lazy cart-horse, goes well only down-hill, when it has no collar-work; but as soon as it has anything to draw, it at once refuses, pretending it has to go somewhere aside after its own business. When any grave, essential question is put to Political Economy, scientific discussions are started about some other matter having only in view to divert attention from this subject.
You ask, “How are we to account for a fact so unnatural, monstrous, unreasonable, and not useless only, but harmful, that some men can eat or work only according to the will of other men?”
You are gravely answered, “Because some men must arrange the labor and feeding of others, such is the law of production.”
You ask, “What is this property-right which allows some men to appropriate to themselves the land, food, and instruments of labor belonging to others?” You are again gravely answered, “This right is based upon the protection of labor,”—that is, the protection of some men's labor is effected by taking possession of the labor of other men.
You ask, “What is that money which is everywhere coined and stamped by the governments, by the authorities, and which is so exorbitantly demanded from the working-people, and which in the shape of national debts is levied upon the future generations of workingmen? Further, has not this money, demanded from the people in the shape of taxes which are raised to the utmost pitch, has not this money any influence on the economic relationships of men,—between the payers and the receivers?” And you are answered in all seriousness, “Money is an article of merchandise like sugar, or chintz; and it differs from other articles only in the fact that it is more convenient for exchange.”
As for the influence of taxes on the economic conditions of a people, it is a different question altogether: the laws of production, exchange, and distribution of wealth, are one thing, but taxation is quite another. You ask whether it has any influence on the economic conditions of a people that the government can arbitrarily raise or lower prices, and, having increased the taxes, can make slaves of all who have no land? The pompous answer is, “The laws of production, exchange, and distribution of wealth constitute one science,—Political Economy; and taxes, and, generally speaking, State Economy, come under another head,—the Law of Finance.”
You ask finally, “Is no influence exercised on economic conditions by the circumstance that all the people are in bondage to the government, and that this government can arbitrarily ruin them all, can take away all the products of their labor, and even carry the men themselves away from their work into military slavery?” You are answered, “This is altogether a different question, belonging to the State Law.”
The majority of the representatives of science discuss quite seriously the laws of the economic life of a people, while all the functions and activities of this life are dependent on the will of the oppressor. Whilst they recognize the influence of the oppressor as a natural condition of a nation's life, they do just what a critic of the economic conditions of the life of the personal slaves of different masters would do, were he to omit to consider the influence exercised on the life of these slaves by the will of that master who compels them to work on this or that thing and drives them from one place to another according to his pleasure, who feeds them or neglects to do so, who kills them or leaves them alive.
A noxious superstition has been long in existence and still survives,—a superstition which has done more harm to men than the most terrible religious superstitions.
And so-called science supports this superstition with all its power, and with the utmost zeal. This superstition exactly resembles religious superstitions. It consists in affirming that, besides the duties of man to man, there are still more important duties towards an imaginary being,—which the theologians call God, and the political scientists the State.
The religious superstition consists in affirming that sacrifices, even of human lives, must be offered to this imaginary being, and that they can and ought to be enforced by every means, even by violence. The political superstition consists in the belief that, besides the duties of man to man, there are still more important duties to an imaginary being, the State; and the offerings,—often of human lives,—brought to this imaginary being are also essential, and can and ought to be enforced by every means, even by violence.
Men are thrown into slavery, into the most terrible slavery, worse than has ever before existed; but Political Science tries to persuade men that it is necessary and unavoidable.
The state must exist for the welfare of the people, and it must do its duty, to rule and protect them from their enemies. For this purpose the state needs money and troops. Money must be subscribed by all the citizens of the state. And hence all the relations of men must be considered in the light of the existence of the state.
“I want to help my father by my labor,” says a common unlearned man. “I want also to marry; but instead, I am taken and sent to Kazan, to be a soldier for six years. I leave the military service, I want to plow the ground to earn food and drink for my family; but I am not allowed to plow for a hundred versts around me unless I pay money, which I have not got, and pay it to those men who do not know how to plow, and who demand for the land so much money that I must give them all my labor to procure it: however, I still manage to save something, and wish to give this to my children; but a police official comes and takes from me all I had saved, for taxes: I can earn a little more, and again I am deprived of it. My entire economic activity is at the mercy of state demands; and it seems to me that my position and that of my brethren, will certainly improve if we are liberated from the demands of the state.”
But he is told, “Such reasoning is the result of your ignorance. Study the laws of production, exchange, and distribution of wealth, and do not mix up economical questions with those of the state. The phenomena which you point to are no restraints on your freedom; they are the necessary sacrifices which you, along with others, must make for your own freedom and welfare.”
“But my son has been taken away from me,” says again a common man; “and they threaten to take away all my sons as soon as they are grown up: they took him away by force, and drove him to face the enemy's guns in some country which we have never heard of, and for an object which we cannot understand.
“And as for the land which they will not allow us to plow, and for want of which we are starving, it belongs to a man who got possession of it by force, and whom we have never seen, and whose usefulness we cannot even understand. And the taxes, to collect which the police official has by force taken my cow from my children, will, so far as I know, go to this same man who took my cow away, and to various members of the committees and of departments which I do not know of, and in the utility of which I do not believe. How is it, then, that all these acts of violence secure my liberty, and all this evil procures good?”
You may compel a man to be a slave and to do that which he considers to be evil for himself, but you cannot compel him to think, that, in suffering violence, he is free, and that the obvious evil which he endures constitutes his good. This appears impossible. Yet by the help of science this very thing has been done in our time.
The state, that is, the armed oppressors, decide what they want from those whom they oppress (as in the case of England and the Fiji-Islanders): they decide how much labor they want from their slaves,—they decide how many assistants they will need in collecting the fruits of this labor; they organize their assistants in the shape of soldiers, land-owners, and collectors of taxes. And the slaves give their labor, and, at the same time, believe that they give it, not because their masters demand it, but for the sake of their own freedom and welfare; and that this service and these bloody sacrifices to the divinity called the State are necessary, and that, except this service to their Deity, they are free. They believe this because the same had been formerly said in the name of religion by the priests, and is now said in the name of so-called science, by learned men.
But one need only cease to believe what is said by these other men who call themselves priests or learned men, for the absurdity of such an assertion to become obvious.
The men who oppress others assure them that this oppression is necessary for the state,—and the state is necessary for the freedom and welfare of men; so that it appears that the oppressors oppress men for the sake of their freedom, and do them evil for the sake of good.
But men are furnished with reason so that they may understand wherein consists their own good, and do it willingly.
As for the acts, the goodness of which is not intelligible to men, and to which they are compelled by force, these cannot be for their good, because a reasoning being can consider as good only the thing which appears so to his reason. If men are driven to evil through passion or folly, all that those who are not so driven can do is to persuade the others into what constitutes their real good. You may try to persuade men that their welfare will be greater when they are all soldiers, are deprived of land, and have given their entire labor away for taxes; but until all men consider this condition to be welfare, and undertake it willingly, one cannot call such a state of things the common welfare of men.
The sole criterion of a good conception is its willing acceptance by men. And the lives of men abound with such acts. Ten workmen buy tools in common, in order to work together with them, and in so doing they are undoubtedly benefitting themselves; but we cannot suppose that if these ten workmen were to compel an eleventh, by force, to join in their association, they would insist that their common welfare will be the same for him.
So with gentlemen who agree to give a subscription dinner at a pound a head to a mutual friend; no one can assert that such a dinner will benefit a man who, against his will, has been to pay a sovereign for it. And so with peasants who decide, for their common convenience, to dig a pond. To those who consider the existence of a pond more valuable than the labor spent on it, digging it will be a common good. But to the one who considers the pond of less value than a day's harvesting in which he is behind-hand, digging it will appear evil. The same holds good with roads, churches, and museums, and with all various social and state affairs.
All such work may be good for those who consider it good, and who therefore freely and willingly perform it,—the dinner which the gentlemen give, the pond which the peasants dig. But work to which men must be driven by force ceases to be a common good precisely by the fact of such violence.
All this is so plain and simple, that, if men had not been so long deceived, there would be no need to explain it.
Suppose we live in a village where all the inhabitants have agreed to build a road over a swamp which is a danger to them. We agree together, and each house promises to give so much money or wood or days of labor. We agree to this because the making of the road is more advantageous to us than what we exchange for it; but among us there are some for whom it is more advantageous to do without a road than to spend money on it, or who at all events think so. Can compelling these men to labor make it of advantage to them? Obviously not; because those who considered that their choosing to join in making the way would have been disadvantageous, will consider it a fortiori still more disadvantageous when they are compelled to do so. Suppose, even, that we all, without exception, were agreed, and promised so much money or labor from each house, but that it happened that some of those who had promised did not give what they agreed, their circumstances having meanwhile changed, so that it was more advantageous for such now to be without the road than to spend money on it; or that they have simply changed their mind about it; or even calculate that others will make the road without them and that they will then use it. Can coercing these men to join in the labor make them consider that the sacrifices are enforced for their own good?
Obviously not; because, if these men have not fulfilled what they promised, owing to a change in circumstances, so that now the sacrifices for the sake of the road outbalance their gain by it, the compulsory sacrifices of such would be only a worse evil. But if those who refuse to join in building the road intend to utilize the labor of the others, then in this case also coercing them into making a sacrifice would be only a punishment on a supposition, and their object, which nobody can prove, will be punished before it is made apparent; but in neither case can coercing them to join in a work which they do not desire be good for them.
If this is so with sacrifices for a work which every one can comprehend, obvious, and undoubtedly useful to everyone, such as a road over a swamp; how still more unjust and unreasonable is it to coerce millions of men into making sacrifices for objects which are incomprehensible, imperceptible, and often undoubtedly harmful, such as military service and taxation.
But, according to science, what appears to every one to be an evil is a common good: it appears that there are men, a small minority, who alone know of what the common good consists, and, notwithstanding the fact that all other men consider this good to be an evil, this minority can compel the others to do whatever they may consider to be for the common good. And it is this belief which constitutes the chief superstition and the chief deceit and hinders the progress of mankind towards the True and the Good.
To nurse this superstitious deceit has been the object of political sciences in general, and of so-called “Political Economy” in particular.
Many are making use of its aims in order to hide from men the state of oppression and slavery in which they now are.
The way they set about doing so is by starting the theory that the violence connected with the economy of social slavery is a natural and unavoidable evil; and men thereby are deceived and turn their eyes from the real causes of their misfortunes.
Slavery has long been abolished. It has been abolished in Rome as well as in America, and in Russia; but only the word has been abolished,—not the evil.
Slavery is the violent freeing of some men from the labor necessary for satisfying their wants, which transfers this labor to others; and wherever there is a man who does not work, not because others willingly and lovingly work for him, but because he has the possibility, while not working himself, to make others work for him, there slavery exists.
Wherever there are, as in all European societies, men who utilize the labor of thousands of others by coercion, and consider such to be their right, and others who submit to this coercion considering it to be their duty,—there you have slavery in its most dreadful proportions.
Slavery exists. In what, then, does it consist? Slavery consists of that of which it has always consisted, and without which it cannot exist at all,—in the coercion of a weak and unarmed man by a strong and armed man.
Slavery in its three fundamental modes of operation,—personal violence, the military, land-taxes,—maintained by the military, and direct and indirect taxes put upon all the inhabitants, is still in operation now as it has been before.
We do not see it because each of these three forms of slavery has received a new justification, which hides its meaning from us.
The personal violence of armed over unarmed men has been justified as the defense of one's country from imaginary enemies,—while in its essence it has the one old meaning, the submission of the conquered to the oppressors.
The violent of the laborers' land has been justified as the recompense for services rendered to an imaginary common welfare, and confirmed by the right of heritage; but in reality it is the same dispossession of men from their land and enslaving them which was performed by the troops.
And the last, the monetary violence by means of taxes, the strongest and most effective in our days, has received a most wonderful justification.
Wherever violence becomes law, there is slavery.
Whether violence finds its expression in the circumstance that princes with their courtiers come, kill, and burn down villages; whether slave-owners take labor or money for the land from their slaves, and enforce payment by means of armed men, or by putting taxes on others, and riding armed to and fro in the villages; or whether a Home Department collects money through governors or police sergeants,—in one word, as long as violence is maintained by the bayonet,—there will be no distribution of wealth, but it will be accumulated among the oppressors.
As a striking illustration of the truth of this assertion the project of Henry George to nationalize the land may serve us. Henry George proposes to declare all land the property of the state, and to substitute a land-rent for all taxes, direct and indirect. That is, everyone who utilizes the land would have to pay to the state the value of its rent.
What would be the result? The land would belong to the state,—English land to England, American land to America, and so on; that is, there would be slavery, determined by the quantity of cultivated land. It might be that the condition of some laborers would improve; but while a forcible demand for rent remained, the slavery would remain too. The cultivator, after a bad harvest, being unable to pay the rent exacted of him by force, would be obliged to enthralled himself to any one who happened to have the money in order not to lose everything and to retain the land.
If a pail leaks, there must be a hole. Looking at the pail, we might imagine the water runs from many holes; but no matter how we might try to stop the imaginary holes from without, the water would not cease running. In order to put a stop to the leakage we must find the place from which water runs, and stop it from the inside.
The same holds good with the proposed means of stopping the irregular distribution of wealth,—the holes through which the wealth runs away from the people.
It is said, Organize workmen's corporations, make capital social property, make land social property. All this is only mere stopping from the outside those holes from which we fancy the water runs. In order to stop the wealth going from the hands of the workers to those of the non-workers, it is necessary to try to find from the inside the hole through which this leakage takes place. And this hole is the violence of armed men towards unarmed men, the violence of troops, by means of which men are carried away from their labor, and the land, and the products of labor, taken from them.
So long as there is one armed man, whoever he may be, with the acknowledged right to kill another man, so long will there also exist an unjust distribution of wealth,—in other words, slavery.
I was led into the error that I can help others by the fact that I imagined my money was as good as Semion's. But it was not so.
The general opinion is that money represents wealth; that wealth is the result of work and therefore that money represents work. This opinion is as just as the opinion asserting that every form of state is the result of a contract (contrat social).
All men like to believe that money is only a means of exchange of labor. I have made boots, you have made bread, he has fed sheep; now, in order to exchange our wares the more conveniently, we introduce money, which represents the corresponding share of labor, and through it we exchange leather soles for a mutton brisket and ten pounds of flour.
By means of money we exchange our products and this money, belonging to each of us, represents our labor. This is perfectly true, but true only while in the community, where this exchange takes place, violence of one man towards another did not appear, violence not only over another man's labor, as happens in war and in slavery, but not even violence applied to defend the products of labor of one man against another. This could be only in a community whose members entirely fulfill the Christian law,—in a community where one gets what he demands and where one is not requested to return what he gets. But as soon as violence in any form is applied in the community, the meaning of money for its owner at once loses its significance as a representative of labor, and acquires the significance of a right, based not on labor, but on violence.
As soon as there is war and one man has taken away something from another, then money cannot always represent labor; the money received by the soldier for the booty he has sold, as well as the money got by his superior, is by no means the produce of their work and has quite a different meaning from the money received for the labor resulting in boots. When there are slave-owners and slaves, as have been always in the world, then one cannot assert that money represents labor. The women have woven a quantity of linen, have sold it and received money; the serfs have woven some linen for their master, and the master has sold it and received money. The one and the other money are the same; but one is the product of labor and the other is the product of violence. Likewise, if somebody,—say my father,—made me a present of money and he, when giving it to me, knew, and I knew and everybody knew, that no one can take this money away from me, that if anybody tried to take it, or even merely failed to return it at the date promised, then the authorities would defend me and by force compel the man to return me this money,—then again it is evident that by no means can this money be called a representative of labor, like the money which Semion got for cutting wood.
Thus in a community, where by some kind of violence somebody's money is taken possession of, or the ownership of somebody's money defended against others—there money cannot always represent labor. It represents in such a community sometimes labor, sometimes violence.
So it would be if only one fact of violence of one man over another appeared in the midst of perfectly free relations; but now, when the accumulated money has passed through centuries of most various forms of violence, when these acts of violence continue under other forms; when money itself by its accumulation creates violence,—which is recognized by everybody,—when the direct products of labor constitute only a small part of money made up of all sorts of violence,—to assert now that money represents the work of its owner is an obvious error, or an open lie. One may say it ought to be so, one may say it is desirable that it should be so, but by no means can any one say that it is so.
Money represents labor. Yes; money represents labor, but whose labor? In our society it is only in the rarest cases that money represents the work of its owner. Almost always it represents the labor of other men,—the past or future labors of men. It is the representative of a claim on the labor of other men by force of violence.
Money, in its most exact and at the same time its simplest definition, represents conventional signs, which bestow the right,—or rather the possibility,—to use the work of other men. In its ideal meaning, money ought to give this right or possibility only when it serves itself as a representative of labor, and as such, money could exist in a society devoid of any kind of violence. But as soon as violence takes place in a society, i.e., the possibility of the utilizing of the labor of others by the idler,—then this possibility of using the labor of others, without defining persons over which this violence is committed, is also exercised in money.
The landowner taxed his serfs by a contribution in kind, making them bring a certain quantity of linen, corn, cattle, or a corresponding amount of money. One household delivered the cattle, but the linens were replaced by money. The landowner accepts the money in a certain quantity, only because he knows that for this money he can get the same pieces of linen (generally he takes a little more money to be sure that he will receive for it the same quantity of linen), and this money evidently offers for the landowner lien on other men's labor.
The peasant gives money as a security against persons unknown but numerous, who would undertake to work out so much linen for this money. Those who will undertake to work the linen will do it because they did not succeed in feeding the sheep, and for these they must pay in money; and the peasant who will get the money for the sheep will take it, only because he must pay for the corn, which was a failure that year. The same goes on in the State and all over the world.
A man sells the produce of his past, present or future labor, sometimes his food-stuff, not mostly because money is a convenient exchange for him,—he would exchange without money,—but because he is required by means of violence to give money, as a security on his work.
When Pharaoh has demanded the labor of his slaves, then the slaves have given him all their labor, but they could give only the past and present labor, and could not give that of the future. But with the spread of money tokens and their result of “credit” it becomes possible to give also one's future work for money.
Money, with the existence of violence in society, offers the means for a new form of impersonal slavery, which replaces the personal one. A slave-owner claims a right to the work of Peter, , Sidor. But wherever money is required from everybody, the owner of money acquires a claim on the labor of all those unknown people who are in need of money. Money removes the painful side of slavery, by which the owner knows about his right on , at the same time it removes all those human relations between the owner and the slave, which softened down the burden of personal slavery.
I will not dwell on the theory that perhaps such a state is necessary for the development of mankind, for its progress and so forth—I will not dispute it. I only strive to make clear to myself the conception of money and to discover the general misconception I have made in accepting money, as a representative of labor. I became convinced by experience that money is not a representative of labor, but in the great majority of cases is a representative of violence, or of specially complex artifices founded on violence.
Money in our time has already altogether lost the desirable significance of being the representative of labor; such significance it may have in exceptional cases, but as a rule it has become the right or the possibility of using the labor of others.
This spreading of money, of credit and different conventional signs, more and more confirm this meaning of money. Money is the possibility or the right to use the labors of others.
Money is a new form of slavery differing from the old form of slavery only by its impersonality, by the freedom it gives from all human relations to the slave.
Money is money, a value always equal to itself, and which is always considered quite correct and lawful, and the use of which is not considered immoral, as slavery was.
In my young days a game of lotto was introduced in the clubs. All eagerly played the game and, as was said, many lost their fortunes, ruined their families, lost money entrusted to them, and government funds, and finally shot themselves, so that the game was forbidden and is still forbidden.
I remember I have met old, hardened card players who told me that this game was especially fascinating, because one did not know whom one was to beat, as is the case in other games; the attendant does not even serve one with money, but with counters, everybody loses a small stake and does not betray grief. It is the same in roulette, which is rightly forbidden everywhere.
So it is with money. I have a magical, everlasting ; I cut off coupons and live apart from all the affairs of the world. Whom do I harm? I am the most quiet and kindhearted man. But this is only a game of lotto or roulette where I do not see the man, who shoots himself after having lost, and who provides for me these small coupons, which I carefully cut off under the right angle from the tickets.
I have done nothing, I am doing nothing, and never will do anything, save cut off the coupons, and firmly believe that money represents labor. This is really astounding! And people talk of lunatics! But what mania could be more horrible than this? An intelligent, learned, and in all other respects sensible man lives madly, and soothes himself by not acknowledging that one thing which he should acknowledge to make his argument reasonable, and he considers himself in the right! The coupons are representatives of labor! Of labor! Yes, but of whose labor? Not of his, who owns them, evidently, but of the one who works.
Money is the same as slavery; its aim is the same and its consequences are the same. Its aim is the freeing of some men from the original law, truly called so by a thoughtful writer of the working-classes, from the natural law of life, as we call it, from the law of personal labor for the satisfaction of one's needs. The consequences of the slavery for the owner: the begetting, the invention of infinitely more and more needs never to be satisfied, of effeminate wretchedness and of depravity, and for the slaves,—oppression of the man, and his lowering to the level of a beast.
Money is a new and terrible form of slavery and, like the old form of personal slavery, it equally demoralizes the slave and the slave-owner, but it is so much worse, because it frees the slave and the slave-owner from personal human relations.
From : Gutenberg.org
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