What Shall We Do? : Chapter 23

Revolt Library >> Anarchism >> What Shall We Do? >> Chapter 00023



(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.)
• "...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....)
• "Only by recognizing the land as just such an article of common possession as the sun and air will you be able, without bias and justly, to establish the ownership of land among all men, according to any of the existing projects or according to some new project composed or chosen by you in common." (From : "To the Working People," by Leo Tolstoy, Yasnaya P....)
• "If, in former times, Governments were necessary to defend their people from other people's attacks, now, on the contrary, Governments artificially disturb the peace that exists between the nations, and provoke enmity among them." (From : "Patriotism and Government," by Leo Tolstoy, May 1....)


On : of 0 Words (Requires Chrome)

Chapter 23


I saw that the cause of the sufferings and depravity of men lies in the fact that some men are in bondage to others; and therefore I came to the obvious conclusion that if I want to help men I have first of all to leave off causing those very misfortunes which I want to remedy,—in other words, I must not share in the enslaving of men.

I was led to the enslaving of men by the circumstance that from my infancy I had been accustomed not to work, but to profit by the labor of others, and that I had been living in a society which is not only accustomed to this slavery but which justifies it by all kinds of sophistry, clever and foolish.

I came to the following simple conclusion, that, in order to avoid causing the sufferings and depravity of men, I ought to make other men work for me as little as possible and to work myself as much as possible.

It was by this roundabout way that I arrived at the inevitable conclusion to which the Chinese arrived some thousand years ago, and which they express thus: “If there is one idle man, there must be another who is starving.”

I came to this simple and natural conclusion, that if I pity the exhausted horse on whose back I ride the first thing for me to do if I really pity him is to get off his back and walk. This answer, which gives such complete satisfaction to the moral sense, had always been before my eyes, as it is before the eyes of every one, but we do not all see it, and look aside.

In seeking to heal our social diseases we look everywhere,—to the governmental, anti-governmental, scientific, and philanthropic superstitions,—and yet we do not see that which meets the eyes of every one. We fill our drains with filth and require other men to clean them, and pretend to be very sorry for them and want to ease their work; and we invent all sorts of devices except one, the simplest; namely, that we should ourselves remove our slops so long as we find it necessary to produce them in our rooms.

For him who really suffers from the sufferings of the other men surrounding him, there exists a most clear, simple, and easy means, the only one sufficient to heal this evil and to confer a sense of the lawfulness of one's life. This means is that which John the Baptist recommended when he answered the question, “What shall we do then?” and which was confirmed by Christ: not to have more than one coat, and not to possess money,—that is, not to profit by another man's labor. And in order not to profit by another's labor, we must do with our own hands all that we can do. This is so plain and simple! But it is plain and simple and clear only when our wants are also plain, and when we ourselves are still sound and not corrupted to the backbone by idleness and laziness.

I live in a village, lie by the stove, and tell my neighbor, who is my debtor, to chop wood and light the stove. It is obvious that I am lazy and take my neighbor away from his own work; and at last I feel ashamed of it; and besides, it grows dull for me to be always lying down when my muscles are strong and accustomed to work,—and I go to chop the wood myself.

But slavery of all kinds has been going on so long, so many artificial wants have grown about it, so many people with different degrees of familiarity with these wants are interwoven with one another, through so many generations men have been spoiled and made effeminate, such complicated temptations and justifications of luxury and idleness have been invented by men, that for one who stands on the top of the pyramid of idle men, it is not at all so easy to understand his sin as it is for the peasant who compels his neighbor to light his stove.

Men who stand at the top find it most difficult to understand what is required of them. From the height of the structure of lies on which they stand they become giddy when they look at that spot on the earth to which they must descend in order to begin to live, not righteously, but only not quite inhumanly; and that is why this plain and clear truth appears to these men so strange.

A man who employs ten servants in livery, coachmen and cooks, who has pictures and pianos, must certainly regard as strange and even ridiculous the simple preliminary duty of, I do not say a good man, but of every man who is not an animal, to hew that wood with which his food is cooked and by which he is warmed; to clean those boots in which he carelessly stepped into the mud; to bring that water with which he keeps himself clean; and to carry away those slops in which he has washed himself.

But besides the estrangement of men from the truth, there is another cause which hinders them from seeing the duty of doing the most simple and natural physical work; that is the complication and intermingling of the conditions in which a rich man lives.

This morning I entered the corridor in which the stoves are heated. A peasant was heating the stove which warmed my son's room. I entered his bedroom: he was asleep, and it was eleven o'clock in the morning. The excuse was, “To-day is a holiday; no lessons.” A stout lad of eighteen years of age, having over-eaten himself the previous night, is sleeping until eleven o'clock; and a peasant of his own age, who had already that morning done a quantity of work, was now lighting the tenth stove. “It would be better, perhaps, if the peasant did not light the stove to warm this stout, lazy fellow!” thought I; but I remembered at once that this stove also warmed the room of our housekeeper, a woman of forty years of age, who had been working the night before till three o'clock in the morning to prepare everything for the supper which my son ate; and then she put away the dishes, and, notwithstanding this, got up at seven. She cannot heat the stove herself: she has no time for that. The peasant is heating the stove for her, too. And under her name my lazy fellow was being warmed.

True, the advantages are all interwoven; but without much consideration the conscience of each will say, On whose side is the labor, and on whose the idleness? But not only does conscience tell this, the account-book also tells it: the more money one spends, the more people work for us. The less one spends, the more one works one's self. “My luxurious life gives means of living to others. Where should my old footman go, if I were to discharge him?” “What! every one must do everything for himself? Make his coat as well as hew his wood? And how about division of labor? And industry and social undertakings?” And, last of all, come the most horrible of words,—civilization, science, art!

From : Gutenberg.org


November 30, 1903 :
Chapter 23 -- Publication.

February 19, 2017 16:21:16 :
Chapter 23 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

May 28, 2017 15:35:52 :
Chapter 23 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.


Permalink for Sharing :
Share :


Login to Comment

0 Dislikes

No comments so far. You can be the first!


<< Last Work in What Shall We Do?
Current Work in What Shall We Do?
Chapter 23
Next Work in What Shall We Do? >>
All Nearby Works in What Shall We Do?
Home|About|Contact|Search|Privacy Policy