What Shall We Do? : Chapter 22
(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 is necessary that men should understand things as they are, should call them by their right names, and should know that an army is an instrument for killing, and that the enrollment and management of an army -- the very things which Kings, Emperors, and Presidents occupy themselves with so self-confidently -- is a preparation for murder." (From : "'Thou Shalt Not Kill'," by Leo Tolstoy, August 8,....)
• "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....)
I always wonder at the often repeated words, “Yes, it is all true in theory, but how is it in practice?” As though the theory were only a collection of words useful for conversation, and not as though all practice,—that is, all activity of life—were inevitably based upon it.
There must have been an immense number of foolish theories in the world for men to employ such wonderful reasoning. We know that theory is what a man thinks about a thing, and practice is what he does. How can a man think that he ought to act in one way, and then do quite the reverse? If the theory of baking bread consists in this, that first of all one must knead the dough, then put it by to rise, anyone knowing it would be a fool to do the reverse. But with us it has come into fashion to say, “It is all very well in theory, but how would it be in practice?”
In all that has occupied me practice has unavoidably followed theory, not mainly in order to justify it, but because it could not help doing so: if I have understood the affair upon which I have meditated I cannot help doing it in the way in which I have understood it.
I wished to help the needy only because I had money to spare: and I shared the general superstition that money represents labor, and, generally speaking, is something lawful and good in itself. But, having begun to give this money away, I saw that I was only drawing bills of exchange collected from poor people; that I was doing the very thing the old landlords used to do in compelling some of their serfs to work for other serfs.
I saw that every use of money, whether buying anything with it, or giving it away gratis, is a drawing of bills of exchange on poor people, or passing them to others to be drawn by them. And therefore I clearly understood the foolishness of what I was doing in helping the poor by exacting money from them.
I saw that money in itself was not only not a good thing, but obviously an evil one, depriving men of their chief good, labor, and that this very good I cannot give to anyone because I am myself deprived of it: I have neither labor nor the happiness of utilizing my labor.
It might be asked by some, “What is there so peculiarly important in abstractly discussing the meaning of money?” But this argument which I have opened is not merely for the sake of discussion, but in order to find an answer to the vital question which had caused me so much suffering, and on which my life depended, in order to discover what I was to do.
As soon as I understood what wealth means, what money means, then it became clear and certain what I have to do, it became clear and certain what all others have to do,—and that they will inevitably do it, what all men must do. In reality I merely came to realize what I have long known,—that truth which has been transmitted to men from the oldest times, by Buddha, by Isaiah, by Laotse, by Socrates, and most clearly and definitely by Jesus and his predecessor John the Baptist.
John the Baptist, in answer to men's question “What shall we do then?” answered plainly and briefly, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise” (Luke iii., 10, 11).
The same thing, and with still greater clearness, said Jesus,—blessing the poor, and uttering woes on the rich. He said that no man can serve God and mammon. He forbade his disciples not only to take money, but also to have two coats. He said to the rich young man that he could not enter into the kingdom of God because he was rich, and that it is easier for a camel to go through the needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
He said that he who would not leave every thing—his houses and children and his fields—in order to follow him, was not his disciple. He spoke a parable about a rich man who had done nothing wrong (like our own rich people), but merely dressed well and ate and drank well, yet by this lost his own soul; and about a beggar named Lazarus, who had done nothing good, but who had saved his soul by his beggar's life.
This truth had long been known to me; but the false teaching of the world had so cunningly hidden it that it became a theory in the sense which men like to attach to this word,—that is, a pure abstraction. But as soon as I succeeded in pulling down in my consciousness the sophistry of the world's teaching, then theory became one with practice and the reality of my life and the life of all men became its unavoidable result.
I came to understand that man, besides living for his own good, must work for the good of others; and that if we were to draw our comparison from the world of animals, as some men are so fond of doing in justifying violence and contest by the law of the struggle for existence, we must take this comparison from the lives of social animals like bees; and therefore man, to say nothing of that love to his neighbors which is incumbent on him, is called upon to serve his fellows and their common object, as much by reason as by his very nature.
I understood that this is the natural law of man, by fulfilling which he can alone fulfill his calling and therefore be happy. I understood that this law has been and is being violated by the fact that men (as robber-bees do) free themselves from labor by violence, and utilize the labor of others, using this labor not for the common purpose but for the personal satisfaction of their constantly increasing lusts, and also, like robber-bees, they perish thereby. I understood that the misfortune of men comes from the slavery in which some men are kept by others; and I understood that this slavery is brought about in our days by military force, violence, by the appropriation of land, and by the exaction of money.
And, having understood the meaning of all these three instruments of modern slavery, I could not help desiring to free myself from any share in it.
When I was a landlord, possessing serfs, and came to understand the immorality of such a position, I, along with other men who had understood the same thing, tried to free myself from it. And I freed myself from this state thus. Finding it immoral, but not being able as yet to free myself wholly from it, I tried meanwhile to assert my rights as a serf-owner as little as possible.
I cannot help doing the same now with reference to the present slavery—that is, I try as little as possible to assert my claims while I am unable to free myself from the power which gives me land-ownership, and from money raised by the violence of military force—and at the same time by all means in my power to suggest to other men the unlawfulness and inhumanity of these imaginary rights.
The share in enslaving men consists, on the standpoint of a slave-owner, in utilizing the labor of others. (It is all the same whether the enslaving is based on a claim to the person of the slave or on the possession of land or money.) And, therefore, if a man really does not like slavery and does not desire to be a partaker in it, the first thing which he must do is this: neither take men's labor by serving the government, nor possess land or money.
The refusal of all the means in use for taking another's labor will unavoidably bring such a man to the necessity of lessening his wants on the one hand, and, on the other, of doing himself what formerly was done for him by other men. This simple and unavoidable conclusion enters into every detail of my life, changes it entirely, and at once sets me free from the moral sufferings I had endured at the sight of the misery and wickedness of men.
The first cause was the accumulation of people in towns, and the absorption there of the products of the country.
All that a man needs is not to desire to take another's labor by serving the government and possessing land and money, and then, according to his strength and ability, to satisfy unaided his own wants. The idea of leaving his village would never enter the mind of such a man, because in the country it is easier for him to satisfy his wants personally, while in a town everything is the product of the labor of others, all must be bought; in the country a man will always be able to help the needy, and will not experience that feeling of being useless, which I felt in the town when I wanted to help men, not with my own, but with other men's labors.
The second cause was the estrangement between the poor and the rich. A man need only not desire to profit by other men's labor by serving the government and possessing land and money, and he would be compelled to satisfy his wants himself, and at once involuntarily that barrier would be pushed down which separates him from the working-people, and he would be one with the people, standing shoulder to shoulder with them, and seeing the possibility of helping them.
The third cause was shame, based on the consciousness of the immorality of possessing money with which I wanted to help others. A man need only not desire to profit by another man's labor by serving the government and possessing land and money, and he will never have that superfluous “fool's money,” the fact of possessing which made those who wanted money ask me for pecuniary assistance which I was not able to satisfy, and called forth in me the consciousness of my unrighteousness.
From : Gutenberg.org
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