The Masses (periodical)/Volume 1/Number 1/Must It Be So?

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Translator is likely Thomas Seltzer, but no translator is specifically credited

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Editor's Note.—This powerful sketch gives a striking picture of conditions as they actually exist in Russia. It is typical of the best style of Tolstoy's later writings, and in its grand simplicity reflects the simplicity of his philosophy and of his life.

IN the middle of a field surrounded by a wall stands an iron foundry with tall smoking chimneys, rattling chains, blasting furnaces, sidings, and small scattered houses for the foremen and workmen. The men scurry about like ants in the factory and the mine shafts hard by. In dark, damp, narrow, suffocating passages three hundred feet deep below the ground, exposed to death at any instant, some dig the ore from morning till night. Others load the ore or the dirt on cars. Then bending their backs they haul the cars through the dark to the hoisting bucket, and haul them back again empty, to be filled again. That is the way they work twelve or fourteen hours a day the week round.

That is the way they work in the mines. In the foundry itself some work in the sweltering heat of the smelting furnaces; others where the molten iron and the slag flow; others again in the different shops as machinists, stokers, brick-makers, carpenters, and so on. These, too, work from twelve to fourteen hours a day the week round.

On Sunday the men receive their wages. They wash themselves, or else without washing themselves they get drunk in the saloons scattered all about the factory to entice them. Early Monday morning they get into harness again.

Close by peasants driving tired, starved horses plow other people's fields. The peasants rise with the sun, if they have not spent the night on the pasture near the swamp, the one place where the horses can graze. At sunrise they return home, harness the horses, and taking with them a piece of bread, they set out to plow other people's fields.

Other peasants squat on the roadside near the factory, breaking stones in a temporary bark-shed. Their legs are battered, their hands horny, their whole bodies dirty, and their faces, their hair, their beards are covered with lime dust. The dust has eaten into their lungs, too.

They take a great stone from the heap, put it between their feet, covered with enormous shoes and old rags, and strike the stone with a hammer until it falls into pieces. Then they take the pieces and hammer them until they fall into still smaller pieces. Next they take a large stone again and repeat the process. That is the way they work from the gray of dawn until late at night, fifteen or sixteen hours a day, resting two hours after their noon meal. And all they take to strengthen themselves is some bread and water at breakfast, and all the rest they get are a few short bits of repose.

That is the way all these people live, the men in the mine, in the iron foundry, on the farm, and on the roadside from boyhood until old age. Their wives and their mothers live the same way, working beyond their strength, and in addition undergoing the pangs of childbirth and the cares of motherhood. And that is the way their fathers and children live, poorly fed and poorly clad, overworking from morning until night, from youth until old age.

Bells ijngle, and a carriage rolls by the iron foundry, the plowing peasants, and the stone breakers. As it bowls along it encounters ragged men and women carrying sacks on their backs, men and women who wander from place to place living by alms. The carriage is drawn by four bay horses. The poorest of the horses is worth more than the entire homestead of any one of the peasants. The peasants look at the equipage with satisfaction.

There sit two girls, displaying gay parasols, ribbons, and feathered hats. Each hat costs more than the horse with which the peasant plows his field. An officer, the galloon and buttons of his uniform resplendent in the sunshine, sits in the front seat. A rotund coachman, with blue silk sleeves and a velvet jacket, perches on the box. He very nearly runs down the pilgrim women, and almost upsets in the ditch an empty cart jogging along, driven by a peasant in an ore-covered shirt.

"Are you blind?" bawls the coachman, shaking his whip at the peasant who was too slow getting out of his way.

The peasant, in alarm, pulls the reins with one hand and his cap off his head with the other.

Three bicyclists, a woman and two men, spin noiselessly along a short distance behind the carriage, their nickel-plated wheels glittering in the sun. They laugh as they pass the pilgrim women, who cross themselves in fright.

Two horseback riders gallop along the side of the road. The man rides an English stallion, the woman a palfrey. The woman's black hat and lilac veil, not to mention her horse and saddle, cost more than a stonebreaker earns in two months. And upon that up-to-date crop as much was spent as that young man walking up the path with so contended a look because he has succeeded in getting a position, receives for a week's work in an underground mine. As the young man turns out of their way he gazes admiringly at the sleek horses and sleek riders, and at the fat, strange-looking, powerful dog with a valuable collar about his neck running after the equestrians with his tongue lolling out.

At a little distance behind the party a cart follows. In it is a giggling girl, gaudily dressed and her hair artificially curled. She wears a white apron. A stout, red-faced man with side whiskers and a cigarette between his teeth, sits next to her and whispers into her ear. Besides, there is a samovar in the cart, several packages wrapped in napkins, and a small ice-box.

These are the servants to the party. The day is not an exceptional holiday. That is the way

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the people of this party live the whole summer round. They go on excursions almost every day. Sometimes they take tea with them, drinks, and dainty eatables, for the sake of a change from the place in which they usually eat and drink.

The picknickers come from three families living in a summer resort, the family of a landholder, the owner of three thousand acres, the family of a government official drawing a salary of three thousand rubles a year, and the family of a manufacturer, the richest of all.

None of the party is the least astonished or moved by the horror of the workmen's lives, by the misery surrounding them. They think it must be so, and their thoughts are engaged quite differently.

"Why, that's awful!" says the lady on the palfrey, turning to look at the dog. "I cannot bear to see him that way." She stops the carriage. They speak French with one another, laugh and haul the dog into the carriage. Then they proceed on their way, raising clouds of lime dust, which completely envelop the stone breakers and passersby.

The carriage, equestrians, and bicyclists speed by like beings from a different world. The workmen in the foundry, the stone breakers, and the farm hands keep on with their wearisome, monotonous tasks, which they perform, not for themselves but for others, and which will end only with their death.

"What a life those people live!" they ruminate, as they follow the summer folks with their eyes. And their painful existence seems even more painful to them than before.

Must it be so?


Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.
Original:

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

 
Translation:

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.


The author died in 1943, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.