"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John viii. 32).
Muscular Popeye, Unknown Painter
I have but little time left to live, and I should like before my death to tell you, working people, what I have been thinking about your oppressed condition and about those means which will help you to free yourselves from it.
Maybe something of what I have been thinking (and I have been thinking much about it) will do you some good.
I naturally turn to the Russian laborers, among whom I live and whom I know better than the laborers of any other country, but I hope that my remarks may not be useless to the laborers of other countries as well.
Every one who has eyes and a heart sees that you, working men, are obliged to pass your lives in want and in hard labor, which is useless to you, while other men, who do not work, enjoy all that you accomplish, - that you are the slaves of these men, and that this ought not to be.
But what should be done that this might not be?
The first, simplest, and most natural means which from olden times has presented itself to men is by force to take from those who live by your labor what they enjoy illegally. Thus since remote antiquity acted the slaves in Rome and the peasants in the Middle Ages in Germany and in France. Thus they have frequently acted in Russia, since the time of Stenka Razin, of Pugachev. Thus even now Russian laborers at times act.
This means suggests itself to the injured working men before any other, and yet this means not only never attains its end, but always more certainly makes worse, rather than improves, the condition of the working men. It was possible anciently, when the power of the government was not yet so strong as it is now, to hope for the success of such uprisings; but now, when in the hands of the government, which always protects those who do not work, are immense sums of money, and the railways, and the telegraphs, and the police, and the gendarmes, and the army, all such attempts end, as lately ended the uprisings in the Governments of Poltava and of Kharkov, in the torture and execution of the rioters, and the power of the non-workers over the workers is only made more firm.
In trying to oppose violence to violence, you, working men, do what a man bound with ropes would do if, to free himself, he should tug at the ropes: he would only tighten the knots which fetter him. The same is true as regards your attempts by means of violence to take away what is withheld from you by means of violence.
It has now become obvious that the method of riots does not attain its purpose, and that it does not improve the condition of the working men, but rather makes it worse. And so of late, men who desire, or who at least say that they desire, the good of the working masses, have discovered a new means for the liberation of the working men. This new means is based on the teaching that all the working men, after being deprived of the land which they formerly possessed, and after having become hired laborers (which according to this teaching is to happen as inevitably as the sunset at a given hour), will arrange unions, societies, demonstrations, and will choose their partisans for parliament, and thus will keep improving their condition, and finally will appropriate to themselves all the works and factories, in general all the implements of labor, among them the land, and then will be absolutely free and prosperous. In spite of the fact that this teaching, which proposes this means, is full of obscurities, arbitrary propositions and contradictions and simple absurdities, it has of late been disseminated more and more widely.
This doctrine is accepted not only in those countries where the majority of the population has for several generations fallen away from agricultural labor, but also where the majority of working men have not yet thought of abandoning the land.
It would seem that a doctrine which first of all demands the transition of the agricultural laborer from the customary, healthy, and joyous conditions of varied agricultural labor to the unhealthy, somber, and pernicious conditions of monotonous, stultifying work, and from that independence, which the village worker feels in satisfying nearly all his needs, to the complete slavish dependence of the factory workman on his master, ought to have no success in countries where the laborers still live on the land and support themselves by means of agricultural labor. But the preaching of this modem doctrine, called socialism, even in such countries as Russia, where ninety-eight per cent. of the laboring population lives by means of agricultural labor, is gladly accepted by those two per cent. of working men who have fallen away from agricultural labor. This is due to the fact that, when he abandons the labor on the land, the working man involuntarily submits to those temptations which are connected with life in the city and in the factory. The justification of these temptations he finds only in the socialistic doctrine, which considers the increase of necessities a sign of man's improvement.
Such working men, who have filled themselves with fragments of the socialistic doctrine, preach it with particular fervor to their fellow working men, considering themselves, in consequence of this propaganda and in consequence of those needs which they have developed, to be advanced people who stand infinitely higher than a coarse peasant, a village worker. Fortunately, there are still very few such working men in Russia; the vast majority of Russian laborers, which consists of agriculturists, has never heard anything about the socialistic doctrine; if these laborers ever heard of it, they receive such a doctrine as entirely alien to them and not touching upon their real needs.
All those socialistic methods of unions, demonstrations, election of partisans for the parliaments, by means of which the factory hands try to lighten their condition as slaves, present no interest for free agricultural laborers.
If the agricultural laborers need anything, it is not a raise of wages, not a diminution of hours of work, not general funds, and so forth, but only one thing, - land, of which they have everywhere too little to be able to support themselves upon it with their families. But of this one necessary thing for the rural laborers nothing is said in the socialistic doctrine.
All sensible Russian laborers understand that land, free land, is the only means for the improvement of their condition and for their liberation from slavery.
This is what a Russian peasant, a Stundist, writes regarding it to a friend of his:
"If a revolution is to be started, while the land remains private property, then, of course, it is not worth while to start it. Thus, for example, our brothers who live abroad, in Romania, tell us that there they have a constitution and parliaments, but that the land is nearly all of it in the hands of proprietors; so what use is this parliament to the masses? In the parliament, they say, there is taking place only a struggle of one party against another, but the masses are terribly enslaved and in servitude to the proprietors. The proprietors have huts upon their lands. Half of the land they generally lease to the peasants, as a rule only for one year. When a peasant has worked the land well, the proprietor himself sows in this plot the next year, and allots another piece of ground to the peasant. After these poor wretches have lived for a few years on the land of a proprietor, they still remain his debtors; the government takes their last possessions for taxes - their horse, cow, wagon, plow, clothes, bed, utensils, - and sells them all at a low price. Then the poor wretch picks up his starving family and goes to another proprietor, who seems to him to be kinder. This one gives him oxen, a plow, seeds, and so forth. But, after he has lived here for some time, the same story is repeated. Then he goes to a third proprietor, and so forth. Then the proprietors who do their own sowing hire laborers during the barvest,but it is their custom to pay the wages at the end of the harvest, and but few of the proprietors ever pay their hands, - the majority hold back half the pay, if not all. And there is no way of getting justice. So there you have a constitution! There you have a parliament!
"The land is the first indispensable condition which the masses should strive after. The factories and works, it seems to me, will naturally pass over into the hands of the working men. When the peasants get land, they Will work on it and live freely upon their labor. Then many will refuse to labor in the factories and works, consequently there will be less competition for the working men. Then the wages will rise, and they will be able to organize their circles and funds, and will be able themselves to compete with their masters; then the latter will not find it advantageous to have factories, and they will enter into agreements with the working men. Land is the chief object of the struggle. This ought to be explained to the working men. Even if they should obtain an increase in wages this would be only temporary, to allay their minds. Then again the conditions of life will change, if instead of one dissatisfied man ten others shall be waiting to take his place. How can they then ask for an increase of wages?"
Though the information given in the letter concerning the state of affairs in Romania is not quite correct, and though in other countries these oppressions do not exist, the essence of the matter, which is, that the first condition for the improvement of the working men's condition is to be found in free land, is in this letter expressed with unusual clearness.
Land is the chief object of the struggle! so writes this unlearned peasant. But the learned socialists say that the chief object of the struggle is works, factories, and only lastly land. For the working men to get land they must, according to the doctrine of the socialists, first of all struggle against the capitalists for the possession of plants and factories, and only after they shall have taken possession of the plants and factories will they get possession of the land. Men need land, and they are told that for its possession they must first of all abandon it and then obtain it again by a complex process, as predicted by the socialistic prophets, together with unnecessary works and factories, This demand to get possession of works and factories, which are of no use to the agriculturists, in order to get possession of the land, reminds one of the methods used by certain usurers. You ask such a usurer for a thousand rubles in Money, for you need only the money, but the usurer tells you: "I can-not give you just the one thousand rubles; take from me five thousand, four thousand of which will be in the form of a few tons of soap, of a few bolts of silk stuffs, and so forth, things which you do not need, and then I shall be able to give you the one thousand rubles in money which you need."
Even so the socialists, having quite irregularly decided that the land is just such an implement of labor as a plant or a factory, propose to the laborers who are suffering only from lack of land, that they go away from the land and busy themselves with taking possession of the factories which produce cannon, guns, soap, mirrors, ribbons, and all kinds of articles of luxury, and then only, after these laborers shall have learned quickly and rapidly to produce mirrors and ribbons, but shall have become unfit to work the land, take possession of the land also.
However strange it is to see a working man who has abandoned a life in the country amid the freedom of the fields, meadows, and woods, and who ten years later, sometimes even after several generations, rejoices when he receives from his master a little house in the infected air with a twenty-foot garden in which he can plant a dozen cucumbers and two sunflowers, - such a joy is comprehensible.
The possibility Of living On the land, of gaining one's sustenance from it by means of one's own labor, has always been and always will be one of the chief conditions of a happy and independent human life. This all men have always known, and so all men have always striven and never stop striving and always will strive, like a fish for the water, at least for the semblance of such a life.
But the socialistic doctrine says that for the happiness of men they do not need such a life amid plants and animals, with the possibility of satisfying nearly all their daily wants by means of their own agricultural labor, but a life in industrial centers with infected air, and with increasing and ever increasing demands, the gratification of which is possible only by means of senseless labor in the factories. And the working men who are enmeshed in the temptations of their factory lives believe this and use all their efforts in a miserable struggle with the capitalists for the sake of hours of labor and additional pennies, imagining that they are doing some very important work, whereas the only important work, for which those working men who have been torn away from the land ought to use all their forces, should consist in finding a means of returning to a life amid Nature and to agricultural labor. "But," say the socialists, "even if it were true that a life amid Nature is better than a life in a factory, there are now so many factory workmen, and these men have abandoned agricultural life so long ago, that their return to life on the land is now impossible. It is impossible because such a transition will without any necessity diminish the productions of the manufacturing industries, which form the wealth of the country. Besides, even if this were not so, there is not enough free land for the settlement and sustenance of all factory workmen."
It is not true that the working men's resettlement of the land will diminish the wealth of the country, because life on the land does not exclude the possibility of the laborers' participation, for a part of their time, in manufacturing labor at home or even in factories. But if, in consequence of this resettlement, the manufacture of useless and injurious articles, which now are produced with great rapidity in the great manufacturing plants, shall be diminished, and the now usual overproduction Of necessary articles shall come to an end, while the amount Of corn, vegetables, fruit, domestic animals, shall be increased, this will in no way diminish the wealth of people, but will only increase it.
But that argument that there will not be enough land for the settlement and sustenance of all the working men in factories is untrue, because in the majority of countries, (to say nothing of Russia, where the land retained by the large landed proprietors would suffice for all the factory working men in Russia and in the whole of Europe), and even in such countries as England and Belgium, the land which belongs to the large lauded proprietors would suffice for the sustenance of all working people, if only the cultivation of this land were to be carried to that stage of perfection which it can attain with the present perfection of the mechanical arts, or even to that degree of perfection to which it was carried thousands of years ago in China.
Let those who are interested in this question read Kropotkin's books, La conquete du pain and Fields, Factories, and Workshops, and the very good book published by the Posrednik, Popov's The Corn Garden, and they will see how many times the productiveness of agriculture may still be increased with intensive cultivation, how many times the present number of men may be fed from the same plot of ground. The improved methods of cultivation will certainly be introduced by the small proprietors, if only they shall not be compelled, as they now are, to give all their income to the large landowners, from whom they rent the land and who have no need to increase the productiveness of the land from which they without any care derive a great income. They say that there will not be enough free land for all working people, and so it is not worth while to worry about the land which is kept from them by the landowners.
This reflection is as if an owner of a house were to say concerning a crowd standing in a storm and in the cold in front of an unoccupied house and asking him to be allowed to take shelter in it: "These people must not be let in, because anyway they cannot all of them be accommodated in it." Let in those who beg to be let in, and then we shall see, from the way they locate themselves, whether all can be accommodated, or only a part. And even if not all can be accommodated, why should not those be admitted who can find room ?
The same is true of the land. Give the land which is kept back from the working men to those who ask for it, and then we shall see whether this land is sufficient or not.
Besides, the argument about the insufficiency of land for the working people, who now work in factories, is incorrect in its essence. If the factory population now feed on bread which they buy, there is no reason why, instead of buying the grain which is produced by others, they should not themselves work the land on which the grain is produced and on which they feed, no matter where this land may be, in India, Argentina, Australia, or Siberia.
Thus all the arguments about why the workmen in the factories should not and could not go back to the land have no foundation whatever; on the contrary, it is clear that such a change not only could not be injurious to the common welfare, but would even increase it and would certainly do away with those chronic famines in India, Russia, and other places which more obviously than anything else show the irregularity of the present distribution of land.
It is true,where the manufacturing industry is particularly developed, as in England, Belgium, and a few States in America, the life of the working people has to such an extent been corrupted that the return to the land presents itself as very difficult. But the difficulty of such a return of the working men to an agricultural life by no means excludes the possibility of realizing such a change. For it to take place it is necessary for the working people first of all to understand that this change is indispensable for their good, and that they should find means for its realization, instead of accepting (as the socialistic doctrine now teaches them) their factory slavery as their eternal, immutable condition, which can be alleviated, but never destroyed.
Thus even the working men who have left the land and live by factory labor do not need unions, societies, strikes, childish processions with flags on the first of May, and so forth, but only this, - the finding of means for freeing themselves from their factory slavery and for settling on the land, the chief impediment to which is found in the seizure of the land by the owners who do not work it. This they should ask and demand of their rulers. And, in demanding this, they will not be demanding something not their own, not belonging to them, but the restitution of their most unquestionable and inalienable right, which is inherent in every animal, to live on the land and get their sustenance from it, without asking anybody else's permission to do so.
It is for this that the deputies of the working men ought to struggle in the parliaments; this ought to be preached by the press which stands on the side of the working men; for this the working men in the factories must prepare themselves.
Thus it is in the case of the laborers who have left the land. But for laborers, like the majority of the Russian laborers, ninety-eight per cent. of whom still live on the land, the question consists only in this, how they may be able to improve their condition, without abandoning their land and surrendering themselves to the temptations of a factory life.
For this one thing is needed, - to turn over to the laborers the land which is now held by the large landowners.
Talk in Russia with any peasant you meet, who is working in town, ask why he is not faring well, and he will invariably answer one and the same thing: "I have no land, nothing to put my hands to."
And here, in Russia, where the whole nation raises an unabated cry on account of the insufficiency of land, men who think that they are serving the masses do not preach to them about means for returning to them the land which has been taken away from them, but about methods for struggling in the factories with the capitalists.
"But should all men live in the country and busy themselves with agriculture?" will say people who are to such an extent accustomed to the unnatural life of the men of the present time that this presents itself to them as rather strange and impossible. But why should not all men live in the country and busy themselves with agriculture? However, if people shall be found with such strange tastes as to prefer the factory slavery to the life in the country, nothing will keep them from doing so. The only point is that every man should have a chance to live in human fashion. When we say that it is desirable that every man should have a family, we do not say that every man should get married and have children, but only, that we do not approve of a structure of society in which a man cannot have the chance to do so.
Even during the time of serfdom, the peasants used to say to their masters, "We are yours, but the land is ours, that is, they recognized that, no matter how illegal and cruel the possession of one man by another was, the right of a man to own land without working it was even more illegal and cruel. It is true, of late a few of the Russian peasants, imitating the landowners, have begun to buy land and to deal in it, considering the ownership of it to be legal, no longer afraid that it will be taken from them. But thus act only a few frivolous peasants who are blinded by greed. The majority, all the real Russian agriculturists, believe firmly that the land cannot and must not be the property of those who do not work it, and that, although now the land is taken away from the workers by those who do not work it, the time will come when it shall be taken away from those who now own it and shall become, as it ought to be, a common possession. And the Russian peasants are quite right in believing that this is so and should be so. The time has come when the injustice, irrationality, and cruelty of the ownership of land by those who do not work it has become as obvious as fifty years ago were obvious the injustice, irrationality, and cruelty of the ownership of serfs. Either because the other methods of oppression have been destroyed, or because the number of people has increased, or because men have become more enlightened, all (both those who own land and those who are deprived of it) see clearly what they did not see before, that if a peasant who has worked all his life has not enough grain, because he has no ground on which to sow it, if he has no milk for the children and for the old, because he has no pasture, if he has not a rod of timber with which to mend his rotten cabin and keep it warm, while the neighboring landowner, who does no work, lives on an immense estate, feeding milk to his puppies, building arbors and stables with plate-glass windows, raising sheep and establishing forests and parks on tens of thousands of desyatinas of land, spending in food in a week what would keep a famished neighboring village alive for a whole year, -such a structure of life should not exist. The injustice, irrationality, and cruelty of such a state of affairs now startles everybody, just as formerly men were startled by the injustice, irrationality, and cruelty of serfdom. And as soon as the injustice, irrationality, and cruelty of any structure become clear to men, this structure will in one way or another come to an end. Thus ended serfdom, and thus very soon landed property will come to an end.
Landed property must inevitably be destroyed, because the injustice, irrationality, and cruelty of this institution have become too obvious. The only question is how it will be abolished. Serfdom and slavery, not only in Russia, but also in all other countries, have been abolished by order of the governments. And it would seem that the ownership of land could be abolished by a similar order. But it is not likely that such an order can or will ever be promulgated by a government.
All governments are composed of men who live by other people's labor, and it is the ownership of land that more than anything else makes it possible to lead such a life. It is not the rulers and the large landed proprietors alone who will not permit the abolition of landed property: men who have nothing in common with the government or with the ownership of land, officials, artists, scholars, merchants, who serve the rich, feeling instinctively that their advantageous position is connected with the ownership of land, either always defend the ownership of land, or, attacking everything which is less important, never touch the question of the ownership of land.
A striking illustration of such a relation to the question on the part of the men of the wealthy classes may be found in the change that has taken place in the views of the famous Herbert Spencer concerning the ownership of land. So long as Herbert Spencer was a young beginner, who had no ties with the rich and the rulers, he looked upon the question of the ownership of land as every man who is not tied by any preconceived notions must look upon it: he rejected it in the most radical manner and proved its injustice. But decades passed, Herbert Spencer from an unknown young man became a famous writer, who established relations with rulers and large landed proprietors, and he to such an extent modified his views upon the ownership of land that he tried to destroy all those editions in which he had so forcibly expressed the correct ideas about the illegality of landed property.
Thus the majority of well-to-do people feel instinctively, if not consciously, that their advantageous position depends on the ownership of the land. To this is due the fact that the parliaments in their pretended cares for the good of the masses propose, discuss, and adopt the most varied measures which are to improve the condition of the masses, but not the one which alone really improves the condition of the masses and is indispensable to them, the abolition of the ownership of land.
Thus, to solve the question about the ownership of the land, it is necessary first of all to destroy the consciously concordant silence which has established itself in regard to this question. Thus it is in those countries where part of the power is in the parliaments. But in Russia, where the whole power is in the hands of the Czar, the provision for the abolition of the ownership of land is still less possible. In Russia the power is only nominally in the hands of the Czar; in reality it is in the hands of a few hundreds of fortuitous men, relatives and near friends of the Czar, who compel him to do what pleases them.
Now all these men own immense tracts of land, and so they will never allow the Czar, even if he should wish to do so, to free the land from the power of the landed proprietors. No matter how hard it was for the Czar who liberated the peasants to compel his retainers to give up the right of serfdom, he was able to do so, because these retainers did not give tip the land. But in giving up the land, the retainers and the relatives of the Czar know that they lose their last chance of living as they have been accustomed to live.
Thus it is absolutely impossible to expect the emancipation of the land from the government in general, and in Russia from the Czar.
It is impossible by means of violence to take away the land which is retained by the landed proprietors, because the strength has always been and will always be on the side of those who have already seized the power. It is quite senseless to wait for the emancipation of the land to be achieved in the manner proposed by the socialists, that is, to be prepared to give up the conditions of a good life for the very worst in expectation of the sweet by and by.
Every rational man sees that this method not only does not emancipate, but more and more makes the working men the slaves of their masters, and prepares them for slavery in the future in relation to those managers who will have charge of the new order. It is still more senseless to wait for the abolition of the ownership of land from a representative government or from the Czar, as the Russian peasants have been waiting for it for the last two reigns, because all the retainers of the Czar and the Czar himself own immense tracts of land, and, though they pretend to be interested in the welfare of the peasants, never will give them the one thing which they need, - the land, - because they know that without the ownership of the land they will be deprived of their advantageous position as idle men who enjoy the labors of the masses.
What, then, are the working men to do in order to free themselves from the oppression in which they are ?
At first it seems that there is nothing to be done, and that the working men are so fettered that they have no possibility whatever of freeing themselves. But that only seems so. The working men need only ponder on the causes of their enslavement, to see that, besides riots, besides socialism, and besides the vain hopes in the governments, and in Russia in the Czar, they have a means for freeing themselves, such as no one and nothing can interfere with and as always has been and even now is in their hands.
Indeed, there is but one cause for the wretched condition of the working men, - it is this, that the landed proprietors own the land which the working men need. But what is it that gives the proprietors the possibility of owning this land?
In the first place, this, that in case the working men attempt to make use of this land they send for troops, which will disperse, beat, and kill those working men who have seized the land, and will return it to the landowners. Now these troops are composed of you, the working men. Thus you yourselves, the working men, by becoming soldiers and obeying the military authorities, make it possible for the landed proprietors to own their land, which ought to belong to you. (That a Christian cannot be a soldier, that is, that he cannot promise to kill his like, and must refuse to use weapons, I have written about many times, among others in a pamphlet, The Soldiers' Memento, where I tried to prove from the Gospel why every Christian should do so.)
But, besides your making it possible, by your participation in the army, for the proprietors to own the land which belongs to all men, consequently also to you, you also give this possibility to the proprietors by working on the proprietors' lands and by renting them. You, the laborers, need only stop doing so, and the ownership of the land will not only become useless for the proprietors, but also impossible, and their land will become common property. No matter how much the landed proprietors may try to substitute machines for laborers, and instead of agriculture to introduce cattle-raising and forestry, they none the less cannot get along without. laborers, and they will one after another and willy-nilly give up their lands.
Thus the means for freeing you, the working men, from your enslavement consists only in this, that, having come to understand that the ownership of land is a crime, you must not take part in it, either as soldiers, who take the land away from the workers, or as laborers on the lands of the proprietors, or as tenants on these lands.
"But the means of nonparticipation, both in the army and in the work on the lands of the proprietors, as also in the hiring of lands, would be effective," I shall be told, "only in case all the working people of the world struck and refused to take part in the crimes, to work on the estates of the proprietors, and to rent land, and this is not the case and never can be the case. Even if a part of the working men should agree to abstain from participating in the army and from working on the land of the proprietors and renting it, the other working people, frequently the working people of other nationalities, will not find such a restraint necessary, and the ownership of the land by the proprietors will not be impaired. Thus the working people who will refuse to take part in the ownership of the land will only be deprived of their advantages in vain, without alleviating the condition of all." This retort is quite just, if it is a question of a strike. But what I propose is not a strike. I do not propose a strike, but that the working people shall refuse to take part in the army, which exercises violence against their brothers, and in working on the lands of the proprietors, in renting them, not because this is unprofitable for the laborers and -produces their enslavement, but because this participation is a bad thing, from which any good man must abstain, just as he must abstain, not only from every murder, theft, robbery, and so forth, but also from participation in these acts. That the participation in the lawlessness of the ownership of land and its support are bad things there can be no doubt, if the working men will only ponder on the whole meaning of this their participation in the ownership of the land by the non-workers. To support the proprietors' ownership of the land means to be the cause of the privations and sufferings of thousands of people, of old men and children, who are insufficiently fed, and who work above their strength, and who die before their time, only because they do not get the land which has been seized by the proprietors.
If such are the consequences of the ownership of land by the proprietors, -and it is obvious to any one that they are such, it is also clear that participation in the ownership of land by the proprietors and in its maintenance is a bad thing from which every man must abstain. Hundreds of millions of men without any strike consider usury, debauchery, violence against the weak, theft, murder, and many other things to be evil, and abstain from these acts. The working men ought to do the same in respect to the ownership of land. They themselves see the whole lawlessness of such ownership and consider it a bad, cruel business. So why do they not only take part in it, but even support it?
Thus I do not propose a strike, but a clear consciousness of the criminality, the sinfulness of the participation in the ownership of land, and, in consequence of this cosciousness, the abstaining from such a participation. It is true, such an abstinence does not, like a strike, at once unite all interested people in one decision and so cannot give those results, defined in advance, which are obtained by a strike, if it is successful; but, on the other hand, such an abstinence produces a much more lasting and continuous union than the one produced by a strike. The artificial union of men which arises at a strike comes to an end the moment the aim of the strike is attained; but the union, from a concordant activity or from abstinence in consequence of an identical consciousness, not only never comes to an end, but constantly grows stronger, attracting an ever increasing number of men. Thus it can and must be in the case of the working men's abstaining from taking part in the ownership of land, not in consequence of a strike, but in consequence of the consciousness of the sinfulness of this participation. It is very likely that, when the working men shall understand the lawlessness of participation in the proprietors' ownership of land, not all of them, but only a small part, will abstain from working on the proprietors' lands and from renting them; but since they will not abstain in consequence of an agreement, which has a local and a temporary significance, but from the consciousness of what is right and wrong, which is always and for all men equally binding, it will be natural for the number of working men, who will be shown by word and by example, both the illegality of the ownership of land and those consequences which arise from this illegality, to be constantly increasing.
It is absolutely impossible to foresee what change in the structure of society will actually be produced by the working men's recognition that participation in the ownership of land is bad, but there is no doubt that these changes will take place and that they will be the more significant, the more this consciousness shall be diffused. These changes may consist in this, that at least a part of the working men will refuse to work for the proprietors and to rent land from them, and the landowners, no longer finding the ownership of land to be profitable, will either enter into arrangements with the working men which will be advantageous for them, or else will entirely give up the ownership of land. It is also possible that the working men who are enlisted in the army, having come to comprehend the illegality of the ownership of land, will more and more frequently refuse to take part in acts of violence against their brothers. the agricultural laborers, and the government will be compelled to abandon the protection of the proprietors' landed property, and the land of the proprietors will become free.
Finally, it may be that the government, having come to see the inevitability of the emancipation of the land, will find it necessary to forestall the victory of the working men by lending it the aspect of its own decree, and will by law abolish the ownership of land.
The changes which can and must take place in the ownership of land, in consequence of the working men's recognition of the illegality of participation in the ownership of land, may be very varied, and it is difficult to foresee of precisely what character they will be, but one thing is unquestionable, and that is, that not one sincere effort of a man to act in this matter in godly fashion or in accordance with his conscience will be lost.
"What can I alone do against all?" people frequently say, when they are confronted with an act which is not countenanced by the majority. To these people it seems that for the success of a thing there must be all, or at least many; but there must be many only for a bad thing. For a good thing it is enough if there be one, because God is always with him who does a good thing. And with whom God is, sooner or later all men will be.
In any case, all the improvements in the condition of the working men will take place only because they will themselves act more in conformity with God's will, more according to their conscience, that is, more morally, than they have acted before.
Working men have tried to free themselves by means of violence, of riots, and they have not attained their end. They have tried to free themselves by socialistic methods through unions, strikes, demonstrations, elections to parliaments, but all this at best only for a time alleviates the convict labor of the slaves, and not only does not free them, but even confirms the slavery.
The working men have tried, each one separately, to free themselves by supporting the illegality of the ownership of land, which they themselves condemn, and if the condition of a few, and that, too, not always and but for a brief time, is improved by such a participation in an evil thing, the condition of all only gets worse from it. This is due to the fact that what permanently improves the condition of men (not of one man, but of a society of men) is the activity which is in conformity with the rule that we should do unto others as we wish that others should do unto us. But all the three means which so far have been employed by the working men have not been in conformity with the rule about doing unto others as we wish that others should do unto us.
The means of the riots, that is, of the employment of violence against men who consider the land which they have received as an inheritance or have purchased with their savings to be their property, is inconsistent with the rule about doing unto others as we wish that others should do unto us, because not one man who takes part in the riots would like to have taken from him what he considers to be his own, the more so, since such a seizure is generally accompanied by cruel acts of violence.
Not less inconsistent with the rule about doing unto others as we wish that others should do unto us is the whole socialistic activity. It is inconsistent with this rule, in the first place, because, by putting at its basis class strife, it provokes in the working men such hostile feelings toward the masters and the non-workers in general, as on the part of the masters can in no way be desirable for the working men. It is inconsistent with this rule for this reason, also, that in the strikes the working men are very frequently, for the success of their undertaking, brought to the necessity of using violence against those working men, of their own nation or foreigners, who wish to take their places.
Similarly inconsistent with the rule about doing unto others what we wish that others should do unto us, and even outright immoral, is the doctrine which promises to the working men the transference of all the implements of labor, of the factories and works, into their full possession. Every factory is the product of the labor, not only of many working men of the present, those who have built the factory and have prepared the material for its construction, and then of the men since its construction, but also of a vast number of mental and manual working men of former generations, without whose work no factory could exist. There is absolutely no possibility of figuring out the part of all men in the working of a factory, and so, according to the doctrine of the socialists themselves, every factory, like the land, is the common possession of the whole people, with this one difference, that the ownership of land can be abolished at once, without waiting for the socialization of all the implements of labor; but a factory can become the legal possession of the people only when the unrealizable fancy of the socialists shall be achieved, - the socialization of all, literally all, the implements of labor, - and not as is proposed by the majority of working socialists, when they shall have seized the factories of their masters and shall have made them their own. A master has no right whatever to own a factory, but just as little right have the working men to any factory whatever, so long as the unrealizable socialization of the implements of labor is not an accomplished fact.
For this reason I say that the doctrine which promises to the working men the seizure of those factories in which they work, previous to the socialization of all the implements of labor, as is generally proposed, is not only a doctrine which is contrary to the golden rule of doing unto others as we would that others should do unto us, but even downright immoral.
Similarly inconsistent with the rule about doing unto others as we would that others should do unto us is the working men's support of the ownership, of land, be it by means of violence in the form of soldiers, or in the form of laborers or tenants on the land. Such a support of the ownership of land is inconsistent, because, if such acts for a time improve the condition of those persons who perform them, they certainly make the condition of other working men worse.
Thus all the means which have heretofore been used by the working men for the purpose of their liberation, such as direct violence and the socialistic activity, as well as the acts of separate individuals who for the sake of their advantage maintain the illegality of the ownership of land, have not attained their purpose, because they have all been inconsistent with the rule of morality about doing unto others as we would that others should do unto us.
What will free the working men from their slavery is not even an activity, but the mere abstinence from sin, because such abstinence is just and moral, that is, in conformity with God's will.
"But want!" I shall be told. No matter how convinced a man may be of the illegality of the ownership of land, it is hard for him, if he is a soldier, to keep from going whither he is sent, and from working for the proprietors, if this work may give milk for his starving children. Or how can a peasant abstain from renting the proprietor's land, when he has but half a desyatina to each soul and knows that he cannot support his family on the land which he owns? It is true, this is very hard, but the same difficulty is met with in refraining from any bad thing. And yet men for the most part abstain from anything bad. Here the abstinence is less difficult than in the majority of bad acts, but the harm from the bad act - the participation in the seizure of land - is more obvious than in many bad acts from which people refrain. I am not speaking of the refusal to participate in the army, when the troops are sent out against the peasants. It is true, for such a refusal it takes more than ordinary courage and a readiness to sacrifice oneself, and so not everybody is able to do so, but, on the other hand, the cases when this refusal is to be applied are rarely met with. But it takes much less effort and sacrifice not to work on the proprietors' lands and not to rent them. If all working men fully comprehended that working for the proprietors and renting their lands are bad, there would be fewer and fewer people ready to work on the proprietors' lands and to rent them. Millions of people live without having any need of the proprietors' lands, busying themselves at home with some trade or attending to all kinds of industries away from home. Nor do those hundreds of thousands and millions of peasants feel any need of the proprietors' lands, who, in spite of the whole difficulty of this matter, leave their old places and go to new places, where they get all the land they wish and where they for the most part do not suffer, but even grow rich, soon forgetting the want which drove them out. Even those peasants and good farmers live without working for the proprietors or renting their lands, who, though having but little land to till, live abstemiously and work their land well and so are not in need of any work for the proprietors or of renting their lands. Other thousands live without having any need of working on the proprietors' lands and of renting them,-the men who live a Christian life, that is, living, not each for himself, but aiding one another, as live in Russia many Christian Communes, of whom the Dukhobors are especially known to me.
There can be want only in a society of men who live according to the animal law of struggling against one another, but among Christian societies there ought to be no want. As soon as men divide among themselves what they have, everybody always has what be needs, and much is still left. When the people who heard Christ's sermon grew faint with hunger, Christ, upon learning that some of them had provisions, commanded that all should sit down in a circle and that those who had the provisions should give them to their neighbors on one side, in order that the neighbors, having appeased their hunger, might hand them to those farther away. When the whole circle was made, all had their hunger appeased, and much was still left over.
Even so in the society of men who act similarly there can be no want, and such people do not need to work for the proprietors or rent their lands. Thus want cannot always be a sufficient reason for doing what is harmful to one's brothers.
If the working people now go and work for the proprietors and rent their lands, they do so only because not all of them have come to understand the sinfulness of their acts or the whole evil which they are doing to their brothers and to themselves by it. The more there shall be such men and the more clearly they shall understand the significance of their participation in the ownership of land, the more and more will the power of the non-workers over the workers destroy itself of its own accord.
The only sure, indubitable means for improving the condition of the working men, which, at the same time, is consistent with God's will, consists in the emancipation of the land from its seizure by the proprietors. This emancipation of the land is attained, not only through the working men's refusal to take part in the army, when the army is directed against the working people, but also by abstaining from working on the proprietors' lands and from renting them. But it is not enough for you, the working men, to know that for your good you need the liberation of the land from its seizure by the proprietors, and that this liberation is attained through your refraining from committing acts of violence against your brothers and from working on the lands of the proprietors and renting them; you must also know in advance how to manage the land when it shall be freed from seizure by the proprietors, how to distribute it among the workers.
The majority of you generally think that all that is necessary is to take the land away from the non-workers, and all will be well. But that is not so. It is easy to say: "Take the land away from the non-workers and give it to those who work it." But how is this to be done, without violating justice and without giving the rich again a chance to accumulate great extents of territory and thus again to rule over the workers? To leave it, as some of you think, to each individual worker or society to mow or plow wherever it be, as was done anciently and is even now done among the Cossacks, is possible only where there are few people and there is much land and the land is all of one quality. But where there are more people than the land can support, and the land is of varying quality, it is necessary to find a different means for the exploitation of the land. To divide the land according to the number of men? But if the land is divided up according to the number of men, it will also come into the hands of those who do not know how to work it, and these non- workers will let it or sell it to the rich purchasers, and there will again appear people who own large tracts of land and who do not till it. To prohibit the non-workers to sell or let the land? But then the land which belongs to a man who does not wish or is unable to work it will lie unused. Besides, in dividing the land up according to the number of men, how is it to be estimated according to its quality? There is black loam, fruitful land, and there is sandy, swampy, sterile land; there is land in the cities, which brings as much as one thousand and more rubles income from each desyatina, and there is land in the backwoods, which does not bring any income. How, then, is the land to be distributed in such a way that there may not again arise the ownership of land by those who do not work it, and that there may not be such as are improperly treated, that there may be no discussions, quarrels, civil wars? Men have for a long time been busy discussing and solving these questions. For the correct distribution of land among the workers many projects have been proposed.
To say nothing of the so-called communistic projects of the construction of society, in which the land is regarded a common possession and is worked by all men in common, I am acquainted also with the following projects: The project of the Englishman, William Ogilvie, who lived in the eighteenth century. Ogilvie says that, since every man, in being born into this world, in consequence of this has the full right to be there and to live by what it produces, this right cannot be limited by some people's regarding great tracts of land as their property. For this reason everybody has the free right to own such a plot of land as falls to his share. But if a person owns a greater extent of land than falls to his share, exploiting those plots to which the men who have a right to them make no claim, the owner should pay the government a tax for this possession.
Another Englishman, Thomas Spence, a few years later solved the land question by recognizing the land to be the property of parishes which could dispose of it as they pleased. In this way the private possession of separate individuals was completely abolished.
As a beautiful illustration of Spence's view concerning the ownership of land may serve the account of what happened with him in the year 1788 at Haydon Bridge, which he calls a "Sylvan Joke."
"While I was in the wood alone by myself a-gathering of nuts, the forester popped through the bushes upon me, and, asking me what I did there, I replied, 'Gathering nuts.'
" 'Gathering nuts,!' said he, 'and dare you say so?'
" 'Yes,' said I, 'why not? Would you question a monkey or a squirrel about such a business? And am I to be treated as an inferior to one of these creatures, or have I a less right? But who are you,' continued I, ' that thus take it upon you to interrupt me?'
" ' I'll let you know that,' said he, 'when I lay you fast for trespassing here.'
" 'Indeed: answered I, 'but how can I trespass here where no man ever planted or cultivated; for these nuts are the spontaneous gift of Nature, ordained alike for the sustenance of man and beast that choose to gather them, and, therefore, they are common.'
" 'I tell you,' said he, 'this wood is not common. It belongs to the Duke of Portland.'
" ' Oh ! My service to the Duke of Portland' said I. 'Nature knows no more of him than of me. Therefore, as in Nature's storehouse, the rule is "first come first served , " so the Duke of Portland must look sharp if he wants any nuts."'
Spence, in conclusion, declared that if he were called upon to defend a country in which he durst not pluck a nut, he would throw down his musket, saying, " Let such as the Duke of Portland, who claim the country, fight for it!"
The question was similarly solved by the famous author of Age of Reason and Rights of Man, Thomas Paine. The peculiarity of this solution consisted in this, that in recognizing the land to be a common possession, be proposed to abolish the right of the ownership of land by separate individuals in that the possession of land could not be passed by inheritance, and the land, which was private property, at the death of the owner became the possession of the nation.
It was Patrick Edward Dove, in our century, who was the next, after Thomas Paine, to write and think about this subject. Dove's theory consists in this, that the value of the land is due to two sources, - to the property Of the land itself and to the work put into it. The value of the land due to the work which is put into it may be the possession of private individuals; but the value of the land which is due to its properties is the possession of the whole nation and so can never belong to separate individuals, as it is now supposed to be, but must be the common possession of the whole nation.1
Such also is the project of the Japanese Land Reclaiming Society, the essence of which consists in this, that every man has the right to own as much land as is apportioned to him, on condition of paying for it an established tax, and so has the right to demand the allotment to him of his share of land by him who has more than the share allotted to each person. But the best, justest, and most applicable project, in my opinion, is the one by Henry George, which is called the Single Tax.
I personally consider Henry George's project the justest, most beneficent, and, above all, most easily applied of all the projects of which I know anything. This project may on a small scale be imagined as follows: let us imagine that in some locality the whole land belongs to two proprietors, one, very rich, who lives abroad, and the other, who is not well off and who lives and farms at home, and to a hundred peasants, who own small tracts. Besides, this locality is inhabited by a few dozen landless men, who serve and live in rented houses,- artisans, traders, officials. Let us assume that all the inhabitants of this locality, having come to the conclusion that the whole land is a common possession, have decided in conformity with this conviction to manage the land.
What shall they do?
It is impossible to take the land away from those who own it and to allow anybody to use the land he likes, since there will be several candidates to the same tract, and there will be endless dissensions. It is inconvenient for all to unite into one cooperative society and to plow, mow, and harvest in common, and then to divide up, because some have plows horses, carts, while others do not have them and, besides, some of the inhabitants do not know how to till the land, and have not strength to do so. So, too, it is very difficult to divide the land according to the number of persons into such holdings as by their quality would be equal among themselves. If for this the whole land is divided up into small plots of various quality, so that each should get a plot of the best, and one of mediocre, and one of bad land, and one of field, and mowing, and woodland, there will be too many such tiny plots.
Besides, such a division is dangerous, because those who do not wish to work or who are in great need will for money turn over their land to the rich, and large landed proprietors will again come into existence.
And so the inhabitants of the locality decide to leave the land in the hands of those who now own it, but oblige each owner to pay into the common treasury an amount of money which represents the income which (according to the valuation of the land, not according to the labor put into it, but according to its quality and location) the owners derive from the land in use by them, and this money they decide to divide into equal parts. But since such a collection of money from all the owners of the land and its subsequent equal distribution among the inhabitants is troublesome, and since, besides, all the inhabitants pay out money for common needs,-schools, churches, fire departments, shepherds, mending of roads, and so forth, and such money for public purposes is always insufficient, the inhabitants of the locality decide, instead of collecting the income from the land and distributing it to all and again collecting a part of it for taxes, to collect and use the whole income from the land on common necessities. Having established themselves in this manner, the inhabitants of the locality demand from the proprietors a fixed payment for the land in their possession, as also from the peasants who own small holdings; but nothing is demanded from the few dozen men who do not own any land, they being permitted to use gratis all that which is supported from the income on the land.
This arrangement has the effect of making it unprofitable for the proprietor who does not live in the country, and who produces little on his land, under the land tax, to continue holding his land, and he gives it up. But the other proprietor, who is a good farmer, gives up only a part of his land, and retains only that part of it on which he can produce more than what is demanded of him for the land cultivated by him.
But those of the peasants who own small tracts, and who have many workers, but little land, as also some who have no land, but wish to support themselves by means of work on the land, take up the land which is given up by the proprietors. Thus, with such a solution, all the inhabitants of this locality find it possible to live on the land and to support themselves from it, and the whole land passes over into the hands or remains in the hands of those who like to till it and are able to produce much on it. But the public institutions of the inhabitants of the locality improve, since more money is obtained for public needs than before, and, above all else, all this transference of landed property takes place without any disputes, quarrels, interference, or violence, but by the voluntary abandonment of the land by those who do not know how to cultivate it profitably.
Such is Henry George's project in its application to the separate state or even to all humanity. This project is just and- beneficent, and, above all, easily applied everywhere, in all societies, no matter what order of agriculture may be established there.
For this reason I personally consider this project to be the best of all those in existence. But this is my personal opinion, which may be faulty. But you, the working men, will, when the time shall come to attend to the land, discuss for yourselves these and all other projects, and will choose the one which you will consider the best, or you will yourselves discover a juster or more applicable one. The reason I have explained these projects more in detail is, that you, working men, understanding on the one hand the whole injustice of the ownership of land, and, on the other, the whole difficulty and complexity of a just distribution of the land, may not fall into those errors of a thoughtless distribution of the land, which would make your condition, in consequence of the struggle for the land by separate individuals and of land seizures in the new order, worse than what it is at present.
I shall briefly repeat the essence of what I wanted to say to you. The essence of what I wanted to say to you is this, that I advise you, the working men, in the first place, to understand clearly what it is you need, and not to labor to obtain what is absolutely unnecessary for you; you need but this one thing, - free land, on which you may be able to live and support yourselves.
In the second place, I advise you to understand clearly in what way you may be able to obtain the land you need. You can obtain the land, not through riots, from which God save you, not through demonstrations, nor strikes, nor socialistic deputies in parliaments, but only through nonparticipation in what you yourselves consider to be bad, that is, by not supporting the illegality of the ownership of land, either by means of violence exerted by the army, or by working on the proprietors' lands and renting them.
In the third place, I advise you to consider in advance how you will distribute the land when it becomes free.
For you to be able correctly to consider this, you must not think that the land which will be abandoned by the proprietors will become your property, but must understand that, for the use of the land to be regularly and without bias apportioned among all men, the right to own land, though it be but one square rod, should not be acknowledged in the case of any one. 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.
In the fourth place, and this is most important, I advise you, for the purpose of obtaining everything you need, to direct your forces, not to a struggle with the ruling classes by means of revolts, revolutions, or socialistic propaganda, but only to yourselves, to how you may live better.
People fare badly only because they themselves live badly. And there is no more injurious thought for people than that the causes of the wretchedness of their position is not in themselves, but in external conditions. A man or a society of men need but imagine that the evil experienced by them is due to external conditions and to direct their attention and efforts to the change of these external conditions, and the evil will be increased. But a man or a society of men need but sincerely direct their attention to themselves, and in themselves and their lives look for the causes of that evil from which they suffer, in order that these causes may be at once found and destroyed.
" Seek ye the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." This is the fundamental law of human life. If you live badly, contrary to God's law, no efforts of yours will procure for you the well-being for which you are seeking. If you live well, morally well, in accordance with God's will and making no efforts for the attainment of this well- being, it will naturally establish itself among you, and at that in a way you have never thought of.
It seems so natural and simple to push against the door behind which is that which we need, and the more natural, since back of us stands a crowd that is pressing against us and jamming us against the door. However, the more stubbornly we press against the door behind which is that which we consider a good, the less hope there is to penetrate through it. The door opens toward us.
Thus, to obtain the good, a man must not trouble himself about the change of external conditions, but only about changing himself: he must stop doing what is evil, if he is doing it, and must begin to do good, if he is not doing it. All the doors which lead men to the true good open only outwardly.
We say, the working people are enslaved by the government, by the rich; but who are these men who form the government and the wealthy classes? Are they heroes, each of whom can vanquish tens and hundreds of working people? Or are there very many of them, while there are but few working men? Or are these men, the rulers and the wealthy, the only ones who know how to make everything necessary and to produce everything the people live by ? Neither the one, nor the other, nor the third. These men are no heroes, but, on the contrary, weakened, helpless people, and not only are they not numerous, but they are even hundreds of times fewer than the working people. And everything which men live by is produced not by them, but by the working men, while they are both unable and unwilling to do anything, and only devour what the working men produce. Why, then, does this small band of feeble, idle men, who cannot and will not do anything, rule over millions of working men? There is but one answer to this: it is due to the fact that the working men are in their life guided by the same rules and laws by which their oppressors are guided. If the working men work and do not exploit the labors of the poor and the feeble to such an extent as do the non-working rulers and the wealthy, this is not due to the fact that they consider this bad, but because they cannot do it so well as the rulers and the rich, who are more agile and cunning than the rest. The rulers and the rich rule the working people only because the working people wish in precisely the same manner to rule their own fellows, the working men. For this same reason -the equal comprehension of life - the working men are unable successfully to rebel against their oppressors. No matter how hard it is for the working man to be oppressed by the rulers and the rich, he knows in his heart that he himself would act similarly toward his brothers, or that in a small way he is acting thus toward them. The working people have fettered themselves by their desire to enthralled one another, and so it is easy for the shrewd people who have already got them in their power to enthralled them. If the working people did not consist of enslavers exactly like the rulers and the rich, who are concerned only about exploiting their neighbor's want for the purpose of establishing their own well-being, but lived in a brotherly way, thinking of one another and mutually offering aid, no one would be able to enthralled them. And so, to free themselves from the oppression in which they are held by the rulers and the rich, the working people have but one means, - to free themselves from those principles by which they are guided in their lives, that is, to stop serving mammon and begin serving God.
The pretended friends of the people tell you, and you yourselves - at least a few of you - say to yourselves, that the present order must be changed, that you must take possession of the implements of labor and of the land, and that you must overthrow the present government and establish a new one. And you believe this, and you hope and work for the attainment of these ends. But let us assume that you will attain what you wish, that you will overthrow the present government and will establish a new government, and that you will take possession of all the factories, works, and the land. Why do you assume that the people who will form the new government will be guided by new principles different from those by which the present men are guided? And if they shall be guided by the same principles, they will, like those of the present, not only retain, but also strengthen their power, and will for their advantage extract as much from their power as they can. Why do you assume that the people who will have charge of the factories, of the land (all men cannot manage all institutions), being people with just such views as the men of the present, will not find, as at present, means for seizing the lion share, leaving to the humble and meek only what is indispensable. I shall be told: " It will be so arranged that it will be impossible to do so." But see how well all was arranged by God Himself, or by Nature, -the ownership of the earth by all who are born and live upon it, - and yet people have been cunning enough to violate this divine arrangement. And so thousands of means for distorting the human order will always be discovered by those men who in their lives are guided by nothing but care for their personal well-being. No modifications of the external order will ever improve or ever can improve the condition of men. And so my fourth and most important advice to you, working men, consists in this, that, without condemning other people, your oppressors, you should direct your attention to yourselves and change your inner lives.
If you think that it is lawful and useful forcibly to take away and appropriate to yourselves what has been taken from you and is retained by force; or, if you think that, following the teaching of erring men, it is lawful and useful to take part in the struggle of the classes and to strive after the acquisition of the implements of labor created by others; if you think that, serving as soldiers, you are obliged to obey the authorities, who compel you to offer violence to your brothers and kill them, and not to obey God, who commands you not to do so; or if you think that, in maintaining the lawlessness of the ownership of land by your work on the lands of the proprietors and by renting them, you are not doing anything wrong, - your condition will become worse and worse, and you will for ever remain slaves.
But if you come to understand that for your true good you need only live a brotherly life according to God's law, doing unto others what you wish should be done to you, -then in the measure in which you will understand this and, understanding this, will execute it, will also that good be realized which you wish for, and your slavery be destroyed. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
Yasnaya Polyana, September, 1902.
1This information is taken by me from a beautiful English book by a modern writer, John Morrison Davidson, Precursors of Henry George. -Author's Note.
(Source: From The Complete Works of Count Tolstoy Vol XXIV (Latest Works/Life/General Index Biography) - Dana Estes & Co. - 1905 (pp. 131-169).)