Help for the Starving

Help for the Starving  (1892) 
by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Nathan Haskell Dole

Written January, 1892. Translated by Nathan Haskell Dole in 1896.


THE questions, whether there is famine in Russia or not, and if there is, to what an extent, remain as yet unanswered. As an answer to them let a description of what I have seen and heard in four districts of the Government of Tula, suffering from failure of the crops, suffice.

The first district I visited was Krapivensky, which is suffering in its black earth belt.

The first impression, answering in its fundamental sense the question whether the population finds itself this year in especially trying circumstances, was the fact that the bread used by almost all was adulterated with lebeda-weed, in proportions of one-third, and in some cases one-half, lebeda, black bread of inky blackness, heavy and bitter. This bread was eaten by all chil- dren and pregnant women and nursing mothers and sick people.

The second impression, pointing to the peculiarity of the situation this year, is the general complaint of the lack of fuel. At that time it was still in the early part of September people had nothing to warm them- selves with. It was said that they had cut up the young sprouts on the threshing-floors, and I myself saw that ; it was said they had cut down and split up for fire-wood all the posts, everything that was of wood. Many bought wood in the clearing of a proprietor's forest and in the grove which ran in that vicinity. They would go from seven to ten versts after fire-wood. The cost of split aspen wood was ninety kopeks per shkalik, that is to say, for one-sixteenth of a cubic sazhen.[1]

The shkalik lasts a peasant's establishment about a week, so that his fuel for the winter, if he has to buy it, will stand him about twenty-five rubles.

The poverty is beyond question : the bread is unwholesome mixed with lebeda-weed, and they have no fuel. But if you look at the people and judge from externals, their faces look healthy, cheerful, and contented. All are at work ; no one is at home. One is threshing, another teaming. The proprietors complain because they cannot get people to work for them. When I was there, the digging of potatoes and threshing was going on. On the church festival there was more drinking than usual, and even on working-days there was much drunkenness. Moreover, the bread itself, made with lebeda-weed, when you examine why and how it is used, receives another significance.

At the farm where I was first shown bread made with lebeda-weed, in the back-yard the man's own threshing- machine was threshing for four horses, and there were sixty ricks of oats on his own land and that which he hired, yielding at the rate of nine measures, that is to say, at the present prices three rubles.

Rye, it is true, was scarce he had only about eight chetverts but besides the oats he had at least forty chetverts of potatoes, and buckwheat also. Yet the whole family, consisting of twelve souls, ate lebeda-weed bread. So that it seemed that, in this case at least, the lebeda- weed bread was not a symptom of poverty, but a stern old man's measure of economy, so that they might eat less bread ; since with this end in view even in plentiful years the economical muzhik never gives any warm food or even soft bread, but always stale crusts.

" Flour is high ; so why should you waste it on these rascals ? People eat bread made with lebeda-weed, then why should we try to be such noblemen ? "

The lack of fuel finds compensation in the fact that this year, although there is less straw than usual, yet it is grassy, with small ears, and makes excellent fodder. That they do not use straw for fuel is not only because it is so scarce, but because this year it partly takes the place of the meal usually given to cattle.

This was so where there was any straw at all. But in many districts there was no straw at all.

The situation of the majority of the farms under a superficial observation is such that the failure of the rye crop finds its compensation in the good crop of oats, which bring a high price, and in a good crop of potatoes. They sell oats, they buy rye, and feed principally on potatoes.

But not all have oats and potatoes. When I made a list of the whole locality, it seemed that out of fifty- seven dvors there were twenty-nine where no rye was left, or only a few puds from five to eight and little oats, so that in an exchange at the rate of two chetverts for one chetvert of rye, there would not be enough food to last them till Christmas. Such was the case in twenty- nine dvors.

Fifteen were in a very bad condition. These dvors were bad, not from the bad harvests this year, but from the perpetual conditions of their lives, both inwardly and outwardly, from their isolation, their lack of strength, and the feebleness of the character of the housekeepers ; and these have been wretched even in previous years. These dvors had not this year their principal means of support oats, as they had no seeds and the soil was exhausted. Even now some of them are begging. Ap- proximately as bad off are other villages of the Krapi- vensky District suffering from the bad harvests. The percentage of the rich, of the middling well-to-do, and of the wretched is almost one and the same : fifty-nine per cent or thereabouts of the middling well-to-do, that is to say of those who this year will eat up all their pro- visions by Christmas ; twenty per cent of the rich, and thirty per cent of the perfectly wretched, who either now or within a month will have nothing to eat.

The situation of the peasants of the Bogoroditsky District is worse. The harvest, especially that of rye, was worse here. Here the percentage of the rich, that is of those who can subsist on their own bread, is the same ; but the percentage of the utterly destitute is greater : out of sixty dvors, seventeen middling, thirty- two utterly destitute, corresponding to the fifteen utterly destitute in the first locality of the Krapivensky District. And exactly as in the Krapivensky District, the poverty- stricken condition of these destitute dvors depended, not on the famine of this year alone, but on a whole series of both internal and external conditions long in operation, the same isolation, large families, weakness of char- acter

Here in the Bogoroditsky District the question of fuel was still more difficult to decide, as the forests were sparser. But the general impression was the same as in the Krapivensky District. As yet, there was nothing peculiar indicating famine ; the people were alert, in- dustrious, gay, healthy. The clerk of the volost com- plained that drunkenness in Uspenye, the chief city, was more pronounced than ever.

The farther one penetrated into the depths of the Bogoroditsky District and the nearer to the Yefremov- sky, the worse grew the situation. In the threshing- floors grain and straw kept diminishing, and there were more and more abodes of destitution. On the borders of the Yefremovsky and Bogoroditsky districts the situa- tion was particularly bad, because, in addition to all the misfortunes such as befell the Krapivensky and Bogo- roditsky districts, and besides, the sparsity of forests, the potato crop had failed. There were scarcely any ; even on the best soil only a return of seed was produced. In almost all families bread adulterated with lebeda- weed was used. The lebeda here failed to ripen, it was green. Of that white substance which is generally found in it, there was not a trace, and therefore it is not fit to eat. Bread of lebeda-weed it is impossible to eat alone. If it is eaten on an empty stomach it causes vomiting. People grow crazy from the kvas made from flour mixed with lebeda-weed.

Here there are poverty-stricken dvors which, having been greatly reduced in previous years, have eaten up everything.

But even this is not the worst locality. Worse ones are in the Yefremovsky and Yepifansky districts. Here is a large neighborhood in the Yefremovsky District. Out of seventy homes there are ten which are still self-supporting. The rest have just gone to begging on horseback ! Those that are left eat bread mixed with lebeda-weed or with bran, which is sold to them at the storehouse of the zemstvo at the rate of sixty kopeks a pud.

I went into one house to see the bread made with bran. The muzhik had received three measures for seed, when he had already done his sowing, and mix- ing these three measures with three measures of bran, ground it together, and the result was sufficiently good bread, but it was his last.

The woman told me how her daughter had eaten bread made with lebeda-weed, and it had caused vomit- ing and diarrhea, and she had ceased to cook that kind of bread. The main room of the izba was full of horse- dung and fagots. The women go to the pasture to collect dung, and to the forest to get bits of twigs as long and as thick as their finger. The filth of the habi- tations, the raggedness of the clothing, in this neighbor- hood was very great ; but it could be seen that it was nothing new, because it was the same even in the bet- ter homes. In this neighborhood there was a little clus- ter of ten dvors occupied by soldiers' children who had land.

At the last hovel of this cluster where we stopped, a thin, ragged woman came out to us, and began to tell us her condition. She had five children. The oldest daughter was ten. Two were sick it must have been from the influenza. A three-year-old child was sick in a high fever, had been brought outdoors, and lay on the bare ground, on the pasture, eight pacefc from the hovel, and covered by the ragged remains of a cloak. It was thirsty, and would be chilly as soon as the fever passed, but still it was better off than it would have been in the tiny hovel with a heated stove, the filth, the dust, and the other four children.

This woman's husband had gone off somewhere and disappeared. She subsisted and fed her sick children on crusts which she got by begging. But it was hard for her to beg, because her neighbors had little to give. She had to wander away twenty or thirty versts and abandon her children. If she got crusts she would re- main at home, and, when they began to fail her, she would start out again.

Now she was at home. She had come that afternoon, and she had brought enough crusts to last till the next day after. In such a condition she had been for two years, and things were much worse off than they had been, because this third year she had been burnt out, and her eldest girl was away, so that there was no one with whom to leave the little ones. The only difference was that they kept eating more and more of the bread mixed with lebeda-weed. And she was not the only one as bad off. In this condition, not only this year, but always, are all the families of weak, drinking men, all families of those in jail. Such a state of things is more easily borne in good years.


THERE are many such neighborhoods as this, both in the Bogoroditsky and the Yefremovsky districts. But there are still worse ones. And such neighborhoods are found in the Yepifansky and Dankovsky districts.

Here is one of them. Along the six versts from one locality to the other there is no village or habitation only the farms of proprietors are to be seen. Between steep banks, a large beautiful river ; on both sides, set- tlements. On one side that belonging to the Yepifan- sky District, the smaller ; on the other that belonging to the Dankovsky, the larger. Yonder is a church with a bell-tower, and a cross glittering in the sun. Along the hill on this side extend, in the distance, the pretty little houses of the peasants.

I approach the edge of the settlement on this side. The first izba is not an izba, but four stone walls, of gray stone laid in clay, covered with a ceiling on which are spread potato leaves. There is no yard.[2] This is the dwelling of the first family. There, in the middle of this residence, stands a cart without wheels ; and not back of the yard where the threshing-floor generally is, but directly in front of the izba, is a small cleared place, called a tok, where the oats are threshed and winnowed. A tall muzhik in bark shoes, with a shovel and his hands, is shoveling the newly winnowed oats from a pile into plaited seed-baskets ; a barefooted peasant woman of fifty, in a filthy black skirt torn at the side, is carrying these baskets away and setting them into the wheelless cart, and keeping count. An unkempt little girl of seven, in a skirt gray with grime, clings to the woman, ham- pering her. The muzhik is the woman's neighbor, who has come over to help her winnow and garner the oats. The woman is a widow ; her husband has been dead two years, and her son has gone to the army for the autumn drill. In the ibza is the daughter-in-law with her two little children, one a baby at the breast, the other, two years old, with bare legs, is sprawling on the thresh- old and screaming something discontents him.

The whole harvest of this year consists of oats, all of which is stored in the cart, and amounts to four chetverts about twenty-three bushels. Of rye, for seed, there remained, carefully stored away in the punka, or grain-closet, one bag mixed with lebeda-weed about three puds.. No millet, no buckwheat, no lentils, no potatoes, had been planted or sowed. The bread they used was made with lebeda-weed, and it was so bad it was im- possible to eat it ; and on the morning of this particular day, the woman had gone begging to the village eight versts. In the village it was a festival, and she had collected five pounds of pieces of pirog free of the lebedaweed. She showed it to me. In a linden-bark basket were collected four pounds of crusts and pieces as big as one's palm. This was her whole property and all her visible means of support.

Another izba was the same, only a little better pro- tected and had a small court. The crop of rye was the same. The same bag with lebeda-weed stood in the entry and represented the granary with stores. At this place they had not sowed oats at all, as they had had no seed in the spring. They had three chetverts of potatoes and there were two measures of millet. To the rye which was left over from the distribution for seed, the woman had added an equal quantity of lebeda-weed, and they were using it for food. A slice and a half of it was left. With potatoes, they said they might get along for a month, but what remained for them after that they did not know. The woman had four children and a husband. The husband, when I was at the izba, was not at home. He had built the hut, laying the stone in clay. He was at a neighbor's at the next dvor.

The third place was the same, the condition the same. While I was there and talking with the mistress of the establishment, another woman came in and began to re- late to her neighbor how her husband had been beaten, how she did not expect to have him live, and how they had administered the last communion to him that morn- ing. Evidently the neighbor knew it all long before, and it was repeated for my benefit. I proposed to come and look at the ailing man and help him, if there was any possible way. The woman went out and speedily returned to show me the way. The sick man lay in the next izba. This izba was large, timbered, with a stone punka, or grain-room, and a yard. But the destitution was the same. The owner, evidently, had been tempted to build after a fire. That is all he had done. He had built, then he had taken sick and been reduced to beg- gary. Two other families, unrelated and homeless, had lodgings in this izba. The head of one of these families was also stricken with illness.

On a bunk between the stove and the wall lay the sick man, covered with a corn-cloth, and groaning piteously.

I went to him and cautiously turned back the covering. He was a thick-set, healthy muzhik of forty, with a bloodstained face and well-developed muscles on his bare arm. I proceeded to question him, and he, striv- ing to groan, in a feeble voice told me that three days before they had held a reunion and he and a comrade had taken billets, passports, to go down the river, and then he had told one of the muzhiks that he ought not to swear ; and in reply to this the muzhik had knocked him down and "walked all over him"; that is, had given him a regular trouncing, striking him on his head and on his chest. It seemed that, having taken out their passports, they had bought liquor on shares ; and then the former starosta, squandering fifty rubles of the commune's funds, treated them to one-half a vedro, or bucket, because they postponed the payment for three terms, and the peasants got drunk.

I felt of the wounded man and examined him. He was perfectly well, and was perspiring powerfully under his covering. There were no marks on him, and evi- dently he was in bed and they had given him the Holy Communion in order to induce the authorities, one of whom he supposed me to be, to inflict punishment on the man with whom he had quarreled. When I told him that he need not be tried, and that I thought he was not dangerously beaten and might get up, he remained discontented, and the women, who had attentively fol- lowed me and filled the izba to overflowing, began with displeasure to remark that, if that were so, then they would beat them all to death.

The poverty of all these three families living here was as absolute as in the first dvors. No one had any rye. One had two pounds of buckwheat ; another had enough potatoes to last a fortnight or a month. All had still a little bread made of rye mixed with lebeda- weed, but not enough to last any length of time.

The people were almost all at home. One was plas- tering his house, another was rebuilding his, another was sitting still, doing nothing. All the threshing had been done ; the potatoes were all dug.

Such was the whole village of thirty places, with the exception of two families which were in easy cir- cumstances. This village had been half burned down the year before, and had not been rebuilt. The first dvor, with the woman threshing oats, and eight others had been immediately settled in a new place on the outskirts, so as to fulfil the rules of insurance. The majority are so poor that, so far, they are living in lodg- ings. In the same condition of feebleness are also those that had not been burnt out, though those that had been burnt out are, on the whole, rather worse off. The condition of the village is such, that out of thirty dvors twelve have no horses.

The village is in destitute condition, but it is evident that the failure of this year's harvest is not the princi- pal misfortune. In almost every family, its special cause is something far more significant than the mis- fortune of this year's crop.

The misfortune of the former starosta is that he has to pay fifty rubles in three instalments, and he is selling all his oats to pay this debt. The present starosta, an excellent carpenter, had the special misfortune that he had been appointed to that office and cannot go out to work. His salary is fifteen rubles a year, and he de- clares that he could easily earn sixty, and would not mind the failure of the harvest.

A third muzhik has the misfortune of having got into debt long ago, and now the time to pay it has come, and he has been obliged to sell the three walls of his wooden izba, leaving himself one for fuel. Now he has nothing to live in, and he is constructing for himself, out of stone, a tiny cell in which he will live with his wife and children.

A fourth has the misfortune of having quarreled with his mother, who had been living with him, and she has left him, dismantled her izba, and gone to another son, taking her share with her. And he had nowhere to live and nothing to live on.

Still a fifth has the misfortune of having gone to the city with oats, where, in a spree, he had spent for drink all that he got for his oats. The universal, chronic causes of poverty are also many times more powerful than the poor crops. As always, conflagrations, quar- rels, drunkenness, low spirits

Before taking my departure from the village, I stopped near one who had just brought from the field some potato vines botovya they call them and who was piling them up against the walls of his izba. Quickly six muzhiks also came up, and we had a talk. Their women stood listening at a little distance. Children munching inky black, sticky bread made with lebeda- weed were running around us, gazing at me, and trying to catch a word. I repeated several questions, credit- ing the starosta's testimony. It all seemed credible. Even the number of those without horses proved to be greater than the starosta had claimed. They related the whole story of their poverty, not with any satisfac- tion, but with a certain irony. "Why is it that you are so wretched; have you become poorer than other peo- ple ? " I asked.

Several answered at once in various voices, so definite was the reply.

" But what shall we do ? In the summer half the vil- lage was burnec: up as a cow licks dew with her tongue. And then the crop failed. And the summer was bad, and now to-day we are all cleaned out."

" Well, how are you going to live ? "

" We shall live all right. We shall sell what we have, and then whatever God gives."

What does this mean ? Can it be that these men do not in reality understand their condition, or do they so hope for aid from outside that they do not want to put forth any effort ? I may be mistaken, but it seems like this.

And here I remembered two somewhat intoxicated old muzhiks of the Yefremovsky District, who were coming from the volost headquarters, where they had gone to ask when they would employ their sons for the autumn drill ; and at my question how their harvest had been and how they got along, they replied, notwithstanding that they were from the very wretchedest locality, that, glory to God, they had distributed seed for sowing, and now they would continue to distribute grain also for provisions, till Lent at the rate of thirty pounds a man, and after Lent at the rate of a pud and a half. Why, the fact that the people of this Yef removsky village can- not live through the winter unless they undertake some- thing, is as palpable as that a hive of bees without honey, left for the winter, will die before spring. But this is the very question : Shall they undertake anything or not ? So far it is likely that they will not. Only one of them sold all that he had and went to Moscow. The rest apparently do not realize their situation. Do they really not comprehend their situation, or are they wait- ing for help from outside, or do they, like children who have slipped into an ice-hole or lost their way, in the first moment, not comprehending all the dangers of their sit- uation, find amusement in its unusualness ? Maybe both are true. But it is unquestionable that these people are in a condition where they make scarcely any effort to help themselves.


WELL, then, is there famine or is there not famine ? And if there is, in what degree ? And in what degree must help be given ? All the columns in which the possessions of the peasants are entered give no answer, and can give no answer, to these questions.

Many represent to themselves the task of feeding the starving people exactly as they will represent to them- selves the same task of feeding a given number of cattle. For so many oxen they need for two hundred winter days so many puds of hay, straw, malt, grain. They get ready this amount of feed, furnish it for the herd of cattle, and have the assurance that the creatures will weather the winter. With human beings the calcula- tion is entirely different.

In the first place, for the ox and all kinds of cattle, the minimum and maximum of indispensable food are not very far separate from each other. Having eaten their necessary amount of feed, cattle cease to eat, and that is all that is required for them ; but if they do not have all they need, they soon sicken and die.

For a human being the difference between the mini- mum and the maximum of what he requires not only as regards food, but other necessities also is enor- mous. A man may live on wafers like the fasters, on a handful of rice like the Chinese, may go without food for forty days like Dr. Tanner, and preserve his health ; and he may swallow down enormous quantities of costly and nutritious food and drink, and besides this bodily sus- tenance he requires many things besides, which may wax to great proportions and be limited to very narrow ones.

In the second place, the ox in the stall cannot earn its own feed; while a man does earn his food, and that man whom we are proposing to feed is the chief earner of food, the very one who in the most difficult conditions earns what we are preparing to feed him with. To feed a muzhik is just the same as in springtime, when the grass is pushing and the cattle can already crop it, to keep the creatures in the stall and pull up this grass for them ; in other words, to deprive the herd of that enor- mous power of crop-gathering, and thereby ruin it.

Something analogous would happen with the muzhik if we proceeded to feed him in the same way, and he should believe in this.

The muzhik's budget does not meet the requirements there is a deficit, he has nothing to live on he must be fed.

Now, if you feed every average muzhik, not in a famine year, but in an ordinary year, when as in our localities, in these very localities where there is famine, often the grain from the allotted land will not last till Christmas, you will see that in ordinary years, according to the returns of the harvest, he will have nothing to live upon, and the deficit will be such that he will infallibly have to kill his cattle and have only one meal a day himself. Such is the budget of the average muzhik of the desti- tute there is nothing to be said ; but, lo ! he not only does not kill his cattle, but he has married off his son or his daughter, celebrated a festival, and smoked up five rubles' worth of tobacco.

Who has not seen conflagrations that cleaned every- thing up ? It would seem as if the sufferers were utterly ruined. Lo, and behold ! one is helped by a kinsman, an uncle; some one furnishes a jug, another takes a place as a laborer and another goes a-begging; much energy is put out, and lo ! within two years they are no worse off than they were before.

But how about emigrants, who go with their families, subsisting for years on their labor while lacking any definite place of settlement ? At one time I was occu- pied with the question of a former settlement of the Samara border. And it is a fact, which all the old inhabitants of Samara can substantiate, that the majority of the emigrants who were assisted as they came along the main traveled roads went to ruin and poverty, while the majority of the deserters reached their journey's end, and settled down successfully, and became rich. But how about landless peasants, household servants, soldiers' children ? All have been supported, and are supported, even in years when bread was higher than it is now. They say there is no work. But here are others who keep saying that they have work to offer, but there are no workmen. And the men who say this are just as correct, or just as incorrect, as those that complain that there is no work. I know definitely that proprietors have offered work but no laborers came ; that, to the work furnished by the forestry commission, so far, no laborers appeared ; and this is true also of other undertakings described in the newspapers.

For a miserable workman there is never any work, but for a good workman there is always work. It is true this year there is less work than usual, and there- fore more poor workmen remain without work ; but still, whether a man has work or not depends, not on any external causes, but on the workman's energy on whether he seeks work wisely, is eager for work, and works well.

I say all this, not for the purpose of proving that we ought not to help miserable workmen and their families,

on the contrary, they need help most of all, but only to show how impossible it is to reckon the budget of a peasant's home, the income of which may be stretched from three to thirty and more rubles a month, according to the peasant's energy in seeking and satisfying emplo ment, while the outgo may be curtailed to two pounds of meal a day with bran for each person, and wasted in a luxury capable of ruining the richest muzhik in a year's time.

The difference of opinion as to whether there is famine or not, and to what a degree, arises from the fact that as a basis for estimating the peasant's situa- tion they take his property, whereas the chief items of his budget are determined, not by his property, but his labor.

In order to determine the degree of poverty which might be taken as a guide in distributing aid, there were placed in all the zemstvos throughout the volost'-districts specific inventories containing lists of consumers, labor- ers, land allotments ; the quality of different grains sowed, and the crops, the number of cattle, the average harvest, and many other things. These lists were made up with an extraordinary wealth of columns and par- ticulars. But any one who knows the peasants' ways of housekeeping, knows that these lists tell very little. To think that the peasant household receives only what it gets from the allotted land, and spends only on what it eats, is a great mistake. In the majority of cases what is got from the allotted land constitutes only a small part of what it receives. The peasant's chief wealth is what he and his household earn by working

whether they earn it on hired land, or by laboring for some proprietor, or by living out at service, or by various vocations. Why, the muzhik and his family all are working always. The condition of physical idleness is misery for the muzhik. If there is not work enough for all the members of the muzhik's family, if he him- self and his people are eating, but not working, he considers that he has reached absolute poverty, just as if from a shrunken keg the wine leaks, and generally by all possible means he seeks and always finds some way of warding off this poverty he finds work. In a muzhik's family all the members work from childhood to old age, and support themselves by work. A lad of twelve already earns something as a shepherd-boy or in the care of horses ; the little girl spins and knits stock- ings or little mittens ; the muzhik goes out to service either at some distant provincial city, or works as a day laborer, or works on shares for some proprietor, or him- self hires land ; the old man plaits bark shoes, and that is a very common resource.

Then besides, there are extraordinary cases : a lad leads the blind, a girl gets a place as a nurse with some rich muzhik, a boy is taken to learn a trade, the mu- zhik presses bricks or makes seed baskets, the woman practises as a midwife or as a doctor, a blind brother begs, one who has got learning reads the psalter for the dead, the old man rubs tobacco, some widow sells vodka. Moreover a peasant's son may get a place as a coachman, a conductor, an uryadnik, or village police- man ; or his daughter may become a chambermaid or a nurse ; another's uncle becomes a monk or an over- seer, and all these relations take hold and help support the establishment. From such items, not entered on the lists, comes the principal income of a peasant's family.

The items of expenditure are still more varied, and are by no means confined to provisions : taxes of vari- ous kinds, regulation of army service, firearms, black- smith work, plowshares, bolts, wheels, axes, forks, parts of harnesses and carts, buildings, stoves, clothing, foot- gear for himself and his children, holidays, the sacra- ments for himself and his family, weddings, christenings, funerals, doctor's hire, gifts for his children, tobacco, kitchen utensils, dining-room ware, salt, tar, kerosene, pilgrimages.

Every man, moreover, has his own peculiarities of character, his weaknesses, his charities, his vices, which cost him money. In the very poorest families of five or six souls, from fifty to seventy rubles a year, in an opulent family from seventy to three hundred, in an average family from one hundred to one hundred and twenty, are thus involved. And every householder can without very much increase of energy make this hun- dred rubles' income one hundred and fifty, and by some slackening of energy reduce it from one hundred to fifty, and by economy and close calculation reduce a hundred rubles of expenditure to sixty, and by slackness and inefficiency increase it from a hundred to two hundred.

How then in these circumstances reckon the budget of a muzhik, and decide the question whether he is suffering from poverty or not, and to what a degree, and if he is, to decide which of them is to be helped and how much ?

In the zemstvos inspectors have been appointed persons whose duty it was to administer the distribution of help among the volost'-districts. In one of the zems- tvos there have been instituted councils held by the inspectors, of priests, the starshina, or head man of the village, the ecclesiastical starosta, and to delegates, and these were to decide who were to be helped. But even these councils could not help in the matter of distribu- tion, because, according to the lists and what is now known of peasant families, it is impossible to tell in advance those who will be needy ; and therefore regu- larly to determine gratuitous assistance for the people is not merely difficult, but quite impossible.

Many think that if only the wealthy would give the poor a part of their riches, all would be beautiful. But this is a great mistake. Try to give money to the poor in the city, and they will try even this. And what will be the result ?

Seven years ago in Moscow, by the will of a deceased tradesman, six thousand rubles were distributed among the poor, giving two to each. Such a crowd collected that two were crushed to death, and the largest part of the money got into the hands of healthy pleaders, while the poor and the weak got nothing.

The same thing results and will result also in the country, and wherever money is distributed as a gratuity. It is generally thought that all it requires is to distribute it, but to distribute and to determine is not easy. Let us allow, they generally think, that there are abuses and deceptions, but we must be on the lookout for such, take care to investigate, and then one can get rid of those that do not need, and give only to the destitute.

In this also there is an error. The essence of the matter is such that it cannot be done. To distribute gratuitous help among the needy only is impossible because there are no external marks whereby one could determine the needy, and the distribution of gratuities itself elicits the most evil passions, so that even those signs which were, are annihilated.

The administration and the zemstvo are engaged in trying to find out those that are really needy. All muzhiks, even those that are not at all destitute, know- ing that there is going to be a gratuitous distribution, try to seem destitute, and even make themselves so, in order to get help without working for it. All are aware that to gain by means of labor is good and praise- worthy without labor is bad and shameful. And suddenly appears a method of obtaining without labor and free from anything reprehensible. Evidently such a confusion in ideas is produced by the appearance of this new way of getting.

But how can we wait when they are dying of starva- tion ? Here in the country, where there is no grain till next November, and where, through laziness, errors of judgment, or what not, the muzhiks declare there is no work and they are not working; within a week's time unquestionably actual starvation confronts the women, the aged, and the young, and possibly the laziest and most mistaken, but actually living people.

Evidently it is impossible not to give ; but if we give, how shall we give, to whom shall we give?

If we give to all as the peasants everywhere demand, claiming, with reason, that they must be answered by a reciprocal bond, then it is necessary at least to give to all in equal shares, so that there may be something to answer for. If we give to all in equal shares and enough so as to furnish all the destitute with sustenance, of course it would require not far from a milliard of rubles, a sum which evidently it is impossible to find. If it was distributed to all, a little at a time, then for the rich it would be an unnecessary addition, and for the poor not enough to save them from ruin. If we give only to the destitute, then the question is how to distin- guish those that are really destitute from those that are not destitute at all.

The main thing is that the more is given the less the people will work for themselves, and the less they work the more their poverty will increase.

And it is impossible to help! What is to be done, then?


IF a man in society really wants to help the people, the first thing that he must do is clearly to comprehend his relation to them. When we have once come to un- derstand our true relationship to them, we cannot begin to serve them in any other way than by ceasing to do what harms them.

My idea is that only love will save the people from all their misfortunes, including famine. Love cannot be defined in a word, but is always expressed in deeds. The deeds of love in relation to the starving consists in shar- ing one's morsel with them.

And therefore I think that the best thing that can be done now for the help of the destitute consists in settling in the midst of the starving, and living with them.

I do not say that every one who wishes to help the starving must immediately go and settle in an unwarmed izba, feed on bread made with lebeda-weed, and die within two months or two weeks, or that every one who does not do this does not do anything helpful. I say that the nearer a man comes to doing this the better it will be for him and for others, but that any one does well who approaches this ideal.

There are two extremes : one is to give one's life for one's friends ; the other is to live on without changing the conditions of one's life.

All men, who comprehend that the means of helping those that are now starving consists in overthrowing the barriers separating us from the people, and consequently who change their lives, unavoidably, according to the measure of their moral and physical powers, are distributed between these two extremes. Some, going into the country, so arrange their lives that they will live and eat and sleep together with the destitute ; bthers will live and eat separately, but will establish eating-rooms and work in them ; still others will help by distributing food and grain ; others again will give money ; a fifth class I can imagine these will live in a starving vil- lage, spending their income there, only occasionally helping the poverty which will once in a while be brought to their notice.

"Whether the people, the whole people, shall be sup- ported or not supported, I do not know and I cannot know," a man looking at it from this standpoint will say to himself. " To-morrow a pestilence or an invasion may befall us, and the people will die, but not from starva- tion ; or tomorrow some new form of sustenance may be discovered which will feed every one ; or what is more likely I may die tomorrow myself, and I shall know nothing of whether the people are to be fed or not fed. The main thing is that no one appoints me superintendent of the task of feeding forty millions of the people living in such extremes, and I evidently cannot attain the external aim of feeding all these people and safeguard- ing them from misfortunes ; but am appointed over my own soul in order to lead my life as near as possible to what my conscience inculcates, and I can do only one thing as long as I live, I can employ my powers for the service of my brethren, considering as my brethren all without exception."

And, wonderful to relate, a man has only to turn from the task of solving these external problems, and put to himself the only true internal question peculiar to man how best to live during this year of painful experience and all these questions receive their very wisest solution.

External activity, setting for its object the feeding and maintaining the prosperity of forty millions of men, as we have seen, meets in its way certain obstacles with difficulty overcome :

  1. To determine the degree of the actual need for the population, able to manifest in this supporting of themselves the greatest energy and absolute apathy, is out of the bounds of possibility.
  2. If it is granted that this determination is possible, then the amount of the money required and of the grain is so great that there is no likelihood of obtaining them.
  3. If it is granted that these sums will be supplied, then the gratuitous distribution of money and grain among the population will slacken the energy and self- reliance of the people, and these, more than anything else, have the possibility of upholding their prosperity in these trying times.
  4. If it is granted that the distribution will be promoted in such a way as not to enfeeble the self-reliance of the people, then there is no possibility of regularly determining the assistance, and those that do not need will grasp the share of those that do need, so that the majority of them will still remain without help and will perish.

The activity, however, which has the internal aim for the soul, and always united with sacrifice, avoids these obstacles, and attains enormous results not allowed by the other form of activity.

This is the activity which this year of famine as I have seen more than once in these famine-stricken places causes a peasant woman, the mistress of a house, at the words KJirista radi, " for Christ's sake," heard under her window, to shrug her shoulders, to knit her brows, and then after all to get down from the shelf her last loaf, already begun, and cut from it a slice, and, crossing herself, give it.

For this activity the first obstacle does not exist the impossibility of separating the destitution from the destitute. " Mavra's orphans " beg in Christ's name. She knows that they have nowhere to get anything, and she gives.

Neither does the second obstacle exist the enormous multitude of the needy. The needy always have been and still are. The question is merely how much of my own resources I can give to them. The mistress of a house giving alms does not need to reckon how many millions are starving in Russia, or what is the price of wheat in America, how much at our ports and at our grain elevator, and how much may be taken under war- rant. For her there is one question : how to put the knife through the loaf, cutting off a thick slice or a thin one ; but whether thin or thick, she gives it, and firmly, assur- edly, knows that if each one takes from his own, there will be enough for all, however much is needed.

The third obstacle still less exists for the mistress of the house. She is not afraid that the giving of this morsel will enfeeble the energy of " Mavra's children," and encourage them to idleness and constant beggary, because she knows that even these tramps understand how valuable to her is the slice which she cuts off for them.

Neither is there a fourth obstacle. The mistress of the house has no occasion to vex her mind over the question whether it is right to give to those that are standing now under her window, whether there are not others more needy to whom she ought to give that slice. She pities " Mavra's children " and she gives to them, and knows that if all will do the same thing, then no one will ever die of hunger either in Russia or anywhere else in the world.

Only such activity always has saved, saves, and will save men. This is the kind of activity that must be adopted by men who wish to serve others in this present time of adversity.

This activity saves men because it is the smallest seed of all, and grows into the tallest of trees. So insig- nificant is what one, two, or a dozen men can do, living in the country among the starving, and helping them according to the measure of their ability. But this is what I saw in my journey.

Some boys were leaving Moscow, where they had been working. And one was taken sick and fell behind his companions. He had been waiting for five hours, and was lying on the edge of the road, and a dozen muzhiks passed him. Among those that were passing was one peasant with a potato, and he asked the sick youth some questions, and finding that he was sick, took compassion on him and carried him to his village.

" Who is that ? " " Whom has Akim brought ? "

Akim told that the lad was sick, that he had been fasting, and had eaten nothing for two days he could not help pitying him.

Then one woman brought some potatoes, another a patty, a third some milk.

" Akh ! dear heart, he has been starving. Why, of course we pity him. He's only a boy ! "

And this very lad by whom, notwithstanding his wretched appearance, a dozen men had passed without taking pity on him, became an object of pity to all, dear to all, because one had taken pity on him.

Loving activity gains its importance from the fact that it is contagious. External activity expressed in gratuitous gifts of grain and money, according to de- scriptions and lists, calls forth the worst emotions : greediness, hatred, deception, unkind criticism ; private activity calls forth, on the contrary, the best sentiments : love and the desire of sacrifice.

" I have worked, I have struggled, they give me nothing ; but they give a reward to that lazy dog, that drunkard ! Who told him to get drunk ? The thief de- serves all he gets ! " says the rich and the average muzhik to whom they refuse assistance.

With no less anger speaks the poor man of the rich who demands an equal share: "We are the poor ones. They suck us dry, and then give them our share. They are so mean," and the like.

Such feelings are elicited by the distribution of gra- tuitous assistance. But, on the contrary, if one sees how another is sharing with a neighbor, is working for an unfortunate, one has the desire to do likewise. In this lies the strength of loving activity. Its strength is that it is contagious, and, as soon as it becomes contagious, then there is no limit to its spread.

As one candle kindles another, and thousands are lighted from that one, so also one heart inflames an- other and thousands are set a-glowing. Millions of rubles will do less than will be done by even a small diminution of greediness and increase of love in the mass of the people. If only the love is multiplied then the miracle is accomplished which was performed at the distribution of the five loaves. All are satisfied, and still much remains.

I will say more definitely how this activity presents itself to me. A person from the rich classes, wishing this trying year to share in the general poverty of these people, comes to one of the suffering localities and be- gins to live there. Spending there on the spot, in the Lukoyanovsky or Yefremovsky district, in a starving village, the tens of thousands, thousands, or hundreds, of rubles which he usually spends every year, he con- secrates his leisure, employed by him in the city on amusements, in some activity for the advantage of the starving people, according to his abilities. The very one fact that he is living there and expending there what he usually spends in the city, brings a material help to the people. And the fact that he is to live in the midst of this people, even without self-sacrifice but with disin- terestedness, already brings a moral advantage to him and to the people.

Evidently a person coming to a starving locality for the purpose of being of advantage to the people cannot be limited by the fact of living only for his own pleas- ure amid a starving population. I imagine to myself such a person man or woman or a family with moderate means, let us say with a thousand rubles a year coming in this way to a locality where the crops had failed. This person or family hires or buys from some proprietor of his acquaintance a habitation, or selects and hires an izba, settles down in it according to his circumstances and demands, with the intention of bearing the inconveniences of life, lays in fuel, provisions, provides himself with horses, fodder, and the like. All this means bread for the people, but this cannot limit the relation of this family or this person to the people.

To the kitchen come beggars with wallets ; and one must give to them. The cook regrets that the bread is mostly gone. She must either refuse them their crusts, or bake new loaves. An extra supply of bread is baked ; more people begin to come. From families where the bread is gone and there is nothing to eat, they come asking for help ; here again they must give. Their own cook proves not to be able to do the work. And the oven is small. They have to hire an izba for baking, and hire a special cook. This costs money. They have no money. But the family settling there have friends or acquaintances who know that they have settled in a destitute locality. The friends who know them send them money, and the work is broadened and grows. Bread is distributed from the hired izba. But some people come for bread and sell it. Cheating begins. And in order that there may be no temptation to take advantage of the bread distributed, instead of dis- tributing it they give it to be eaten on the premises by those that come for it. They cook soups and oatmeal ; an eating-room is established.

It seems to me that such eating-rooms as these places, where those that come may get fed, is the form of help which develops itself from the relations of the rich to the starving and brings the greatest advantage. This form more than all calls forth the direct activity of the helper, more than all unites him to the population, less than anything else brings about abuses, and gives the opportunity with the smallest means of feeding the greatest number of people.

In the Dankovsky and Yepifansky districts such eating-rooms were opened in September. The people called them the " Orphans' Aids," and apparently this very name prevented any abuse of these institutions. A healthy muzhik, with some opportunity of supporting himself, will not come to these eating-rooms, to eat up the orphans' food, and as far as I could observe re- garded it as a shameful thing to do. Here is a letter which I received from a friend of mine, an agent of the zemstvo and one who lives constantly in the country, in regard to the efficacy of these " orphans' aids."

" Six 'orphans' aids' have been opened not more than ten days, and already about two hundred persons have fed at them. The manager of the eating-rooms, with the advice of the village starosta, has to use his discretion in admitting persons to the latter so many needy ones present themselves. It seems that the peasants do not let their whole families come, but that the destitute fami- lies send their candidates almost exclusively old women and children. Thus, for example, the father of six chil- dren in the village of Pashkovo sent two of them to be admitted, and two days later brought still a third. The starosta said that it was particularly desirable to keep a sharp eye on them, as the stronger boys especially liked beet soup. The same starosta told me that sometimes the mothers would bring their children, they would fib, say- ing it was to encourage them, but if he looked around they would eat something. When you hear these words of the starosta, then you understand that it is not a lie, and that it is impossible to think so. Can it be that the famine has not touched them yet ? We of course know that the wolf is at the door ; but it is a pity that this wolf is simultaneously threatening so many families may he not get hold of our resources ! The calculation shows that each consumer gets away with one pound of bread and one pound of potatoes a day ; but in addi- tion to this must be reckoned fuel and all sorts of trifles salt, onions, beets, and the like. Fuel gives more trouble than anything else, it represents in itself more expense for materials. The peasants have arranged to take turns in sending their teams after provisions. The organization demands an active man and a careful economical storing of provision ; the ' orphans' aids ' do not need any supervision of the distribution of provi- sions : the mistress of the establishment is so used to living on crumbs, and all the partakers so carefully follow what goes on at the tables, that the slightest negligence would be instantly noised abroad and there- fore it would correct itself. I have had dug two new cellars and in them stored three hundred chetverts of potatoes, but this supply is very small, since the demand is increasing every day. It would seem that the help had fallen in a very necessary moment. A man is appointed in charge of six eating-rooms, but time enlarges the circle of the activity of the free tables, and the limit has not been reached.

"I think how comfortable will be the work in the dining-rooms ; here you experience a delight in pouring water over the thirsty plant ; what ought to be the rap- ture in every day feeding hungry children ! "

I feel that this form of activity is convenient and feasible, but I repeat that this form does not include all other forms. Persons living in the country will have a chance to help with money, and grain, and flour, and bread, and horses, and food pure and simple.

All it needs is to be men ! And such men really there are. I have been in four districts, and in each there were people ready for this activity, and in some already beginning it.

Conclusion printed in Geneva editionEdit

OUR two years' experience in distributing among the needy population the contributions that came into our hands, more than anything else confirmed our long-established conviction that the chief part of the need, the privation, and the consequent suffering and sorrow, which we almost vainly tried by external methods to combat in one little corner of Russia, proceeded not from any exclusive, temporal causes independent of us, but from the most universal, constant causes, wholly dependent on ourselves, causes found only in the anti- Christian, unfraternal relationship which we men of culture hold toward the poor, the working-men, those who everywhere endure this poverty and deprivation, and the suffering and affliction which merely have been accentuated more than usual during the last two years.

If this year we may not hear about the poverty, cold, and famine, the death of grown men and women, worn out by excessive labor, and of insufficiently nurtured old people and children by the hundreds of thousands, this results, not from the fact that this state of things does not exist, but from the fact that we shall not see it, we shall forget about it, we shall persuade ourselves that it is not so, or if it is, that it is a necessary condition of things and cannot be otherwise.

But this is untrue ; it is not only not necessary, but it ought not to be, and it will cease to be, and it will soon cease to be.

However well concealed may seem to us the cup of wine from before the working-people, however clever, long-established, and universally accepted the arguments whereby we justify our luxurious life amid the working- people, tormented with labor, and half fed, and servants to this luxury of ours, the world will more and more penetrate our relationship to the people, and we shall speedily appear in that disgraceful and dangerous posi- tion in which the criminal finds himself when the morn- ing light, unexpectedly to him, overtakes him on the scene of his crime.

If it were possible beforehand for the merchant who sold the working-people the unnecessary and often harmful and unprofitable wares, striving to take as much as possible, or at least the good bread so needful to the laborer, buying it at low prices and selling it at high prices, to say that he served the needs of the peo- ple in honorable trade ; or the manufacturer of calicoes, of mirrors, of cigarettes, or the seller of spirits or beer, to say that he was feeding the people by giving them wages ; or for the functionary who receives a salary of thousands, collected from the last kopeks of the people, to persuade himself that he is working for the advan- tage of the people ; or what in these last years has been especially manifest in places attacked by the fam- ine if it had been possible for the owner of the land, for a rent less than the price of bread, letting his land to the starving peasants, or giving this land to the same peasants for a price put to uppermost notch, to say that he, in conducting a perfected agriculture, is working for the advantage of the rural population ; then, now, when the people are dying of hunger from lack of land, though the proprietors have such enormous holdings around them planted with potatoes, sold for spirits or for starch, then this could not be said.

Amid this people, degenerating from lack of food and from excessive labor on all sides of us, it is impossible not to see that all our absorption of the fruits of the people's labor on the one hand deprives them of what is essential for their sustenance, on the other adds in the highest degree to the strain of their labor. To say nothing of the insensate luxury of parks, flower-gardens, hunting expeditions, every glass of vodka swallowed,every lump of sugar, every piece of butter or of meat, represents so much food taken from the mouths of the people, and so much labor added to their share.

We Russians in this respect are in the most favorable conditions clearly to see our situation.

I remember how once, long before the famine years, there happened to be visiting me in the country a mor- ally sensitive young savant from Prague; and as we came out one winter's day from the hovel of a compara- tively well-to-do muzhik, in which we had been calling, and in which, as everywhere, there was a woman, half worked to death and prematurely old, dressed in rags, a child sick with a rupture crying for her, and, as every- where else in the spring, a calf fastened, and a lambing sheep, and filth and dampness I remember how, as we came out, my young acquaintance tried to say some- thing, and suddenly his voice broke and he burst into tears. He for the first time, after some months spent in Moscow and Petersburg, where, as he walked along the asphalted sidewalks past luxurious shops, from one rich house to another, from one magnificent museum and library, palaces and buildings each more magnifi- cent than the other, for the first time he saw those people whose labor is the basis of all this luxury, and it horrified him and amazed him.

He, in his rich and learned Bohemia, as well as every European, especially every Swede, Swiss, or Belgian, may imagine, though he may be wrong, that there, where there is relative freedom, where educa- tion is widely diffused, where every one has the op- portunity of entering the ranks of the cultured, luxury is only a legitimate reward of labor, and does not destroy the lives of others. Somehow one may for- get about those generations of men working in the mines for the sake of producing a large part of the ob- jects of one's luxury ; may forget, not seeing them, those other races of men who in distant colonies are perish- ing, working for our caprices ; but for us Russians there is no excuse for having these notions ; the bond be- tween our luxury and the sufferings and privations of the people who are of one race with us is too manifest, we cannot help seeing the price, paid outright in human life, whereby our comforts and luxury are purchased.

For us the sun has risen, and it is impossible to hide what is in full sight. It is impossible to strive for power, for the necessity of ruling over the people, for science, for art, supposed to be indispensable for the people, for the sacred rights of personal property, for the necessity of upholding tradition, and the like. The sun has risen, and all these transparent excuses hide nothing at all. All see and know, that a man who serves the government, does this, not for the good of the people who never asked him to, but simply because he needs the salary ; and that men who are occupying themselves with the arts and sciences, are occupying themselves with them, not for the enlightenment of the people, but for the sake of the honorariums and the pensions ; and men who keep the land away from the people and put a high price on it do this, not for the support of any sacred rights, but for the enhance- ment of the income needed by them for the gratification of their caprices. It is no longer possible to avoid this and lie.

Before the dominant, rich, idle classes are only two possible ways of escape : One is to turn aside, not only from Christianity in its true meaning, but also from any- thing that resembles it, to turn away from humanity, from justice, and say: I have control of these advan- tages and privileges, and I will cling to them whatever befalls. Whoever wishes to take them from me will have an account to settle with me. I have the power in my hands, soldiers, gibbets, dungeons, knouts, and methods of capital punishment.

The other method is in recognizing one's injustice, in ceasing to lie, in repenting, and neither by words, nor by money extorted from the people under suffering and pain, coming to their help as has been done in the last few years, but in breaking down the artificial bar which stands between us and the laboring people ; not by words, but in fact, recognizing them as our brethren; and with this end in view changing our lives, renounc- ing those advantages and privileges which we have; and having renounced them, to stand on equal conditions with the people, and together with them to attain those blessings of government, science, civilization, which we now, from without and not asking their permission, pretend to wish to confer upon them.

We stand at the parting of the ways, and a choice is inevitable.

The first alternative means that we must devote ourselves to a perpetual lie, to a perpetual fear of what that lie may hide, and nevertheless the consciousness that surely sooner or later we shall be deprived of that posi- tion to which we so obstinately cling.

The second alternative means a voluntary recognition and carrying out into practice of what we ourselves preach, of what is demanded by our hearts and our minds, and what sooner or later, if not by us, then by others, will be fulfilled, because only by those who have power renouncing it is the only possible escape from those torments wherewith our pseudo-Christian human- ity is suffering. The escape is only in the renunciation of a false, and the recognition of a genuine, Christianity.

  1. A cubic sazhen is 2.68 cords.
  2. Dvor.
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