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Resistance is futile, but nonresistance might work: the East and Russia in Tolstoi's Political Imagination, 1905-10.

I dreamed that I was dressed up like a peasant, and Mother didn't recognize me.

--Lev Tolstoi (1)

During the last few years of his life, at the zenith of his popularity and influence, Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoi rethought the activist strands of his interpretation of Christianity, specifically the practical function of his cornerstone moral-theological concept of nonresistance to evil. (2) How, he mused, could quiescence, absolute submission to state authority and violence, be used as a strategic means for political and economic change?

He was prompted to this revisiting of nonresistance, and to a contingent acceptance of what many scholars and contemporaries incompletely or incorrectly have identified as Slavophile principles, by geopolitical forces and events that broadly circulated about the East--West political, economic, and cultural dichotomy. He addressed these events and forces directly in numerous articles written between 1904 and 1907: the Russian naval defeat at Port Arthur in 1904, Russia's loss to Japan in 1905, the militarism preceding World War I, the colonializing and modernizing process in China following the Boxer Rebellion, and the 1905 revolution in Russia, which was itself fueled by the broadly held public assumption that Russia needed to modernize (again) if it wished to maintain its place in the hierarchy of colonizing nation-states. (3)

These articles reflect Tolstoi's decades-long fascination with Asia, which emerged in the 1880s and lasted until the end of his life in 1910. During this period, he published, in Russia and abroad, numerous influential and popular works on the spiritual practices and cultures of China, India, and Japan. (4) With increasing clarity and focus over these decades, he argued that Taoism and Buddhism--and, to a lesser extent, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Shintoism--rightly understood not just as metaphysical traditions but as enacted life practices with attendant modes of labor and social organization, were profoundly similar to "Tolstoian" Christianity. These practices offered the only means of resisting integration into what Tolstoi called "state organization"--political organizations that he identified as explicitly European and non-Russian. (5)

At the beginning of the 20th century, in the face of rapid modernization and the rapid spread by colonization, revolution, and adoption of Western state-organizing principles, Tolstoi reimagined the geopolitical map of the world. He aligned the Russian narod with Asian nations and more generally with what we would now call the "developing" or unmodernized nations of the world. (Tolstoi called them "uncivilized" nations, for him a positive term.)

These same political events and forces that moved Tolstoi to relocate Russia in his imagined geography also prompted official and semiofficial political movements, official policies, and political philosophies among Russians during the first decades of the 20th century. The movements and policies were underwritten by a shared, emerging sense that Russia had, if not a racial, then at least a social and economic kinship with Asia. This moment or movement has been called Russia's "Asian temptation"; at the time, the movement went by the name of Easternism (vostochnichestvo) among intellectuals, artists, and politicians. (6) This intellectual flirtation with the East blossomed at the beginning of the 20th century among intellectuals and politicians, matured among the Russian emigre culture in Prague in the 1920s and 1930s as Eurasianism (evraziistvo), and reemerged around the breakup of the Soviet Union. It directly and explicitly underpins Vladimir Putin's Eurasian Union project. (7) This turn to the east was initially and complicatedly an offshoot of nationalistic Slavophilism, for it was equally a turn away from Western Europe and the North Atlantic world. It was prompted during the fin de siecle in no small part by the emergence of a "new world order" that was economically, politically, and culturally dominated by the West, and that sought actively to exclude the Russian Empire. Intellectual historians need to consider how Tolstoi was influenced by, and exerted influence on, Russia's "Asian temptation" and its political and cultural imagination of the East.

Power as Burden: Tolstoi and Contingent Slavophilism

Tolstoi's attentiveness to Asia in 1905, his belief in Asia's relevance for Russia, and his reexamination of nonresistance to evil all grew out of his complex views on what it meant, historically, to be Russian.

During the first decade of the 20th century, Tolstoi repeatedly championed the idea that Russians, and perhaps Slavs more generally, were a profoundly apolitical people. Refusing to take part in governance, they voluntarily renounced any participation in the political order, ceding it to a "foreign," autocratic government. (8) That is, Tolstoi appears to have accepted and promoted a particularist, nationalistic, and even patriotic model in Russia: the autocratic state (gosudarstvo) safeguards the narod from internal and external disorder, leaving the people unburdened, free from the inevitable sins and distractions of participation in the coercive structure of the state. (9)

This organization and attitude toward state authority, according to many Russian thinkers, originated in Russia's earliest written history, in the familiar Primary Chronicle story of discord among the early Russian tribes and their decision to "invite" the Varangians to rule over them: "Be princes and rule over us." (10) (For convenience, following Pal Kolsto, I'll refer to this doctrine as "power as burden.") As a Slavophile doctrine, it originates in debates from the 1840s, becomes doctrinal in Slavophile writings from the 1850s, and reemerges as a foundational principle in Dmitrii Khomiakov's Autocracy, which Tolstoi read in February 1906, around the time that Tolstoi himself began to espouse similar views. (11) Dmitrii Khomiakov, Aleksei Stepanovich Khomiakov's son, lived not far from Tolstoi's estate; like his father, Khomiakov fils was an ardent Slavophile. Tolstoi praises Khomiakov's book in diary entries and recorded conversations. (12) He also wrote a preface to Autocracy for a new edition he had hoped to publish through Posrednik (the publishing house he had founded in 1885). (13)

As Kolsto has demonstrated, it is clear from his diaries and conversations that, upon reading the book in 1906, Tolstoi approved of many of the ideas found there, particularly the idea that autocracy removed the burden of authority from the people who were ruled over and was therefore superior to Western pluralistic forms of government. Tolstoi's acceptance and promotion of such an idea surprised and surprises anyone familiar with his strident attacks on all forms of nationalism, patriotism, exceptionalism, claims for cultural superiority, and so on. Kolsto, like many of Tolstoi's contemporaries, finds his late acceptance of central premises in orthodox Slavophilism astounding and indicative of Tolstoi's senescence. (14) This overlap in ideologies is not, however, an instance of intellectual crosspollination between the Slavophiles and Tolstoi (nor of his failing faculties); between them exists elective affinities, structures of thought common to both parties. It would be more accurate to say that Tolstoi contingently accepted the doctrine's accuracy, but not for the reasons that Slavophiles had accepted it, and the conclusions he drew from it were radically different.

Crucially, and unlike other proponents of the "power as burden" doctrine, for Tolstoi the refusal to participate in governance was a strategic position inhabited by the narod, a "weapon of the weak" that could be used as prosaic resistance to authority and was ultimately capable of destroying the very autocratic state created by the early Rus' invitation. The refusal to participate in the state becomes, in Tolstoi's thought, a species of nonresistance to evil by force: a "public" and pragmatic expression of a private, spiritual virtue.

Though Tolstoi encountered the idea of "power as burden" in Khomiakov's book in 1906, his familiarity with it came much earlier. Richard Wortman has demonstrated that, in the wake of the 1825 Decembrist revolt, the tale of the Varangians' invitation to rule over the Rus' became an official and adaptable emblem of the Russian people's lasting autocratic spirit. (15) Olga Maiorova argues that the "amicable bargain" between the Rus' and the Varangians represents a foundation narrative that made it possible to "rethink the monarchical empire in nationalistic terms as a product of the activity of the entire nation under the dynasty's leadership." (16) The narrative that Russians were naturally inclined toward autocracy offered a durable, pervasive, and potent doctrine in Russia and abroad throughout Tolstoi's long life. (It remains a very common, though disputed, argument in contemporary democratization literature.) (17)

It is likely that Tolstoi was directly exposed to the notion early in his career, in the mid-1850s, by Iurii Samarin, the Aksakovs (father, Sergei, and sons, Ivan and Konstantin), and Aleksei Khomiakov (Dmitris father), with whom Tolstoi socialized and corresponded. (18) Konstantin Aksakov, in his historical essays written in the mid-1850s, is usually acknowledged as the Slavophile who canonized the idea that the non-native origins of the Russian state proved that the Russian people was fundamentally nonpolitical. In these works, Aksakov outlines the "power as burden" doctrine, the quasi-anarchical doctrine that, thanks to total autocracy, true "inner moral" liberty exists in Russia. (19) Being legally prevented from participating in politics means, if one accepts Aksakov's premises, that the people in an autocratic regime are therefore not inculpated in the inevitable sins of authority.

The first explicit example I can find of Tolstoi's engagement with the "power as burden" doctrine occurs in Anna Karenina, in part 8, often called the epilogue to the novel. It is presented in the novel as an explicitly Slavophile concept. Prompted by the news that Vronskii is leaving for the front in Serbia and is taking with him a squadron "at his own expense," Prince Shcherbatskii and Levin discuss the Russian Volunteer Movement and the Balkan Question with Katavasov and Sergei Ivanovich, who are themselves directly involved in the organization of irregulars being sent to the front. Levin, speaking here, is clearly a proxy for the author's own views: "Well, my theory's this: war is on one side such a beastly, cruel, and awful thing, that no one man, and I am not even speaking about a Christian, can personally take upon himself the responsibility of starting a war; that can be done only by a government, which is called upon to do this and is drawn into war unavoidably. On the other hand, both science and common sense teach us that in matters of state, and especially in the matter of war, citizens [grazhdane] must forgo their personal individual will." (20)

A moment later, Levin muses to himself whether anyone has the right to claim that they speak "for the narod," or whether anyone could identify the "common good" (obshchee blago) or how to achieve it. One could, however, focus on personal and metaphysical questions, "strict observance of that law of good [zakon dobra] that has been revealed to every person," and relinquish the right or necessity of involving oneself in any more general, political decisions.
   He was in agreement with Mikhailich [the beekeeping peasant] and
   the narod, who had expressed their feelings in the traditional
   invitations to the Varangians: "Be princes and rule over us. We
   happily promise complete submission. All the work, all
   humiliations, all sacrifices, we take upon ourselves; but we will
   not judge and decide." Now, according to Sergei Ivanovich's
   account, the people had forgone this privilege they had bought at
   such a costly price. He wanted to add that if public opinion were
   an infallible guide, then why were not revolutions and the commune
   as lawful as the movement to help the Slavs? (21)


This exchange that Levin proposes--autonomy in personal, internal questions, traded for absolute submission to state authority--seems to be derived directly from Slavophilism, following Konstantin Aksakov's distinction between zemlia (land) and gosudarstvo (state). (22) Nevertheless, Tolstoi's embrace of Slavophilia is perverse: as Levin reasons, since the Russian state had not yet officially declared war against the Ottoman Empire in Serbia, the Russian people should preserve their ancient prerogative and submit to the state's decision and not participate in the conflict. The Slavic Committee, run by the Slavophile Ivan Aksakov, charged with supporting and defending Slavic peoples under Ottoman rule, should likewise acknowledge the truth of the "power as burden"; it should desist from its rallying of the Russian populace and submit to the state's decision. (23) Either the Slavic Committee must accept unconditionally the exclusive "privilege" of autocracy to make decisions, or the Slavophiles risked, as Levin/Tolstoi points out, legitimizing movements that were anathema to Slavophilism. Given the context, "commune" here is clearly shorthand for the recent uprising in Paris, but more generally a reference to the rise of socialist movements in Russia. "Revolutions" would bring to the mind of Tolstoi's contemporaries the recent events in Poland.

The Bystander Dilemma

It is significant that in the above passage from Anna Karenina, written in 1877, we find, combined with a direct reference to the "power as burden" concept, the first hint of a doctrine that would become, during the first years of the 1880s, the cornerstone of Tolstois "new" religious beliefs: nonresistance to evil, the prohibition of force or coercion to overcome evil. Tolstoi comes slowly to see the Russian people's voluntary subjugation to its rulers as a national variety of nonresistance. (24)

Immediately after Levin asserts that in matters of war, citizens must forgo their personal will, Sergei Ivanovich presses: are not Christians called, regardless of any ties of blood or ethnicity, to protect the weak from "horrors"? Drawing a parallel to the Volunteer Movement while fundamentally changing the terms of the argument, Sergei Ivanovich demands whether or not Levin, on seeing "drunks beating a woman or a child," would "throw himself on [on the drunk] and protect the victim"? (For convenience, I henceforth refer to this situation as the Bystander Dilemma.) Levin replies that, in any case, he would not kill the drunk. Responding to Sergei Ivanovich's doubts--"Yes, you would kill them!"--Levin admits that he might give into a personal spontaneous feeling, but that, regardless, "such a spontaneous feeling there is not, and there cannot be, toward the oppression of the Slavs."

Levin's (and Tolstoi's) point is that the unpremeditated, impulsive action by an individual witnessing an attack bears only a passing resemblance to the calculated, jingoistic campaign aimed at manipulating masses of people to take part in the political spectacle of the Volunteer Movement.

This exchange about "power as burden" and the Bystander Dilemma provokes Fedor Dostoevskii, in the July--August 1877 issue of A Writer's Diary, into his famous examination of Levin's and Tolstoi's moral position. (25) To illustrate the ethics of Levin's position, Dostoevskii imagines a scene based on Anna Karenina, intentionally muddling Tolstoi's distinction between the political and personal. Levin, with a rifle in hand, witnesses a Turk--Levin has apparently joined the Volunteers in Dostoevskii's fan fiction--"voluptuously" holding a child, ready to poke its eye out with a needle, while its seven-year-old sister screams and attacks. Dostoevskii caustically resolves the impasse by having Levin head home to Kitty, leaving the Turk to torture the child. (26)

Dostoevskii, like Sergei Ivanovich and Katavasov, fails to understand Levin's (and presumably Tolstoi's) distinction. The two predicaments--Russia's response to Slavic oppression in the Balkans, and a bystander's reaction to a discrete act of violence--are only superficially similar. "Power as burden" is a political question, while the Bystander Dilemma is a personal question.

In each case, the response is the same--quiescence, nonresistance, refusal to take part--but for fundamentally different reasons. On the one hand, by forgoing political participation and submitting to autocracy, Levin argues that Russians had earned the right not to involve themselves in political matters, thereby preserving a zone for personal autonomy on spiritual matters, an autonomy threatened by their participation in the Volunteer Movement. On the other hand, the refusal to commit any violence against the drunkard is a personal, or perhaps spiritual, choice. In any case, the motivations in each situation are dissimilar: in the Bystander Dilemma, the choice to interfere is individual, spontaneous, and unreflective. The volunteers' motivations, conversely, are highly determined and intentional, the result of an orchestrated campaign and, moreover, prone to glory seeking.

It has been observed that Levin's refusal to use violence against the drunkard offers the emergence--albeit uncategorical and embryonic--of Tolstoi's doctrine of nonresistance to evil by violence. (27) Indeed, decades after Anna Karenina, the Bystander Dilemma becomes a test case for nonresistance to evil: Tolstoi returns repeatedly to it, most extensively in an 1896 letter to his American follower Ernest Howard Crosby and again, in 1907, in The Law of Violence and the Law of Love. (28) Both times, he stresses that the (nondoctrinal) reason not to kill the attacker is epistemological in origin, as the defender does not know, until the last instant, whether the "bandit" will actually kill the child or not. (True Christians abjure the use of violence on doctrinal, as well as on rational, grounds.) Moreover, since no one has the a priori knowledge necessary to predict the future and judge whose life is worth more, the child's or the bandit's, the bystander should never kill the attacker. (29)

Much as Levin roots his dismissal of the Volunteer Movement in his personal doubts about ever knowing what constitutes "the common good," Tolstoi argues that since we cannot know for certain, we should simply not do. (30) Lest it is unclear, Tolstoi by no means advocates the bystander's complete passivity: moral bystanders may implore the bandit, they may impose themselves between the bandit and the child, but die one thing they cannot do is use violence to prevent violence. (31)

Ex Oriente Lux

In 1877, while finishing Anna Karenina, the "power as burden" doctrine and nonresistance were interrelated but separate moral quandaries for Tolstoi. They arose amid an examination of patriotic reactions to a conflict with an Eastern nation professing a different faith. Tolstoi in fact counted the Russo-Turkish War, with its East-West clash of religions, as one of the triggers for his own subsequent crisis and conversion in the early 1880s. (32)

In 1905, almost 30 years after closing Anna Karenina with a meditation on "power as burden," the concept explicitly appears again in Tolstoi's article "End of an Age," written many months before he read Khomiakov's book-and therefore not under direct or simple influence of Autocracy. (33) "End of an Age" was Tolstoi's first and immediate response, begun in the spring of 1905 and completed in November, to Russia's repeated defeats at the hands of the Japanese and the political unrest in Russia that began in early 1905, which was partly a public response to Russia's losses. (34) Near the beginning of the article, he remarks on the unnaturalness of the revolutionary movement, counterpoising the Russian and the Western attitudes toward authority, and citing the "summoning of the Varangians" as evidence. As he had done in Anna Karenina, in the article Tolstoi paraphrases the Primary Chronicle account as evidence of Russians' national and natural distaste for power: "We ourselves do not wish to participate in the sins of power. If you do not regard it as a sin, come and rule over us." (35)

There are striking similarities between 1877 and 1905: the Russo-Japanese War, like the brewing Russo-Turkish War depicted in the final chapter of Anna Karenina, pitted imperial Russia protecting its "zone of influence" against a rival, Eastern, non-Christian empire, a situation that seemed to enflame Russian patriotism by contributing a sectarian element to the imperial question of territory and prestige. Moreover, as in Anna Karenina, with the 1905 revolution there was a concomitant question of civil resistance to government, of "communes and revolutions." The moral, political, and pragmatic questions of the legitimacy of citizen participation in state authority in the wake of military action against a foreign enemy remain constants between 1877 and 1905. It is as though these encounters with the Asian "other," combined with Russian unrest, prompt Tolstoi to question and revise his own metaphysical and political views.

Whatever the many similarities between these instances, 30 years had passed since finishing Anna Karenina, a period that included Tolstois "spiritual perestroika" of the early 1880s. Unsurprisingly, Tolstoi reintroduces the doctrines of "power as burden" and nonresistance to evil with important modifications. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoi's remarks seem to be drawn from Slavophile doctrine. Classical Slavophilism is predicated on Russia's exceptional historical path. "Russia," wrote Konstantin Aksakov, "is an absolutely distinct country, not in the least comparable to the states and lands of Europe." (36) In the Slavophile view, the distaste for political power among the "common people" of Russia derives from the Russians' entirely different view of power; the peoples of Western Europe had relinquished "the inner, free, and moral social principle" and replaced it with the idea of the state, with a desire to "assume statehood." (37) In Anna Karenina, the Russian narod has earned the right not to take part in the state's prerogative 'because, unlike other nations, the Russians' original "amicable bargain" empowered them to obey the state meekly.

However, when Tolstoi takes up the doctrine again in 1905--concurrent with his reading of Autocracy--he makes clear that this apolitical tendency is not specific to the Russians, that it is instead a natural human relationship to authority and power that links Russians to other cultural traditions:
   People [Liudi], the narod, not only willingly subordinate
   themselves to those who take upon themselves the labor, governing,
   to keep order, but they are ready to undergo many deprivations so
   as not to be torn away from their work and not to be required,
   contrary to the demands of their spiritual lives, to take part in
   the management of governance (elections, juries, etc.) They
   therefore not only submit willingly to authority, but they also
   reward in various ways anyone who takes this labor (they give them
   honors, riches). This happened not only in Russia alone, or in the
   Slavic lands, as the Slavophiles will say; it is rather a general,
   eternal human characteristic. (38)


For Tolstoi the "power as burden" theory is a general and universalist tendency. This attitude toward the state--more exacdy, toward state-imposed order and the state's legitimate use of coercion--is not a specifically Slavic national attribute but a transnational one, joining the Russians with other nations. (39) Tolstoi argues throughout "End of an Age" and elsewhere that this attitude characterizes not a nation but particular modes of labor and social organization, which are themselves results of spiritual or metaphysical traditions.

Understanding this reappearance and adjustment of the "power as burden" doctrine some 30 years after its appearance in Anna Karenina requires an appreciation of both the immediate geopolitical context--the Russo-Japanese War--and the context of Tolstoi's own doctrine of nonresistance to evil, particularly his understanding of the analogous teachings in Asian metaphysical traditions. Based on D. P. Makovitskii's record, Tolstoi's diaries and manuscript notes, and his journalism of the time, we can summarize Tolstoi's reaction to the Russo-Japanese War and its importance for the 1905 revolution as follows. First, he immediately and correctly predicted an end to Russian absolute autocracy, anticipating that Russia's defeat would be viewed as evidence of Russia's weakness stemming from its "backward" political system. This public impression, however erroneous Tolstoi believed it to be, would strengthen the revolutionary and reform movements, putting pressure on the tsarist state to adopt a more pluralistic, Western political system. (40)

This public pressure leads to Tolstoi's second point. He was repeatedly at pains to argue that the Japanese had won not because the Russians were weak and underdeveloped, but because the Japanese were "the most powerful land and naval forces in the world." (41) The source of Japanese martial puissance lay, partly, in Japan's lack of a spiritual tradition: "In a word, the Japanese had and have a great advantage in not being Christian." Tolstoi argues that, even in its adulterated doctrinal interpretation, Christianity still discourages its believers to "value military virtue," "slavishly submit to authority," and "indifferently commit murder." (42) The Japanese, without any metaphysical teaching, are "braver, more indifferent to death." (43) "Christians, no matter how corrupted, have a feeling that war is not a Christian affair. Fifty years ago, no such feeling existed. Now it is acknowledged everywhere. Peace societies.... For the Japanese, it is just the opposite: their gods [bozhestva] are the gods of war; the Mikado is the son of God." (44)

In its rapid surpassing of the West, Tolstoi argued, Japan had invalidated a key tenet of contemporary Western civilization, la mission civilisatrice, the widespread belief that the "more civilized" races had the right or duty to impose their culture on other nations that were "less developed" and would benefit from die otherwise inaccessible material culture of Western civilization:
   The significance of the Japanese victory is that this victory has
   demonstrated ... the futility of the external culture of which
   Christian nations were so proud. It has proven that this external
   culture, which appeared to them to be some kind of an especially
   important result of the age of long efforts of Christian humanity,
   is something very unimportant and insignificant.... When [Japan]
   needed this culture, it could in a few decades assimilate all the
   scientific wisdom of the Christian nations ... it could surpass all
   these nations. (45)


These conclusions led Tolstoi to redraw his geography, imagining the world as fundamentally bipolar with two opposed models of government, two defining faiths, and two inevitable and opposed paths. The first, the "uncivilized" and agrarian nations that were authentically religious and had neither been colonized nor adopted participatory or pluralistic forms of governance. This group included at least Russia, China, Turkey, Persia, and India. (46) The second, the "civilized" group, included Western Europe, North America, and Japan. This second group was united by their urbanism, militarism, embrace of technology, and lack of metaphysical faith. (47) Russia had a shared social organization and common faith with some Asian nations, and together Russia and its Asian analogues stood athwart the West's progress. (He included Africa in this group, but I sense his unfamiliarity with the continent made him wary of treating it extensively.) (48)

Translatio Imperil

In "End of an Age," Tolstoi remarks presciently that Russia's defeat was a wakeup call, showing "all the military states that military power is no longer in dieir hands but has passed, or is soon bound to pass, into other [non-Western] hands." Japan's success at imitating Western technology and warcraft would lead to it "still further strengthening those military preparations whose cost has already crushed its people." Western nations, fearing further successes by non-Western nations like Japan and wanting ever to expand their control of markets, would be locked into a spiraling arms race with inevitable consequences. (49)

Russia's defeats, Tolstoi wrote, offered conclusive evidence of a way out of this vicious cycle of violence and coercion, a model of development that would successfully resist Western imperialism and progress. These losses to Japan indeed vindicated the Russian nation--its social organization, its religious practice, and its political structure--institutions not unique to Russia, but especially active there.

In a note pasted into a diary entry devoted to "The End of an Age," he jotted down the following: "Toqueville [sic--presumably the editors' error] says that the great revolution happened precisely in France, and not in another place, precisely because everywhere else the position of the narod was worse, more oppressed, than in France... for the very same reason this new, next revolution, the liberation of the land, must happen in Russia, since everywhere else the position of the people in relation to the land is worse than it is in Russia. As the French were called in 1790 to renew the world, so too are the Russians called in 1905." (50)

Tolstoi's claim that Russia had preserved a right way of life and that it would redeem a fallen world gets addressed most completely in "The Great Sin," written immediately before beginning "End of an Age." The great sin addressed in the article is landownership. In the West, where the "majority of its population has been torn from the land," political debates are distracted by trying to improve the plight of a population that has been reduced to wage workers: "It is therefore understandable how politicians of Europe and America--listening to the demands of the majority--come to think that the chief means for the improvement of the position of the people consists in tariffs, trusts, and colonies." In Russia, "where the agricultural population composes 80 percent of the whole nation," the people request only one thing: "The opportunity be given them to remain in this state." (51) That the Russian economic system was backward, that it had remained outside the Western market order, that the Russians had maintained their "natural" life tied to the land, meant paradoxically that Russia stood at the vanguard, in the same position as France in 1790.

Tolstoi ends the article claiming that the "Russian, Slavic people," due to their "spiritual and economic" disposition, had their own Sonderweg, a model of nonparticipation in political life that offered liberation to all nations from the "great, universal sin" and that showed them the "path to a rational, free, and happy life outside industrial, factory, or capitalistic coercion and slavery." (52) Contrary to reformist claims after Port Arthur, Russia's autocracy represented a more desirable model than the West's constitutionally based, legalistic pluralism. We have returned again to the "power as burden" idea but now within its proper context of Tolstoi's analysis of Russia as an antimodel for Westernization, his anticolonial doctrine.

Letter to a Chinese

China's metaphysical traditions had fascinated Tolstoi since the early 1880s, and he returned to them more than 30 years later when thinking about modes of resisting Western imperialism through nonresistance to evil. In "Letter to a Chinese," to the Western-educated but monarchical and Confucian man of letters Gu Hongming, Tolstoi argued that China stood together with Russia as an effective model of resistance to coercive West European "civilization."

Written in the fall of 1906, this letter forms a continuum with the other writings after Port Arthur and the 1905 revolution. Enumerating the advantages held by the Chinese, advantages that will resonate strongly with the above discussion, Tolstoi observes that the Chinese were fundamentally anarchical in their distrust of any state power, independent because of their small-scale autarkic-agrarian practices, opposed to private property, and at least exposed to authentic religious wisdom through their metaphysical traditions. Recall that Japan was a Western power for Tolstoi. Therefore, like Russia, China had recently been defeated militarily by a seemingly superior Western force. (The Boxer Rebellion had ended only a few years earlier in China.) As had happened in Russia, Tolstoi observes that the defeat at the hands of Western nations, coupled with an increasingly despotic and exploitative Chinese government, had intensified debates in 1905 and 1906 over economic and political reforms. (53)

"Letter to a Chinese" warns that pressures to reform and to imitate Western culture were clear and present dangers that would undermine the ability of the Chinese people to resist successfully coercive incorporation into Western civilization. He quickly sketches for his correspondent the progress of centralizing authority, familiar now as the story of Russia's own history with state authority and individual autonomy. Initially, the people of China had countenanced conquerors and rulers because the small number of rulers and the great number of tliose ruled, combined with a huge country and poor means of communication, meant that only a small portion of the population was brought "into subjection to the violence of the rulers, whereas die majority could live a peaceful life without coming into direct touch with the oppressors." Eventually, as the leaders became more depraved, as technical improvements in "roads, the post, telegraph, and telephones" allowed rulers to extend their authority, and as "the oppressed ... associating ever more closely with each odier understand more and more clearly the disadvantages of their position," the Chinese have come to "feel impelled to alter their relation to authority in some way or another," just as in the West and, more recently, in Russia. (54)

This impulse to imitate the West would, Tolstoi warns, be a fundamental mistake. Political and economic reforms, direct and violent resistance to colonizing powers, the adoption of Western models of social organizations-these efforts to solve China's problems would merely reinforce the very forces that caused the problem because they all require and rely upon expanding authority and coercion, the very source of the problem: "A constitution, protective tariffs, and standing armies have rendered the Western nations what they are: people who have abandoned agricultural work and become unused to it, occupied in towns and factories in the production of articles that are for the most part unnecessary, people who, with their armies, are adapted only to every kind of coercion and robbery. However brilliant [the position of Western nations] may appear at first sight, it is a desperate one ... founded ... on deceit and the ruin and pillage of the agrarian peoples." (55)

Here again we find Tolstoi rethinking his moral philosophy as a political program or strategy, as an explicit response to Westernization. The Chinese people cannot defeat Western colonialism by becoming more like the West; nor can they defend themselves against ever harsher abuses by their own government by trying to limit state authority through participation in it.

They need instead to do nothing, to take no conscious or intentional measures against the state--not to resist evil through coercion as a national practice, to refuse to take on the "power as burden." They need to return to their metaphysical roots:
   We can and need do only one thing, the simplest: Live a peaceful,
   agrarian life, suffering those acts of coercion that are committed
   against us, not resisting them with force, and not taking part in
   them.... Only adhere to that liberty which consists in following
   the rational way of life, the Too, and all the calamities that your
   officials cause you will be abolished of themselves, and your
   oppression and plunder by Europeans will become impossible. You
   will free yourselves from your officials by not fulfilling their
   demands.... Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism... coincide in their
   basis: Confucianism in the liberation from all human authority,
   Taoism in not doing to others what one does not wish done to
   oneself, and Buddhism in love toward all men and all living beings.
   (56)


(Uncharacteristically, Tolstoi confuses Taoism and Confucianism in the final sentence. In all likelihood, this error is the editors'.)

The one difference for Tolstoi between China and Russia lies in Christianity's breadth. It encompasses the fundamental positive commandment of other world religions and adds to it an explicit injunction against violence: "Even before Christian teaching among many peoples [narody] there was expressed and proclaimed a high law, common to all humanity, that consisted of this: that people, for their own well-being [blago], should live not for themselves but each for the well-being of others, for mutual aid (Buddhism, Isaiah, Confucius, Laotse, the Stoics). One thousand nine hundred years ago, Christianity appeared and confirmed the law of mutual service [and] showed with extraordinary clarity ... the false idea about the lawfulness and necessity of coercion for retribution." (57)

In this limited sense, I suppose, Tolstoi was something of a particularist or nationalist, as only Russia offered the whole package--the political system (autocracy), economic system (primitive, autarkic agrarianism), and metaphysical practice (authentic Christianity)--to lead the world in turning back the forces of Western social order. (58)

Weapon of the Weak: Freedom through Submission

Tolstoi saw the story of the Varangians and the Rus' as a colonialist/colonized narrative, one about the West imposing its social organization on an eastern nation. Tolstoi rethinks the "Norman theory" not as acceptance or voluntary consent to autocracy but as a weapon of the weak, as a long-game strategy of resistance. Autocracy is embraced (albeit contingently), individualism rejected, the superiority of rural life asserted, Western institutions and rationality disdained, and so on. Strains of Filofei, Moscow as Third Rome, and chords of retuned Slavophilia all resound. (59)

Russia's loss to Japan, and the subsequent civil unrest in Russia, provoked Tolstoi to an attack on the discourse and practice of colonialism, on the theories of cultural and national superiority that justified changes in social institutions and religious beliefs in the name of "civilizing" poor, agrarian people. Perversely, Russia's defeat by Japan represented a Russian moment, an opportunity to turn away from Eurocentric institutions and values in a search for some indigenous basis for the emergence of truly liberated individuals, individuals free from the coercive tactics of not only the state, narrowly conceived, but from society itself.

In this sense, Tolstoi is deeply anarchical, for his writings of this period offer an attempt to undermine dominant value systems by revealing the complex ways in which specifically Western institutions--democracy, capitalism, and "civilization"--control and compromise people by compelling them to compel others. Freedom--political and personal--is a matter not of doing as one pleases but of not being compelled, either from within or from without, to do what one does not wish to do. What a truly moral person does not wish is to exercise violence or coercion (nasilie) on others--this is Tolstoi's judgment on the conundrum that faces all terrorists and revolutionaries, as Inessa Medzhibovskaya has argued. (60)

This refusal to use coercion, Tolstoi stresses, is always a possibility. Tolstoi believed the paradox that personal freedom could be achieved through abject submission to the most arbitrary, absolute law. (What is this claim if not an enigmatic refiguring of the paradoxical assertion from War and Peace that "kings are the slaves of history"?) Resistance against, or participation in, the state can never result in "social good"; it can result only in one's unwitting and unwilling incorporation into state-sponsored systems of coercion. Such is the essential point of the Bystander Dilemma and the "power as burden" doctrine: "No" is always a possible response to any command. We can do nothing, we can humbly and passively submit to whatever coercion is exercised against us, though we, and others, may pay a high price for this spiritual virtuousness.

Therefore, suffer whatever acts the state may submit you to, do not resist them, Tolstoi tells the Chinese, his own fellow-citizens, and anyone fortunate enough to live under autocratic and undemocratic authority. Also do not participate in state organization, do not take on "power as burden." In this mass application, this weapon of the weak against the strong, the distinction dissolves between personal nonresistance and the collective refusal to take on "power as burden." For Tolstoi, the locus for this strategy is "Asia," an imagined geographic community that includes Russia but excludes Japan.

Tolstoi called this condition, this idealized absence of coercion over anyone, love. He offered as synonyms for love the words God, Tao, and the Beginning of All (Nachalo vsego). (61) Attaining this love, on a collective or political level, requires certain modes of labor, social organization, political authority, and metaphysical underpinnings--all of which existed in Russia and other "uncivilized" countries.

What seem initially to be ideas drawn from Slavophilism belong in fact to a broader inquiry, an examination of what tactics are effective means of evading state control and Western imperialism, a problem exemplified for Tolstoi by the Russo-Japanese War and more generally by the seeming success of Western nation-state models with their technological savvy, flourishing democracies, and prosperous market systems.

Judged against Western political and economic practices, nonresistance will never succeed, but such is Tolstoi's criticism. The aim of this strategy is to destroy, not to ameliorate, the state. Without its interference in our affairs, loving one another will become not only possible but natural.

Stetson's Program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies

Campus Box 8361

Stetson University

DeLand, FL 32720-3756 USA

mdenner@stetson.edu

Diary entry, 26 August 1909, Jubilee, 57:125.

(1) Quoted in B. M. Eikenbaum, Tolstoi in the Sixties (Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1982), 45.

(2) For an overview of Tolstoi's popularity and influence, see Michael Denner, " 'Be Not Afraid of Greatness ...': Leo Tolstoy and Celebrity," Journal of Popular Culture 42, 4 (2009): 614-45.

(3) I have in mind the following articles, all from vol. 36 of L. N. Tolstoi, Polnoe sobmnie sochinenii: Akademicheskoe iubileinoe izdanie, 90 vols., ed. V. G. Chertkov (Moscow-Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1928--). On Russia's loss at Port Arthur, see "Odumaites ' (Come to Your Senses, 1904). On the 1905 revolutionary events in Russia, see "Predislovie k stat'e V. G. Chertkova 'O revoliutsii'" (Tolstoi's foreword to V. G. Chertkov's "On Revolution," 1904); "Velikii grekh" (The Great Sin, 1904), "Obrashchenie k russkim liudiam: K pravitel'stvu, revolutsioneram i narodu" (Address to the Russian People: To the Government, Revolutionaries, and the Narod, 1906); and "O znachenii russkoi revoliutsii" (On the Meaning of the Russian Revolution, 1906). On the Russo-Japanese War, see "Edinoe na potrebu (o gosudarstvennoi vlasti)" (The One Thing Necessary [On State Power], 1905); and "Konets veka" (End of an Age, 1905). On China, see "Pis'mo k kitaitsu' (Letter to a Chinese, 1906). All citations from Tolstoi are my translations from this edition of Tolstoi's works. I refer to this work simply as Jubilee and indicate the volume and page range. Where unclear, I also indicate the nature of the citation (e.g., letter, diary, etc.).

(4) Although many books and articles treat the influence of eastern traditions on Tolstoi's own thought, I do not know of any that treat Tolstoi as a popularizer of eastern thought in Russia; the best source, limited to China, is chap. 3 of Derk Bodde, Tolstoy and China (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950). P. I. Biriukov, one of Tolstois most devoted disciples, compiled an impressive list of Tolstoi's writings on and contacts with Hindus, Muslims, Japanese, and Chinese. See Pavel I. Birjukov [Biriukov], Tolstoi und der Orient: Briefe und sonstige Zeugnisse uber Tolstois Beziehungen zu den Vertretern orientalischer Religionen (Zurich: Rotapfel, 1925).

(5) By "state organization," Tolstoi meant more or less exactly what the like-minded anarchist James Scott refers to as "high-modernist ideology," "the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws." See James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, new ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 4.

(6) For an overview of Russia's cultural and political turn to the east at the beginning of the 20th century, see David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, "Russia's Asian Temptation," International Journals, 4 (2000): 603-23.

(7) Two books that trace the trajectory between Eurasianism as a movement in emigre circles during the 1920s and its contemporary instantiations are Dmitry Shlapentokh, Russia between East and West: Scholarly Debates on Eurasianism (Leiden: Brill, 2007); and Marlene Laruelle, Russian Eurasianism: An Ideology of Empire, trans. Mischa Gabowitsch (Washington, DC, and Baltimore: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

(8) See Pal Kolsto, "Power as Burden: The Slavophile Concept of the State and Lev Tolstoy," Russian Review 64, 4 (2005): 559-74.

(9) Throughout this article, I use the term "state" (gosudarstvo, as opposed to nation or narod) in the Weberian sense, to refer to the centralized organization that maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a geographical space (Max Weber, Weber: Political Writings [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994], 310-11).

(10) Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor, trans, and eds., The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text (Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1953), 39.

(11) D. A. Khomiakov, Samoderzhavie: Opyt skhematicheskogo postroeniia etogo poniatiia, prilozhennyi k sochineniiam A. S. Khomiakova (Moscow: I. M. Mashistov, 1903), was first published in Rome in 1899. It was republished in Moscow in 1903.

(12) Kolsto, "Power as Burden," 567.

(13) The edition never materialized, but the draft of the foreword eventually became Tolstoi's chief response to the 1905 revolution, "On the Meaning of the Russian Revolution" (Jubilee, 36:715).

(14) Kolsto, "Power as Burden," 569-70.

(15) Richard Wortman, Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 143.

(16) Olga Maiorova, From the Shadow of Empire: Defining the Russian Nation through Cultural Mythology, 1855-1870 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2010), 22.

(17) Scholarly accounts frequently portray Russians as being "heavily inclined" to authoritarianism and "the enablers of their own autocracy." See, e.g., Henry E. Hale, "The Myth of Mass Russian Support for Autocracy: The Public Opinion Foundations of a Hybrid Regime," Europe-Asia Studies 63, 8 (2011): 1375. Marshall Poe considers autocracy a "particular adaptation of [an] innate human organizational tendency to a particular set of historical and ecological circumstances" (The Russian Moment in World History [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011], 50-55). For Poe, autocracy chose Russia, rather than Russians choosing autocracy.

(18) The most complete account of Tolstois ambivalent relationship with the Slavophiles can be found in chap. 4 of Eikhenbaum, Tolstoi in the Sixties. Eikhenbaum points out that during this period Tolstoi absorbed many ideas from the volkisch movement that overlapped with Slavophile doctrine: "It is interesting that in departing from Slavophilism Tolstoi (through Auerbach and Riehl) had actually arrived at a distinctive kind of populism which was only partly related to Slavophile tendencies (like their concept of'national character'). This movement was very characteristic of Tolstoi, whose tendency was always to avoid organized groups in order to remain 'original'" (43). The most insightful contemporary analysis of Tolstoi's relationship to the Slavophiles can be found in N. K. Mikhailovskii, Literaturnaia kritika: Stat 'i o russkoi literature XlX-nachala XX veka (Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, Leningradskoe otdelenie, 1989), chap. 1, esp. 55-61.

(19) Kolsto, "Power as Burden," 562.

(20) Jubilee, 18:387.

(21) Ibid., 19:392.

(22) Andrzej Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth-Century Russian Thought (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), 245-46; Ivan Sergeevich Aksakov, Teoriia gosudarstva u slavianofilov (St. Petersburg: A. Porokhovshchikov, 1898), 25-26.

(23) Rosamund Bartlett, Tolstoy: A Russian Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 246-50.

(24) On Tolstoi's doctrine of nonresistance to evil, see Daniel Rancour-Laferriere, Tolstoy's Quest for God (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2009), 93-96; the review by James E Scanlan, "Review Article: Daniel Rancour-Laferriere's Tolstoy's Quest for God," Tolstoy Studies Journal 20 (2008): 88-97; and Scanlan, "Tolstoj as Analytic Thinker: His Philosophical Defense of Nonviolence," Studies in East European Thought 63, 1 (2011): 7-14.

(25) Fyodor M. Dostoevsky, A Writer's Diary: 1877-1881 (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1997), 1093-99.

(26) Ibid., 1096.

(27) Bartlett, Tolstoy, 249.

(28) Tolstoi's letter to Ernest Crosby, Jubilee, 69:19-21; Zakon nasiliia i zakon liubvi, Jubilee, 37:206-7.

(29) Letter to Crosby, Jubilee, 69:19. Admittedly, this is not a likable corollary. In the letter, Tolstoi expresses exasperation at his opponents' frequent recourse to the Bystander Dilemma, which he sees as a distraction, a straw-man argument. Such extreme examples distract from the far more pervasive and prosaic instances when individuals engage in coercion or violence, almost always within the legal framework of die state. Such violence is far more pervasive, far less obvious, and therefore (following Tolstoi's logic), far more important than the high dudgeon of the Bystander Dilemma.

(30) For Tolstoi's use of the Taoist principle ofwuwei, nonaction, see Michael Denner, "Tolstoyan Nonaction: The Advantage of Doing Nothing," Tolstoy Studies Journal 13 (2001): 14.

(31) Tolstoi's letter to Crosby, Jubilee, 69:20. Tolstoi never explains satisfactorily what constitutes nasilie, violence or coercion, though he often qualifies this injunction against resisting evil: "Ne protiv'sia zlu nasiliem" (Do not resist evil using violence/coercion). Clearly, some line exists between passive resistance and active, coercive resistance. Given Tolstois casuistical bent, the details of every situation probably determine the right course. For an excellent and extensive discussion of this very issue, see Scanlan's review of Daniel Rancour-Laferriere's Tolstoys Quest for God.

(32) G. M. Hamburg, "Tolstoy s Spirituality," in Anniversary Essays on Tolstoy, ed. Donna-Tussing Orwin (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 138-58, here 139.

(33) Kolsto, "Power as Burden," 570. Although Kolsto acknowledges Tolstoi's reference to the "power as burden" concept prior to reading Autocracy, he persists in claiming direct influence.

(34) Publication history of "End of an Age," Jubilee, 36:666-69.

(35) "End of an Age," Jubilee, 36:247.

(36) Quoted in Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy, 242.

(37) Ibid., 244-45.

(38) Diary entry, 10 February 1906 Jubilee, 55:189-90.

(39) Inessa Medzhibovskaya, "Tolstois Response to Terror and Revolutionary Violence," Kritika 9, 3 (2008): 524-25.

(40) D. P. Makovitskii, Iasnopolianskiezapiski, 1: 1904-1905 (Moscow: Nauka, 1979), 289-90. On the nature and aims of the revolutionaries, see. Jubilee, 36:258-59.

(41) "End of an Age," 234.

(42) Ibid, 236.

(43) Ibid., 235.

(44) Makovitskii, Iasnopolianskie zapiski, 1:288. For more on Tolstois views on Japanese religion (or lack thereof), see ibid., 291.

(45) "End of an Age," 236.

(46) "Letter to a Chinese," Jubilee, 36:294.

(47) Out of context, it is confusing that Tolstoi often refers to the latter group of nations as Christian, as in the quotation above; he means nations that profess a debased form of Christianity and self-identify, incorrectly, as Christian.

(48) For instance, Jubilee, 36:236 ("End of an Age"), Jubilee, 36:197 ("The One Thing Necessary"); and a conversation recorded in Makovitskii, Iasnopolianskie zapiski, 1:163.

(49) "End of an Age," 237.

(50) Editorial commentary to "End of an Age," Jubilee, 36:667.

(51) "The Great Sin," Jubilee, 36:218.

(52) Ibid., 230.

(53) "Letter to a Chinese," 291.

(54) Ibid., 292-93.

(55) Ibid., 296.

(56) Ibid., 297.

(57) "End of an Age," 241.

(58) Tolstoi is here, in his belief that Russia's uniqueness and importance lies in its Asianness combined with its historical roots in Christianity, remarkably similar to early Eurasianist thought. See Laruelle, Russian Eurasianism, 42-49.

(59) For the popularity of the Third Rome idea in late imperial Russia, especially among the Pan-Slavs and Slavophiles, see Marshall Poe, "Moscow, the Third Rome: The Origins and Transformations of a 'Pivotal Moment,'" Jahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas 49, 3 (2001): 412-29, esp. 423-25.

(60) Medzhibovskaya, "Tolstoi's Response to Terror and Revolutionary Violence," 530-31.

(61) Diary entry, 26 August 1909, Jubilee, 57:125.
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Title Annotation:Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoi
Author:Denner, Michael
Publication:Kritika
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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