Essays and Letters/To the Tsar and His Assistants

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XXI

TO THE TSAR AND HIS ASSISTANTS

Again there are murders, again disturbances and slaughter in the streets, again we shall have executions, terror, false accusations, threats and anger on the one side; and hatred, thirst for vengeance, and readiness for self-sacrifice, on the other. Again all Russians are divided into two hostile camps, and are committing and preparing to commit the greatest crimes.

Very possibly the disturbances that have now broken out may be suppressed, though it is also possible that the troops of soldiers and of police, on whom the Government place such reliance, may realize that they are being called on to commit the terrible crime of fratricide—and may refuse to obey. But even if the present disturbance is suppressed, it will not be extinguished, but will burn in secret more and more fiercely, and will inevitably burst out sooner or later with increased strength, and produce yet greater sufferings and crimes.

Why is this? Why should these things occur, when they might so easily be avoided?

We address all you who are in power, from the Tsar, the members of the Council of State, and Ministers, to the relations—uncles, brothers, and entourage of the Tsar, and all who can influence him by persuasion. We appeal to you not as to enemies, but as to brothers, who, whether willingly or not, are inseparably bound up with us, so that all the sufferings we undergo react on you also—and react much more pamfully if you feel that you could remove these suiFerings but have failed to do so—we appeal to you to act so that the existing state of things may cease.

It seems to you, or to most of you, that it has all happened because, amid the regular current of life, some troublesome, dissatisfied men have arisen, who disturb the people and interrupt this regular current; and that what is wrong is all the fault of these people. So that these troublesome, dissatisfied people should be subdued and repressed, and then everything will again go all right, and nothing will need to be altered.

But if, really, it were all due to troublesome and wicked men, it would be only necessary to catch them and shut them up in prison and execute them, and all disturbances would be at end. But, in fact, during more than thirty years, these people have been caught, imprisoned and executed, or banished by thousands—yet their number is ever increasing, and discontent with the present conditions of life not only grows, but spreads so that it has now reached millions of the working classes—the great majority of the whole nation. Evidently this dissatisfaction is not caused by troublesome and wicked men, but by something else. And you of the Government need only turn your attention for a moment from the acute strife in which you are now absorbed, and cease to credit naively the statement made by the Minister of the Interior in a recent circular, namely, that 'it is only necessary for the police to disperse the crowd promptly, and to fire at it if it does not disperse, for all to be tranquil and quiet,' and you will clearly see the cause that produces discontent among the people, and finds expression in disturbances which are assuming ever greater and wider and deeper dimensions.

Those causes are, that because, unfortunately, a Tsar who had freed the serfs happened to be murdered by a small group of people who mistakenly imagined that they would thereby serve the nation, the Government has not only decided not to advance in the direction of gradually discarding despotic methods (at variance with all the present conditions of life), but, on the contrary, imagining safety to lie in those coarse and obsolete methods of despotism—instead of advancing in agreement with the general development and increasing complexity of modern life—has, for twenty years, not even stood still, but has receded, and by this retrograde movement has separated itself more and more from the people and their demands.

So that it is not some wicked and troublesome people, but it is you yourselves—the rulers, who do not wish to consider anything but your own tranquillity for the passing moment. The thing needed is not that you should defend yourselves from enemies who wish to injure you—no one wishes to injure you—but the thing needed is, thta having recognised the cause of the social discontent you should remove it. Men, as a whole, cannot desire discord and enmity, but always prefer to live in agreement and amity with their fellows. And if they now are disquiet and seem to wish you ill, it is only because you appear to them as an obstacle depriving not only them, but millions of their brothers, of the best human blessings—freedom and enlightenment.

That they may cease to be perturbed and to attack you, very little is required, and that little is so necessary for you yourselves, and would so evidently give you peace, that it will be strange indeed if you do not grant it.

What needs to be done at once is very little. Only the following:

First: To grant the peasants equal rights with all other citizens, and therefore to—

(a) Abolish the stupid, arbitrary institution of the Zemsky Natchálniks.[1]

(b) Repeal the special rules, framed to regulate the relations between workmen and their employers.

(c) Free the peasants from the constraint of needing passports to move from place to place, and also from the compulsion laid only on them, to furnish lodging and horses for officials, and men for police service.

(d) Free them from the unjust law which makes them jointly responsible for other peasants' debts, and from the land-redemption payments which have already, long ago, exceeded the value of the land received by them at the time of their emancipation.

(e) And, chiefly, abolish the senseless, utterly unnecessary and shameful system of corporal punishment, which has been retained only for the most industrious, moral, and numerous class of the population.

To equalize the rights of the peasantry (who form the immense majority of the people) with the rights of the other classes is particularly important, for no social system can be durable or stable, under which the majority does not enjoy equal rights but is kept in a servile position, and is bound by exceptional laws. Only when the labouring majority have the same rights as the other citizens, and are freed from shameful disabilities, is a firm order of society possible.

Secondly: The Statute of Increased Protection[2]—which abolishes all existing laws and hands over the population into the power of officials, who are often immoral, stupid, and cruel—must cease to be applied. Its disuse is specially important because, by stopping the action of the common law, it develops the practice of secret denunciations and the spy system, it encourages and evokes gross violence, often employed against working men who have differences with their employers or with the land-owners (nowhere are such cruelties practised as in the districts where this statute is in force). But above all is its disuse important, because to this terrible measure, and to it alone, do we owe the introduction and more and more frequent infliction of capital punishment-which most surely depraves men, is contrary to the Christian spirit of the Russian people, was formerly unknown in our code of laws, and is itself the greatest of crimes, and one forbidden by God and by conscience.

Thirdly: All barriers to education, instruction, and to imparting knowledge, should be destroyed. It is necessary—

(a) To make no distinctions debarring people of any class from education, and therefore to abolish all restrictions aimed specially at the peasant class (forbidding popular readings, classes, and books, for some reason supposed to be bad for the common people).

(b) To allow people of any race or religion (not excepting the Jews, who for some reason are now deprived of that right) to have access to all schools.

(c) To cease to hinder teachers from using in school the language spoken by the children who attend the school.

(d) And, above all, to allow the establishment and continuance of all sorts of private schools (elementary and higher) by all who wish to devote themselves to education.

To set education and instruction free from the restraints now imposed upon them is important, because these restraints alone hinder the working people from freeing themselves from that very ignorance which now serves the Government as a chief excuse for imposing restraints on the peasants. The liberation of the working classes from Governmental interference in matters of education would be the easiest and quickest way to enable the people to gain all the knowledge they need, in place of such knowledge as is now being forced upon them. Liberty for private schools to be opened and maintained by private people would end the disturbances now continually arising among students dissatisfied with the management of the establishments in which they find themselves. Were there no obstacles to opening private schools and colleges, both elementary and advanced, young people dissatisfied with the management of the Government educational institutions would enter private establishments which suited their requirements.

Lastly, fourthly, and most important of all, all limitation of religious liberty should be abolished. It is necessary—

(a) To repeal all the laws under which any secession from the established Church is punislied as a crime.

(b) To allow Old-Believers,[3] Baptists, Molokans,[4] Stundists,[5] and others, to open and maintain churches, chapels, and houses of prayer.

(c) To allow religious meetings and the preaching of all faiths.

(d) Not to hinder people of different faiths from educating their children in those faiths.

It is necessary to do this because, apart from the fact shown by history and science, and generally admitted, that religious persecutions fail to effect their object, and even produce a reverse effect by strengthening what people wish to destroy—and apart from the fact that the intervention of Government in matters of faith produces that most harmful and therefore worst of vices, hypocrisy, which Christ so strongly denounced,—not to speak of all that, the interference of Government in matters of faith hinders each individual and the whole people from attaining that highest blessing—union with one another. For union is attained, not by the forcible and impossible retention of all men in the bonds of one and the same external, once-accepted, confession of a religious teaching to which infallibility is attributed, but only by the free advance of the whole of humanity towards truth, wliich alone, therefore, can truly unite men.

Such are the modest and easily realizable desires, we believe, of the immense majority of the Russian people. The adoption of these measures would undoubtedly pacify the people, and free them from those terrible sufferings and (what is worse than suffering's) crimes, which will inevitably be committed on both sides, if the Government busies itself only with the suppression of these disturbances, leaving their cause untouched.

We appeal to you all—to the Tsar, to the Ministers, to the Members of the Council of State, to the Privy Councillors, and to those who surround the Tsar—to all, in general, who have power: to help to give peace to the nation, and free it from suffering and crime. We appeal to you, not as to men of a hostile camp, but as to men who must of necessity agree with us, as to fellow-workers and brothers.

It cannot be that, in a society of men mutually bound together, one section should feel at ease while it is ill with another. And especially is this so if it is the majority that suffers. It can be well for all, only when it is well for the strongest and most industrious majority, which supports the whole society.

Help, then, to improve the position of that majority, and help it in that which is most important: in what regards its freedom and enlightenment. Only then can your position also be safe and really strong.

This is written by Leo Tolstoy, who in writing it has tried to express not his own thoughts only, but the opinion of many of the best, kindest, most disinterested, most reasonable people—who all desire these things.

[March 15, o.s., 1901.]

 
  1. See footnote, p. 198.
  2. See footnote, p. 202.
  3. The Old-Believers is a general name for the sects that separated from the Russo-Greek Church in the seventeenth and early in the eighteenth centuries.
  4. The Molokans are a more modern sect. They reject the Sacraments and the ceremonial of the Russo-Greek Church, and pay much attention to the Bible.
  5. Stundist is a general name for the Protestant and rationalistic sects of many shades that have rapidly sprung up and increased, chiefly in South Russia, during the last quarter of a century.