What Shall We Do? : Chapter 27
(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.)
• "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....)
• "...for no social system can be durable or stable, under which the majority does not enjoy equal rights but is kept in a servile position, and is bound by exceptional laws. Only when the laboring majority have the same rights as other citizens, and are freed from shameful disabilities, is a firm order of society possible." (From : "To the Czar and His Assistants," by Leo Tolstoy, ....)
• "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....)
The theory by which men who have freed themselves from personal labor justify themselves, is, in its simplest and most exact form, this: “We men, having freed ourselves from work, and having by violence appropriated labor of others, we find ourselves better able to benefit them.” In other words, certain men, for doing the people a palpable and comprehensible harm,—utilizing their labor by violence, and thereby increasing the difficulty of their struggles with nature,—do to them an impalpable and incomprehensible good. This is a very strange proposition; but the men, both of former as well of modern times, who have lived on the labor of workmen, believe it, and calm their conscience by it.
Let us see in what way it is justified, in different classes of men who have freed themselves from labor in our own days.
“I serve men by my activity in church or state,—as king, minister, archbishop; I serve men by my trading or by industry; I serve men by my activity in the departments of science or art. By our activities we are all as necessary to the people as they are to us.”
So say various men of to-day who have freed themselves from labor.
Let us consider seriatim the principles upon which they base the usefulness of their activity.
There are only two indications of the usefulness of any activity of one man for another: (1) an exterior indication,—the acknowledgment of the utility of the activity by those to whom it is applied; and (2) an interior indication,—the desire to be of use to others lying at the root of the activity of the one who is trying to be of use.
Statesmen (I include the Church dignitaries appointed by the government in the category of statesmen) are, it is said, of use to those whom they govern. The emperor, the king, the president of a republic, the prime minister, the minister of justice, the minister of war, the minister of public instruction, the bishop, and all under them who serve the state, all live free from the struggle of mankind for existence, having laid all the burden of this struggle on someone else, on the ground that their non-activity compensates for this.
Let us apply the first indication to those for whose welfare the activity of statesmen is bestowed. Do they, I ask, recognize the usefulness of this activity?
Yes, it is recognized. Most men consider statesmanship necessary to them. The majority recognize the usefulness of this activity in principle; but in all its manifestations known to us, in all particular cases known to us, the usefulness of each of the institutions and of each of the manifestations of this activity is not only denied by those for whose advantage it is performed, but they assert that it is even pernicious and hurtful. There is no state function or social activity which is not considered by many men to be hurtful: there is no institution which is not considered pernicious,—courts of justice, banks, local self-government, police, clergy. Every state activity, from the minister down to the policeman, from the bishop to the sexton, is considered by some men to be useful and by others to be pernicious. And this is the case not only in Russia but throughout the world; in France as well as in America.
The activity of the republican party is considered pernicious by the radical party, and vise versa: the activity of the radical party, if the power is in their hands, is considered bad by the republican and other parties. But not only is it a fact that the activity of statesmen is never considered by all men to be useful, this activity has, besides, this peculiarity, that it must always be carried out by violence, and that, to attain its end, murders, executions, prisons, taxes raised by force, and so on, became necessary.
It appears therefore that besides the fact that the usefulness of state activity is not recognized by all men, and is always denied by one portion of men, this usefulness has the peculiarity of vindicating itself always by violence.
Therefore the usefulness of state activity cannot be confirmed by the first indication,—i.e., the fact that it is recognized by those men for whom it is said to be performed.
Let us apply the second test. Let us ask statesmen themselves, from the Czar down to the policeman, from the president to the secretary, from the patriarch to the sexton, begging for a sincere answer, whether, in occupying their respective positions they have in view the good which they wish to do for men or something else. In their desire to fill the situation of a Czar, a president, a minister, a police-sergeant, a sexton, a teacher, are they moved by the desire of being useful to men or for their own personal advantage? And the answer of sincere men would be that their chief motive is their own personal advantage.
So it appears that one class of men, who live by the labor of some others who are perishing by these labors, compensate for this indubitable evil by an activity which is always considered by a great many men to be not only useless, but pernicious; which cannot be accepted voluntarily, but to which men must always be compelled, and the aim of which is not the benefit of others but the personal advantage of the men who perform it.
What is it, then, that confirms the theory that state activity is useful for humanity? Only the fact that the men who perform it firmly profess to believe it to be useful, and that it has been always in existence. But so some not only useless, but very pernicious institutions, like slavery, prostitution, and wars, have always been in existence.
Business people (merchants, manufacturers, railway proprietors, bankers, land-owners) believe that they do a good which compensates for the harm undoubtedly done by them. On what grounds do they believe To the question, By whom is the usefulness of their activity recognized? men in church and in state are able to point to the thousands and millions of working-people who in principle recognize the usefulness of state and church activity. But to whom will bankers, distillers, manufacturers of velvet, of bronzes, of looking-glasses, to say nothing of guns,—to whom will they point when we ask them, Is their usefulness recognized by public opinion?
If men can be found who recognize the usefulness of manufacturing chintzes, rails, beer, and such like things, there will be found also a still greater number of men who consider the manufacture of these articles pernicious.
As for the merchants whose activity is confined to prices, and land-owners, nobody would even attempt to justify them.
Besides, this activity is always associated with harm to working-people, and with violence, which, if less direct than that of the state, is yet just as cruel in its consequences. For the activities displayed in industry and in trade are entirely based on taking advantage of the wants of working-people in every form in order to compel them to hard and hated labor; to buying cheap, and to selling necessaries at the highest possible price and to raising the interest on money. From whatever point we consider this activity we can see that the usefulness of business-men is not recognized by those for whom it is expended, neither generally nor in particular cases; and by the majority their activity is considered to be directly pernicious.
If we were to apply the second test and to ask, What is the chief motive of the activity of business-men? we should receive a still more determinate answer than that on the activity of statesmen. If a statesman says that besides a personal advantage he has in view the common benefit, we cannot help believing him, and each of us knows such men. But a business-man, from the very nature of his occupations cannot have in view a common advantage, and would be ridiculous in the sight of his fellows if he were in his business aiming at something besides increasing his wealth and keeping it.
And, therefore, working-people do not consider the activity of business-men of any advantage to them. Their activity is associated with violence; and its object is not their good but always and only personal advantage; and yet, strange to say, these business-men are so assured of their own usefulness that they boldly, for the sake of their imaginary good, do an undoubted, obvious harm to workmen by extricating themselves from labor, and consuming the produce of the working-classes.
Scientists and artists have also freed themselves from labor by putting it on others, and live with a quiet conscience believing that they bring sufficient advantages to other men to compensate for it. On what is this assurance based? Let us ask them as we have done statesmen and business-men. Is the utility of the arts and sciences recognized by all, or even by the majority, of working-people?
We shall receive a very sad answer. The activity of men in the State Church and government offices is recognized to be useful in theory by almost all, and in application by the majority of those for whom it is performed. The activity of business-men is recognized only by those who are engaged in it or who desire to practice it. Those who bear on their shoulders all the labor of life and who feed and clothe the scientists and artists cannot recognize the usefulness of the activity of these men because they cannot even form an idea about an activity which always appears to workmen useless and even depraving.
Thus, without any exception, working-people think the same about universities, libraries, conservatories, picture and statue galleries, and theaters, which are built at their expense.
A workman considers this activity so decidedly pernicious that he does not send his children to be taught; and in order to compel people to accept this activity it has everywhere been found necessary to introduce a law compelling parents to send the children to school.
A workman always looks at this activity with ill-will, and only ceases to look at it so when he ceases to be a workman, and through gain and so-called education passes out of the class of working-people into the class of men who live on the neck of others.
Notwithstanding the fact that the usefulness of the activity of scientists and artists is not recognized and even cannot be recognized by any workman, these men are, all the same, compelled to make sacrifices for such an activity.
A statesman simply sends another to the guillotine or to prison; a business-man, utilizing the labor of someone else, takes from him his last resource, leaving him the alternative of starvation or labor destructive to his health and life: but a man of science or of art seemingly compels nobody to do anything; he merely offers the good he has done to those who are willing to take it; but, to be able to make his productions undesirable to the working-people, he takes away from them by violence, through the statesmen, a great part of their labor for the building and keeping open of academies, universities, colleges, schools, museums, libraries, conservatories, and for the wages for himself and his fellows.
But if we were to ask the scientists and artists the object which they are pursuing in their activity, we should receive the most astonishing replies.
A statesman would answer that his aim was the common welfare; and in his answer, there would be an admixture of truth confirmed by public opinion.
In the answer of the business-man, there would be less probability; but we could admit even this also.
But the answer of the scientists and artists strikes one at once by its want of proof and by its effrontery. Such men say, without bringing any proofs (just as priests used to do in olden times) that their activity is the most important of all, and that without it mankind would go to ruin. They assert that it is so, notwithstanding the fact that nobody except themselves either understands or acknowledges their activity, and notwithstanding the fact that, according to their own definition, true science and true art should not have a utilitarian aim.
These men are occupied with the matter they like, without troubling themselves what advantage will come out of it to men; and they are always assured that they are doing the most important and the most necessary thing for all mankind.
So that while a sincere statesman, acknowledging that the chief motive of his activity is a personal one, tries to be as useful as possible to the working-people; while a business-man, acknowledging the egotism of his activity, tries to give it an appearance of being one of universal utility,—men of science and art do not consider it necessary even to seem to shelter themselves under a pretense of usefulness, they deny even the object of usefulness, so sure are they, not only of the usefulness but even of the sacredness of their own business.
So it turns out that the third class of men who have freed themselves from labor and laid it on others, are occupied with things which are totally incomprehensible to the working-people, and which these people consider trifles and often very pernicious trifles; and are occupied with these things without any consideration of their usefulness but merely for the gratification of their own pleasure: it turns out that these men are, from some reason or other, quite assured that their activity will always produce that without which the work-people would never be able to exist.
Men have freed themselves from laboring for their living and have thrown the work upon others who perish under it: they utilize this labor and assert that their occupations, which are incomprehensible to all other men, and which are not directed to useful aims, compensate for all the evil they are doing to men by freeing themselves from the trouble of earning their livelihood and by swallowing up the labor of others.
The statesman, to compensate for the undoubted and obvious evil which he does to man by freeing himself from the struggle with nature and by appropriating the labor of others, does men another obvious and undoubted harm by countenancing all sorts of violence.
The business-man, to compensate for the undoubted and obvious harm which he does to men by using up their labor, tries to earn for himself as much wealth as possible; that is, as much of other men's labor as possible.
The man of science and art, in compensating for the same undoubted and obvious harm which he does to working-people, is occupied with matters to which he feels attracted and which are quite incomprehensible to work-people, and which, according to his own assertion, in order to be true, ought not to aim at usefulness.
Therefore, all these men are quite sure that their right of utilizing other men's labor is secure. Yet it seems obvious that all those men who have freed themselves from the labor of earning their livelihood have no justification for doing so.
But, strange to say, these men firmly believe in their own righteousness, and live as they do with an easy conscience.
There must be some plausible ground, some false belief, at the bottom of such a profound error.
From : Gutenberg.org
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