Industry, or the Farmer's Triumph

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Industry, or the Farmer's Triumph  (1888) 
by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Nathan Haskell Dole

" In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread, till thou returnest unto the ground, for out of it ^vast thou taken." GENESIS iii. 19.

SUCH is the title and such the epigraph to the work of Timofei' Mikhai'lovitch Bondaref. This work I read in manuscript.

Timofei' Mikhai'lovitch Bondaref's work seems to me very notable, as well for the force and clearness and beauty of the style in which it is written, as for the sincerity of his conviction manifest in every line, and especially for the importance, truth, and depth of the fundamental thought.

The fundamental thought of this work is as follows : In all terrestrial affairs the thing of importance is, not to know what is particularly fine and necessary, but out of all fine and necessary things or actions to know what is of first importance, what of second, what of third, and so on.

If this is important in terrestrial affairs, much so is it important in the matter of faith, which determines a man's obligations.

Tatian, a teacher in the early days of the Church, declares that the unhappiness of men comes not so much from the fact that they do not know God, as from the fact that they acknowledge a false God, they con- sider as God that which is not God. The same thing may be said also concerning the obligations of men. The unhappiness and wrong-doing of men come not so much from the fact that they do not know what their obligations are, as from the fact that they acknowledge



false obligations, that they consider as obligatory what is not obligatory, and they do not consider as obligatory what is their chief duty.

Bondaref declares that the unhappiness and wrong- doing of men come from the fact that they consider as religious duties many idle and injurious regulations, but forget and hide from themselves and others their first, chief, unquestionable duty, expressed in the first chap- ter of the Holy Scriptures : " In tJic sweat of tJiy face shalt tJiou eat thy bread."

For men who believe in the sanctity and infallibility of the divine word expressed in the Bible, this command given by God himself and never repudiated is a suffi- cient proof of its truth. For men who do not accept the Holy Scriptures and the truth of this position, if we re- gard it merely without prejudice as a simple unsuper- natural expression of human wisdom, it seems to be the fulfilment of the conditions of human life, just as Bon- daref makes it in his work.

An obstacle to such a fulfilment, unfortunately, is found in the fact that many of us are so wonted to a perverted and senseless interpretation of the Holy Scrip- tures, that the mere mention of the fact that a certain position coincides with the Holy Scriptures is a sufficient ground for many to look with distrust on that position.

"What meaning have the Holy Scriptures for me? We know that we may build any argument we please on them."

But this is not just; the Holy Scriptures are not to blame because men interpret them falsely, and a man who speaks the truth is not to blame because he speaks the same truth as is spoken in the Holy Scriptures.

We must not forget that if it is admitted that the writ- ings called the Holy Scriptures are the productions of God but of men, then it must be explained why these pop- ular writings and not others are accepted by men as the work of God himself. There must be some cause for this.

And this cause is clear. These writings are called divine by superstitious people because they are higher than all the knowledge of men, and also because these


writings, in spite of the fact that certain men have always denied them, have come down to us, and are still considered divine. These writings are called di- vine and have come down to us simply because a lofty wisdom is embodied in them. And such in many of their passages are the writings which we call the Bible.

And such especially is the forgotten text, neglected and incomprehensible in its actual sense the text which Bondaref explains and makes the corner-stone of his work.

This text and the first events of life in Paradise are usually understood in the direct sense of the words, meaning that everything happened precisely as it is described ; but meantime the sense of this whole pas- sage is this also, that it presents in picturesque form the contradictory impulses which are found in human nature.

Man is afraid of death, and yet he must die ; man, as long as he knows not good and evil, seems happier, but he irresistibly strives to attain knowledge. Man loves idleness, and the gratification of his desires without suffering, and at the same time only labor and suffering give life to him and his race.

This text is important, not so much because it was spoken by God Himself to Adam, but because it is true: it utters one of the most undoubted laws of human life. The law of gravitation is not true because it was enun- ciated by Newton, but because I know Newton and am grateful to him for having discovered for me an eternal law which explains for me a whole series of phenomena.

The same- thing also with the law, "/ the sweat of thy face tJiou shalt eat tJiy bread." This is a law which explains for me a whole series of phenomena. And having once recognized it I can no longer forget it, and I am grateful to him who discovered it for me. This law seems very simple, and has been long known, but it only seems so, and to see that it is the opposite all you have to do is to look around about you. Men not only do not acknowledge this law, but they acknowl- edge one precisely the opposite. Men, by their faith,


all, from the Tsar to the beggar, are striving not to fulfil this law, but to avoid fulfilling it. The above men- tioned work of Bondaref is consecrated to an explana- tion of the importance, of the unalterableness, of the law, and the inevitability of the misfortunes arising from a neglect of it. Bondaref calls this law primeval, and the chief of all laws.

He shows that sin in other words, the mistakes, the false steps we make results only from the neglect of this law. Of all the obligations imposed on man, Bon- daref considers the first, chief, and invariable duty of every man to work with his hands for his daily bread, meaning by bread all the heavy " black work " which is necessary to save a man from death by cold and star- vation in other words, bread and drink and raiment and shelter and warmth.

Bondaref 's fundamental idea is that this law, the law that a man to eat must work, which till now has been considered as necessary, must be regarded as a blessed law of life, an obligation for every one.

This law must be acknowledged as a religious law, like the observance of the Sabbath, circumcision among the Hebrews, like the observance of the sacraments and Lent among Church Christians, like fivefold prayer among the Mohammedans.

Bondaref says in one place that if only men will recognize labor for their daily bread as a religious duty, then no particular private occupations can prevent them from doing this work, just as no special occupations can prevent churchmen from participating in the inac- tivity of their festivals. More than eighty days are taken out for festivals, but according to Bondaref only forty days are required to earn a man's daily bread. Strange as it may seem at first that such a simple method, comprehensible to all, free from anything subtile or sophisticated, can serve as a salvation from the actual numberless evils of humanity ; it is still stranger, when you come to think of it, how we, having had such a simple and clear method, long known to all men, have put it aside and sought relief from our ills in


various subtilities and philosophies. But if you con- sider this, you will see that it is so. Supposing a man should make a tub without a bottom, and should then devise all sorts of clever schemes to carry water in it ! This is what all our methods for curing existent evils amount to !

In fact, whence arise the calamities of men, if you exclude from the number the calamities that men directly bring on one another by murders, capital punishments, taxes, brawls, and all sorts of cruelties in which they sin by not refraining from violence ?

All the calamities of mankind, with the exceptions of those caused by direct violence, proceed from hunger, from all kinds of deprivation, from overwork, and at the same time from superfluity, from sloth, and from the vices growing out of them. Whatever may be the holiest duty of man, is there any more so than that of bringing about the destruction of this inequality, of these calamities, of. lack in some and of superfluity in others ? And how can a man cooperate in the destruc- tion of these calamities otherwise than by taking part in the labor which overcomes need, and by refraining from the superfluities and the idleness which produce vices and temptations; in other words, that everyone should labor for his daily bread, should provide himself with food by the work of his hands, as Bondaref says ?

We have so involved ourselves, laying down so many laws, both religious and social and domestic, so many precepts, as Isaiah says, precept on precept, here a precept, there a precept, that we have entirely lost the meaning of what is good and what is bad.

A man conducts a mass, another collects an army or taxes for it, a third sits on the bench, a fourth studies books, a fifth practises medicine, a sixth teaches men ; and under these pretexts, freeing themselves from manual labor, they shirk it on others, and forget that men are dying of overwork, toil, and starvation : and in order that some one may sing at mass, some one may be protected by an army, some one may sit in judg- ment, some one may practise medicine or teach, it is


necessary that first of all men may cease dying of starvation. We forget that there may be many duties, but that there is a first and a last, and that it is impossible to fulfil the last until the first is fulfilled, just as it is impossible to harrow before the plowing is done.

Here we are recalled to this first indubitable duty in the domain of practical activity by Bondaref 's teaching. Bondaref shows that the fulfilment of this obligation does not interfere with any one, presents no difficulties, and at the same time saves people from the calamity of need and superfluity. The fulfilment of this duty espe- cially annihilates the terrible division into two classes which hate each other, and by flattery palliate their mutual hatred. Manual labor, says Bondaref, equalizes all, and clips the wings of luxury and lust.

It is impossible to plow and dig wells in costly raiment and with clean hands and after feeding on delicate food. Occupation in one sacred labor common to all brings men close together. Labor for daily bread, says Bon- daref, restores reason to those that have lost it by sep- aration from the life natural to mankind, and gives happiness and contentment to men by occupying them in work, which is undoubtedly advantageous and cheery, assigned by God Himself or by the laws of nature.

Labor for daily bread, says Bondaref, is a remedy which saves humanity. Let men acknowledge this first law as the law of God and unchangeable, let each man acknowledge it as his infallible duty to labor for his daily bread, in other words, to earn his own living with his hands, and all men will be united in faith in one God, in love to one another, and the calamities which overwhelm mankind will be done away with.

We are so accustomed to an order of life which takes the opposite for granted, that is, that wealth, as a means of freeing men from the necessity of daily labor, is either the blessing of God or the highest social position, that, if we do not examine into this position, we prefer to call it narrow, one-sided, idle, and stupid. But we must se- riously consider the matter, and judge whether this stand is not just.


As we test every kind of theory, religious and political, let us also test Bondaref's theory as a theory. Let us see what would result if, according to Bondaref's idea, the religious sermonizing were to direct its forces to the explanation of this law, and all men were to recog- nize this primary law of labor as obligatory.

All would work and eat the bread that resulted from their labors, and bread and objects of the first impor- tance would no longer become objects of purchase and sale. Then what would result ?

The result would be that there would be no more people perishing of want. If one man, in consequence of unfortunate circumstances, did not by his labor secure enough food for himself and his family, another, in con- sequence of fortunate circumstances having got more than he needed, would give to the one lacking, would give because, as he no longer sells, he would have noth- ing else to do with his superfluity. The result would be that a man would not be subjected to the temptation of acquiring bread by shrewdness, and not having this temptation, he would not use force or cunning, he would not need to do as he does at the present time.

If he employed cunning or violence, it would be only because he loved cunning and violence, and not because they are indispensable, as they are at the present time.

For the weak, for those that had not the strength for any reason to earn their own bread, or that had in some way lost it, there would be no necessity of selling them- selves or their labor, or, as it sometimes happens, their very souls, to get their bread.

There would be none of our present universal striving to get rid of manual labor, and shirking it on others, the striving to crush the weak with labor and to free the strong from all work.

There would be none of that disposition of the human mind whereby all the forces of the human intellect are directed, not to lightening the work of the workers, but to make the leisure of the leisure more light and attrac- tive. The participation of all men in manual labor, and recognizing it as the chief of all human actions, would


do what a man would do with a cart which stupid people would drag with the wheels in the air, while he would turn it over and set on the wheels on the ground. It would not break the cart and it would go easily.

Now, our life with its scorn and dislike of manual labor and our justification of this false life is the cart which we drag with the wheels in the air. And all our justifications of this work do not profit us, since we do not turn the cart over and set it where it should stand.

Such is Bondaref's idea, and I fully share it. His idea presents itself before me as follows : There was a time when men ate one another. The consciousness of the unity of all men developed to such a degree that cannibalism became impossible, and they ceased to eat one another. Then came the time when men by force took away the labor of others and reduced them to slavery. The conscience of men developed to the point that this became impossible. Violence which still per- sisted in hidden forms was annihilated in its coarser manifestation; man no longer openly took possession of the labor of another.

In our time there exists the form of violence in so far as men, profiting by the necessity of others, subject them to themselves. According to Bondaref's idea, the time has now come for such recognition of the unity of man that it is no longer possible for men to take advantage of others' necessities in other words, their hunger and nakedness to bring them into subjection, and for men, acknowledging the law of manual labor as obligatory on every one, to acknowledge their duty unconditionally, by refraining from the sale of objects of the first impor- tance in case of necessity to feed, clothe, and house one another.

Again, on the other hand, I look on Bondaref's work as follows : We often happen to hear criticisms on the insufficiency of certain prohibitory laws or commands, that is to say, regulations concerning what must not be done. They say : Positive laws or commands are necessary, regulations are necessary as to what exactly

1 Golodi kholod.


must be done. They say the five commands of Christ : (i) not to look down on any one, or call any one a fool, or be angry with any one ; (2) not to look on copula- tion as a source of satisfaction, not to desert husband or wife when once a union has been consummated ; (3) not to bind oneself with an oath to any one, not to fetter one's free will ; (4) to bear insults and violence and not to resist; and (5) not to consider any men as enemies, but to love your enemies as well as your neighbors they say that these five commands of Christ all prescribe only what is necessary not to do, but that there are no commands or laws prescribing exactly what must be done ; and indeed it may seem strange that in Christ's teaching there are no definite commands as to what must be done. But this seems strange only to one who does not believe in Christ's teaching itself, included, not in the five commands, but in the teaching itself of truth.

The teaching of truth expressed by Christ is not found in laws and commands ; it is found in one thing, in the meaning that it gives to life. The meaning of this teaching is in this one thing, that life and the blessing of life are not in personal happiness, as people suppose, but in the service of God and man. And this position is not a prescription which should be carried out for the sake of receiving a reward, is not a mystic expression of something mysterious and incomprehensible, but is the revelation of a hitherto hidden law of life, is an indica- tion that life can be a blessing only when it is thus understood. And therefore all Christ's positive teach- ing of truth is expressed in one thing : Love God, and thy neighbor as thyself. And there can be no explana- tions of this position. It is one thing because this one thing is all. Christ's laws and commands, like the Jewish and Buddhist laws and commands, are only indications of those conditions in which the temptations of the world seduce men from the true understanding of life. And therefore there may be many laws and commands, but there can be only one positive teaching of life, of what must be done.

The life of every man is a movement in a certain di-


rection ; whether he wishes or not, he moves, he lives. Christ shows a man his path, and moreover points out the turns from the true path which may lead him into falsehood, and there may be many such indications these are the commands.

Christ gives five such commands, and those He gives are of such kind that up to the present time it is impos- sible to add one to them, or to take one away. But only one single indication of the direction of the path was given since there cannot be more than one straight line indicating any direction. Hence the idea that in Christ's teaching there are only prohibitions, but no positive commands, is right for those only that do not know or believe in the teaching of the truth, in the di- rection of the true path of life, pointed out by Christ. Men who do not believe in the truth of the way of life pointed out by Christ cannot find positive commands in Christ's teaching. All positive activity, even the most varied, flowing from the teaching of the right way of life, is clear and always undoubtedly definite for them.

Men who believe in the way of life are, according to Christ's sentence, like a fountain of living water, that is, like a fountain proceeding from the earth. All their activity is like the flowing of water, which flows steadily in all directions in spite of the obstacles blocking it. A man who believes in Christ's teaching can just as little ask what he must positively do, as the spring of water flowing from the earth can ask such a question. It flows, refreshing the soil, the turf, the trees, the birds, the animals, and men. The same is true of the man who believes in Christ's doctrine of life.

The man who believes in Christ's teaching will not ask what he must do. The love which constitutes the force of his life faithfully and undoubtedly shows him where he must act and what he must do, both before and after. To say nothing of those directions of which Christ's teaching is full as to what is the first and most important act of love, as to feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, helping the needy and imprisoned both reason and conscience


and feeling, everything, lead us to this : before all other acts of love toward living men, to support this life of our brethren, to deliver them from suffering and death which overtakes them in their unequal struggle with nature, in other words, lead us to the first act necessary for the life of men to primitive, coarse phys- ical labor on the soil.

Just as a spring cannot ask where it is to send its water, whether it shall spurt up on the grass and the leaves of the trees, or trickle down to the roots of the grass and the trees, so the man that believes in the teaching of truth cannot ask what he must do first of all ; whether to teach them, defend them, amuse them, give them the pleasures of life, or support them when they are perishing from need.

And just as the spring of water flows down over levels and fills the ponds, and quenches the thirst of animals and men, only after it has soaked the soil, so also the man that believes in the teaching of truth can help along the less pressing demands of men, only after he has satisfied the first demand, that is, when he has helped in the nour- ishment of men, in their salvation from destruction in consequence of their struggle with need.

The man that follows, not in word, but in deed, the teaching of truth and love, cannot be mistaken in the direction in which first of all he must apply his ac- tivity. Never can a man who applies the meaning of his life to the service of others, be so mistaken as to begin to help cold and hungry humanity by founding cannon, by the manufacture of elegant objects, or by playing on the fiddle or on the pianoforte.

Love cannot be stupid. As love for one person does not permit the reading of novels to him when he is hun- gry or putting on him costly earrings when he is cold, so love for men does not allow it to be possible to serve them by amusing the prosperous, while allowing the cold and hungry to die of their necessities.

True love expressed in deeds, not words not only cannot be stupid, but it is the only thing that gives true sagacity and wisdom.


And therefore the man penetrated with love will make no mistake, and will always do first of all what love for men demands that which supports the life of the cold, the hungry, and the despondent ; he does not support the life of the cold, the hungry, and the despondent, but the struggle, the out and out struggle with nature, does. Only the man that wishes to deceive himself and others can in the time of danger and men's battle with necessity turn aside from aiding them, augment the necessity of men, and persuade himself and those that are perishing before his eyes, that he is occupied in devising for them means of salvation.

No genuine man who applies his life to the service of others will say this. And if he says this, never will he find in his conscience any support for his mistake ; he will find it only in the crafty doctrine of the division of labor.

In all expressions of genuine popular wisdom from Confucius to Mohammed he will find one thing, will find it with especial force in the Gospels, will find the demand for the service of men, not according to the theory of the subdivision of labor, but in the simplest, most natural, and only necessary way, will find the need of serving the sick, the imprisoned, the cold, and the starving. But to extend aid to the sick, the impris- oned, the cold, and the starving is impossible otherwise than by one's immediate instant labor, because the sick, the cold, and the hungry will not wait, but will die of cold and hunger. To the man who fulfils the teaching of the truth, his life, consisting in service of others, points to this fundamental law expressed in the first book of Genesis : /;/ the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread, which Bondaref calls fundamental and makes mandatory.

This law is really such for men who do not acknowl- edge that significance of life which Christ made evident to men, and such it was for men before Christ's day, and such it remains for men who do not acknowledge Christ's teaching. It demands that every man, accord- ing to God's will, expressed both in the Bible and in


reason, should earn his own daily food. This law is mandatory. Such was this law even before the mean- ing of life was made plain to men in the teaching of the truth.

But in the loftiest consciousness of the meaning of life discovered by Christ, the law of manual labor, still remaining true, stands as a part of the only positive doc- trine of Christ concerning the service of others, and receives the significance, not of a positive, but of a pro- hibitory, law. This law, in the Christian conscience, points only to an ancient temptation of men, to what a man ought not to do if he would avoid departing from the path of the true life.

For a man of the Old Testament, who did not ac- knowledge the teaching of the truth, this law has the same significance : earn your bread with your own hands. For the Christian its significance is negative. This law says : Do not suppose it possible to serve men while swallowing up the labor of others, and while you do not earn your subsistence with your own hands. This law, for the Christian, points to one of the oldest and most terrible temptations that people suffer from. Against this temptation, terrible in its consequences, and so very ancient that we with difficulty may recognize this temptation, not as a natural quality of a man, but as a deception, this doctrine of Bondaref is directed, a doctrine obligatory on the Old Testament man who believes in the Scriptures, and the Christian who be- lieves in the Scriptures, and the man that does not believe in the Scriptures, but follows his reason alone, and for the man that recognizes the teaching of the truth.

Reader and dear brother, whoever you are, I love you and not only do not wish to offend or affront you, to bring evil into your life, but I do wish one thing, and that is to serve you.

I might write much, and I should like to write much, in order to prove the truth of this position, and to refute the various and complicated arguments against it, which are on the lips of each one of us. We know that we are


to blame, and consequently we are always ready with a justification.

But, however much I wrote, however well I wrote, however correct I might be logically, I should not per- suade a reader, if he used his reason to argue against me and his heart should remain cold. I fear this, I fear the pride of my own intellect, that my coldness may injure you.

And so I ask you, reader, even though for a time you set aside the activity of your mind, not to argue, nor to prove, but merely to question your heart. Who ever you are, however gifted, however kind to the men and women around you, in whatever condition you may be, can you be contented at your tea, your dinner, your work as a government employee, as an artist, a student, a phy- sician, a teacher, if you hear or see at your doorstep a man cold, hungry, sick, or tormented ?


But here they are always with us if not at our steps, then ten yards or ten miles away. They are here, and you know it !

And you cannot be satisfied, you cannot enjoy your- self, unless you rectify this state of things. In order that you may not see them at your door, you must shut yourself away from them, you must hold them at a dis- tance by your coldness, or else go where they are not to be found. But they are everywhere.

And even if a place were found where you would not see them, you would not get away from your con- sciousness of the truth. How could you ? You your- self know it, and the teaching of this book tells this to you :

" Let yourself down to him who seems to you below but is really above ; stand in line with those that are feed- ing the hungry, clothing the cold; fear nothing," there will be nothing worse, but much that is better in all di- rections. Stand in line, put your ignorant weak hands to the first task that will feed the hungry, clothe the cold ; undertake manual labor, the struggle with nature : and you will feel for the first time the firm soil underneath your feet ; you will feel that you are at home, that you are free and strong ; and you will experience the whole- some, unpoisoned pleasures which you will not find be- hind closed doors or drawn curtains.

You will recognize joys which you never have known before. You will know for the first time those simple, strong men and women, your brethren who far away from you, have hitherto been supporting you ; and to your amazement you will see in them such virtues as you had not suspected before, you will see in them such modesty, such kindliness to you yourself, especially, as you will feel you have not deserved.

Instead of the scorn, the ridicule, which you expected, you will see such gentleness, such gratitude, such re- spect for you, because after you had lived all your days and despised them, you suddenly woke up and with un- accustomed hands wanted to help them.

You will see that what seemed to you an island on which you were sitting, having been sand from the sea that swallowed you up, is a swamp in which you were sinking ; and that the sea which you feared is dry land on which you walk firmly, calmly, joyously, as could not be otherwise, because from the deception into which you did not go yourself, but were led into it, you have re- turned to the truth ; from the deviation from God's will, you have returned to its fulfilment.