What Shall We Do? : Chapter 25
(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 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....)
• "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....)
• "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....)
But what is to be done, then? We did not do it, did we? And if not we, who did?
We say, “It is not we who have done all this; it has been done of itself”; as children say when they break anything, that “it broke itself.” We say that, as towns are already in existence, we, who are living there, must feed men by buying their labor. But that is not true. It need only be observed how we live in the country, and how we feed people there.
Winter is over: Easter is coming. In the town the same orgies of the rich go on,—on the boulevards, in gardens, in the parks, on the river; music, theaters, riding, illuminations, fire-works. But in the country it is still better,—the air is purer; the trees, the meadows, the flowers, are fresher. We must go where all is budding and blooming. And now we, the majority of rich people, who live by other men's labor, go into the country to breathe the purer air, to look at the meadows and woods. Here in the country among humble villagers who feed on bread and onions, work eighteen hours every day, and have neither sufficient sleep nor clothes, rich people take up their abode. No one tempts these people: here are no factories, and no idle hands, of which there are so many in town, whom we may imagine we feed by giving them work to do. Here people never can do their own work in time during the summer; and not only are there no idle hands, but much property is lost for want of hands; and an immense number of men, children, and old people, and women with child, overwork themselves.
How, then, do rich people order their lives here in the country? Thus: if there happens to be an old mansion, built in the time of the serfs, then this house is renovated and re-decorated: if there is not, one is built of two or three stories. The rooms, which are from twelve to twenty and more in number, are all about sixteen feet high. The floors are inlaid; in the windows are put whole panes of glass, costly carpets on the floors; expensive furniture is procured,—a sideboard, for instance, costing from twenty to sixty pounds. Near the mansion, roads are made; flower-beds are laid out; there are croquet-lawns, giant-strides, reflecting globes, conservatories, and hot-houses, and always luxurious stables. All is painted in colors, prepared with the very oil which the old people and children lack for their porridge. If a rich man can afford it he buys such a house for himself; if he cannot he hires one: but however poor and however liberal a man of our circle may be, he always takes up his abode in the country in such a house, for building and keeping which it is necessary to take away dozens of working-people who have not enough time to do their own business in the field to earn their living.
Here we cannot say that factories are already in existence and will continue so whether we make use of their work or no; we cannot say that we are feeding idle hands; here we plainly establish the factories for making things necessary for us, and simply make use of the surrounding people; we divert the people from work necessary for them, as for us and for all, and by such system deprave some, and ruin the lives and the health of others.
There lives, let us say, in a village, an educated and respectable family of the upper class, or that of a government officer. All its members and the visitors assemble towards the middle of June, because up to June they had been studying and passing their examinations: they assemble when mowing begins, and they stay until September, until the harvest and sowing time. The members of the family (as almost all men of this class) remain in the country from the beginning of the urgent work,—hay-making,—not to the end of it, indeed, because in September the sowing goes on, and the digging up of potatoes, but till labor begins to slacken. During the whole time of the stay, around them and close by the peasants' summer work has been proceeding, the strain of which, however much we may have heard or read of it, however much we may have looked at it, we can form no adequate idea without having experienced it ourselves.
The members of the family, about ten persons have been living as they did in town, if possible still worse than in town, because here in the village they are supposed to be resting (after doing nothing), and offer no pretense in the way of work, and no excuse for their idleness.
In the midsummer-lent, when people are forced from want to feed on kvas and bread and onions, begins the mowing time. Gentlefolk who live in the country see this labor, partly order it, partly admire it; enjoy the smell of the drying hay, the sound of women's songs, the noise of the scythes, and the sight of the rows of mowers, and of the women raking. They see this near their house as well as when they, with young people and children who do nothing all the day long, drive well-fed horses a distance of a few hundred yards to the bathing-place.
The work of mowing is one of the most important in the world. Nearly every year, from want of hands and of time, the meadows remain half uncut and may remain so till the rains begin; so that the degree of intensity of the labor decides the question whether twenty or more per cent will be added to the stores of the world, or whether this hay will be left to rot or spoil while yet uncut.
And if there is more hay, there will be also more meat for old people and milk for children; thus matters stand in general; but in particular for each mower here is decided the question of bread and milk for himself, and for his children during the winter.
Each of the working-people, male and female, knows this: even the children know that this is an important business and that one ought to work with all one's strength, carry a jug with kvas for the father to the mowing-place, and, shifting it from one hand to another, run barefoot as quickly as possible, a distance of perhaps a mile and a half from the village, in order to be in time for dinner, that father may not grumble. Every one knows, that, from the mowing to the harvest, there will be no cessation of labor, and no time for rest. And besides mowing, each has some other business to do,—to plow up new land and harrow it; the women have the linen to make, bread to bake, and the washing to do; and the peasants must drive to the mill and to market; they have the official affairs of their community to attend to; they have also to provide the local government officials with means of locomotion, and to pass the night in the fields with the pastured horses.
All, old and young and sick, work with all their strength.
The peasants work in such a way, that, when cutting the last rows, the mowers, some of them weak people, growing youths, and old men, are so tired, that, having rested a little, it is with great pain they begin anew; the women, often with child, work hard too.
It is a strained, incessant labor. All work to the utmost of their strength, and use not only all their provisions but what they have in store. During harvest-time all the peasants grow thinner although they never were very stout.
There is a small company laboring in the hayfield; three peasants—one an old man, another his married nephew, and the third the village cobbler, a thin, wiry man. Their mowing this morning decides their fate for the coming winter, whether they will be able to keep a cow and pay their taxes. This is their second weeks' work. The rain hindered them for a while. After the rain had left off and the water had dried up they decided to make hayricks; and in order to do it quicker they decided that two women must rake to each scythe. With the old man came out his wife, fifty years of age, worn out with labor and the bearing of eleven children; deaf, but still strong enough for work; and his daughter, thirteen years of age, a short but brisk and strong little girl.
With the nephew came his wife,—a tall woman, as strong as a peasant, and his sister in law,—a soldier's wife, who was with child. With the cobbler came his wife,—a strong working-woman, and her mother,—an old woman about eighty, who for the rest of the year used to beg.
They all draw up in a line, and work from morning to evening in the burning sun of June. It is steaming hot and a thunder-shower is threatening. Every moment of work is precious. They have not wished to leave off working even to fetch water or kvas. A small boy, the grandson of the old woman, brings them water. The old woman is evidently anxious only on one point,—not to be sent away from work. She does not let the rake out of her hands, and moves about with great difficulty. The little boy, quite bent under the jug with water, heavier than himself, walks with short steps on his bare feet, and carries the jug with many shifts. The little girl takes on her shoulders a load of hay which is also heavier than herself; walks a few paces, and stops, then throws it down, having no strength to carry it farther. The old man's wife rakes together unceasingly, her kerchief loosened from her disordered hair; she carries the hay, breathing heavily and staggering under the burden: the cobbler's mother is only raking, but this is also beyond her strength; she slowly drags her feet, in baste shoes, and looks gloomily before her, like one very ill, or at the point of death. The old man purposely sends her far away from the others, to rake about the ricks, in order that she may not attempt to compete with them; but she does not leave off working, but continues with the same dead gloomy face as long as the others.
All feel that it is time to leave off working but no one says so; each waiting for the other to suggest it. At last, the cobbler, realizing that he has no more strength left, proposes to the old man to leave the ricks till to-morrow, and the old man agrees to it; and at once the women go to fetch their clothes, their jugs, their pitchforks; and the old woman sits down where she was standing, and then lays herself down with the same fixed stare on her face. But as the women go away she gets up groaning, and, crawling along, follows them.
Let us turn to the country-house. The same evening, when from the side of the village were heard the rattle of the scythes of the toil-worn mowers who were returning from work, the sounds of the hammer against the anvil, the cries of women and girls who had just had time to put away their rakes, and were already running to drive the cattle in,—with those blend other sounds from the country-house. Rattle, rattle, goes the piano; a Hungarian song is heard through the noise of the croquet-balls; before the stable an open carriage is standing harnessed with four fat horses, which has been hired for twenty shillings to bring some guests a distance of ten miles.
Horses standing by the carriage rattle their little bells. Before them hay has been thrown, which they are scattering with their hoofs, the same hay which the peasants have been gathering with such hard labor. In the yard of this mansion there is movement; a healthy, well-fed fellow in a pink shirt, presented to him for his service as a house-porter, is calling the coachmen and telling them to harness and saddle some horses. Two peasants who live here as coachmen come out of their room, and go in an easy manner, swinging their arms, to saddle horses for the ladies and gentlemen. Still nearer to the house the sounds of another piano are heard. It is the music-mistress,—who lives in the family to teach the children,—practicing her Schumann. The sounds of one piano jangle with those of another. Quite near the house walk two nurses; one is young, another old; they lead and carry children to bed; these children are of the same age as those who ran from the village with jugs. One nurse is English: she cannot speak Russian. She was engaged to come from England, not from being distinguished by some peculiar qualities but simply because she does not speak Russian. Farther on is another person, a French woman, who is also engaged because she does not know Russian. Farther on a peasant, with two women, is watering flowers near the house: another is cleaning a gun for one of the young gentlemen. Here two women are carrying a basket with clean linen,—they have been washing for all these gentlefolks. In the house two women have scarcely time to wash the plates and dishes after the company, who have just done eating; and two peasants in evening clothes are running up and down the stairs, serving coffee, tea, wine, seltzer-water, etc. Up-stairs a table is spread. One meal has just ended, and another will soon begin, to continue till cock-crow and often till morning dawns. Some are sitting smoking, playing cards; others are sitting and smoking, engaged in discussing liberal ideas of reform; and others, again, walk to and fro, eat, smoke, and, not knowing what to do, have made up their mind to take a drive.
The household consists of fifteen persons, healthy men and women; and thirty persons, healthy working-people, male and female, labor for them. And this takes place there, where every hour, and each little boy, are precious.
This will be so, also, in July, when the peasants, not having had their sleep out, will mow the oats at night in order that it may not be lost, and the women will get up before dawn in order to finish their threshing in time; when this old woman, who had been exhausted during the harvest, and the women with child, and the little children will again all overwork themselves, and when there is a great want of hands, horses, carts, in order to house this corn upon which all men feed, of which millions of bushels are necessary in Russia in order that men should not die: during even such a time, the idle lives of ladies and gentlemen will go on. There will be private theatricals, picnics, hunting, drinking, eating, piano-playing, singing, dancing,—in fact, incessant orgies.
Here, at least, it is impossible to find any excuse from the fact that all this had been going on before: nothing of the kind had been in existence. We ourselves carefully create such a life, taking bread and labor away from the work-worn people. We live sumptuously, as if there were no connection whatever between the dying washerwoman, child-prostitute, women worn out by making cigarettes and all the intense labor around us to which their unnourished strength is inadequate. We do not want to see the fact that if there were not our idle, luxurious, depraved lives, there would not be this labor, disproportioned to the strength of people, and that if there were not this labor we could not go on living in the same way.
It appears to us that their sufferings are one thing and our lives another, and that we, living as we do, are innocent and pure as doves. We read the description of the lives of the Romans, and wonder at the inhumanity of a heartless Lucullus, who gorged himself with fine dishes and delicious wines while people were starving: we shake our heads and wonder at the barbarism of our grandfathers,—the serf-owners,—who provided themselves with orchestras and theaters, and employed whole villages to keep up their gardens. From the height of our greatness we wonder at their inhumanity. We read the words of Isaiah v., 8:
“Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no room, and ye be made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.
Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that tarry late into the night, till wine inflame them!
The harp, and the lute, the tabret, the pipe, and wine are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither have they considered the operation of his hands.
Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope.
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:
Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him.”
We read these words, and it seems to us that they have nothing to do with us.
We read in the Gospel, Matthew iii., 10: “And even now is the ax laid unto the root of the tree: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire,” and we are quite sure that the good tree bearing good fruit is we ourselves, and that those words are said, not to us, but to some other bad men.
We read the words of Isaiah vi., 10:
“Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until cities be waste without inhabitant, and houses without man, and the land become utterly waste.”
We read, and are quite assured that this wonderful thing has not happened to us, but to some other people. For this very reason we do not see that this has happened to us, and is taking place with us. We do not hear, we do not see, and do not understand with our heart.
But why has it so happened?
From : Gutenberg.org
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