Anna karenina, p.96
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Anna Karenina, p.96

           graf Leo Tolstoy

  Chapter 27

  "If I'd only the heart to throw up what's been set going ... such a lotof trouble wasted ... I'd turn my back on the whole business, sell up,go off like Nikolay Ivanovitch ... to hear _La Belle Helene_," said thelandowner, a pleasant smile lighting up his shrewd old face.

  "But you see you don't throw it up," said Nikolay Ivanovitch Sviazhsky;"so there must be something gained."

  "The only gain is that I live in my own house, neither bought nor hired.Besides, one keeps hoping the people will learn sense. Though, insteadof that, you'd never believe it--the drunkenness, the immorality! Theykeep chopping and changing their bits of land. Not a sight of a horse ora cow. The peasant's dying of hunger, but just go and take him on as alaborer, he'll do his best to do you a mischief, and then bring you upbefore the justice of the peace."

  "But then you make complaints to the justice too," said Sviazhsky.

  "I lodge complaints? Not for anything in the world! Such a talking, andsuch a to-do, that one would have cause to regret it. At the works, forinstance, they pocketed the advance-money and made off. What did thejustice do? Why, acquitted them. Nothing keeps them in order but theirown communal court and their village elder. He'll flog them in the goodold style! But for that there'd be nothing for it but to give it all upand run away."

  Obviously the landowner was chaffing Sviazhsky, who, far from resentingit, was apparently amused by it.

  "But you see we manage our land without such extreme measures," said he,smiling: "Levin and I and this gentleman."

  He indicated the other landowner.

  "Yes, the thing's done at Mihail Petrovitch's, but ask him how it'sdone. Do you call that a rational system?" said the landowner, obviouslyrather proud of the word "rational."

  "My system's very simple," said Mihail Petrovitch, "thank God. All mymanagement rests on getting the money ready for the autumn taxes, andthe peasants come to me, 'Father, master, help us!' Well, the peasantsare all one's neighbors; one feels for them. So one advances them athird, but one says: 'Remember, lads, I have helped you, and you musthelp me when I need it--whether it's the sowing of the oats, or thehaycutting, or the harvest'; and well, one agrees, so much for eachtaxpayer--though there are dishonest ones among them too, it's true."

  Levin, who had long been familiar with these patriarchal methods,exchanged glances with Sviazhsky and interrupted Mihail Petrovitch,turning again to the gentleman with the gray whiskers.

  "Then what do you think?" he asked; "what system is one to adoptnowadays?"

  "Why, manage like Mihail Petrovitch, or let the land for half the cropor for rent to the peasants; that one can do--only that's just how thegeneral prosperity of the country is being ruined. Where the land withserf-labor and good management gave a yield of nine to one, on thehalf-crop system it yields three to one. Russia has been ruined by theemancipation!"

  Sviazhsky looked with smiling eyes at Levin, and even made a faintgesture of irony to him; but Levin did not think the landowner's wordsabsurd, he understood them better than he did Sviazhsky. A great dealmore of what the gentleman with the gray whiskers said to show in whatway Russia was ruined by the emancipation struck him indeed as verytrue, new to him, and quite incontestable. The landowner unmistakablyspoke his own individual thought--a thing that very rarely happens--anda thought to which he had been brought not by a desire of finding someexercise for an idle brain, but a thought which had grown up out of theconditions of his life, which he had brooded over in the solitude of hisvillage, and had considered in every aspect.

  "The point is, don't you see, that progress of every sort is only madeby the use of authority," he said, evidently wishing to show he was notwithout culture. "Take the reforms of Peter, of Catherine, of Alexander.Take European history. And progress in agriculture more than anythingelse--the potato, for instance, that was introduced among us by force.The wooden plough too wasn't always used. It was introduced maybe in thedays before the Empire, but it was probably brought in by force. Now, inour own day, we landowners in the serf times used various improvementsin our husbandry: drying machines and thrashing machines, and cartingmanure and all the modern implements--all that we brought into use byour authority, and the peasants opposed it at first, and ended byimitating us. Now, by the abolition of serfdom we have been deprived ofour authority; and so our husbandry, where it had been raised to a highlevel, is bound to sink to the most savage primitive condition. That'show I see it."

  "But why so? If it's rational, you'll be able to keep up the same systemwith hired labor," said Sviazhsky.

  "We've no power over them. With whom am I going to work the system,allow me to ask?"

  "There it is--the labor force--the chief element in agriculture,"thought Levin.

  "With laborers."

  "The laborers won't work well, and won't work with good implements. Ourlaborer can do nothing but get drunk like a pig, and when he's drunk heruins everything you give him. He makes the horses ill with too muchwater, cuts good harness, barters the tires of the wheels for drink,drops bits of iron into the thrashing machine, so as to break it. Heloathes the sight of anything that's not after his fashion. And that'show it is the whole level of husbandry has fallen. Lands gone out ofcultivation, overgrown with weeds, or divided among the peasants, andwhere millions of bushels were raised you get a hundred thousand; thewealth of the country has decreased. If the same thing had been done,but with care that..."

  And he proceeded to unfold his own scheme of emancipation by means ofwhich these drawbacks might have been avoided.

  This did not interest Levin, but when he had finished, Levin went backto his first position, and, addressing Sviazhsky, and trying to draw himinto expressing his serious opinion:-`

  "That the standard of culture is falling, and that with our presentrelations to the peasants there is no possibility of farming on arational system to yield a profit--that's perfectly true," said he.

  "I don't believe it," Sviazhsky replied quite seriously; "all I see isthat we don't know how to cultivate the land, and that our system ofagriculture in the serf days was by no means too high, but too low. Wehave no machines, no good stock, no efficient supervision; we don't evenknow how to keep accounts. Ask any landowner; he won't be able to tellyou what crop's profitable, and what's not."

  "Italian bookkeeping," said the gentleman of the gray whiskersironically. "You may keep your books as you like, but if they spoileverything for you, there won't be any profit."

  "Why do they spoil things? A poor thrashing machine, or your Russianpresser, they will break, but my steam press they don't break. Awretched Russian nag they'll ruin, but keep good dray-horses--they won'truin them. And so it is all round. We must raise our farming to a higherlevel."

  "Oh, if one only had the means to do it, Nikolay Ivanovitch! It's allvery well for you; but for me, with a son to keep at the university,lads to be educated at the high school--how am I going to buy thesedray-horses?"

  "Well, that's what the land banks are for."

  "To get what's left me sold by auction? No, thank you."

  "I don't agree that it's necessary or possible to raise the level ofagriculture still higher," said Levin. "I devote myself to it, and Ihave means, but I can do nothing. As to the banks, I don't know to whomthey're any good. For my part, anyway, whatever I've spent money on inthe way of husbandry, it has been a loss: stock--a loss, machinery--aloss."

  "That's true enough," the gentleman with the gray whiskers chimed in,positively laughing with satisfaction.

  "And I'm not the only one," pursued Levin. "I mix with all theneighboring landowners, who are cultivating their land on a rationalsystem; they all, with rare exceptions, are doing so at a loss. Come,tell us how does your land do--does it pay?" said Levin, and at once inSviazhsky's eyes he detected that fleeting expression of alarm which hehad noticed whenever he had tried to penetrate beyond the outer chambersof Sviazhsky's mind.

  Moreover, this question on Levin's part was not quite in good faith.Madame Sviazhskaya had jus
t told him at tea that they had that summerinvited a German expert in bookkeeping from Moscow, who for aconsideration of five hundred roubles had investigated the management oftheir property, and found that it was costing them a loss of threethousand odd roubles. She did not remember the precise sum, but itappeared that the German had worked it out to the fraction of afarthing.

  The gray-whiskered landowner smiled at the mention of the profits ofSviazhsky's famling, obviously aware how much gain his neighbor andmarshal was likely to be making.

  "Possibly it does not pay," answered Sviazhsky. "That merely proveseither that I'm a bad manager, or that I've sunk my capital for theincrease of my rents."

  "Oh, rent!" Levin cried with horror. "Rent there may be in Europe, whereland has been improved by the labor put into it, but with us all theland is deteriorating from the labor put into it--in other words they'reworking it out; so there's no question of rent."

  "How no rent? It's a law."

  "Then we're outside the law; rent explains nothing for us, but simplymuddles us. No, tell me how there can be a theory of rent?..."

  "Will you have some junket? Masha, pass us some junket or raspberries."He turned to his wife. "Extraordinarily late the raspberries are lastingthis year."

  And in the happiest frame of mind Sviazhsky got up and walked off,apparently supposing the conversation to have ended at the very pointwhen to Levin it seemed that it was only just beginning.

  Having lost his antagonist, Levin continued the conversation with thegray-whiskered landowner, trying to prove to him that all the difficultyarises from the fact that we don't find out the peculiarities and habitsof our laborer; but the landowner, like all men who think independentlyand in isolation, was slow in taking in any other person's idea, andparticularly partial to his own. He stuck to it that the Russian peasantis a swine and likes swinishness, and that to get him out of hisswinishness one must have authority, and there is none; one must havethe stick, and we have become so liberal that we have all of a suddenreplaced the stick that served us for a thousand years by lawyers andmodel prisons, where the worthless, stinking peasant is fed on good soupand has a fixed allowance of cubic feet of air.

  "What makes you think," said Levin, trying to get back to the question,"that it's impossible to find some relation to the laborer in which thelabor would become productive?"

  "That never could be so with the Russian peasantry; we've no power overthem," answered the landowner.

  "How can new conditions be found?" said Sviazhsky. Having eaten somejunket and lighted a cigarette, he came back to the discussion. "Allpossible relations to the labor force have been defined and studied," hesaid. "The relic of barbarism, the primitive commune with each guaranteefor all, will disappear of itself; serfdom has been abolished--thereremains nothing but free labor, and its forms are fixed and ready made,and must be adopted. Permanent hands, day-laborers, rammers--you can'tget out of those forms."

  "But Europe is dissatisfied with these forms."

  "Dissatisfied, and seeking new ones. And will find them, in allprobability."

  "That's just what I was meaning," answered Levin. "Why shouldn't we seekthem for ourselves?"

  "Because it would be just like inventing afresh the means forconstructing railways. They are ready, invented."

  "But if they don't do for us, if they're stupid?" said Levin.

  And again he detected the expression of alarm in the eyes of Sviazhsky.

  "Oh, yes; we'll bury the world under our caps! We've found the secretEurope was seeking for! I've heard all that; but, excuse me, do you knowall that's been done in Europe on the question of the organization oflabor?"

  "No, very little."

  "That question is now absorbing the best minds in Europe. TheSchulze-Delitsch movement.... And then all this enormous literature ofthe labor question, the most liberal Lassalle movement ... the Mulhausenexperiment? That's a fact by now, as you're probably aware."

  "I have some idea of it, but very vague."

  "No, you only say that; no doubt you know all about it as well as I do.I'm not a professor of sociology, of course, but it interested me, andreally, if it interests you, you ought to study it."

  "But what conclusion have they come to?"

  "Excuse me..."

  The two neighbors had risen, and Sviazhsky, once more checking Levin inhis inconvenient habit of peeping into what was beyond the outerchambers of his mind, went to see his guests out.

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
  • 34 071
  • 0
Add comment

Add comment