FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 27

Leo TolstoyAug 23, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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“If I’d only the heart
to throw up what’s been set going…such a lot
of trouble wasted…I’d turn my back on the whole
business, sell up, go off like Nikolay Ivanovitch…to
hear La Belle Helene,” said the landowner,
a pleasant smile lighting up his shrewd old face.

“But you see you don’t
throw it up,” said Nikolay Ivanovitch Sviazhsky;
“so there must be something gained.”

“The only gain is that I live
in my own house, neither bought nor hired.  Besides,
one keeps hoping the people will learn sense. 
Though, instead of that, you’d never believe
it ­the drunkenness, the immorality! 
They keep chopping and changing their bits of land. 
Not a sight of a horse or a cow.  The peasant’s
dying of hunger, but just go and take him on as a
laborer, he’ll do his best to do you a mischief,
and then bring you up before the justice of the peace.”

“But then you make complaints
to the justice too,” said Sviazhsky.

“I lodge complaints?  Not
for anything in the world!  Such a talking, and
such a to-do, that one would have cause to regret
it.  At the works, for instance, they pocketed
the advance-money and made off.  What did the
justice do?  Why, acquitted them.  Nothing
keeps them in order but their own communal court and
their village elder.  He’ll flog them in
the good old style!  But for that there’d
be nothing for it but to give it all up and run away.”

Obviously the landowner was chaffing
Sviazhsky, who, far from resenting it, was apparently
amused by it.

“But you see we manage our land
without such extreme measures,” said he, smiling: 
“Levin and I and this gentleman.”

He indicated the other landowner.

“Yes, the thing’s done
at Mihail Petrovitch’s, but ask him how it’s
done.  Do you call that a rational system?”
said the landowner, obviously rather proud of the
word “rational.”

“My system’s very simple,”
said Mihail Petrovitch, “thank God.  All
my management rests on getting the money ready for
the autumn taxes, and the peasants come to me, ‘Father,
master, help us!’ Well, the peasants are all
one’s neighbors; one feels for them.  So
one advances them a third, but one says:  ’Remember,
lads, I have helped you, and you must help me when
I need it ­whether it’s the sowing
of the oats, or the haycutting, or the harvest’;
and well, one agrees, so much for each taxpayer ­though
there are dishonest ones among them too, it’s
true.”

Levin, who had long been familiar
with these patriarchal methods, exchanged glances
with Sviazhsky and interrupted Mihail Petrovitch,
turning again to the gentleman with the gray whiskers.

“Then what do you think?”
he asked; “what system is one to adopt nowadays?”

“Why, manage like Mihail Petrovitch,
or let the land for half the crop or for rent to the
peasants; that one can do ­only that’s
just how the general prosperity of the country is being
ruined.  Where the land with serf-labor and good
management gave a yield of nine to one, on the half-crop
system it yields three to one.  Russia has been
ruined by the emancipation!”

Sviazhsky looked with smiling eyes
at Levin, and even made a faint gesture of irony to
him; but Levin did not think the landowner’s
words absurd, he understood them better than he did
Sviazhsky.  A great deal more of what the gentleman
with the gray whiskers said to show in what way Russia
was ruined by the emancipation struck him indeed as
very true, new to him, and quite incontestable. 
The landowner unmistakably spoke his own individual
thought ­a thing that very rarely happens ­and
a thought to which he had been brought not by a desire
of finding some exercise for an idle brain, but a
thought which had grown up out of the conditions of
his life, which he had brooded over in the solitude
of his village, and had considered in every aspect.

“The point is, don’t you
see, that progress of every sort is only made by the
use of authority,” he said, evidently wishing
to show he was not without culture.  “Take
the reforms of Peter, of Catherine, of Alexander. 
Take European history.  And progress in agriculture
more than anything else ­the potato, for
instance, that was introduced among us by force. 
The wooden plough too wasn’t always used. 
It was introduced maybe in the days before the Empire,
but it was probably brought in by force.  Now,
in our own day, we landowners in the serf times used
various improvements in our husbandry:  drying
machines and thrashing machines, and carting manure
and all the modern implements ­all that
we brought into use by our authority, and the peasants
opposed it at first, and ended by imitating us. 
Now, by the abolition of serfdom we have been deprived
of our authority; and so our husbandry, where it had
been raised to a high level, is bound to sink to the
most savage primitive condition.  That’s
how I see it.”

“But why so?  If it’s
rational, you’ll be able to keep up the same
system with hired labor,” said Sviazhsky.

“We’ve no power over them. 
With whom am I going to work the system, allow me
to ask?”

“There it is ­the
labor force ­the chief element in agriculture,”
thought Levin.

“With laborers.”

“The laborers won’t work
well, and won’t work with good implements. 
Our laborer can do nothing but get drunk like a pig,
and when he’s drunk he ruins everything you give
him.  He makes the horses ill with too much water,
cuts good harness, barters the tires of the wheels
for drink, drops bits of iron into the thrashing machine,
so as to break it.  He loathes the sight of anything
that’s not after his fashion.  And that’s
how it is the whole level of husbandry has fallen. 
Lands gone out of cultivation, overgrown with weeds,
or divided among the peasants, and where millions
of bushels were raised you get a hundred thousand;
the wealth of the country has decreased.  If the
same thing had been done, but with care that…”

And he proceeded to unfold his own
scheme of emancipation by means of which these drawbacks
might have been avoided.

This did not interest Levin, but when
he had finished, Levin went back to his first position,
and, addressing Sviazhsky, and trying to draw him
into expressing his serious opinion: ­

“That the standard of culture
is falling, and that with our present relations to
the peasants there is no possibility of farming on
a rational system to yield a profit ­that’s
perfectly true,” said he.

“I don’t believe it,”
Sviazhsky replied quite seriously; “all I see
is that we don’t know how to cultivate the land,
and that our system of agriculture in the serf days
was by no means too high, but too low.  We have
no machines, no good stock, no efficient supervision;
we don’t even know how to keep accounts. 
Ask any landowner; he won’t be able to tell
you what crop’s profitable, and what’s
not.”

“Italian bookkeeping,”
said the gentleman of the gray whiskers ironically. 
“You may keep your books as you like, but if
they spoil everything for you, there won’t be
any profit.”

“Why do they spoil things? 
A poor thrashing machine, or your Russian presser,
they will break, but my steam press they don’t
break.  A wretched Russian nag they’ll ruin,
but keep good dray-horses ­they won’t
ruin them.  And so it is all round.  We
must raise our farming to a higher level.”

“Oh, if one only had the means
to do it, Nikolay Ivanovitch!  It’s all
very well for you; but for me, with a son to keep at
the university, lads to be educated at the high school ­how
am I going to buy these dray-horses?”

“Well, that’s what the land banks are
for.”

“To get what’s left me sold by auction? 
No, thank you.”

“I don’t agree that it’s
necessary or possible to raise the level of agriculture
still higher,” said Levin.  “I devote
myself to it, and I have means, but I can do nothing. 
As to the banks, I don’t know to whom they’re
any good.  For my part, anyway, whatever I’ve
spent money on in the way of husbandry, it has been
a loss:  stock ­a loss, machinery ­a
loss.”

“That’s true enough,”
the gentleman with the gray whiskers chimed in, positively
laughing with satisfaction.

“And I’m not the only
one,” pursued Levin.  “I mix with
all the neighboring landowners, who are cultivating
their land on a rational system; they all, with rare
exceptions, are doing so at a loss.  Come, tell
us how does your land do ­does it pay?”
said Levin, and at once in Sviazhsky’s eyes
he detected that fleeting expression of alarm which
he had noticed whenever he had tried to penetrate
beyond the outer chambers of Sviazhsky’s mind.

Moreover, this question on Levin’s
part was not quite in good faith.  Madame Sviazhskaya
had just told him at tea that they had that summer
invited a German expert in bookkeeping from Moscow,
who for a consideration of five hundred roubles had
investigated the management of their property, and
found that it was costing them a loss of three thousand
odd roubles.  She did not remember the precise
sum, but it appeared that the German had worked it
out to the fraction of a farthing.

The gray-whiskered landowner smiled
at the mention of the profits of Sviazhsky’s
famling, obviously aware how much gain his neighbor
and marshal was likely to be making.

“Possibly it does not pay,”
answered Sviazhsky.  “That merely proves
either that I’m a bad manager, or that I’ve
sunk my capital for the increase of my rents.”

“Oh, rent!” Levin cried
with horror.  “Rent there may be in Europe,
where land has been improved by the labor put into
it, but with us all the land is deteriorating from
the labor put into it ­in other words they’re
working it out; so there’s no question of rent.”

“How no rent?  It’s a law.”

“Then we’re outside the
law; rent explains nothing for us, but simply muddles
us.  No, tell me how there can be a theory of
rent?…”

“Will you have some junket? 
Masha, pass us some junket or raspberries.” 
He turned to his wife.  “Extraordinarily
late the raspberries are lasting this year.”

And in the happiest frame of mind
Sviazhsky got up and walked off, apparently supposing
the conversation to have ended at the very point when
to Levin it seemed that it was only just beginning.

Having lost his antagonist, Levin
continued the conversation with the gray-whiskered
landowner, trying to prove to him that all the difficulty
arises from the fact that we don’t find out the
peculiarities and habits of our laborer; but the landowner,
like all men who think independently and in isolation,
was slow in taking in any other person’s idea,
and particularly partial to his own.  He stuck
to it that the Russian peasant is a swine and likes
swinishness, and that to get him out of his swinishness
one must have authority, and there is none; one must
have the stick, and we have become so liberal that
we have all of a sudden replaced the stick that served
us for a thousand years by lawyers and model prisons,
where the worthless, stinking peasant is fed on good
soup and has a fixed allowance of cubic feet of air.

“What makes you think,”
said Levin, trying to get back to the question, “that
it’s impossible to find some relation to the
laborer in which the labor would become productive?”

“That never could be so with
the Russian peasantry; we’ve no power over them,”
answered the landowner.

“How can new conditions be found?”
said Sviazhsky.  Having eaten some junket and
lighted a cigarette, he came back to the discussion. 
“All possible relations to the labor force have
been defined and studied,” he said.  “The
relic of barbarism, the primitive commune with each
guarantee for all, will disappear of itself; serfdom
has been abolished ­there remains nothing
but free labor, and its forms are fixed and ready
made, and must be adopted.  Permanent hands,
day-laborers, rammers ­you can’t get
out of those forms.”

“But Europe is dissatisfied with these forms.”

“Dissatisfied, and seeking new
ones.  And will find them, in all probability.”

“That’s just what I was
meaning,” answered Levin.  “Why shouldn’t
we seek them for ourselves?”

“Because it would be just like
inventing afresh the means for constructing railways. 
They are ready, invented.”

“But if they don’t do
for us, if they’re stupid?” said Levin.

And again he detected the expression
of alarm in the eyes of Sviazhsky.

“Oh, yes; we’ll bury the
world under our caps!  We’ve found the
secret Europe was seeking for!  I’ve heard
all that; but, excuse me, do you know all that’s
been done in Europe on the question of the organization
of labor?”

“No, very little.”

“That question is now absorbing
the best minds in Europe.  The Schulze-Delitsch
movement….  And then all this enormous literature
of the labor question, the most liberal Lassalle movement…the
Mulhausen experiment?  That’s a fact by
now, as you’re probably aware.”

“I have some idea of it, but very vague.”

“No, you only say that; no doubt
you know all about it as well as I do.  I’m
not a professor of sociology, of course, but it interested
me, and really, if it interests you, you ought to
study it.”

“But what conclusion have they come to?”

“Excuse me…”

The two neighbors had risen, and Sviazhsky,
once more checking Levin in his inconvenient habit
of peeping into what was beyond the outer chambers
of his mind, went to see his guests out.

 

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