What Shall We Do? : Chapter 34
(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.)
• "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....)
• "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....)
• "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,....)
“But,” you say, “it is this very division of labor, the freeing men of science and of art from the necessity of earning their bread, that has rendered possible the extraordinary success in science which we see to-day.
“If everybody were to plow, these enormous results would not be attained; you would not have those astonishing successes which have so enlarged man's power over nature; you would not have those discoveries in astronomy which so strike the minds of men and promote navigation; there would be no steamers, railways, wonderful bridges, tunnels, steam-engines, telegraphs, photographs, telephones, sewing-machines, phonographs, electricity, telescopes, spectroscopes, microscopes, chloroform, Lister bandages, carbolic acid.”
I will not attempt to enumerate all the things of which our century is proud. This enumeration, and the ecstasy of the contemplation of ourselves and of our great deeds you can find in almost every newspaper and popular book. And these raptures are so often repeated, and we are so seldom tired of praising ourselves, that we really have come to believe, with Jules Verne, that science and art never made such progress as in our time. And as all this is rendered possible only by division of labor, how can we avoid countenancing it?
Let us suppose that the progress of our century is really striking, astonishing, extraordinary; let us suppose, too, that we are particularly lucky in living at such an extraordinary time: but let us try to ascertain the value of these successes, not by our own self-contentment, but by the very principle of the division of labor; that is, by the intellectual labor of scientists for the advantage of the people which has to compensate for the freedom of its servants from manual toil.
This progress is very striking indeed; but owing to some bad luck, recognized, too, by the men of science, this progress has not yet ameliorated, but has rather deteriorated, the condition of working men.
Though a working man, instead of walking, can use the railway, it is this very railway which has caused his forest to be burned and has carried away his bread from under his very nose, and put him into a condition which is next door to slavery to the railway proprietor.
If, thanks to steam-engines and machines, a workman can buy cheap and bad calico, it is these very engines and machines which have deprived him of his livelihood and brought him to a state of entire slavery to the manufacturer.
If there are telegraphs, which he is not forbidden to use but which he does not use because he cannot afford it, still each of his productions, the value of which rises, is bought up at low prices before his very eyes by capitalists, thanks to that telegraph, before he has even become aware that the article is in demand.
If there are telephones and telescopes, novels, operas, picture-galleries, and so on, the life of the workman is not at all improved by any of them, because all, owing to the same unlucky chance, are beyond his reach.
So that, after all, these wonderful discoveries and productions of art, if they have not made the life of working-people worse, have by no means improved it: and on this the men of science are agreed.
So that, if we apply, not our self-contemplating rapture, but the very standard on which the ground of the division of labor is defended,—utility to the working-world,—to the question as to the reality of the successes attained by the sciences and arts, we shall see that we have not yet any sound reason for the self-contentment to which we consign ourselves so willingly.
A peasant uses the railway; a peasant's wife buys calico; in the cottage a lamp, and not a pine-knot, burns; and the peasant lights his pipe with a match,—all this is comfortable; but what right have I from this to say that railways and factories have done good to the people?
If a peasant uses the railway, and buys a lamp, calico, and matches, he does it only because we cannot forbid his doing so: but we all know very well that railways and factories were not built for the use of the people; and why, then, should the casual comfort a workman obtains by chance be brought forward as a proof of the usefulness of these institutions to the people?
We all know very well that if the engineers and capitalists who build a railway or a factory thought about the working-people, they thought only how to make the most possible use of them. And we see they have fully succeeded in doing so in Europe and America, as well as in Russia.
In every hurtful thing there is something useful. After a house has been burned down we can sit and warm ourselves, and light our pipes from one of the fire-brands; but should we therefore say that a conflagration is beneficial?
Whatever we do, do not let us deceive ourselves. We all know very well the motives for building railways and factories, and for producing kerosene and matches. An engineer builds a railway for the government, to facilitate wars, or for the capitalists for their financial purposes. He makes machines for manufacturers for his own advantage and for the profit of capitalists. All that he makes or plans he does for the purpose of the government, the capitalists, and other rich people. His most skillful inventions are either directly harmful to the people, such as guns, torpedoes, solitary prisons, and so on; or they are not only useless but quite inaccessible to them, such as electric light, telephones, and the innumerable improvements of comfort; or lastly, they deprave the people and rob them of their last kopeck, that is, their last labor, for spirits, wine, beer, opium, tobacco, finery, and all sorts of trifles.
But if it happens sometimes that the inventions of men of science and the works of engineers, are of use to the people, as, for instance, railways, calicoes, steel, scythes, it only proves that in this world of ours everything is mutually connected, and that out of every hurtful activity there may arise an accidental good for those to whom the activity was hurtful.
Men of science and of art could say that their activity was useful for the people, only if in their activity they have aimed at serving the people, as they now aim to serve the government and capitalists.
We could have said that, only if the men of science and art made the wants of the people their object; but such is not the case.
All learned men are occupied with their sacred businesses, which lead to the investigation of protoplasms, the spectrum analysis of stars, and so on: but concerning investigations as to how to set an ax, or with what kind it is more advantageous to hew; which saw is the most handy; with what flour bread shall be made, how it may best be kneaded, how to set it to rise; how to heat and to build stoves; what food, drink or crockery-ware it is best to use; what mushrooms may be eaten, and how they may be prepared more conveniently,—science never troubles itself, or does so very slightly.
Yet all this is the business of science.
I know that, according to its own definition, science must be useless; but this is only an excuse, and a very impudent one.
The business of science is to serve people. We have invented telegraphs, telephones, phonographs, but what improvements have we made in the life of the people? We have cataloged two millions of insects! but have we domesticated a single animal since biblical times, when all our animals had long been domesticated, and still the elk and the deer, and the partridge and the grouse and the wood-hen, are wild?
Botanists have discovered the cells, and in the cells protoplasms and in protoplasms something else, and in this something else again.
These occupations will go on for a long time and evidently never end, and therefore learned men have no time to do anything useful. Hence from the times of the ancient Egyptians and Hebrews, when wheat and lentils were already cultivated, down to the present time, not a single plant has been added for the nourishment of the people except potatoes, and these were not discovered by science. We have invented torpedoes and house-drains; but the spinning-wheel, weaving-looms, plows and ax-handles, flails and rakes, buckets and well-sweeps, are still the same as in the time of Rurik. If some things have been improved, it is not the learned who have improved them, but the unlearned.
The same is the case with art. Many people are acclaimed as great writers. We have carefully analyzed their works, have written mountains of critiques and criticisms upon criticisms, and still more criticisms on criticisms; we have collected pictures in galleries, and thoroughly studied in detail different schools of art; and we possess symphonies and operas that it is with great difficulty we ourselves can listen to; but what have we added to the folk-lore, legends, tales, songs for the people? what pictures, what music, have we created for the people?
Books and pictures are published, and harmoniums are made for the people, but we did not participate in either.
What is most striking and obvious is the false tendency of our science and art, which manifests itself in those departments which, according to their own propositions, would seem to be useful to people, but which, owing to this tendency, appear rather pernicious than useful. An engineer, a surgeon, a teacher, an artist, an author, seem by their very professions to be obliged to serve the people, but what do we see? With the present tendency, they can bring to the people nothing but harm. An engineer and a mechanic must work with capital: without capital they are good for nothing.
All their training is of such a nature that, in order to make use of it, they need capital and the employment of work-people on a large scale, to say nothing of the fact that they themselves are accustomed to spend from fifteen hundred to a thousand rubles a year on themselves, and therefore cannot go to live in a village, since no one there can give them any such remuneration: from their very occupations they are not fit for the service of the people.
They understand how to calculate the arch of a bridge by means of the higher mathematics, how to calculate power and the transfer of power in an engine, and so on: but they are at a loss to meet the plain requirements of common labor; they do not know how to improve the plow or the cart; or how to make a brook passable, taking into consideration the conditions of a workman's life.
They know and understand nothing of all this, less even than the poorest peasant does. Give them workshops, and plenty of people, order engines from abroad, and then they will arrange these matters. But to find out how to ease the labor of the millions of the people in their present conditions, they do not know, and cannot do it; and therefore, by their knowledge and habits and wants, they are not at all fit for this business.
A surgeon is in a still worse condition. His imaginary science is of such a nature that he understands how to cure those only who have nothing to do and who can utilize other men's labor. He requires a countless number of expensive accessories, instruments, medicines, sanitary dwellings, food, and drains, in order that he may act scientifically: besides his fee he demands such expenses that, in order to cure one patient, he must kill with starvation hundreds of those who bear this expense.
He has studied under eminent persons in the capital cities, who attended only to those patients whom they may take into hospitals, or who can afford to buy all the necessary medicines and machines, and even go at once from north to south, to these or those mineral waters, as the case may be.
Their science is of such a kind that every country surgeon complains that there is no possibility of attending to the work-people who are so poor that they cannot afford sanitary accommodations, and that there are no hospitals, and that he cannot attend to the business alone, that he requires help and assistant-surgeons.
What does this really mean?
It means this,—that the want of the necessaries of life is the chief cause of people's misfortunes, and the source of diseases as well as of their spreading and incurability. Now science, under the banner of “the division of labor,” calls its champions to help the people. Science has settled satisfactorily about the rich classes, and seeks how to cure those who can get everything necessary for the purpose; and it sends persons to cure in the same way those who have nothing to spare. But there are no means; and therefore they must be raised from the people, who become ill and catch diseases, and cannot be cured for want of means.
The advocates of the healing art for the people say, that, up to the present time, this business has not been sufficiently developed.
Evidently it is not yet developed, because if (which God forbid!) it were developed among our people, and, instead of two doctors and mid-wives and two assistant-surgeons in the district, there should be twenty sent, as they want, then there would soon be no one left to attend to. The scientific co-operation for the benefit of the people must be of quite a different kind. And this, which ought to exist, has not yet begun.
It will begin when a man of science, an engineer, or a surgeon, ceases to consider lawful that division of labor, or rather that taking away other men's labor, which now exists, and when he no longer considers that he has the right to take,—I do not say hundreds of thousands,—but even a moderate sum of one thousand or five hundred rubles as compensation for his services; but when such a man comes to live among laboring-people in the same condition and in the same way as they, and applies his information in mechanics, technics or hygiene, to cure them.
But at present, scientific men, who are fed at the expense of the workman, have quite forgotten the conditions of the life of these men: they ignore (as they say) these conditions, and are quite seriously offended that their imaginary knowledge does not find application among the people.
The departments of the healing art as well as of the mechanical have not yet been touched: the questions how best to divide the period of labor, how and upon what it is best to feed, how best to dress, how to counteract dampness and cold, how best to wash, to suckle, and swaddle children, and so on, and all these applied to the conditions in which the workers now exist,—all these questions have not yet been faced.
The same applies to the activity of scientific teachers,—the pedagogues. Science has arranged this business, too, in such a way, that teaching according to science is possible only for those who are rich; and the teachers, like the engineers and surgeons, are involuntarily drawn towards money, and among us in Russia especially towards the government.
And this cannot be otherwise, because a school properly arranged (and the general rule is that the more scientifically a school is arranged the more expensive it is), with convertible benches, globes, maps, libraries, and manuals for teachers and pupils, is just such a school to maintain which it is necessary to double the taxes of the people. So science wants to have it. The children are necessary for work, and the more so with the poorer people. The advocates of science say, “Pedagogy is even now of use for the people; but let it develop, then it will be still better.” But if it will develop till instead of 20 schools in a district there will be 100—all of them scientific,—and the parents forced to keep up these schools? they will be still poorer, and will want the labor of their children still more urgently.
What is to be done then?
To this they will reply, “The government will establish schools, and will make education obligatory as it is in the rest of Europe.” But the money will still have to be raised from the people, and labor will be still harder for them, and they will have less time to spare from their labor, and there will then be no obligatory education at all.
There is, again, only one escape,—for a teacher to live in the conditions of a workman, and to teach for that compensation which will be freely offered him.
Such is the false tendency of science which deprives it of the possibility to fulfill its duty in serving the people. But this false tendency of our educated class is still more obvious in art-activity, which, for the sake of its very meaning ought to be accessible to the people.
Science may point to its stupid excuse that “science is acting for science,” and that, when fully developed it will become accessible to the people; but art, if it is art indeed, ought to be accessible to all, especially to those for whose sake it is created. But our art strikingly denounces its factors in that they do not wish, and do not understand, and are not able to be of use to the people. A painter, in order to produce his great works, must have a large studio, in which at least forty joiners or boot-makers might work, who are now freezing or suffocating in wretched lodgings. But this is not all: he requires models, costumes, journeys from place to place. The Academy of Art has spent millions of rubles, collected from the people, for the encouragement of art; and the productions of this art are hung in palaces, and are neither intelligible to the people nor wanted by them.
Musicians, in order to express their great ideas, must gather about two hundred men with white neckties or in special costumes, and spend hundreds of thousands of rubles arranging operas. But this art-production would never appear to the people (even if they could afford to use it) as anything but perplexing or dull.
The authors, writers, would seem not to need any particular accommodations, studios, models, orchestras, or actors; but here also it turns out that an author, a writer, in order to prepare his great works, wants traveling, palaces, cabinets, enjoyments of art, theaters, concerts, mineral waters, and so on; to say nothing of all the comforts of his dwelling and all the comforts of his life. If he himself has not saved up enough money for this purpose he is given a pension in order that he may compose better. And, again, these writings, which we value so highly, remain for the people, rubbish, and are not at all necessary to them.
What if, according to the wish of men of science and art, such producers of mental food should so multiply, that, in every village it would be necessary to build a studio, provide an orchestra, and keep an author in the conditions which men of art consider indispensable to them? I dare say working-people would make a vow never to look at a picture, or listen to a symphony, or read poetry and novels, in order only not to be compelled to feed all these good-for-nothing parasites.
And why should not men of art serve the people? In every cottage there are holy images and pictures; each peasant, each woman of the people, sings; many have instruments of music; and all can relate stories, repeat poetry; and many of them read. How came it to pass that these two things, which were as much made for one another as a key for a lock, were separated, and why are they so separated that we cannot imagine how to re-unite them?
Tell a painter to paint without a studio, models, costumes, and to draw penny pictures, and he will say that this would be a denial of art as he understands it. Tell a musician to play on a harmonium and to teach country-women to sing songs; tell a poet to throw aside writing poems and novels and satires, and to compose song-books for the people, and stories and tales which might be intelligible to illiterate persons,—they will say you are cracked.
But is it not being worse than cracked when the men who have freed themselves from labor they promised to provide mental food for those who have brought them up, and are feeding and clothing them, have afterwards so forgotten their promise that they have ceased to understand how to make food fit for the people? Yet this very forsaking of their promises they consider dignifies them.
Such is the case everywhere, they say. Then everywhere the case is very unreasonable. And it will be so while men, under the pretext of division of labor, promise to provide mental food for the people, but only swallow up the labor of the people. Men will serve the people with science and art only when living among them and in the same way as the people do, putting forth no claims whatever, they offer to the people their scientific and artistic services, leaving it to the free will of the people to accept or refuse them.
From : Gutenberg.org
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