FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 29

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

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The carrying out of Levin’s
plan presented many difficulties; but he struggled
on, doing his utmost, and attained a result which,
though not what he desired, was enough to enable him,
without self-deception, to believe that the attempt
was worth the trouble.  One of the chief difficulties
was that the process of cultivating the land was in
full swing, that it was impossible to stop everything
and begin it all again from the beginning, and the
machine had to be mended while in motion.

When on the evening that he arrived
home he informed the bailiff of his plans, the latter
with visible pleasure agreed with what he said so
long as he was pointing out that all that had been
done up to that time was stupid and useless. 
The bailiff said that he had said so a long while
ago, but no heed had been paid him.  But as for
the proposal made by Levin ­to take a part
as shareholder with his laborers in each agricultural
undertaking ­ at this the bailiff simply
expressed a profound despondency, and offered no definite
opinion, but began immediately talking of the urgent
necessity of carrying the remaining sheaves of rye
the next day, and of sending the men out for the second
ploughing, so that Levin felt that this was not the
time for discussing it.

On beginning to talk to the peasants
about it, and making a proposition to cede them the
land on new terms, he came into collision with the
same great difficulty that they were so much absorbed
by the current work of the day, that they had not time
to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the
proposed scheme.

The simple-hearted Ivan, the cowherd,
seemed completely to grasp Levin’s proposal ­that
he should with his family take a share of the profits
of the cattle-yard ­and he was in complete
sympathy with the plan.  But when Levin hinted
at the future advantages, Ivan’s face expressed
alarm and regret that he could not hear all he had
to say, and he made haste to find himself some task
that would admit of no delay:  he either snatched
up the fork to pitch the hay out of the pens, or ran
to get water or to clear out the dung.

Another difficulty lay in the invincible
disbelief of the peasant that a landowner’s
object could be anything else than a desire to squeeze
all he could out of them.  They were firmly convinced
that his real aim (whatever he might say to them) would
always be in what he did not say to them.  And
they themselves, in giving their opinion, said a great
deal but never said what was their real object. 
Moreover (Levin felt that the irascible landowner
had been right) the peasants made their first and unalterable
condition of any agreement whatever that they should
not be forced to any new methods of tillage of any
kind, nor to use new implements.  They agreed
that the modern plough ploughed better, that the scarifier
did the work more quickly, but they found thousands
of reasons that made it out of the question for them
to use either of them; and though he had accepted
the conviction that he would have to lower the standard
of cultivation, he felt sorry to give up improved
methods, the advantages of which were so obvious. 
But in spite of all these difficulties he got his
way, and by autumn the system was working, or at least
so it seemed to him.

At first Levin had thought of giving
up the whole farming of the land just as it was to
the peasants, the laborers, and the bailiff on new
conditions of partnership; but he was very soon convinced
that this was impossible, and determined to divide
it up.  The cattle-yard, the garden, hay fields,
and arable land, divided into several parts, had to
be made into separate lots.  The simple-hearted
cowherd, Ivan, who, Levin fancied, understood the
matter better than any of them, collecting together
a gang of workers to help him, principally of his
own family, became a partner in the cattle-yard. 
A distant part of the estate, a tract of waste land
that had lain fallow for eight years, was with the
help of the clever carpenter, Fyodor Ryezunov, taken
by six families of peasants on new conditions of partnership,
and the peasant Shuraev took the management of all
the vegetable gardens on the same terms.  The
remainder of the land was still worked on the old
system, but these three associated partnerships were
the first step to a new organization of the whole,
and they completely took up Levin’s time.

It is true that in the cattle-yard
things went no better than before, and Ivan strenuously
opposed warm housing for the cows and butter made
of fresh cream, affirming that cows require less food
if kept cold, and that butter is more profitable made
from sour cream, and he asked for wages just as under
the old system, and took not the slightest interest
in the fact that the money he received was not wages
but an advance out of his future share in the profits.

It is true that Fyodor Ryezunov’s
company did not plough over the ground twice before
sowing, as had been agreed, justifying themselves
on the plea that the time was too short.  It is
true that the peasants of the same company, though
they had agreed to work the land on new conditions,
always spoke of the land, not as held in partnership,
but as rented for half the crop, and more than once
the peasants and Ryezunov himself said to Levin, “If
you would take a rent for the land, it would save you
trouble, and we should be more free.” 
Moreover the same peasants kept putting off, on various
excuses, the building of a cattleyard and barn on
the land as agreed upon, and delayed doing it till
the winter.

It is true that Shuraev would have
liked to let out the kitchen gardens he had undertaken
in small lots to the peasants.  He evidently
quite misunderstood, and apparently intentionally
misunderstood, the conditions upon which the land had
been given to him.

Often, too, talking to the peasants
and explaining to them all the advantages of the plan,
Levin felt that the peasants heard nothing but the
sound of his voice, and were firmly resolved, whatever
he might say, not to let themselves be taken in. 
He felt this especially when he talked to the cleverest
of the peasants, Ryezunov, and detected the gleam
in Ryezunov’s eyes which showed so plainly both
ironical amusement at Levin, and the firm conviction
that, if any one were to be taken in, it would not
be he, Ryezunov.  But in spite of all this Levin
thought the system worked, and that by keeping accounts
strictly and insisting on his own way, he would prove
to them in the future the advantages of the arrangement,
and then the system would go of itself.

These matters, together with the management
of the land still left on his hands, and the indoor
work over his book, so engrossed Levin the whole summer
that he scarcely ever went out shooting.  At
the end of August he heard that the Oblonskys had
gone away to Moscow, from their servant who brought
back the side-saddle.  He felt that in not answering
Darya Alexandrovna’s letter he had by his rudeness,
of which he could not think without a flush of shame,
burned his ships, and that he would never go and see
them again.  He had been just as rude with the
Sviazhskys, leaving them without saying good-bye. 
But he would never go to see them again either. 
He did not care about that now.  The business
of reorganizing the farming of his land absorbed him
as completely as though there would never be anything
else in his life.  He read the books lent him
by Sviazhsky, and copying out what he had not got,
he read both the economic and socialistic books on
the subject, but, as he had anticipated, found nothing
bearing on the scheme he had undertaken.  In
the books on political economy ­in Mill,
for instance, whom he studied first with great ardor,
hoping every minute to find an answer to the questions
that were engrossing him ­he found laws
deduced from the condition of land culture in Europe;
but he did not see why these laws, which did not apply
in Russia, must be general.  He saw just the
same thing in the socialistic books:  either they
were the beautiful but impracticable fantasies which
had fascinated him when he was a student, or they
were attempts at improving, rectifying the economic
position in which Europe was placed, with which the
system of land tenure in Russia had nothing in common. 
Political economy told him that the laws by which
the wealth of Europe had been developed, and was developing,
were universal and unvarying.  Socialism told
him that development along these lines leads to ruin. 
And neither of them gave an answer, or even a hint,
in reply to the question what he, Levin, and all the
Russian peasants and landowners, were to do with their
millions of hands and millions of acres, to make them
as productive as possible for the common weal.

Having once taken the subject up,
he read conscientiously everything bearing on it,
and intended in the autumn to go abroad to study land
systems on the spot, in order that he might not on
this question be confronted with what so often met
him on various subjects.  Often, just as he was
beginning to understand the idea in the mind of anyone
he was talking to, and was beginning to explain his
own, he would suddenly be told:  “But Kauffmann,
but Jones, but Dubois, but Michelli?  You haven’t
read them:  they’ve thrashed that question
out thoroughly.”

He saw now distinctly that Kauffmann
and Michelli had nothing to tell him.  He knew
what he wanted.  He saw that Russia has splendid
land, splendid laborers, and that in certain cases,
as at the peasant’s on the way to Sviazhsky’s,
the produce raised by the laborers and the land is
great ­in the majority of cases when capital
is applied in the European way the produce is small,
and that this simply arises from the fact that the
laborers want to work and work well only in their
own peculiar way, and that this antagonism is not
incidental but invariable, and has its roots in the
national spirit.  He thought that the Russian
people whose task it was to colonize and cultivate
vast tracts of unoccupied land, consciously adhered,
till all their land was occupied, to the methods suitable
to their purpose, and that their methods were by no
means so bad as was generally supposed.  And he
wanted to prove this theoretically in his book and
practically on his land.

 

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