A GREAT INIQUITY
RUSSIA is living through an important time destined to have enormous
The proximity and inevitableness of the
approaching change is, as indeed is always the case, especially keenly
felt by those classes of society who, by their position, are free from
the necessity of physical labour absorbing all their time and power, and
therefore have the possibility of occupying themselves with political questions.
These men—the nobles, merchants, government officials, doctors, engineers,
professors, teachers, artists, students, advocates, chiefly townspeople,
the so-called "intellectuals"—are now in Russia directing the movement which
is taking place, and they devote all their powers to the alteration of the
existing political order, and to replacing it by another regarded by this
or that party as the most expedient and likely to ensure the liberty and
welfare of the Russian people. These men, continually suffering from every
kind of restriction and coercion on the part of the Government, from arbitrary
exile, incarcerations, prohibition of meetings, prohibition of books, newspapers,
strikes, unions—from the limitation of the rights of various nationalities,
and at the same time living a life completely estranged from the majority
of the Russian agricultural people, naturally see in these restrictions the
chief evil, and in the liberation from them the chief welfare, of the Russian
Thus think the Liberals. So also think
the Social Democrats, who hope, through popular representation, by the
aid of State power to realise a new social order in accordance with their
theory. So also think the revolutionaries, hoping, by substituting a new
Government for the existing one, to establish laws ensuring the greatest
freedom and welfare of the whole people.
Yet one need only for a time free oneself
from the idea which has taken root amongst our intellectuals, that the
work now before Russia is the introduction into our country of those same
forms of political life which have been introduced into Europe and America,
and are supposed to ensure the liberty and welfare of all the citizens—and
to simply think of what is morally wrong in our life, in order to see
quite clearly that the chief evil from which the whole of the Russian
people are unceasingly and cruelly suffering—an evil of which they are
keenly conscious and to which they continually point—cannot be removed by
any political reforms, just as it is not up to the present time removed
by any of the political reforms of Europe and America. This evil—the fundamental
evil from which the Russian people, as well as the peoples of Europe and
America, are suffering—is the fact that the majority of the people are deprived
of the indisputable natural right of every man to use a portion of the land
on which he was born. It is sufficient to understand all the criminality,
the sinfulness of the situation in this respect, in order to understand
that until this atrocity, continually being committed by the owners of the
land, shall cease, no political reforms will give freedom and welfare to
the people, but that, on the contrary, only the emancipation of the majority
of the people from that land slavery in which they are now held can render
political reforms—not a plaything and a toot for personal aims in the hands
of politicians—but the real expression of the will of the people.
It is this thought which I wish to communicate
in this article to those who, at the present important moment for Russia,
desire to serve, not their personal aims, but the true welfare of the
THE other day I was walking along the high
road to Tula. It was on the Saturday of Holy Week; the people were driving
to market in lines of carts, with calves, hens, horses, cows (some of
the cows were being conveyed in the carts, so starved were they). A wrinkled
old woman was leading a lean, sickly cow. I knew the old woman, and asked
her why she was leading the cow.
"She's without milk." said the woman. "I
ought to sell her and buy one with milk. Likely I'll have to add ten roubles,
but I have only five. Where shall I take it? During the winter we have
had to spend eighteen roubles on flour, and we've only got one bread-winner.
I live alone with my daughter-in-law and four grandchildren; my son is house-porter
"Why doesn't your son live at home?" I
"He's nothing to work on. What's our land?
Just enough for Kvas.1
A peasant went tramping along, thin and
pale, his trousers bespattered with mine clay.
"What business in town?" I asked.
"To buy a horse; it's time to plough and
I haven't got one. But they say horses are dear!"
"What price do you want to give?"
"Well, according to what I have."
"How much have you?"
"I've scraped together fifteen roubles.
But what can you buy at the present time for fifteen roubles?"
"A knacker's beast," put in another peasant.
"In whose mine do you work?" I asked, glancing
at his trousers stretched at the knee and coloured with red clay.
"In Komaroff’s, Ivan Komaroff's."
"Why have you made so little?"
"Oh, I was working for half profit."
"How much did you earn?" I asked.
"Two roubles a week or even less. What
can one do? Bread didn't last till Christmas. We can't buy enough."
A little further, a young peasant was leading
a sleek, well fed horse to sell.
"Nice horse," said I.
"Couldn't be better," said he, thinking
me a buyer. "Good for ploughing and driving."
"Then why do you sell it?"
"I can't use it. I've only two allotments.
I can manage them with one horse. I've kept them both over the winter,
and I'm sorry enough for it. The cattle have eaten up everything, and we
want money to pay the rent."
"From whom do you rent?"
"From Maria Ivanovna; thanks be to her,
she let us have it. Otherwise it would have been the end of us."
"What are the terms?"
"She fleeces us of fourteen roubles. But
where else can we go? So we take it."
A woman passed driving along with a boy
wearing a little cap. She knew me, clambered out, and offered me her boy
for service. The boy is quite a tiny fellow with quick, intelligent eyes.
"He looks small, but he can do everything,"
"But why do you hire out such a little
"Well, sir, at least it'll be one mouth
less to feed. I have four besides myself, and only one allotment. God knows,
we've nothing to eat. They ask for bread and I've none to give them."
With whomsoever one talks, all complain
of their want and all similarly from one side or another come back to the
sole reason. There is insufficient bread, and bread is insufficient because
there is no land.
These may be mere casual meetings on the
road, but cross all Russia, all its peasant world, and one may observe
all the dreadful calamities and sufferings which proceed from the obvious
cause that the agricultural masses are deprived of land. Half the Russian
peasantry live so that for them the question is not how to improve their
position, but only how not to die of hunger, they and their families, and
this only because they have no land.
Traverse all Russia and ask all the working
people why their life is hard, what they want, and all of them with one
voice will say one and the same thing, that which they unceasingly desire
and expect, and for which they unceasingly hope, of which they unceasingly
They cannot help thinking and feeling this,
for, apart from the chief thing, the insufficiency of land for the maintenance
of most of them, they cannot but feel themselves the slaves of the landed
gentry, and merchants, and landowners, whose estates have surrounded their
small insufficient allotments, and they cannot but think and feel this
for every minute, for a bag of grass, for a handful of fuel, without which
they cannot live, for a horse gone astray from their land on to the landlord's,
they perpetually suffer fines, blows, humiliation.
Once as I was going along the road, I entered
into conversation with a blind peasant beggar. Recognising in me from
my conversation a literate man who read the papers, but not taking me for
a gentleman, he suddenly stopped and gravely asked: "Well, and is there
I asked, "About what?"
"Why, about the gentry's land."
I said I had heard nothing. The blind man
shook his head and didn't ask me anything more.
"Well, what do they say about the land?"
I asked a short time ago of a former pupil of mine, a rich, steady, and
intelligent literate peasant.
"It is true the people prattle."
"And you yourself, what do you think?"
"Well, it'll probably come over to us,"
Of all events which are taking place, this
alone is important and interesting to the whole people. And they believe,
and cannot but believe, that it will "come over."
They cannot but believe this, because it
is clear to them that a multiplying people living by agriculture cannot
continue to exist when only a small portion of the land is left them from
which they must feed themselves and all the parasites who have fastened
on to them and are crawling about them.
"WHAT is man?" says Henry George in one
of his speeches. "In the first place, he is an animal, a land animal who
cannot live without land. All that man produces comes from the land: all
productive labour, in the final analysis, consists in working up land, or
materials drawn from land, into such forms as fit them for the satisfaction
of human wants and desires. Why, man's very body is drawn from the land.
Children of the soil, we come from the land, and to the land we must return.
Take away from man all that belongs to the land, and what have you but a
disembodied spirit? Therefore he who holds the land on which and from which
another man must live is that man's master, and the man is his slave. The
man who holds the land on which I must live can command me to life or to
death just as absolutely as though I were his chattel. Talk about abolishing
slavery—we have not abolished slavery, we have only abolished one rude form
of it, chattel slavery. There is a deeper and wore insidious form, a more
cursed form yet before us, to abolish, in this industrial slavery that makes
a man a virtual slave, while taunting him and mocking him in the name of
"Did you ever think," says Henry George
in another part of the same speech, "of the utter absurdity and strangeness
of the fact that all over the civilised world the working classes are
the poor classes? Think for a moment how it would strike a rational being
who had never been on the earth before if such an intelligence could come
down, and you were to explain to him how we live on earth, how houses
and food and clothing and all the many things we need were all produced
by work, would he not think that the working people would be the people
who lived in the finest houses and had most of everything that work produces?
Yet, whether you took him to London or Paris or New York, or even to Burlington,
he would find that those called the working people were the people who lived
in the poorest houses." 3
(The same thing, I would add, takes place
in a yet greater degree in the country. Idle people live in luxurious palaces,
in spacious and fine abodes. The workers live in dark and dirty hovels.)
"All this is strange—just think of it.
We naturally despise poverty, and it is reasonable that we should… Nature
gives to labour, and to labour alone; there must be human work before
any article of wealth can be produced; and in the natural state of things
the man who toiled honestly and well would be the rich man, and he who did
not work would be poor. We have so reversed the order of Nature that we
are accustomed to think of the working man as a poor man. … The primary cause
of this is that we compel those who work to pay others for permission to
do so. You may buy a coat, a horse, a house; there you are paying the seller
for labour exerted for something that he has produced, or that he has got
from the man who did produce it; but when you pay a man for land, what are
you paying him for? You are paying for something that no man has produced;
you pay him for something that was here before man was, or for a value that
was created, not by him individually but by the community of which you are
a part." 4
(It is for this reason that the one who
has seized the land and possesses it is rich, whereas he who cultivates
it or works on its products is poor.)
"We talk about over-production. How can
there he such a thing as over-production while people want? All these
things that are said to be over-produced are desired by many people. Why
do they not get them? They do not get them because they have not the means
to buy them; not that they do not want them. Why have not they the means
to buy them? They earn too little. When the great mass of men have to work
for an average of $1.40 a day, it is no wonder that great quantities of goods
cannot be sold."
"Now, why is it that men have to work for
such low wages? Because if they wee to demand higher wages there are plenty
of unemployed men ready to step into their places. It is this mass of
unemployed men who compel that fierce competition that drives wages down
to the point of bare subsistence. Why is it that there are men who cannot
get employment? Did you ever think what a strange thing it is that men
cannot find employment? Adam had no difficulty in finding employment,
neither had Robinson Crusoe; the finding of employment was the last thing
that troubled them.
"If men cannot find an employer, why cannot
they employ themselves? Simply because they are shut out from the element
on which human labour can alone be exerted. Men are compelled to compete
with each other for the wages of an employer, because they have been robbed
of the natural opportunities of employing themselves; because they cannot
find a piece of God's world on which to work without paying some other human
creature for the privilege." 5
"Men pray to the Almighty to relieve poverty.
But poverty comes not from God's laws—it is blasphemy of the worst kind
to say that, it comes from man's injustice to his fellows. Supposing the
Almighty were to hear the prayer, how could He carry out the request so
long as His laws are what they are? Consider, the Almighty gives us nothing
of the things that constitute wealth; He merely gives us the raw material,
which must be utilised by men to produce wealth. Does He not give us enough
of that now? How could He relieve poverty even if He were to give us more?
Supposing in answer to these prayers He were to increase the power of the
sun, or the virtue of the soil? Supposing He were to make plants more prolific,
or animals to produce after their kind more abundantly? Who would get the
benefit of it? Take a country where land is completely monopolised, as it
is in most of the civilised countries, who would get the benefit of it? Simply
the landowners. And even if God in answer to prayer were to send down out
of the heavens those things that men require, who would get the benefit?
"In the Old Testament we are told that
when the Israelites journeyed through the desert they were hungered,
and that God sent manna down out of the heavens. There was enough for
all of them, and they all took it and were relieved. But supposing that
the desert had been held as private property, as the soil of Great Britain
is held. as the soil even of our new States is being held; suppose that
one of the Israelites had a square mile and another one had twenty square
miles, and another one had a hundred square miles, and the great majority
of the Israelites did not have enough to set the soles of their feet upon
which they could call their own—what would become of the manna? What good
would it have done to the majority? Not a whit. Though God had sent down
manna enough for all, that manna would have been the property of the landholders,
they would have employed some of the others perhaps to gather it up into
heaps for them, and would have sold it to their hungry brethren. Consider
it; this purchase and sale of manna might have gone on until the majority
of Israelites had given all they had, even to the clothes off their backs.
What then? Then they would not have had anything to buy manna with, and the
consequences would have been that while they went hungry the manna would
have lain in great heaps, and the landowners would have been complaining
of the overproduction of manna. There would have been a great harvest of
manna and hungry people, just precisely the phenomenon that we see to-day." 6
"I do not mean to say that even after you
had set right this fundamental injustice there would not be many things
to do; but this I do mean to say, that our treatment of land lies at the
bottom of all social questions. This I do mean to say, that, do what you
please, reform as you may, you never can get rid of widespread poverty
so long as the element on which and from which all men must live is made
the private property of some men. It is utterly impossible. Reform government;
get taxes down to the minimum; build railroads, institute co-operative stores;
divide profits, if you choose, between employers and employed—and what
will be the result? The result will be that the land will increase in value—that
will be the result—that and nothing else. Experience shows this. Do not
all improvements simply increase the value of land—the price that some
must pay others for the privilege of living?"
The same, I shall add, do we unceasingly
see in Russia. All landowners complain of the unprofitableness and expense
of their estates whilst the price of the land is continually rising. It
cannot but rise since the population is increasing, the land is a question
of life and death for this population.
And therefore the people surrender everything
they can, not only their labour, but even their lives, for the land which
is being withheld from them.
THERE used to be cannibalism and human sacrifices;
there used to be religious prostitution and the murder of weak children
and of girls; there used to be bloody revenge and the slaughter of whole
populations, judicial tortures, quarterings, burnings at the stake, the
lash; and there have been, within our memory, spitzruthens 7
and slavery, which have
also disappeared. But if we have outlived these dreadful customs and institutions,
this does not prove that there do not exist institutions and customs amongst
us which have become as abhorrent to enlightened reason and conscience
as those which have in their time been abolished and have become for us
only a dreadful remembrance. The way of human perfecting is endless, and
at every moment of historical life there are superstitions, deceits, pernicious
and evil institutions, already outlived by men and belonging to the past;
there are others which appear to us in the far mists of the future; and
there are some which we are now living through and whose over-living forms
the object of our life. Such in our time is capital punishment and all punishment
in general. Such is prostitution, such is flesheating, such is the work of
militarism, war, and such is the nearest and most obvious evil, private property
But as people never suddenly freed themselves
from all the injustices which had become customary, nor even did so immediately
after the more sensitive individual had recognised their iniquity, but
advanced only by leaps, halts, resumings, and again new leaps towards freedom,
similar to the struggles of childbirth, so has it been of late with the
abolition of slavery, and so is it now with private property in land.
The evil and injustice of private property
in land have been pointed out a thousand years ago by the prophets and
sages of old. Later progressive thinkers of Europe have been oftener and
oftener pointing it out. With special clearness did the workers of the
French Revolution do so. In latter days, owing to the increase of the population
and the seizing by the rich of a great quantity of previously free land,
also owing to general enlightenment and the spread of humanitarianism,
this injustice has become so obvious that not only the progressive, but
even the most average people cannot help seeing and feeling it. But men,
especially those who profit by the advantages of landed property—the owners
themselves, as well as those whose interests are connected with this institution—are
so accustomed to this order of things, they have for so long profited by
it, have so much depended upon it, that often they themselves do not see
its injustice, and they use all possible means to conceal from themselves
and others the truth which is disclosing itself more and more clearly, and
to crush, extinguish, and distort it, or, if these do not succeed, to hush
Characteristically was this the fate of
the activity of the remarkable man who appeared towards the end of last
century—Henry George—who devoted his great mental powers to the elucidation
of the injustice and cruelty of landed property and to the indication of
the means of correcting this evil by the help of the state organisation
now existing amongst all nations. He did this in his books, articles, and
speeches with such extraordinary power and lucidity that no man without
preconceived ideas could, after reading his books, fail to agree with his
arguments, and to see that no reforms can improve the condition of the people
until this fundamental injustice be destroyed, and that the means he proposes
for its abolition are rational, just, and expedient.
But what has happened? Notwithstanding
that at the time of their appearance the English writings of Henry George
spread very quickly in the Anglo-Saxon world, and did not fail to he appreciated
to the full extent of their great merit, it very soon appeared that in
England, and even in Ireland, where the crying injustice of private landed
property is particularly manifest, the majority of the most influential
educated people, notwithstanding the conclusiveness of Henry George's arguments
and the practicability of the remedy he proposes, opposed his teaching.
Radical agitators like Parnell, who at first sympathised with George's
scheme, very soon shrank from it, regarding political reforms as more important.
In England almost all the aristocrats were against it, also, amongst others,
the famous Toynbee, Gladstone, and Herbert Spencer—that Spencer who in his
Social Statics at first most categorically asserted the injustice of landed
property, and then, renouncing this view of his, bought up the old editions
of his writings in order to eliminate from them all that he had said concerning
the injustice of landed property.
In Oxford during George's lectures the
students organised hostile manifestations, while the Roman Catholic party
regarded George's teaching as positively sinful and immoral, dangerous,
and contrary to Christ's teaching. Also the orthodox science of political
economy revolted against George's teaching. Learned professors from the
height of their superiority refuted his teaching without understanding
it, chiefly because it did not recognise the fundamental principles of
their imaginary science. The Socialists were also inimical, recognising
as the most important problem of the day, not the land problem, but the
complete abolition of private property.
The chief weapon against the teaching of
Henry George was that which is always used against irrefutable and self-evident
truths. This method, which is still being applied in relation to George,
was that of hushing up. This hushing up was effected so successfully that
a member of the British Parliament, Labouchere, could publicly say, without
meeting any refutation, that "he was not such a visionary as Henry George.
He did not propose to take the land from the landlords and rent it out
again. What he was in favour of was putting a tax on land values." 8
That is, whilst attributing to George
what he could not possibly have said, Labouchere, by way of correcting
these imaginary fantasies, suggested that which Henry George did indeed
PEOPLE do not argue with the teaching of
George, they simply do not know it. And it is impossible to do otherwise
with his teaching, for he who becomes acquainted with it cannot but agree.
If people refer to this teaching they do
so either in attributing to it that which it does not say, or in asserting
that which has been refuted by George, or else, above all, they reject
it simply because it does not conform with those pedantic, arbitrary, superficial
principles of so-called political economy which are recognised as indisputable
Yet, notwithstanding this, the truth that
land cannot be an object of property has become so elucidated by the very
life of contemporary mankind, that in order to continue to retain a way
of life in which private landed property is recognised, there is only one
means—not to think of it, to ignore the truth, and to occupy oneself with
other absorbing business. So, indeed, do the men of our time.
Political workers of Europe and America
occupy themselves for the welfare of their nations in various matters,
tariffs, colonies, income taxes, military and naval budgets, socialistic
assemblies, unions, syndicates, the election of presidents, diplomatic connections—by
anything save the one thing without which there cannot be any true improvement
in the condition of the people—the re-establishment of the infringed right
of all men to use the land. Although in the depth of their souls political
workers of the Christian world feel—cannot but feel—that all their activity,
the commercial strife with which they are occupied, as well as the military
strife in which they put all their energies—can lead to nothing but a general
exhaustion of the strength of nations; still they, without looking forward,
give themselves up to the demand of the minute, and as if with the one
desire to forget themselves, continue to turn round and round in an enchanted
circle out of which there is no issue.
However strange this temporary blindness
of the political workers of Europe and America, it can be explained by
the fact that in Europe and America people have already gone so far along
a wrong road that the majority of their population is already torn from
the land (in America it has never lived on the land), but lives either in
factories or by hired agricultural labour, and desires and demands only
one thing—the improvement of its position as hired labourers. It is therefore
comprehensible that to the political workers of Europe and America—listening
to the demands of the majority—it may seem that the chief means for the
improvement of the position of the people consists in tariffs, trusts, and
colonies, but to the Russian people in Russia, where the agricultural population
composes 80 per cent. of the whole nation, where all this people request
only one thing—that opportunity be given them to remain in this state—it
would seem it should be clear that for the improvement of the position of
the people something else is necessary.
The people of Europe and America are in
the position of a man who has gone so far along a road which at first
appeared the right one, but which the farther he goes the more it removes
him from his object, that he is afraid of confessing his mistake. But
the Russians are yet standing before the turning of the path and can,
according to the wise saying "ask their way while yet on the road."
And what are those Russian people doing
who desire, or, at all events, say they desire, to organise a good life
for the people? In everything they slavishly imitate whatever is being
done in Europe and America.
For the arrangement of a good life for
the people they are concerned with the freedom of the Press, religious
tolerance, liberty of union, tariffs, conditional punishment, the separation
of the Church from the State, co-operative associations, future communalisation
of the implements of work, and, above all, with representative government—that
same representative government which has long existed in European and American
States, but whose existence has not in the slightest contributed, nor
does now contribute, not only to the solution but even to the raising of
that one land problem which solves all difficulties. If Russian political
workers do speak about land abuse, which they for some reason call the agrarian
question—possibly thinking that this silly word will conceal the substance
of the matter—they speak of it, not in the sense that private landed property
is an evil which should be abolished, but in the sense that it is necessary
in some way or other, by various patchings and palliatives to plaster up,
bush up, and pass over this essential, ancient, and cruel, this obvious and
crying injustice, which is awaiting its turn for abolition not only in
Russia, but in the whole world.
In Russia, where a hundred million of the
masses unceasingly suffer from the seizure of the land by private owners,
and unceasingly cry out about it, the position of those people who are
vainly searching everywhere but where it really is, for the means of improving
the condition of the people, reminds one exactly of that which takes place
on the stage, when all the spectators see perfectly well the man who has hidden
himself, and the actors themselves ought to see him, but pretend they do
not, intentionally distracting each other's attention and seeing everything
except that which it is necessary for them to see, but which they do not
wish to see.
PEOPLE have driven a herd of cows, on the
milk products of which they are fed, into an enclosure. The cows have
eaten up and trampled the forage in the enclosure, they are hungry, they
have chewed each other's tails, they low and moan, imploring to be released
from the enclosure and set free in the pastures. But the very men who feed
themselves on the milk of these cows have set around the enclosure plantations
of mint, of plants for dyeing purposes, and of tobacco; they have cultivated
flowers, laid out a racecourse, a park, and a lawn tennis ground, and
they do not let out the cows lest they spoil these arrangements. But the
cows bellow get thin, and the men begin to be afraid that the cows may cease
to yield milk, and they invent various means of improving the condition
of these cows. They erect sheds over them, they introduce wet brushes for
rubbing the cows, they gild their horns, alter the hour of milking, concern
themselves with the housing and treating of invalid and old cows, they invent
new and improved methods of milking, they expect that some kind of wonderfully
nutritious grass they have sown in the enclosure will grow up, they argue
about these and many other varied matters, but they do not, cannot without
disturbing all they have arranged around the enclosure—do the only simple
thing necessary—for themselves as well as for the cows—to wit, the taking
down of the fence and granting the cows their natural freedom of using
in plenty the pastures surrounding them.
Acting thus, men act unreasonably, but
there is an explanation of their action; they are sorry for the fate
of all they have arranged around the enclosure. But what shall we call
those people who have set nothing around the fence, but who, out of imitation
of those who do not set free their cows, owing to what they had arranged
around the enclosure, also keeps their cows inside the fence, and assert
that they do so for the welfare of the cows themselves?
Precisely thus act those Russians, both
Governmental and anti-Governmental; who arrange for the Russian people;
unceasingly suffering from the want of land, every kind of European institution,
forgetting and denying the chief thing; that which alone the Russian people
require—the liberation of the land from private property, the establishment
of equal rights on the land for all men.
One can understand how European parasites
living not directly by the labour of their own British, French or German
working men, but by the labour of Colonial working men who produce the
bread for which the others exchange their factory produce, may, without
seeing the labour and sufferings of those working men who feed and support
them, invent a future Socialistic organisation for which they think they
are educating mankind, and with unawakened conscience amuse themselves with
electioneering campaigns, the strife of parties, parliamentary debates,
the establishment and overthrow of ministries, and every other kind of recreation
which they call science and art.
The true bread supporters of these European
parasites are the labourers they do not see, in India, Africa, Australia,
and partly in Russia. But it is not so for us Russians; we have no colonies
where slaves invisible to ourselves feed us for our manufacturing produce.
Our bread-winners, suffering, hungry, are always before our eyes, and
we cannot transfer the burden of our iniquitous life to distant colonies
that slaves invisible to us should feed us.
Our sins are always before us.
And behold, instead of entering into the
needs of those who support us, instead of hearing their cries and endeavouring
to satisfy them, we, instead of this, under pretext of serving them, also
prepare, according to the European sample, Socialistic organisations for
the future, and in the present occupy ourselves with what amuses and distracts
us, and appears to be directed to the welfare of the people out of whom
we are squeezing their last strength in order to support us, their parasites.
For the welfare of the people we endeavour
to abolish the censorship of books, arbitrary banishments, and to organise
everywhere schools, common and agricultural, to increase the number of
hospitals, to cancel passports and monopolies, to institute strict inspection
in the factories, to reward maimed workers, to mark boundaries between properties,
to contribute through banks to the purchase of land by peasants, and much
One need only enter into the unceasing
sufferings of millions of the people; the dying out from want of the
aged, women, and children, and of the workers from excessive work and
insufficient food—one need only enter into the servitude, the humiliations,
all the useless expenditures of strength, into the deprivations, into
all the horror of the needless calamities of the Russian rural population
which all proceed from insufficiency of land—in order that it should become
quite clear that all such measures as the abolition of censorship, of arbitrary
banishment, etc., which are being striven after by the pseudo-defenders
of the people, even were they to be realised, would form only the most insignificant
drop in the ocean of that want from which the people are suffering.
But not only do these concerned with the
welfare of the people, while inventing alterations, trifling, unimportant,
both in quality and quantity, leaving a hundred millions of the people
in unceasing slavery owing to the seizure of the land—more than this,
many of these people, of the most progressive amongst them, desire that
the suffering of this people should, by its continual increase, drive them
to the necessity—after leaving on their way millions of victims, perished
from want and depravity—of exchanging their customary and happy, favourite
and reasonable agricultural life for that improved factory life which they
have invented for them.
The Russian people—owing to their cultural
environment, their love for this form of life, their Christian trend
of character, owing to the circumstance that they, almost alone of all
European nations, continue to be an agricultural nation and desire to
remain such—are, as it were, providentially placed by historic conditions
for the solution of what is called the labour question, in such a position
as to stand in the front of the true progressive movement of all mankind.
Yet this Russian people are invited by its fancied representatives and
leaders to follow in the wake of the dying-out and entangled European and
American nations, to become depraved, and to relinquish its own calling
as quickly as possible in order to become like Europeans in general.
Astounding is the poverty of thought of
these men, who do not think with their own minds, but only servilely repeat
whatever is given forth by their European models; but still more astounding
is the hardness of their hearts, their cruelty.
"WOE unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear beautiful,
but inwardly are full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness. Even
so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but inwardly ye are full
of hypocrisy and in-iquity" (Matt. xxiii, 27, 28).
There was a time when in the name of God
and of true faith in Him, men were destroyed, tortured, executed, beaten
in scores and hundreds of thousands. We, from the height of our attainments,
now look down upon the men who did these things.
But we are wrong. Amongst us there are
many such people; the difference lies only here—that those men of old
did these things then in the name of God, and of His true service, whilst
now those who commit the same evil amongst us do so in the name of "the
people," "for the true service of the people." And as amongst the former
there were men insanely self-convinced that they knew the truth, and there
were others hypocrits taking up their position under the pretext of serving
God, and there was a crowd without consideration following the more dexterous
and bold, so also now those who do evil in the name of serving the people
consist of men insanely self-convinced that they alone know the truth,
of hypocrites and of the crowd. Much evil have the self-proclaimed servants
of God done in their time, thanks to the teaching which they called Theology,
but the servants of the people, thanks to the teaching which they call
Science, if they have done less evil it is only because they have not yet
had time to do it, but already on their conscience there lie dyers of blood
and great divisions and exasperation amongst men.
The features of both these activities are
First, there is the dissolute bad life
of the majority of these "servants," both of God and of the people. (Their
calling themselves servants of God or of the people, according to their
ideas, frees them from restricting themselves in their conduct.)
The second feature is the utter absence
of interest, atten-tion, or love towards that which they desire to serve.
God, with these servants of His, has been and is only a banner, whilst
in reality these servants of His did not seek com-munion with Him, did not
know, or desire to know Him. So also with many of the servants of the people—the
people are only a banner and they, far from loving them, do not seek communion
with them and do not know them, but in the depth of their souls look down
upon them with contempt, disgust, and fear.
The third feature is that while they are
concerned, the former with the service of one and the same God, the latter
with the service of one and the same people, they not only disagree amongst
themselves concerning the methods of their service, but pronounce the
activity of all who do not agree with them as false and pernicious, and
demand its compulsory suspension. Hence stakes, inquisitions, slaughters
in the former case, and executions, imprison-ments, revolutions, and manslaughters
in the latter.
Finally, the chief and the most characteristic
feature of the one and the other is their complete indifference, their
absolute ignoring of that which the One they profess to serve has stated
and is stating that He desires and demands. God, Whom they have served
and are serving so zealously, has directly and clearly expressed, in that
which they recog-nise as Divine revelation, that it is necessary to serve
Him only by loving one's neighbour, by acting towards each other as one
desires others to act towards himself. But they did not recognise this
as the means of serving God; they demanded something quite different, that
which they them-selves invented and gave out for the demands of God. So
likewise act the servants of the people—they do not at all recognise what
the people desire and clearly ask for, and they choose to serve them through
that which the people not only do not ask from them, and of which they have
not the slightest idea, but which these servants of the people have invented
for them; and not by that alone for which the people unceasingly look, and
for which they unceasingly ask.
OF all indispensable alterations of the
forms of social life, there is in the life of the world one which is most
ripe, one without which not a single step forward in improvement in the life
of men can be accomplished. The necessity of this alteration is obvious to
every man who is free from preconceived theories. This alteration is not
the work of Russia alone, but of the whole world. All the calamities of mankind
in our time are connected with this condition. We, in Russia, are in the
fortunate position that the great majority of our people, living by agricultural
labour, do not recognise private property in land and desire and demand the
abolition of this old abuse, and do not cease to express this desire.
But no one sees this, no one wants to see
Whence this dreadful perversity? Why do
kind, good, intelligent men, of which there are many amongst the Liberals,
Socialists, and Revolutionists, not excluding even Government officials—why
do these men, desiring the people's welfare, not see the one thing they
are in need of, that towards which they unceasingly strive, and without
which they ceaselessly suffer? Why are they concerned instead with the
most various things, the realisation of which without the realisation of
that which the people desire, can in no case contribute to their welfare?
The whole of the activity of governmental as well as of anti-governmental
servants of the people resembles that of a man who, whilst trying to help
a horse stuck in a bog, sits in the cart and transfers from one place to another
the load which is in the cart, imagining that he can thus help matters.
Why is this?
The answer to this question is the same
as to all questions as to why people of our time, who might live well and
happily are living badly and miserably.
It comes from the circumstance that these
men, both governmental and anti-governmental, who are organising the welfare
of the people, have no religion—for without religion man cannot himself
lead a rational life, and still less can he know what is good and what
is bad, what is necessary and what unnecessary, for other people. For this
reason alone do people of our time in general, and the Russian educated
people in particular—altogether bereft of religious consciousness and openly
announcing this with pride—so perversely misunderstand life and the demands
of the people they wish to serve, demanding for them everything save the
one thing which they require.
Without religion one cannot really love
men, and without loving men one cannot know what they require, and what
is more, and what is less, necessary for them. Only those who are not religious,
and therefore do not truly love, can invent trifling, unimportant improvements
in the condition of the people without seeing that chief evil from which
others are suffering, and which they themselves are partly producing.
Only such people can preach more or less cleverly constructed abstract
theories supposed to render the people happy in the future and not see
the sufferings the people are bearing in the present and which demand
immediate and practical alleviation. As it were, a man who has deprived
a hungry man of his food is giving him his counsel (and that of a very
doubtful character) as to how he should get food in the future, without
deeming it necessary immediately to share with him that part of his own
abundance consisting of the food he has actually taken away from the man.
Fortunately, great beneficial movements
in humanity are accomplished not by parasites feeding on the life-blood
of the people, whatever they may call themselves—Governments, Revolutionists,
or Liberals—but by religious people—that is, by people who are serious,
simple, laborious, and who live not for their own profit, vanity, or
ambition, and not for the attainment of external results, but for the
fulfilment before God of their human vocation.
Such men, and only such, by their noiseless
but resolute activity, move mankind forward. Such men will not, desiring
to distinguish themselves in the eyes of others, invent this or that improvement
in the condition of the people (there can be an endless number of such improvements,
and they are all insignificant if the chief thing is not done), but will
endeavour to live in accordance with the law of God, with conscience, and
in endeavouring to live so they will naturally come across the most obvious
transgression of this law, and for themselves and for others will search
for the means of freeing themselves from it.
The other day a doctor of my acquaintance
whilst waiting for a train in the third-class waiting-room of a big railway
station was reading a paper. A peasant sitting by him inquired about the
news. In the copy of the paper there was an article about the "agrarian"
convention. The doctor translated into Russian this funny word "agrarian,"
and when it was understood that the question concerned the land, the peasant
requested him to read the article. The doctor began to read, other peasants
came up. A small crowd collected; they were pressing on each other's backs,
some sitting on the floor; the faces of all were solemnly concentrated.
When the reading was over, one of the hindmost, an old man, sighed deeply
and crossed himself. This man, for certain, did not understand anything of
the confused jargon in which the article was written, and which it is difficult
to understand even for those who know how to talk this jargon themselves.
He understood nothing of what was written in the article, but he understood
that the matter concerned the great, the old sin from which all his ancestors
had suffered and from which he also suffers; he understood that those who
are committing this sin are becoming conscious of it. And having understood
this, he mentally turned to God and crossed himself. In this one movement
of this man's hand there is more meaning and content than in all the prattle
which now fills the columns of the papers. This man understands, as does
the whole of the people, that the seizure of the land by those who do not
cultivate it is a great sin, under which his ancestors physically suffered
and perished, and tinder which he himself and his neighbours also physically
suffer, while all the time those who have committed this sin and who are
now committing it, spiritually suffer—and that this sin, like every sin—like,
in his memory, the sin of serfdom must inevitably come to an end. He knows
and feels this, and therefore he cannot but turn to God at the thought of
the approach of the solution.
"GREAT social reforms," says Mazzini, "always
have been and will be the result of great religious movements."
Such is the religious movement which is
now pending for the Russian people, for all the Russian people, for the
working classes deprived of land as well as, and especially for the big,
medium, and small landowners, and for all those hundreds of thousands
of men who, although they do not directly possess land, yet occupy an advantageous
position, thanks to the compulsory labour of the people who are deprived
The religious movement now due among the
Russian people consists in undoing the great sin which for a long time
has been hurting and is dividing men, not only in Russia, but in all the
This sin can be undone, not by political
reform, nor Socialistic schemes for the future, not by revolutions in
the present, and still less by philanthropic assistance or governmental
organisation for the purchase and distribution of land among the peasants.
Such palliative measures only distract
attention from the essence of the problem and thus retard its solution.
No artificial sacrifices are necessary,
no concern about the people—there is only necessary the consciousness of
this sin by all those who commit or participate in it, and the desire
to free themselves from it.
It is only necessary that the undeniable
truth which the best men of the people always knew and know—that the
land cannot be the exclusive property of some, and that the non-admission
to the land of those who are in need of it is a sin—that this truth should
become generally recognised by all men; that people should become ashamed
of retaining the land from those who want to feed themselves from it;
that it should become a shame in any way to participate in this retention
of the land from those who need it, a shame to possess land, a shame to
profit by the labour of men compelled to work only because they have been
deprived of their legitimate right to the land.
It is necessary that there should occur
that which took place with the law of serfdom when nobles and landowners
became ashamed to possess serfs, the Government became ashamed of maintaining
these unjust and cruel laws, when it became evident to the peasants themselves
that an utterly unjustifiable iniquity was being committed upon them.
The same must take place also with landed property. And this is necessary,
not for any one class, however numerous it may be, but it is necessary
for all classes, and not only for all classes and all men of any one country,
but for the whole of mankind.
Yasnaya Poliana, July 1905
SOCIAL reform is not to be secured by noise
and shouting, by complaints and denunciation, by the formation of parties
or the making of revolutions (wrote Henry George), but by the awakening
of thought and the progress of ideas. Until there be correct thought there
cannot be right action, and when there is correct thought right action
The great work of the present for every
man and every organisation of men who would improve social conditions
is the work of education, the propagation of ideas. It is only as it aids
this that anything else can avail. And in this work every one who can
think may aid, first by forming clear ideas himself and then by endeavouring
to arouse the thought of those with whom he comes in contact. 9
This is quite true; but, in order to serve
this great cause, besides thought there must also be something more—a
religious feeling—that feeling owing to which in the last century the
owners of serfs recognised themselves culpable, and, notwithstanding personal
loss and even ruin, sought the means of freeing themselves from the sin
which weighed upon them.
It is this feeling in regard to landed
property which must awaken in the well-to-do classes in order that the
great work of the liberation of the land should be accomplished; this
feeling should awaken in such a degree that people should be ready to
sacrifice everything if only they can free themselves from the sin in
which they have lived and are living.
Possessing hundreds, thousands, scores
of thousands of acres, trading in land, profiting one way or the other
by landed property, and living luxuriously, thanks to the oppression
of the people, possible through this cruel and obvious injustice—to argue
in various committees and assemblies about the improvement of the conditions
of the peasant's life without surrendering one's own exclusively advantageous
position growing from this injustice, is not only an unkind but a detestable
and evil thing, equally condemnable by common sense, honesty, and Christianity.
It is necessary, not to invent cunning devices for the improvement of men
deprived of their lawful right to the land, but to understand one's own sin
in relation to them, and before all else to cease to participate in it,
whatever this may cost. Only such moral activity of every man can and will
contribute to the solution of the question now standing before humanity.
The emancipation of the serfs in Russia
was effected not by Alexander II, but by those men who understood the
sin of serfdom, and independently of their own advantages endeavoured to
free themselves from it, and it was chiefly effected by such men as Novikoff,
Radischeff, the Decembrists 10
men who were ready to suffer and did themselves suffer (without making any
one else suffer) in the name of loyalty to that which they recognised as
The same must take place in relation to
I believe that there do now exist such
men, and that they will fulfil that great work not only Russian, but
universal, which is before the Russian people.
The land question has at the present time
reached such a state of ripeness as fifty years ago was reached by the
question of serfdom. Exactly the same is being repeated. As at that time
men searched for the means of remedying the general uneasiness and dissatisfaction
which were felt in society, and applied all kinds of external governmental
means, but nothing helped nor could help whilst there remained the ripening
and unsolved question of personal slavery, so also now no external measures
will help or can help until the ripe question of landed property be solved.
As now measures are proposed for adding slices to the peasants' land, for
the purchase of land by the aid of banks, etc., so then also palliative
measures were proposed and enacted, material improvements, rules about three
days' labour, and so forth. Even as now the owners of land talk about the
injustice of putting a stop to their criminal ownership, so then people talked
about the unlawfulness of depriving owners of their serfs. As then the Church
justified the serf right, so now that which occupies the place of the Church—Science—justifies
landed property. Just as then slave-owners, realising their sin, more or
less endeavoured in various ways without undoing it to mitigate it, and
substituting the payment of a ransom by the serfs for direct compulsory
work for their masters, moderated their exactions from the peasants, so
also now the more sensitive landowners, feeling their guilt, endeavour
to redeem it by renting their land to the peasants on more lenient conditions,
by selling it through the peasant banks, by arranging schools for the people,
ridiculous houses of recreation, magic lantern lectures, and theatres.
Exactly the same also is the indifferent
attitude of the Government to the question. And as then the question
was solved, not by those who invented artful devices for the alleviation
and improvement of the condition of peasant life, but by those who, recognising
the urgent necessity of the right solution, did not postpone it indefinitely,
did not foresee special difficulties in it, but immediately, straight
off, endeavoured to arrest the evil and did not admit the idea that there
could be conditions in which evil once recognised must continue, but
took that course which under the existing conditions appeared the best—the
same now also with the land question.
The question will be solved, not by those
who will endeavour to mitigate the evil or to invent alleviations for
the people or to postpone the task of the future, but by those who will
understand that, however one may mitigate a wrong, it remains a wrong, and
that it is senseless to invent alleviations for a man we are torturing and
that one cannot postpone when people are suffering, but should immediately
take the best way of solving the difficulty and immediately apply it in practice.
And the more should it be so that the method of solving the land problem
has been elaborated by Henry George to such a degree of perfection that,
under the existing State organisation and compulsory taxation, it is impossible
to invent any other better, more just, practical, and peaceful solution.
"To beat down and cover up the truth that
I have tried to-night to make clear to you," said Henry George, "selfishness
will call on ignorance. But it has in it the germinative force of truth,
and the times are ripe for it…
"The ground is ploughed; the seed is act;
the good tree will grow. So little now; only the eye of faith can see
And I think that Henry George is right,
that the removal of the sin of landed property is near, that the movement
called forth by Henry George was the last birth-throe, and that the birth
is on the point of taking place; the liberation of men from the sufferings
they have so long borne must now be realised. Besides this I think (and
I would like to contribute to this, in however small a measure) that the
removal of this great universal sin removal which will form an epoch in
the history of mankind—is to be effected precisely by the Russian Slavonian
people, who are, by their spiritual and economic character, predestined
for this great universal task—that the Russian people should not become
proletarians in imitation of the peoples of Europe and America, but, on
the contrary, that they should solve the land question at home by the abolition
of landed property, and show other nations the way to a rational, free,
and happy life, outside industrial, factory, or capitalistic coercion and
slavery—that in this lies their great historical calling.
I would like to think that we Russian parasites,
reared by and having received leisure for mental work through the people's
labour, will understand our sin, and, independently of our personal advantage,
in the name of the truth that condemns us, will endeavour to undo it.
1. Kvas, a common Russian Beverage prepared
from black rye bread
2. The Crime of Poverty by Henry
7. Spitzruthen, sticks used by soldiers,
when one of them is condemned to run the gauntlet, a punishment which the
victim often did not survive. (trans)
8. The Life of Henry George. By
9. Social Problems by Henry George
10. Russian Radical reformers at the
end of the eighteenth and commencement of the nineteenth centuries, who
opposed the Government and suffered persecution at its hands.
11. The Life of Henry George,