Pamphlets (Tolstoy)/Some Social Remedies/On Communal Life
On Communal Life
(From a Letter to a Friend)
It is quite true, as you say in your article, and H—— in his, that Christian life is quite impossible in the present unchristian organisation of society. The contradiction between his surroundings and his convictions is very painful for a man who is sincere in his Christian faith, and therefore the organisation of communities seems to such a man the only means of delivering himself from these contradictions.
But this is an illusion. Every community is a small island in the midst of an ocean of unchristian conditions of life, so that the Christian relations exist only between the members of the colony; while outside they must remain unchristian, otherwise the colony could not exist for one moment. And therefore to live in a community cannot save a Christian from the contradiction between his conscience and his life.
I do not mean to say that I do not approve of the organisation of communities such as your commonwealth, or that I do not think them good things. On the contrary, I approve of them with all my heart, and am very interested in your commonwealth, and wish it the greatest success.
I think that every man who can free himself from the conditions of worldly life without breaking the ties of love,—love, the main principle, in the name of which he is seelong new forms of life,—I think such a man not only must, but will naturally join people who have the same beliefs, and who try to live up to them. If I were free I would immediately, even at my age, join such a colony.
I only wished to say that the mere forming of communities is not a solution of the Christian problem, but is only one of the means for its solution. The revolution that is going on for the attainment of the Christian ideal is so enormous, our life is so different from what it ought to be, that for the perfect success of this revolution, for the concordance of conscience and life is needed the work of all men—men living in commimities, as well as men of the world living in the most different conditions. This ideal is not so quickly and so simply attained as we think and wish, and the ideal will be attained only when every man in the whole world will say: "Why should I sell my services and buy yours? If mine are greater than yours, I owe them to you." For, if there be in the whole world one man who does not think and act by this principle, and who will appropriate and keep by violence what he can take from others, no man can live a true Christian life, whether it be in a community or outside it. We cannot be saved separately, we must be saved altogether. And this can be attained only through the modification of the conception of life, i.e. the faith of all men. And to this end we must work all together—men living in the world, as well as men living in communities.
We must all of us remember that we are messengers from the great King, the God of love, with the message of unity and love amongst all living beings. And, therefore, we must not for a minute forget our mission, and may do all that we think useful and agreeable for ourselves, only so long as it is not in opposition to our mission, which is to be accomplished not only by words, but by example, and especially by the infection of love.
Please give my respect and love to the colonists, and ask them not to be offended by my giving them advice which may be unnecessary.
I advise them to remember that all material questions, money, implements, even nourishment, the very existence of the colony itself, all these things are of little importance in comparison with the sole object of our life: to preserve love amongst all men with whom we come in contact. If, with the object of keeping the interests of the colony, or of protecting the thrift of it, you must quarrel with a friend or with a stranger, must excite ill-feeling in somebody, it is better to give up everything than to act against love.
And let your friends not dread that the strict following of this principle will destroy the practical work. Even the practical work will flourish, not as we expect it, but in its own way, only if we are strictly following the law of love; and will perish if we act in opposition to it.