What Shall We Do? : Chapter 26

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(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....)
• "...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....)
• "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....)


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Chapter 26


How can a man who considers himself to be,—we will not say a Christian or an educated and humane man,—but simply a man not entirely devoid of reason and of conscience,—how can he, I say, live in such a way, taking no part in the struggle of all mankind for life, only swallowing up the labor of others struggling for existence, and by his own claims increasing the labor of those who struggle and the number of those who perish in the struggle?

Such men abound in our so-called Christian and cultured world; and not only do they abound in our world but the very ideal of the men of our Christian, cultured world, is to get the largest amount of property,—that is, wealth,—which secures all comforts and idleness of life by freeing its possessors from the struggle for existence, and enabling them, as much as possible, to profit by the labor of those brothers of theirs who perish in that struggle.

How could men have fallen into such astounding error?

How could they have come to such a state that they can neither see nor hear nor understand with their heart what is so clear, obvious, and certain?

One need only think for a moment in order to be terrified at the way our lives contradict what we profess to believe, whether we be Christian or only humane educated people. Whether it be God or a law of nature that governs the world and men, good or bad, the position of men in this world, so long as we know it has always been such that naked men,—without wool on their bodies, without holes in which to take refuge, without food which they might find in the field like Robinson Crusoe on his island,—are put into a position of continual and incessant struggle with nature in order to cover their bodies by making clothes for themselves, to protect themselves by a roof over their heads, and to earn food in order twice or thrice a day to satisfy their hunger and that of their children and their parents.

Wherever and whenever and to whatever extent we observe the lives of men, whether in Europe, America, China, or Russia; whether we take into consideration all mankind or a small portion, whether in olden times in a nomad state, or in modern times with steam-engines, steam-plows, sewing-machines, and electric light,—we shall see one and the same thing going on,—that men, working constantly and incessantly, are not able to get clothes, shelter, and food for themselves, their little ones, and the old, and that the greatest number of men in olden times as well as now, perish slowly from want of the necessaries of life and from overwork.

Wherever we may live, if we draw a circle around us of a hundred thousand, or a thousand or ten, or even one mile's circumference, and look at the lives of those men who are inside our circle, we shall find half-starved children, old people male and female, pregnant women, sick and weak persons, working beyond their strength, who have neither food nor rest enough to support them, and who, for this reason, die before their time: we shall see others full-grown who are even being killed by dangerous and hurtful tasks.

Since the world has existed we find that with great efforts, sufferings, and privations men have been struggling for their common wants, and have not been able to overcome the difficulty.

Besides, we also know that every one of us, wherever and however he may live, nolens volens, is every day, and every hour of the day, absorbing for himself a part of the labor performed by mankind.

Wherever and however a man lives, the roof over his head did not grow of itself; the firewood in his stove did not get there of itself; the water did not come of itself either; and the baked bread does not fall down from the sky; his dinner, his clothes, and the covering for his feet, all this has been made for him, not only by men of past generations, long dead, but it is being done for him now by those men of whom hundreds and thousands are fainting away and dying in vain efforts to get for themselves and for their children sufficient shelter, food, and clothes,—means to save themselves and their children from suffering and a premature death.

All men are struggling with want. They are struggling so intensely that around them always their brethren, fathers, mothers, children, are perishing. Men in this world are like those on a dismantled or water-logged ship with a short allowance of food; all are put by God, or by nature, in such a position that they must husband their food and unceasingly war with want.

Each interruption in this work of every one of us, each absorption of the labor of others which is useless for the common welfare, is ruinous, alike for us and them.

How is it that the majority of educated people, without laboring, are quietly absorbing the labors of others which are necessary for their own lives, and are considering such an existence quite natural and reasonable?

If we are to free ourselves from the labor proper and natural to all and lay it on others, and yet not at the same time consider ourselves traitors and thieves, we can do so only by two suppositions,—first, that we (the men who take no part in common labor) are different beings from working-men and have a peculiar destiny to fulfill in society (like drone-bees, or queen-bees, which have a different function from the working-bees); or secondly, that the business which we (the men freed from the struggle for existence) are doing for other men is so useful for all that it undoubtedly compensates for that harm which we do to others in overburdening them.

In olden times men who lived by the labor of others asserted, first, that they belonged to a different race; and secondly, that they had from God a peculiar mission,—caring for the welfare of others; in other words, to govern and teach them: and therefore, they assured others, and partly believed themselves, that the business they did was more useful and more important for the people than those labors by which they profit. This justification was sufficient so long as the direct interference of God in human affairs, and the inequality of human races, was not doubted.

But with Christianity and that consciousness of the equality and unity of all men which proceeds from it, this justification could no longer be expressed in its previous form.

It was no longer possible to assert that men are born of different kind and quality and have a different destiny; and the old justification, though still held by some, has been little by little destroyed and has now almost entirely disappeared.

But though the justification disappeared, the fact itself,—of the freeing of some men from labor, and the appropriation by them of other men's labor, remained the same for those who had the power to enforce it. For this existing fact new excuses have constantly been invented, in order that without asserting the difference of human beings, men might be able with apparent justice to free themselves from personal labor.

A great many justifications have been invented. However strange it may seem, the main object of all that has been called science, and the ruling tendency of science, has been to seek out such excuses.

This has been the object of the theological sciences and of the science of law: this was the object of so-called philosophy, and this became lately the object of modern rationalistic science, however strange it appears to us, the contemporaries, who use this justification.

All the theological subtleties which aimed at proving that a certain church is the only true successor of Christ, and that, therefore, she alone has full and uncontrolled power over the souls and bodies of men, had in view this very object.

All the legal sciences,—those of state law, penal law, civil law, and international law,—have this sole aim.

The majority of philosophical theories, especially that of Hegel, which reigned over the minds of men for such a long time, and maintained the assertion that everything which exists is reasonable, and that the state is a necessary form of the development of human personality, had only this one object in view.

Comte's positive philosophy and its outcome, the doctrine that mankind is an organism; Darwin's doctrine of the struggle for existence, directing life and its conclusion, the theory of the diversity of human races, the anthropology now so popular, biology, and sociology,—all have the same aim. These sciences have become favorites, because they all serve for the justification of the existing fact of some men being able to free themselves from the human duty of labor, and to consume other men's labor.

All these theories, as is always the case, are worked out in the mysterious sanctums of augurs, and in vague, unintelligible expressions are spread abroad among the masses and adopted by them.

As in olden times the subtleties of theology, which justified violence in church and state, were the special property of priests; and among the masses of the people, the conclusions, taken by faith, and ready made for them, were circulated, that the power of kings, clergy and nobility was sacred: so afterwards, the philosophical and legal subtleties of so-called science became the property of the priests of science; and through the masses only the ready-made conclusion, accepted by faith,—that social order (the organization of society) must be such as it is, and cannot be otherwise,—was diffused.

So it is now. It is only in the sanctuaries of the modern sages that the laws of life and the development of organisms are analyzed. Whereas in the crowd, the ready-made conclusion, accepted on trust,—that division of labor is a law confirmed by science, and therefore it must be that some starve and toil and others eternally feast, and that this very ruin of some and feasting of others is the undoubted law of man's life, to which we must submit,—is circulated.

The current justification of their idleness by all so-called educated people, with their various activities, from the railway proprietor down to the author or artist, is this: We men who have freed ourselves from the common human duty of taking part in the struggle for existence, are furthering progress, and so we are of great use to all human society, of such use that we counterbalance all the harm we do the people by consuming their labor.

This reasoning seems to the men of our day to be not at all like the reasoning by which the former non-workers justified themselves; just as the reasoning of the Roman emperors and citizens, that but for them the civilized world would go to ruin, seemed to them to be of quite another order from that of the Egyptians and Persians; and so also an exactly similar kind of reasoning seemed in turn to the knights and clergy of the Middle Ages totally different from that of the Romans.

But it only seems. One need only reflect on the justification of our time in order to ascertain that there is nothing new in it. It is only a little differently dressed up, but it is the same because it is based on the same principle. Every justification of one man's consumption of the labor of others, while producing none himself, as with Pharaoh and his soothsayers, the emperors of Rome and those of the Middle Ages and their citizens, knights, priests, and clergy, always consists in these two assertions: First, we take the labor of the masses because we are different from others, people called by God to govern them and to teach them divine truths: Secondly, those who compose the masses cannot be judges of the measure of labor which we take from them for the good we do for them, because, as it has been said by the Pharisees, “This multitude which knoweth not the law are accursed” (John vii. 49).

The people do not understand what is for their good, and therefore they cannot be judges of the benefits done to them. The justification of our time, notwithstanding all apparent originality, consists in facts of the same fundamental assertions: First, we are a different people,—we are an educated people,—we further progress and civilization, and by this fact we procure for the masses a great advantage. Secondly, the uneducated crowd does not understand the advantages we procure for them, and therefore cannot be judges of them.

The fundamental assertions are the same. We free ourselves from labor, appropriate the labor of others, and by this increase the burden of our fellows; and then assert that in compensation for this we bring them a great advantage, of which they, owing to ignorance, cannot be judges.

Is it not, then, the same thing? The only difference lies in this: that formerly the claims on other men's labor were made by citizens, Roman priests, knights, and nobility, and now these claims are put forward by a caste who term themselves educated.

The lie is the same, because the men who justify themselves are in the same false position. The lie consists in the fact, that, before beginning to reason about the advantages conferred on the workers by people who have freed themselves from labor,—certain men, Pharaohs, priests, or we ourselves, educated people, assume this position first, and only afterwards manufacture a justification for it.

The very position universally serves as a basis for the justification. The difference of our justification from the ancient ones consists merely in the fact that it is more false and less well grounded. The old emperors and popes, if they themselves, and the people, believed in their divine calling, could easily explain why they were to control the labor of others: they asserted that they were appointed by God himself for this very thing, and from God they had a commandment to teach the people divine truths revealed to them, and to govern them.

But modern, educated men, who do not labor with their hands, and who acknowledge the equality of all men, cannot explain why they and their children (for education is only by money; that is, by power) should be those lucky persons called to an easy, idle life, out of those millions who by hundreds and thousands are perishing to make it possible for them to be educated. Their only justification consists in this, that, just as they are, instead of doing harm to the workers by freeing themselves from labor, and by swallowing up labor, they bring to the people some advantages, unintelligible to them, which compensate for all the evil they perpetrate.

From : Gutenberg.org


November 30, 1903 :
Chapter 26 -- Publication.

February 19, 2017 16:22:14 :
Chapter 26 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

May 28, 2017 15:35:52 :
Chapter 26 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.


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