What Shall We Do? : Chapter 38
(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....)
• "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....)
• "...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....)
What is to be done? What must we do?
This question, which includes acknowledgment of the fact that our life is bad and unrighteous, and at the same time hints that there is no possibility of changing it,—this question I hear everywhere, and therefore I chose it for the title of my work.
I have described my own sufferings, my search, and the answer which I have found to this question.
I am a man like others; and if I distinguish myself from an average man of my own circle in any thing, it is chiefly in the fact that I, more than this average man, have served and indulged the false teaching of our world, that I have been more praised by the men of the prevalent school of teaching, and that therefore I am more depraved, and have gone farther astray, than most of my fellows.
Therefore I think that the answer to this question which I have found for myself will do for all sincere persons who will put the same question to themselves. First of all, to the question, “What is to be done?” I answer that I must neither deceive other men nor myself; that I must not be afraid of the truth, whatever the result may be.
We all know what it is to deceive other men; and notwithstanding this, we do deceive from morning to evening,—“Not at home,” when I am in; “Very glad,” when I am not at all glad; “Esteemed,” when I do not esteem; “I have no money,” when I have it, and so on.
We consider the deception of others to be evil, particularly a certain kind of deception, but we are not afraid to deceive ourselves: yet the worst direct lie to men, seeing its result, is nothing in comparison with that lie to ourselves according to which we shape our lives. Now, this very lie we must avoid if we wish to be able to answer the question, “What is to be done?”
Indeed, how am I to answer the question as to what is to be done, when every thing I do, all my life, is based upon a lie and I carefully give out this lie to others and to myself as truth? Not to lie in this sense means to be not afraid of truth; not to invent excuses, and not to accept excuses invented by others, in order to hide from one's self the deductions of reason and conscience; not to be afraid of contradicting all our surroundings, and of being left alone with reason and conscience; not to be afraid of that condition to which truth and conscience lead us: however dreadful it may be, it cannot be worse than that which is based upon deceit.
To avoid lying, for men in our privileged position of mental labor, means not to be afraid of truth. Perhaps we owe so much that we should never be able to pay it all; but however much we may owe, we must make out our bill: however far we have gone astray, it is better to return than to continue straying.
Lying to our fellows is always disadvantageous. Every business is always more directly done by truth than by lies, and more quickly too. Lying to other men makes matters only more complicated, and retards the decision; but lying to one's self, which is given out to be the truth, entirely ruins the life of man.
If a man considers a wrong road to be a right one, then his every step leads him only farther from his aim: a man who has been walking for a long time on a wrong road may find out for himself, or be told by others, that his road is a wrong one; but if he, being afraid of the thought how far he has gone astray, tries to assure himself that he may, by following this wrong course, still come across the right one, then he will certainly never find it. If a man becomes afraid of the truth, and, on seeing it, will not acknowledge it, but accepts falsehood for truth, then this man will never learn what is to be done.
We, not only rich men, but men in privileged position, so-called educated men, have gone so far astray that we require either a firm resolution or very great sufferings on our false way to bring us to our senses again, and to recognize the lie by which we live.
I became aware of the lie of our life, thanks to those sufferings to which my wrong road led me; and, having acknowledged the error of the way on which I was bent, I had the boldness to go, first in theory, then in reality, wherever my reason and conscience led me, without any deliberation as to whither they were tending.
I was rewarded for this boldness.
All the complex, disjointed, intricate, and meaningless of life surrounding me became of a sudden clear; and my position among these phenomena, formerly so strange and vile, became of a sudden natural and easy.
In this new position my activity has exactly determined itself, but it is quite a different activity from that which appeared possible to me before: it is a new activity, far more quiet, affectionate, and joyous. The very thing which frightened me before, now attracts me.
Therefore, I think that every one who sincerely puts to himself the question, “What is to be done?” and in answering this question, does not lie or deceive himself, but goes wherever his reason and conscience may lead him, that man has already answered the question.
If he will only avoid deceiving himself, he will find out what to do, where to go, and how to act. There is only one thing which may hinder him in finding an answer,—that is too high an estimate of himself, and of his own position. So it was with me; and therefore the second answer to the question, “What is to be done?” resulting from the first, consisted for me in repenting, in the full meaning of this word: that is, entirely changing the estimate of my own position and activity. Instead of considering such to be useful and of importance, we must come to acknowledge it to be harmful and trifling; instead of considering ourselves educated, we must come to see our ignorance; instead of imagining ourselves to be kind and moral, we must acknowledge that we are immoral and cruel; instead of seeing our importance, we must see our own insignificance.
I say, that besides avoiding lying to myself, I had moreover to repent, because, though the one results from the other, the wrong idea about my great importance was so much a part of my own nature, that until I had sincerely repented, and had put aside that wrong estimate of myself, I did not see the enormity of the lie of which I had been guilty.
It was only when I repented,—that is, left off considering myself to be a peculiar man, and began to consider myself to be like all other men,—it was then that my way became clear to me. Before this I was not able to answer the question, “What is to be done?” because the very question itself was put incorrectly.
Before I repented, I had put the question thus: “What activity should I choose, I, the man with the education and talents I have acquired? How can I compensate by this education and these talents for what I have been taking away from the people?”
This question was a false one, because it included the wrong idea of my not being like other men, but a peculiar man, called to serve other men with those talents and that education which I had acquired in forty years.
I had put the question to myself, but in reality I had already answered it in advance by having determined beforehand that I was called upon to serve men by the kind of activity agreeable to myself. I really asked myself, “How can I, so fine a writer, one so very well informed, and with such talents, how can I utilize those talents for the benefit of mankind?”
But the question ought to have been put thus,—as it would have to be put to a learned rabbi who had studied all the Talmud, and knew the exact number of letters in the Holy Scripture, and all the subtleties of his science:—“What can I do, who, from unlucky circumstances, have lost my best years in study instead of accommodating myself to labor,—in learning the French language, the piano, grammar, geography, law, poetry; in reading novels, romances, philosophical theories, and in performing military exercises? what can I do, who have passed the best years of my life in idle occupations, depraving the soul? what can I do, notwithstanding these unlucky conditions of the past, in order to requite those men, who, during all this time, have fed and clothed me, and who still continue to feed and to clothe me?”
If the question had been put thus, after I had repented, “What can I, so ruined a man, do?” the answer would have been easy: First of all, I must try to get my living honestly,—that is, learn not to live upon the shoulders of others; and while learning this, and after I have learned it, to try on every occasion to be of use to men with my hands and with my feet, as well as with my brain and my heart, and with all of me that is wanted by men.
Therefore I say that for one of my own circle, besides avoiding lying to others and ourselves, it is further necessary to repent, to lay aside pride about our education, refinement, and talents, not considering ourselves to be benefactors of the people, advanced men, who are ready to share our useful acquirements with the people, but acknowledging ourselves to be entirely guilty, ruined, good-for-nothing men, who desire to turn over a new leaf, and not to be benefactors of the people, but to cease to offend and to humiliate them.
Very often good young people, who sympathize with the negative part of my writings, put to me the question, “What must I do then? What have I, who have finished my study in the university or in some other high establishment,—what have I to do in order to be useful?”
These young people ask the question; but in the depths of their souls they have already decided that the education which they have received is their great advantage, and that they wish to serve the people by this very advantage.
Therefore, there is one thing which they do not do,—honestly and critically examine what they call their education, asking themselves whether it is a good or a bad thing.
If they do this, they will be unavoidably led to decry their education, and to begin to learn anew; and this alone is what is wanted. They will never be able to answer the question, as to what there is to be done, while they put it wrongly. The question should be put thus: “How can I, a helpless, useless man, recognizing the misfortune of having lost my best years in studying the scientific Talmud, pernicious for soul and body, how can I rectify this mistake, and learn to serve men?” But the question is always put thus: “How can I, who have acquired so much fine information, how can I be useful to men with this my information?”
Therefore, a man can never answer the question, “What is to be done?” until he leaves off deceiving himself and repents. And repentance is not dreadful, even as truth is not dreadful, but it is equally beneficent and fruitful of good. We need only accept the whole truth and fully repent in order to understand that in life no one has any rights or privileges, and that there is no end of duties, and no limits to them, and that the first and unquestionable duty of a man is to take part in the struggle with nature for his own life and for the lives of other men. And this acknowledgment of men's duty forms the essence of the third answer to the question, “What is to be done?”
I have tried to avoid deceiving myself. I have endeavored to extirpate the last remnant of the false estimate of the importance of my education and talents, and to repent; but before answering the question, What is to be done? there stands a new difficulty.
There are so many things to be done, that one requires to know what is to be done in particular? And the answer to this question has been given me by the sincere repentance of the evil in which I have been living.
What is to be done? What is there exactly to be done? everybody keeps asking; and I, too, kept asking this, while, under the influence of a high opinion of my own calling, I had not seen that my first and unquestionable business is to earn my living, clothing, heating, building, and so forth, and in doing this to serve others as well as myself, because, since the world has existed, the first and unquestionable duty of every man has been comprised in this.
In this one business, man receives,—if he has already begun to take part in it,—the full satisfaction of all the bodily and mental wants of his nature; to feed, clothe, take care of himself and of his family, will satisfy his bodily wants; to do the same for others, will satisfy his spiritual.
Every other activity of man is only lawful when these have first been satisfied. In whatever department a man thinks his calling lies, whether in governing the people, in protecting his countrymen, in officiating at divine services, in teaching, in inventing the means of increasing the delights of life, in discovering the laws of the universe, in incorporating eternal truths in artistic images, the first and most unquestionable duty of a reasonable man will always consist in taking part in the struggle with nature for preserving his own life and the lives of other men.
This duty must always rank first, because the most necessary thing for men is life: and therefore, in order to protect and to teach men, and to make their lives more agreeable, it is necessary to keep this very life; while by not taking part in the struggle, and by swallowing up the labor of others, other lives are destroyed. And it is folly and impossible to endeavor to serve men while destroying their lives.
Man's duty to acquire the means of living through the struggle with nature will always be unquestionably the very first of all duties, because it is the law of life, the violation of which unavoidably brings with it a punishment by destroying the bodily or mental life of man. If a man, living alone, free himself from the duty of struggling with nature, he will be at once punished by the perishing of his body.
But if a man free himself from this duty by compelling other men to fulfill it for him, in ruining their lives, he will be at once punished by the destruction of his reasonable life; that is, of the life which has a reasonable sense in it.
I had been so perverted by my antecedents, and this first and unquestionable law of God or nature is so hidden in our present world, that the fulfilling of it had seemed to me strange, and I was afraid and ashamed of it, as if the fulfillment, and not the violation, of this eternal and unquestionable law were strange, unnatural, and shameful. At first it seemed to me, that, in order to fulfill this law, some sort of accommodation was necessary, some established association of fellow-thinkers, the consent of the family, and life in the country (not in town): then I felt ashamed, as if I were putting myself forward in performing things so unusual to our life as bodily labor, and I did not know how to begin.
But I needed only to understand that this was not some exclusive activity, which I have to invent and arrange, but that it was merely returning from the false condition in which I had lived to a natural one, merely rectifying that lie in which I had been living,—I had only to acknowledge all this, and all the difficulties vanished.
It was not at all necessary to arrange and accommodate any thing, nor to wait for the consent of other people, because everywhere, in whatever condition I was, there were men who fed, dressed, and warmed me as well as themselves; and everywhere, under all circumstances, if I had sufficient time and strength, I was able to do these things for myself and for them.
Nor could I feel a false shame in performing actions unusual and strange to me, because, in not doing so, I already experienced, not a false, but a real, shame.
Having come to this conclusion, and to the practical deduction from it, I have been fully rewarded for not having been afraid of the deductions of reason, and for having gone where they led me.
Having come to this practical conclusion, I was struck by the facility and simplicity of the solution of all those problems which had formerly seemed to me so difficult and To the question, “What have we to do?” I received a very plain answer: Do first what is necessary for yourself; arrange all you can do by yourself,—your tea-urn, stove, water, and clothes.
To the question, “Would not this seem strange to those who had been accustomed to do all this for me?” it appeared that it was strange only for about a week, and after a week it seemed more strange for me to return to my former condition.
In answer to the question, “Is it necessary to organize this physical labor, to establish a society in a village upon this basis?” it appeared that it was not at all necessary to do all this; that if the labor does not aim at rendering idleness possible, and at utilizing other men's labor,—as is the case with men who save up money,—but merely the satisfying of necessities, then such labor will naturally induce people to leave towns for the country, where this labor is most agreeable and productive.
There was also no need to establish a society, because a workingman will naturally associate with other working-people. In answer to the question, “Would not this labor take up all my time, and would it not deprive me of the possibility of that mental activity which I am so fond of, and to which I have become accustomed, and which in moments of doubt I consider to be useful?” the answer will be quite an unexpected one. The energy of my mental activity increased in proportion to bodily exercise, being freed from all that was superfluous.
In fact, having spent eight hours in physical labor,—half a day,—which formerly I used to spend in endeavoring to struggle with dullness, there still remained for me eight hours, out of which in my circumstances I required five for mental labor; and if I, a very prolific writer, who had been doing nothing but write during forty years, and who had written three hundred printed sheets, then if during these forty years I had been doing ordinary work along with working-people, and, not taking into consideration winter evenings and holidays, had been reading and learning during the five hours a day, and had written only on holidays two pages a day (and I have sometimes written sixteen pages a day), I should have written the same three hundred printed sheets in fourteen years.
A wonderful thing: a most simple arithmetical calculation which every boy of seven years of age may do, but which I had never done. Day and night have together twenty-four hours; we sleep eight hours; there remain sixteen hours. If any man labor mentally five hours a day, he will do a vast amount of business; what do we, then, do during the remaining eleven hours?
So it appears that physical labor not only does not exclude the possibility of mental activity, but improves and stimulates it.
In answer to the question, whether this physical labor would deprive me of many innocent enjoyments proper to man, such as enjoyment of art, acquirement of knowledge, of social intercourse, and, generally, of the happiness of life, it was really quite the reverse: the more intense my physical labor, the more it approached that labor which is considered the hardest, to wit, agricultural labor, the more I acquired enjoyments, and knowledge, and the closer and more affectionate was my intercourse with mankind, and the more happiness did I feel in life.
In answer to the question (which I hear so often from men who are not quite sincere), “What result can there be from such an awfully small drop in the sea? what is all my personal physical labor in comparison with the sea of labor which I swallow up?”
It appeared that as soon as I had made physical labor the ordinary condition of my life, at once the greatest part of the false and expensive habits and wants which I had while I had been physically idle, ceased of themselves, without any endeavor on my part. To say nothing of the habit of turning day into night, and vise versa, of my bedding, clothes, my conventional cleanliness, which all became impossible and embarrassing when I began to labor physically, both the quantity and the quality of my food was totally changed. Instead of the sweet, rich, delicate, complicated, and highly spiced food, which I formerly liked, I now required and obtained plain food as being the most agreeable,—sour cabbage soup, porridge, black bread, tea with a bit of sugar.
So that, apart from the example of common workingmen satisfied with little, with whom I came in closer intercourse, my very wants themselves were gradually changed by my life of labor; so that in proportion to my growing accustomed to this labor and acquiring the ways of it, my drop of physical labor became indeed more perceptible in the ocean of common labor; and in proportion as my labor grew more fruitful, my demands for other men's labor grew less and less, and, without effort or privation, my life naturally came nearer to that simple life of which I could not even have dreamed without fulfilling the law of labor.
It became apparent that my former most expensive demands—the demands of vanity and amusement—were the direct result of an idle life. With physical labor, there was no room for vanity, and no need for amusement, because my time was agreeably occupied; and after weariness, simple rest while drinking tea, or reading a book, or conversing with the members of my family, was far more agreeable than the theater, playing at cards, concerts, or large parties.
In answer to the question, “Would not this unusual labor be hurtful to health, which is necessary in order that I may serve men?” it appeared that, despite the positive assurance of eminent doctors that hard physical labor, especially at my age, might have the worst results (and that Swedish gymnastics, riding, and other expedients intended to supply the natural conditions of man, would be far better), the harder I worked, the sounder, more cheerful, and kinder, I felt myself.
It became undoubtedly certain that even as all those inventions of the human mind, such as newspapers, theaters, concerts, parties, balls, cards, magazines, novels, are nothing but means to sustain the spiritual life of men outside its natural condition of labor for others, so in the same way all the hygienic and medical inventions of the human mind for the provision of food, drink, dwelling, ventilation, warming of rooms, clothes, medicines, mineral water, gymnastics, electric and other cures, are all merely means to sustain the bodily life of man outside of its natural conditions of labor; and all these are nothing else than an establishment hermetically closed, in which, by means of chemical apparatus, the evaporation of water for the plants is arranged, when you need only to open the window, and do that which is natural, not for men alone but to beasts too; in other words, having absorbed the food, and thus produced a charge of energy, to discharge it by muscular labor.
All the profound study of hygiene and of the art of healing for the men of our circle are like the efforts of a mechanic, who, having stopped all the valves of an overheated engine, should invent something to prevent this engine from bursting.
When I had plainly understood all this, it seemed to me ridiculous, that I, through a long series of doubt, research, and much thinking, had arrived at this extraordinary truth, that if man has eyes, they are to be seen through; ears, to hear by; feet to walk with, and hands and back to work with,—and that if man will not use these, his members, for what they are meant, then it will be the worse for him. I came to this conclusion, that with us, privileged people, the same thing has happened which happened to the horses of a friend of mine: The steward, who was not fond of horses, and did not understand any thing about them, having received from his masters orders to prepare the best cobs for sale, chose the best out of the drove of horses, put them into the stable, fed them upon oats; but being over-anxious, he trusted them to nobody, neither rode them himself, nor drove nor led them.
Of course, all these horses became good for nothing.
The same has happened to us with this difference,—that you cannot deceive horses, and, in order not to let them out, they must be fastened in; while we are kept in unnatural and hurtful conditions by all sorts of temptations, which fasten and hold us as with chains.
We have arranged for ourselves a life which is against the moral and physical nature of man, and we use all the powers of our mind in order to assure men that this life is the real one. All that we call culture,—our science and arts for improving the delights of life,—all these are only meant to deceive man's natural moral requirements: all that we call hygiene, and the art of healing, are endeavors to deceive the natural physical want of human nature.
But these deceits have their limits, and we are come to these limits. “If such be real human life, then it is better not to live at all,” says the fashionable philosophy of Schopenhauer and Hartman. “If such is then it is better not to live at all,” is the witness borne by the increasing number of suicides among the privileged classes. “If such be life, it is better for future generations, too, not to live,” says the indulgent healing art, and invents means to destroy women's fecundity.
In the Bible the law to human beings is expressed thus: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” and “In sorrow thou shall bring forth children.”
The peasant Bondaref, who wrote an article about this, threw great light upon the wisdom of this sentence. During the whole of my life, two thinking men—Russians—have exercised a great influence over me: they have enriched my thoughts, and enlightened my contemplation of the world.
These men were neither poets, nor learned men, nor preachers: they were two remarkable men, both now living, peasants,—Sutaief and Bondaref. But “nous avons changé tout ça,” as says one of Molière's personages, talking at random about the healing art, and saying that the liver is on the left side, “we have changed all that.” Men need not work,—all work will be done by machines; and women need not bring forth children. The healing art will teach different means of avoiding this, for there are already too many people in the world.
In the Krapivensky district, there wanders a ragged peasant, who during the war was a purchaser of bread for a commissary of stores. Having become acquainted with this functionary, and having seen his comfortable life, he became mad, and now thinks that he, too, can live as gentlemen do, without work, being provided for by the Emperor.
This peasant now calls himself “the Most Serene Marshal Prince Blokhin, purveyor of war-stores of all kinds.”
He says of himself that he has gone through all ranks, and for his services during the war he has to receive from the Emperor an unlimited bank-account, clothes, uniforms, horses, carriages, tea, servants, and all kinds of provision. When anybody asks him whether he would like to work a little, he only answers, “Thanks: the peasants will attend to all that.” When we say to him that the peasants also may not be disposed to work, he answers, “Machines have been invented to ease the labor of peasants. They have no difficulty in their business.” When we ask him what he is living for, he answers, “To pass away the time.”
I always consider this man as a mirror. I see in him myself and all my class. To pass through all ranks in order to live to pass away the time, and to receive an unlimited bank-account, while peasants attend to every thing, and find it easy to do so, because of the invention of machines.
This is the exact form of the foolish belief of men of our class. When we ask what have we particularly to do, we are in reality asking nothing, but only asserting—not so sincerely indeed as the Most Serene Marshal Prince Blokhin, who had passed through all ranks, and lost his mind—that we do not wish to do anything.
He who has come to his senses cannot ask this, because from one side all that he makes use of has been done, and is being done, by the hands of men; on the other side, as soon as a healthy man has got up and breakfasted, he feels the inclination to work, as well with his feet as with his hands and brain. In order to find work, he has only not to restrain himself from labor. Only he who considers labor to be a shame,—like the lady who asked her guest not to trouble herself to open the door, but to wait till she called a servant to do it,—only such persons can ask what is there to be done in particular.
The difficulty is not in inventing work,—every one has enough to do for himself and for others,—but in losing this criminal view of life, that we eat and sleep for our own pleasure, and in gaining that simple and correct view in which every working-person grows up, that man first of all is a machine which is charged with food, and that therefore it is shameful, difficult, and impossible to eat and not to work; that to eat and not to work is a most dangerous state, and as bad as incendiarism.
It is necessary only to have this consciousness, and we shall find work and this work will always be pleasant, and capable of satisfying all the wants of our soul and body.
I picture to myself the whole matter thus: Every man's day is divided by his meals into four parts, or four stages as it is called by the peasants: First, before breakfast; secondly, from breakfast to dinner; thirdly, from dinner to poldnik (a slight evening meal between dinner and supper); and fourthly, from poldnik to night. The activity of man to which he is drawn, is also divided into four kinds: First, the activity of the muscles, the labor of the hands, feet, shoulders, back,—hard labor by which one perspires; secondly, the activity of the fingers and wrists, the activity of skill and handicraft; thirdly, the activity of the intellect and imagination; fourthly, the activity of intercourse with other men.
The goods which man makes use of may also be divided into four kinds: First, every man makes use of the productions of hard labor,—bread, cattle, buildings, wells, bridges, and so on; secondly, the productions of handicraft,—clothes, boots, hardware, and so on; thirdly, the productions of mental activity,—science, art; and fourthly, the intercourse with men, acquaintanceship, societies.
I thought that it would be the best thing so to arrange the occupations of the day that one might be able to exercise all these four faculties, and to return all the four kinds of production of labor, which one makes use of; so that the four parts of the day were devoted, first, to hard labor; secondly, to mental labor; thirdly, to handicraft; fourthly, to the intercourse with men. It would be good if one could so arrange his labor; but if it is not possible to arrange thus, one thing is important,—to acknowledge the duty of laboring, the duty of making a good use of each part of the day.
I thought that it would be only then that the false division of labor which now rules our society would disappear, and a just division would be established which should not interfere with the happiness of mankind.
I, for instance, have all my life been busy with mental work. I had said to myself that I have thus divided the labor: that my special work is writing; that is, mental labor: and all other works necessary for me, I left to be done by other men, or rather compelled them to do it. But this arrangement, seemingly so convenient for mental labor, though unjust, became most inconvenient, especially for mental labor. I have been writing all my life, have accommodated my food, sleep, amusements, with reference to this special labor, and besides this work I did nothing.
The results of which were, first, that I had been narrowing the circle of my observation and information, and often I had not any object to study, and therefore, having had to describe the life of men (the life of men is a continual problem of every mental activity), I felt my ignorance, and had to learn and to ask about such things, which everyone not occupied with a special work knows; secondly, it happened that when I sat down to write, I often had no inward inclination to write, and nobody wanted my writing for itself, that is, for my thoughts, but people merely wanted my name for profits in the magazines.
I made great efforts to write what I could; sometimes I did not succeed at all; sometimes succeeded in writing something very bad, and I felt dissatisfied and miserable. So often and often weeks passed, during which I would eat, drink, sleep, warm myself, and do nothing—or do something of no use to anybody—i.e., commit the worst and meanest crime, scarcely ever committed by a man of the working class. But since I have acknowledged the necessity of physical labor as well as hard labor, and also that of handicraft, everything is quite different: my time is occupied however humbly, but certainly in a useful way, and pleasantly and instructively for me.
Therefore I, for the sake of my specialty, leave off this undoubtedly useful and pleasant occupation, only when I feel an inward want, or see a direct demand for my literary work. And this caused the quality, and therefore the usefulness and pleasantness, of my special labor to improve.
Thus it has happened that my occupation with those physical works, which are necessary for me as well as for every man, not only do not interfere with my special activity, but are a necessary condition of the utility, quality, and pleasantness of this activity.
A bird is so created that it is necessary for it to fly, to walk, to peck, to consider; and when it does all this, it is satisfied and happy; then it is a bird. Exactly so with a man when he walks, turns over heavy things, lifts them up, carries them, works with his fingers, eyes, ears, tongue, brain, then only is he satisfied, then only is he a man.
A man who has come to recognize his calling to labor will be naturally inclined to that change of labor which is proper for him for the satisfying of his outward and inward wants, and he will reverse this order only when he feels an irresistible impulse to some special labor, and when other men require this labor from him. The nature of labor is such that the satisfying of all men's wants requires that very alternation of different kinds of labor which renders labor easy and pleasant.
Only the erroneous idea that labor is a curse could lead men to free themselves from some kinds of labor, that is, to seize other men's labor, requiring from other men that forced occupation with a special labor which is called nowadays the division of labor.
We have become so accustomed to our false conception of the arrangement of labor that it seems to us that for a boot-maker, a machinist, a writer, a musician, it would be better to be freed from the labor proper to man. Where there is no violence over other men's labor, nor a false belief in the pleasure of idleness, no man will for the sake of his special labor free himself from physical labor necessary for the satisfying of his wants, because special occupation is not a privilege, but a sacrifice to a man's inclination and for the sake of his brethren.
A boot-maker in a village having torn himself from his usual pleasant labor in the field, and having begun his labor of mending or making boots for his neighbors, deprives himself of a pleasant, useful labor in the field for the sake of others, only because he is fond of sewing, and knows that nobody will do it better than he does, and that people will be thankful to him.
But he cannot wish to deprive himself of the pleasant alternation of labor for all his life. The same with the starosta, the machinist, the writer, the learned man.
It is only to our perverted ideas, that it seems, when the master sends his clerk to be a peasant, or government sentences one of its ministers to deportation, that they are punished and have been dealt with hardly. In reality they have had a great good done to them; that is, they have exchanged their heavy special work for a pleasant alternation of labor.
In a natural society all is different. I know a commune where the people earn their living themselves. One of the members of this community was more educated than the rest; and they require him to deliver lectures, for which he has to prepare himself during the day, that he may be able to deliver them in the evening. He does it joyfully, feeling that he is useful to others, and that he can do it well. But he grows tired of the exclusive mental labor, and his health suffers accordingly. The members of the community therefore pity him, and ask him to come and labor in the field again.
For men who consider labor to be the essential thing and the joy of life, the ground, the basis, of it will always be the struggle with nature,—not only in agricultural labor, but also in that of handicraft, mental work, and intercourse with men.
The divergence from one or many of these kinds of labor, and specialties of labor, will be performed only when a man of special gifts, being fond of this work, and knowing that he performs it better than anybody else, will sacrifice his own advantage in order to fulfill the demands which others put directly to him.
Only with such a view of labor and the natural division of labor resulting from it, will that curse disappear which in our imagination we have put upon labor; and every labor will always be a joy, because man will do either an unquestionably useful, pleasant, and easy work, or will be conscious that he makes a sacrifice by performing a more difficult special labor for the good of others.
But the division of labor is, it is said, more advantageous. Advantageous for whom? Is it more advantageous to make with all speed as many boots and cotton-prints as possible? But who will make these boots and cotton-prints? Men who from generation to generation have been making only pin-heads? How, then, can it be more advantageous for people? If the object were to make as many cotton-prints and pins as possible, it would be so; but the question is, how to make people happy?
The happiness of men consists in life. And life is in labor.
How, then, can the necessity of painful, oppressing work be advantageous for men? If the question were only for the advantage of some men without any consideration of the welfare of all, then it might be most advantageous for some men to eat others. They say it is savory!
The thing most advantageous for all men is what I wish for myself,—the greatest welfare and the satisfying of all my wants which are ingrafted in me, those of body as well as those of soul, of conscience, and of reason.
Now, for myself I have found, that for my welfare and for the satisfying of these wants, I need only to be cured of the folly in which I (as well as the Krapivensky madman) have lived, consisting in the idea that gentlefolk need not work, and that all must be done for them by others, and that, producing nothing, I have to do only what is proper to man,—satisfy my own wants.
Having discovered this, I became persuaded that this labor for the satisfying of my own wants, is divisible into various kinds of labor, each of which has its own charm, and is not only no burden, but serves as rest after some other labor.
I have roughly divided labor, not in the least insisting on the propriety of such a division, into four parts parallel to the four parts of the laborer's day's work, divided by his meals; and thus I try to satisfy my wants.
First, Not to lie to myself. However far I have gone astray from that road of life which my reason shows to me, I must not be afraid of the truth.
Secondly, To renounce my own righteousness, my own advantages, peculiarities, distinguishing me from others, and to own my guilt.
Thirdly, To fulfill the eternal, unquestionable law of man,—by laboring with all my being to struggle with nature, to sustain my own life, and the lives of others.
From : Gutenberg.org
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