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A Short Note on Tolstoy

Kenneth C. Wenzer

Following Leo Tolstoy's spiritual crisis around 1880 many people had come to regard him as a "crackpot anarchist" espousing odd ideas, such as vegetarianism, nonresistance, and a doctrine of love. The death of his friend  Henry George in 1897, however, spurred him on to renewed  endeavours. Tolstoy became the world's most noteworthy exponent of the American's ideology. Armed with his universal moral and religious beliefs harmoniously and gently forged with Georgist philosophy, he became the  conscience of the world.  It was a monumental  effort to ground justice in a rational economics and spread enlightenment for the benefit of suffering people.

Tolstoy used the Russia of his time as a universal model of a virtuous society.  The age-old local communal arrangement was to be retained in an administrative and judicial capacity without any national government --  though without periodic repartition that had made for impoverishment and inefficiency with an archaic system. Land would be owned in common, individuals  having only the right of usage. Schemes based on pure sharing were deemed impractical, since two people could never contribute the same and not effort but laziness would be rewarded in an unbalanced community.

Land itself, in its bounty and purity, was to be the nurturing ground for the growth of man as man, and man as a child of a beneficent God. A life of communal harmony founded on the soil would promote morality, perfection, salvation, and freedom from all  depravity and oppression. But though the land and the commune would foster personal virtue, that virtue was the primary force: from it all social institutions would discover and sustain themselves. So George's system fitted in neatly, for it provided the  balance between man and  society on the one hand, and on the other between God and man. The Georgist commune was to eventually develop into what Tolstoy envisioned as a mirror image of heaven on an earth with man and all creatures living in concord, and in the future, even without the cherished single tax.

Friends and acquaintances reported quite frequently his endless talk about the land problem and the single tax for many years prior to his death in 1910. His wife claimed that he talked about George incessantly. People who held conversations with him recount his continuing love of George and his notations refer to the American as "a great man" and takes delight when  people fight for the cause of the single tax. Correspondence abounds concerning Tolstoy's concern for the plight of his country and the relationship to the land question. The aging novelist emphatically states that: "The land is God's. It should not and cannot belong to anyone. All people have an equal right to it and the only concern is how to distribute it.... Genuine property is  determined only by labour and people must work in harmony on the land."

August 28, 1908, was to be the eightieth birthday of Tolstoy. Letters poured in from around the world. Single-tax newspapers called for demonstrations in honour of George's most noted exponent. A characteristic statement declared that he was "The great Russian whose slightest word is more potent than the thunder of the Czar's Cossacks... the most eminent of those who stand for the truth as it is in Henry George."

The Australian single taxers, not to be outdone, sent a birthday greeting to Tolstoy declaring their reverence and love. He towers, they declared, over all kings and leaders, for he was the greatest living moral force and  champion of the oppressed whose memory will always endure. "When we learned," the missive continues, "that you also had embraced the economic teaching of our dear, departed master, Henry George, our hearts gained new courage in the advocacy of the ideals for which we strive; new confidence in the coming of the Kingdom of Righteousness...." Tolstoy's response emotionally reaffirms his belief in the single tax, the evils of private property, and predicts its imminent realization. He claims that he had  not done enough for the  mutual cause that binds Georgists all over the world.

“Your address has deeply touched me.

To my regret, I have done too little for the cause so dear to you and me, which unites us. Of late I have been thinking more and more about it, and should I yet be afforded power for work, I will endeavour to express the teaching of Henry George -- who has, as yet, been far from appreciated according to its merits -- as clearly, as briefly, and as accessibly to the great mass of land workers as possible.

The injustice and evil of property in land has long ago been recognized. More than a hundred years ago the great French thinker, Jean Jaçques Rousseau, had written:

“The one who first fenced in a plot of land, and took upon himself

to say, ‘this land is mine’, and found people so simple-minded as to believe him, that man was the first founder of the social organization which now exists. From how many crimes, wars, murders, calamities, cruelties would mankind have been delivered had some man then uprooted the fences and filled up the ditches, saying, ‘Beware, do not believe that deceiver; you will perish, if you forget that the land cannot belong to anyone, that its fruits belong to all’."

The injustice of the seizure of the land as property has long ago been recognized by thinking people, but only since the teaching of Henry George has it become clear by what means it can be abolished. In our time the realization of this teaching has become especially necessary, not only in Russia -- where the land problem is, unfortunately, being solved in a way most contrary to justice to the people's consciousness, and to reason -- but in all so-called civilized states. This problem, i.e., the abolition of property in land, everywhere at the present time demands its solution as insistently as half a century ago the problem of slavery demanded its solution in Russia and America. Its solution is of the utmost necessity, because the supposed right of landed property now lies at the foundation, not only of economic misery,  but also of political disorder, and above all, the depravation of people. The wealthy ruling classes, foreseeing the loss of the advantages of their position inevitable, are endeavouring by various false interpretations, justifications and palliatives, with all their power, to postpone as long as possible its solution. But the time comes for everything, and as fifty years ago the time came for the abolition of the supposed right of property over man, so the time has now come for the abolition of the supposed right of property in land, which entails appropriating other people's labour. Nothing can arrest the abolition of this dreadful means of oppressing the people. Yet some effort, and this great emancipation of the nations shall be accomplished. I, therefore, particularly sympathize with your cause, with the efforts you are exerting, and will be very glad if I shall be able to add my small exertions to yours.”

Kenneth Wenzer

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