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“If I’d only the heart to throw up what’s been set going… such a lot of trouble wasted… I’d turn my back on the whole business, sell out, go off like Nikolai Ivanovich… to hear La Belle Helene,” said the landowner, a pleasant smile lighting up his shrewd old face.
“But, you see, you don’t throw it up,” said Nikolai Ivanovich Sviiazhsky, “so there must be something gained.”
“The only gain is that I live in my own house, neither bought nor hired. Besides, one keeps hoping the people will learn sense. Though, instead of that, believe it or not, there is such drunkenness, such immorality!… They keep making partition of their bits of land; there isn’t a horse or a cow. The peasant’s dying of hunger, but just go and take him on as a laborer- he’ll do his best to do you a mischief, and then bring you up before the justice of the peace.”
“But then, you make complaints to the justice too,” said Sviiazhsky.
“I lodge complaints? Not for anything in the world There’s so much talk springs up that one is sorry ever to have complained. At the works, for instance, they pocketed the advance money and made off. What did the justice do? Why, acquitted them. Nothing keeps them in order but their own communal court and their village elder. He’ll flog them in the good old style! But for that there’d be nothing for it but to give it all up and run away.”
Obviously the landowner was chaffing Sviiazhsky, who, far from resenting it, was apparently amused by it.
“But, you see, we manage our land without such extreme measures,” said he, smiling: “Levin, and I, and this gentleman.”
He indicated the other landowner.
“Yes, the thing’s done at Mikhail Petrovich’s, but ask him how it’s done. Do you call that a rational system?” said the landowner, obviously rather proud of the word “rational”.
“My system’s very simple,” said Mikhail Petrovich, “thank God. All my management rests on getting the money ready for the autumn taxes…. The peasants come to me, ‘Father, master, help us!’ Well, the peasants are all one’s neighbors; one feels for them. So one advances them a third, but one says: ‘Remember, lads, I have helped you, and you must help me when I need it- whether it’s the sowing of the oats, or the hay cutting, or the harvest’; and well, one agrees, so much for each taxpayer- though there are dishonest ones among them too, it’s true.”
Levin, who had long been familiar with these patriarchal methods, exchanged glances with Sviiazhsky and interrupted Mikhail Petrovich, turning again to the gentleman with the gray mustaches.
“Well, what do you think?” he asked. “What system is one to adopt nowadays?”
“Why, manage like Mikhail Petrovich, or let the land for half the crop or for rent to the peasants; one can do that- only that’s just how the general prosperity of the country is being ruined. Where the land with serf labor and good management gave a yield of nine to one, on the metayage system it yields three to one. Russia has been ruined by the emancipation!”
Sviiazhsky looked with smiling eyes at Levin, and even made a faint gesture of irony to him; but Levin did not think the landowner’s words absurd; he understood them better than he did Sviiazhsky. A great deal more of what the landowner said to show in what way Russia was ruined by the emancipation struck him indeed as very true, new to him, and quite incontestable. The landowner unmistakably spoke his own individual thought- a thing that rarely happens- and a thought to which he had been brought not by a desire of finding some exercise for an idle brain, but a thought which had grown up out of the conditions of his life, which he had brooded over in the solitude of his village, and had considered in every aspect.
“The point is, don’t you see, that progress of every sort is only made by the use of authority,” he said, evidently wishing to show he was not without culture. “Take the reforms of Peter, of Catherine, of Alexander. Take European history. And progress in agriculture more than anything else- the potato, for instance, that was introduced among us by force. The wooden plow, too, wasn’t always used. It was introduced in the days of appanaged princes, perhaps, but it was probably brought in by force. Now, in our own day, we landowners in the serf times used various improvements in our husbandry: drying machines and threshing machines, and carting manure, and all the modern implements- all these we brought into use by our authority, and the peasants opposed it at first, and ended by imitating us. Now, by the abolition of serfdom, we have been deprived of our authority; and so our husbandry, where it had been raised to a high level, is bound to sink to the most savage, primitive condition. That’s how I see it.”
“But why so? If it’s rational, you’ll be able to keep up the same system with hired labor,” said Sviiazhsky.
“We’ve no power over them. With whom am I going to work the system, allow me to ask?”
“There it is- the labor force- the chief element in agriculture,” thought Levin.
“The laborers won’t work well, and won’t work with good implements. Our laborer can do nothing but get drunk, like a swine, and then ruin everything you give him. He spoils the horses by watering unseasonably, he cuts good harness, barters the tires of the wheels for drink, drops bits of iron into the threshing machine, so as to break it. He loathes the sight of anything that’s not after his fashion. And that’s how the whole level of husbandry has fallen. Lands gone out of cultivation, overgrown with weeds, or divided among the peasants, and where millions of chetverts were raised you get a hundred thousand; the wealth of the country has decreased. If the same thing had been done, but with consideration for…”
And he proceeded to unfold his own scheme of emancipation by means of which these drawbacks might have been avoided.
This did not interest Levin, but, when he had finished, Levin went back to his first position, and, addressing Sviiazhsky, and trying to draw him into expressing his serious opinion, said:
“It’s perfectly true that the standard of culture is falling, and that with our present relations to the peasants there is no possibility of farming on a rational system to yield a profit,” said he.
“I don’t believe it,” Sviiazhsky replied quite seriously; “all I see is that we don’t know how to cultivate the land, and that our system of agriculture in the serf days was by no means too high, but too low. We have no machines, no good stock, no efficient supervision; we don’t even know how to keep accounts. Ask any landowner; he won’t be able to tell you which crop’s profitable, and which isn’t.”
“Italian bookkeeping,” said the landowner ironically. “You may keep your books as you like, but if they spoil everything for you, there won’t be any profit.”
“Why do they spoil things? A poor threshing machine, or your Russian presser, they will break, but my steam press they don’t break. A wretched Russian nag they’ll ruin, but keep good percherons or the Russian wagon horses- they won’t ruin them. And so it is all round. We must raise our farming to a higher level.”
“Oh, if one only had the means to do it, Nikolai Ivanovich! It’s all very well for you; but for me, with a son to keep at the university, lads to be educated at the high school- how am I going to buy these percherons?”
“Well, that’s what the banks are for.”
“To get whatever I have left sold by auction? No, thank you.”
“I don’t agree that it’s necessary or possible to raise the level of agriculture still higher,” said Levin. “I devote myself to it, and I have means, but I can do nothing. As to the banks, I don’t know to whom they’re any good. For my part, anyway, whatever I’ve spent money on in the way of husbandry has been a loss: stock- a loss, machinery- a loss.”
“That’s true enough,” the gentleman with the gray mustaches chimed in, even laughing with satisfaction.
“And I’m not the only one,” pursued Levin. “I mix with all the neighboring landowners, who are cultivating their land on a rational system; they all, with rare exceptions, are doing so at a loss. Come, tell us how does your land do- does it pay?” said Levin, and at once in Sviiazhsky’s eyes he detected that fleeting expression of alarm which he had noticed whenever he had tried to penetrate beyond the outer chambers of Sviiazhsky’s mind.
Moreover, this question on Levin’s part was not quite in good faith. Madame Sviiazhsky had just told him at tea that they had that summer invited a German expert accountant from Moscow, who for a consideration of five hundred rubles had investigated the management of their property, and found that it was costing them a loss of three thousand odd rubles. She did not remember the precise sum, but it appeared that the German had worked it out to the fraction of a kopeck.
The landowner smiled at the mention of the profits of Sviiazhsky’s farming, obviously aware how much gain his neighbor and marshal was likely to be making.
“Possibly it does not pay,” answered Sviiazhsky. “That merely proves that either I’m a bad manager, or that I’ve sunk my capital for the increase of my rents.”
“Oh, rent!” Levin cried with horror. “Rent there may be in Europe, where land has been improved by the labor put into it; but with us all the land is deteriorating from the labor put into it- in other words, they’re working it out; so there’s no question of rent.”
“How- no rent? It’s a law.”
“Then we’re outside the law; rent explains nothing for us, but simply muddles us. No, tell me how there can be a theory of rent?…”
“Will you have some curded milk? Masha, pass us some curded milk or raspberries.” He turned to his wife. “The raspberries are lasting extraordinarily late this year.”
And in the happiest frame of mind Sviiazhsky got up and walked off, apparently supposing the conversation to have ended at the very point when to Levin it seemed that it was only just beginning.
Having lost his antagonist, Levin continued the conversation with the landowner, trying to prove to him that all the difficulty arises from the fact that we don’t find out the peculiarities and habits of our laborer; but the landowner, like all men who think independently and in isolation, was slow in taking in any other person’s thought, and particularly partial to his own. He stuck to it that the Russian peasant is a swine and likes swinishness, and that to get him out of his swinishness one must have authority, and there is none; one must have the stick, and we have become so liberal that we have all of a sudden replaced the stick, that served us for a thousand years, with lawyers and model prisons, where the worthless, stinking peasant is fed on good soup and has a fixed allowance of cubic feet of air.
“What makes you think,” said Levin, trying to get back to the question, “that it’s impossible to find some relation to the laborer in which the labor would become productive?”
“That never could be so with the Russian people; we’ve no authority,” answered the landowner.
“How can new conditions be found?” said Sviiazhsky. Having eaten some curded milk and lighted a cigarette, he came back to the discussion. “All possible relations to the labor force have been defined and studied,” he said. “The relic of barbarism, the primitive commune with a guarantee for all, will disappear of itself; serfdom has been abolished- there remains nothing but free labor, and its forms are fixed and ready made, and must be adopted. Permanent hands, day laborers, farmers- you can’t get out of those forms.”
“But Europe is dissatisfied with these forms.”
“Dissatisfied, and seeking new ones. And will find them, in all probability.”
“That’s just what I meant,” answered Levin. “Why shouldn’t we seek them for ourselves?”
“Because it would be just like inventing afresh the means for constructing railways. They are ready, invented.”
“But if they don’t suit us, if they’re stupid?” said Levin.
And again he detected the expression of alarm in the eyes of Sviiazhsky.
“Oh, yes; we’ll bury the world under our caps! We’ve found the secret Europe was seeking for! I’ve heard all that; but, excuse me, do you know all that’s been done in Europe on the question of the organization of labor?”
“No, very little.”
“That question is now absorbing the best minds in Europe. The Schulze-Delitsch movement…. And then, all this enormous literature of the labor question, the most liberal Lassalle movement…. The Mulhausen experiment? That’s a fact by now, as you’re probably aware.”
“I have some idea of it, but very vague.”
“No, you only say that; no doubt you know all about it as well as I do. I’m no professor of sociology, of course, but it interested me, and really, if it interests you, you ought to study it.”
“But what conclusion have they come to?”
The two neighbors had risen, and Sviiazhsky, once more checking Levin in his inconvenient habit of peeping into what was beyond the outer chambers of his mind, went to see his guests out.
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Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina – Contents
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