Labour: The Divine Command/intro

Labor is the work of Count Lyof Tolstoi' and of the peasant Timothy Bondareff. But it is not, properly speaking, a collaboration. The book is in fact composed of two different studies, which are as two parts of one book : one by Lyof Tolstoi, entitled The Work and Theory of Bondareff, which serves as introduction tc ^h"


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other, which is by Bondareff, and is entitled Labor, by the peasant Bondareff.

Labor is composed of three principal chapters, which we have entitled :

I. Introduction. Life of Bondareff. Object of his work.
II. Labor according to the Bible.
III. Appendices. Love and Labor. Bondareff's Will.

Bondareff is a peasant of the district of Manoussinsk. He belongs to that class, so numerous in Russia, which seeks for truth in holy books. But while many know only the Gospels, Bondareff, who belongs to the sect of Sabbatists, read the whole Bible. Scarcely able to spell, he puzzled out each verse, believing from the outset to have discovered here the solution of all social questions. He found formulated in Genesis the essential law for man in the obligation of manual labor. Persuaded that salvation depends on labor, he learned to write that he might make known what he con- sidered to be the truth of truths. At the age of sixty-five years he composed an essay in which, under the form of biblical verses, he undertook to show that tilling the earth is the highest of all labors. He overcame all the difficulties arising from his ignorance and his advanced age. Working all day in the fields, and devoting the hours of night to his writing, he accomplished after several jears the project he had conceived. But the manuscript sent to the Czar, in the form of a request, was rejected, and its printing was forbidden by the authorities.

In the meantime, in 1885, Bondareff became known to Tolstoi, whose renown was already great among the people. Struck by the profound truth of the peasant's theories, the author of My Religion introduced into his own life the reform that Bondareff had preached ; he set himself to follow the plough, to use the awl, and. in a word, to work with his hands. Till then he had had but glimpses of these reforms, without professing them openly.* The truth only appeared to him in all its brightness, when Bondareff placed before him his manuscript. He then developed BondarefT's views, while modifying them and giving them a wider and more profound meaning, in his great works. What is my Life ? (of which the true title is, What then must be done ?)-\ and What should be done, which is the answer to the first, and forms with it one complete work.;}:

  • See, in War and Peace, the reflections of Pierre Bezonchof and of Leonie. Consult also, Anna KarMine and Aly


f What is my Life? translated by Gatzouk and Em. Pages. One volume. Illustrated Library, 1888.

X Tolstoi was familiar with the work of Bondareff, before writing W hat is my Life ? and What should be done. Besides the many other points of resemblance that they display, we give here a passage from What is tny Life? (page 164,) where Tolstoi makes evident allusion to Bondareff. "Wealth," says Tolstoi, " is but slavery; it has the same object and like results. Its object is to free man from the primordial law, according to the

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In 1888, to show that the ideas of which he made himself the apostle were not illusive dreams, or the conceptions of a paradoxical mind, Tolstoi himself edited in Russian Wealth * Bondareff's book, whose publication had been forbidden. On this occasion he wrote a pro- found essay on the work and theory of Bonda- reff, which we publish herewith together with Bondareff's own production.

The principal reason for presenting to the world a translation of Labor is that it possesses great value, not only as showing Tolstoi's own views, but as displaying the great intelligence belonging to the reform that he advocated. Bondareff's work is the simple but profound effort of an uneducated peasant, who stammer- ingly proclaimed in 188 1 the great reform of which Tolstoi" subsequently became the cham- pion and herald.


Between the doctrine of the peasant Bon- dareff and that of the noble Lyof Tolstoi exists a strong and remarkable resemblance. Tolstoi, as we have said, knew Bondareff ; he

expression of a popular writer, or the natural law of life as we call it. This law prescribes to each of us personal labor as the means of existence." — " The popular writer " of whom Tolstoi speaks is no other than Bondareff, who, as we shall see, bases manual labor on the primitive or primordial law : " In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread."

  • A journal published under the direction of M. Obolonski.

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had questioned him on the idea he had con- ceived that labor was a social remedy ; he had read his work, and had also edited it. Bonda- reif had thus been theinspirer of Tolstoi's social theories, as the sectary Soutaief inspired his re- ligious beliefs.*

We shall find in Tolstoi's last philosophic work, What should be done, his ideas on social reform.

Every man should by the work of his hands support himself and his family. Every woman should nourish and educate her own children. To man, according to the Bible, God gave the law of manual labor, to woman that of mother- hood. To violate these laws is death. But while to man disobedience to his own duty would be followed by speedy death, for woman the punishment comes more slowly. But the violation of both laws would lead ultimately to the annihilation of humanity.

But for a long time men have disregarded the law of labor. For a long time certain classes have oppressed others, and at this day the breaking of the law is pushed to the verge of folly. Do we not see Renan and others filled with the vain dream that one day machinery will accomplish all sorts of labor, while men will become but " bundles of enjoying nerves" ?

While men so transgress their law, women usually obey theirs. Thus, according to Tol-

  • Under the heads of tolstoism and soutaievism , see in the

Revue des Deux-Mondes of September 15, 1888, a masterly es- say by M. Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu.

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stoi, women are stronger than men, arid to them men owe the hope of becoming- in the future more faithful to primitive law. Still a mother who disregards her maternal duties, and finds all her pleasure in luxury and worldly enjoy- ments, will bring up her children to false ideas, and will teach them to neglect, the duty of la- bor, by usurping the fruits of others' exertions. On the contrary, the faithful parent would in- struct her children that labor is necessary to life.

We can compare these ideas with those ex- pressed by Bondareff in the first paragraphs of Labor according to the Bible. Bondareff inter- prets the account given in Genesis as meaning that Adam was punished for eating the for- bidden fruit, that is, for taking the fruits of oth- ers' labor. He was condemned to seek his own food, "to knead his bread," to use Bonda- reff's expression, by the sweat of his face.*

It is by manual labor and above all by till- ing the ground, and not by the merits of Christ, not by sacraments or other virtues, that Adam was to save his soul from hell. His descend- ants have inherited with original sin the obli- gation to labor for their redemption. The penance inflicted on Adam by Jehovah is not allegorical. That of Eve, " In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children," must be taken literally. Thus, on one side, man must procure by the

  • It is shown by note on page 21 how this mode of inter-

preting the Bible can be justified.

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labor of his hands the bread necessary for his own subsistence and for that of his wife and children ; on the other, woman must acquit her- self of all the duties of motherhood. Neither one nor the other can evade their respective obligations.

It is from Labor according to the Bible that Tolstoi has taken the leading idea which he has given in What is tny Life ? and What should be done. But while Bondareff claims that the law of labor and that of motherhood are the effects of a divine malediction, Tolstoi protests energetically against that notion. What we find in the verses of Genesis cited by Bondareff, and on which he rests his theory, is this : God said to Adam, "In the sweat of thy face shaft thou eat bread ;" and to Eve, " In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children." * But according to Tolstoi it is an error to believe labor is a curse ; and to this error he attributes man's efforts to evade the law and to usurp the fruits of others' work. He ceases not to proclaim that labor is not a sorrow but a joy. Neither is motherhood a curse. It is a sacred and imperative dutv ; but it is also a joy, and an utter satisfaction.

Tolstoi thus arrives at the same conclusions with Bondareff, but from a different standpoint. That is, he opposes the Gospel to the Bible. He even claims to find in the Christian precept

  • It is remarkable that the Talmud also teaches that every

man should have a manual profession, and the Sanhedrim de clares that labor is ordained by the law of Moses.

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of l<>vc and charity the law of manual labor. As he says so eloquently on page 36 : " The man who professes, not only by words but by actions, the doctrines of truth and love, will not deceive himself as to the object of his life. Never would the man whose idea of existence is to serve others imagine that he can help those who are dying of jcold and hunger by making new laws, by casting cannon, working on objects of luxury, or by playing on the piano or violin. Love cannot be so foolish."

Though disagreeing on this point, BondarefT and Tolstoi unite in proclaiming that manual labor is not only man's duty, but that it is also the most excellent moral remedy, and an effica- cious agent for salvation. Bondareff has show n Tolstoi how tilling the ground (which he so ex- pressively calls " labor for bread ") is the primi- tive occupation to which all men should apply themselves, and by which they should live. A man should not attempt secondary tasks till he has worked in the ground for forty days. In this way a man can nourish, clothe, lodge, and shelter himself without needing aid from others.

Both BondarefT and Tolstoi arrive at the con- clusion that physical labor does not exclude in- tellectual activity, but, on the contrary, they hold that it augments the mind's dignity and power.

Thus Labor shows us that what Tolstoi has taught, Bondareff had previously put in prac- tice. If we compare What should be done, with

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jMbor, we shall see that Tolstoi's theories are the same as Bondareff's. Without doubt the philo- sophic novelist has his own originality of ideas; but it is not the less true that he found the first outlines of his doctrine in Bondareff's book. And is it not an admirable spectacle to behold this great genius, the celebrated author of War and Peace ^ seeking in the home of the humble peasant the word of life, the magic formula which permits us to construct here below the heavenly Jerusalem of which we all dream?


Labor does not only show us how, under Bon- dareff's influence, Tolstoi's ideas on the social reform to be produced by physical labor are developed, but it enables us to comprehend more clearly how this theory and its conse- quences are only now arrived at.

What have they not said of Tolstoi, as laborer and shoemaker ? A recent letter says : " Tol- stoi's compatriots fail somewhat in respect to- wards this grand old man. From them comes the £tory of his learning the trade of shoemak- ing. We see this nobleman established in a shop, and we hesitate whether to admire or pity him. We should do neither. He does not make the trade his condition of life, but only a distraction, seeking a mental repose in manual exercise. Others make arms or weights ; he

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has a horror of useless efforts, and prefers to make shoes."

But this is far from being- the spirit of the doctrine of Tolstoi and Bondareff. Physi- cal labor is with them the highest duty, the essential character of man, and the true, the only mode of life. Without doubt, one must work to maintain the equilibrium between mind and body, but that is not the motive which led Tolstoi to the plough and the shoemaker's bench. He does not hold strongly the argu- ments of Jean-Jacques in favor of bodily labor. We must work with our hands because life con- sists in a battle with nature for the means of. existence, and physical labor is the law of life. Man finds in the accomplishment of this duty a complete satisfaction for his bodil)'^ as well as his spiritual needs. To nourish, clothe, and care for himself and his family satisfies his bodily wants. To nourish, clothe, and care for others becomes a spiritual duty. No form of activity is legitimate that does not seek to gratify the primitive wants of man, for in these rests his very life.

Let us go further. Tolstoi is an idealist. Na- ture is what we ourselves make it. Nature in its true form is Mind, and the universal Mind is far above the individual personaility. Let us rec- ognize individuality as an illusion, and that we are working at an infinite task, which is infinitely beyond us. To put aside our personality and follow the path of renunciation and self-abnega-

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tion should be our rule of life. Now, the ac- tion in which this idea clothes itself, that in which it takes form, is labor, the secular task that unites all generations of men and makes of the universe a completed harmony, a single being accomplishing a single work.*

Conse.iuent upon this theory of labor is the belief in the possibility of a paradise in this world, and also a contempt for mere industrial work, the condemnation of commerce, and a hatred of cities, which he calls " truly impure Babylons." We must, says Tolstoi, abandon the cities where there are but consumers and not producers, and renounce those habits of city life which, far from constituting progress, are but the worst forms of corruption.

Again, in adopting this theory of manual labor, the problem of pauperism will be readily solved ; we need but to scatter the poor of the cities among the peasants of the country. How, asks TolstoT, can we leave the village, where we are surrounded by fields, by forests, by grain and herds of cattle, in a word by all the riches of the earth, to seek nourishment where only dust and stones are to be found ? f

Live by the work of your hands, " labor for bread," thus Tolstoi and Bondareff advise those who seek a remedy for social evils, and whose

  • See Leon Tolstoi's book entitled Of Life, one volume,

published by C. Marpon and E. Flammarion, f What is my Life ? p. III.

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hearts are full of love for humanity and the sentiment of justice.

TolstoY adds that if there were one, two, three, or ten men, who, without entering upon any personal conflict, without troubling the govern- ment, or resorting to revolutionary violence, should solve for themselves this great ques- tion which divides the world, it would result in other men's seeing true happiness within their reach ; and the hitherto irreconcilable antipa- thies between conscience and the organization of society would be settled by phj^sical labor. Cruel inequalities would disappear, and it would be as though heaven had descended upon earth.

Science, Political Economy, and all exterior means are powerless to dispel this evil. The only remedy is in an individual moral reform, based upon charity and manual labor. Human- ity can change only with the individual's re- form. The whole social question is one of morality. To an honest man social reform must come from within. If each of us should avoid sin and cultivate fraternity and Christian charity, there would soon be no need of soldiers, con- stables, or judges.

Does not this offer an original and powerful incentive to reform society and to save the human race ? Is not the reform that Tolstoi' advocates possible ? He only can doubt it who has not comprehended the true doctrine of Christ, which teaches the renunciation of indi-

Labor. i J

vidual life and admits no immortality except that of humanity.


We have endeavored in few words to por- tray and to compare the doctrines of Tolstoi and Bondareff. We have shown their tendency and their social results. We have but to add a comment on Bondarefi's own book.

Its perusal is highly interesting and sugges- tive. We find in this peasant a profoundness of thought united with great simplicity of charac- ter. Doubtless his ideas are not always ex- pressed with sufficient clearness, which is due to the biblical style he has adopted. But this difficulty is easily surmounted, if we read with due attention.

We have endeavored to give his language as precisely and exactly as possible, leaving un- touched the style of speech familiar to the Rus- sian peasants, who are indefatigable readers of the Holy Scriptures.

We have sought to explain by notes every serious difficulty that occurred, and to illustrate the texts of Tolstoi and of Bondareff by com- paring them with each other.

I owe thanks to my brother, M. Emile Pag^s, who has already translated a work of TolstoiN ( What is my Life ? one volume, Illustrated L

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brary), and who will soon publish Wealth and Literature by the author of My Religion, as well as an essay on his life and works. In 1888 he visited the great Russian author at Moscow, and received from him the manuscript of Labor, whose translation he entrusted to me, being too much occupied to attempt it himself. That Lyof Tolstoi and the peasant Bondareff may recognize their work as we have translated it will be the best reward of our efforts.

Amedee Pages.