Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Moscow Census - From "What to do?" by Lyof N. Tolstoi

Adobe PDF icon
The Moscow Census - From "What to do?" by Lyof N. Tolstoi - Full Text Free Book
File size: 0.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Please be advised that David sent the two Moscow Census pieces to me
as one file, and that I split it into two, since some people have a
bit of trouble when we put two titles in one file. However, I did NOT
change the numbering of the footnotes, so they all appear at the end
of each file.

This etext was produced by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk,
from the 1887 Thomas Y. Crowell edition.

by Count Lyof N. Tolstoi

Translated from the Russian by
Isabel F. Hapgood


The object of a census is scientific. A census is a sociological
investigation. And the object of the science of sociology is the
happiness of the people. This science and its methods differ sharply
from all other sciences.

Its peculiarity lies in this, that sociological investigations are
not conducted by learned men in their cabinets, observatories and
laboratories, but by two thousand people from the community. A
second peculiarity is this, that the investigations of other sciences
are not conducted on living people, but here living people are the
subjects. A third peculiarity is, that the aim of every other
science is simply knowledge, while here it is the good of the people.
One man may investigate a nebula, but for the investigation of
Moscow, two thousand persons are necessary. The object of the study
of nebulae is merely that we may know about nebulae; the object of
the study of inhabitants is that sociological laws may be deduced,
and that, on the foundation of these laws, a better life for the
people may be established. It makes no difference to the nebula
whether it is studied or not, and it has waited long, and is ready to
wait a great while longer; but it is not a matter of indifference to
the inhabitants of Moscow, especially to those unfortunates who
constitute the most interesting subjects of the science of sociology.

The census-taker enters a night lodging-house; in the basement he
finds a man dying of hunger, and he politely inquires his profession,
his name, his native place, the character of his occupation, and
after a little hesitation as to whether he is to be entered in the
list as alive, he writes him in and goes his way.

And thus will the two thousand young men proceed. This is not as it
should be.

Science does its work, and the community, summoned in the persons of
these two thousand young men to aid science, must do its work. A
statistician drawing his deductions from figures may feel indifferent
towards people, but we census-takers, who see these people and who
have no scientific prepossessions, cannot conduct ourselves towards
them in an inhuman manner. Science fulfils its task, and its work is
for its objects and in the distant future, both useful and necessary
to us. For men of science, we can calmly say, that in 1882 there
were so many beggars, so many prostitutes, and so many uncared-for
children. Science may say this with composure and with pride,
because it knows that the confirmation of this fact conduces to the
elucidation of the laws of sociology, and that the elucidation of the
laws of sociology leads to a better constitution of society. But
what if we, the unscientific people, say: "You are perishing in
vice, you are dying of hunger, you are pining away, and killing each
other; so do not grieve about this; when you shall have all perished,
and hundreds of thousands more like you, then, possibly, science may
be able to arrange everything in an excellent manner." For men of
science, the census has its interest; and for us also, it possesses
an interest of a wholly different significance. The interest and
significance of the census for the community lie in this, that it
furnishes it with a mirror into which, willy nilly, the whole
community, and each one of us, gaze.

The figures and deductions will be the mirror. It is possible to
refrain from reading them, as it is possible to turn away from the
looking-glass. It is possible to glance cursorily at both figures
and mirror, and it is also possible to scrutinize them narrowly. To
go about in connection with the census as thousands of people are now
about to do, is to scrutinize one's self closely in the mirror.

What does this census, that is about to be made, mean for us people
of Moscow, who are not men of science? It means two things. In the
first place, this, that we may learn with certainty, that among us
tens of thousands who live in ease, there dwell tens of thousands of
people who lack bread, clothing and shelter; in the second place,
this, that our brothers and sons will go and view this and will
calmly set down according to the schedules, how many have died of
hunger and cold.

And both these things are very bad.

All cry out upon the instability of our social organization, about
the exceptional situation, about revolutionary tendencies. Where
lies the root of all this? To what do the revolutionists point? To
poverty, to inequality in the distribution of wealth. To what do the
conservatives point? To the decline in moral principle. If the
opinion of the revolutionists is correct, what must be done? Poverty
and the inequality of wealth must be lessened. How is this to be
effected? The rich must share with the poor. If the opinion of the
conservatives is correct, that the whole evil arises from the decline
in moral principle, what can be more immoral and vicious than the
consciously indifferent survey of popular sufferings, with the sole
object of cataloguing them? What must be done? To the census we
must add the work of affectionate intercourse of the idle and
cultivated rich, with the oppressed and unenlightened poor.

Science will do its work, let us perform ours also. Let us do this.
In the first place, let all of us who are occupied with the census,
superintendents and census-takers, make it perfectly clear to
ourselves what we are to investigate and why. It is the people, and
the object is that they may be happy. Whatever may be one's view of
life, every one will agree that there is nothing more important than
human life, and that there is no more weighty task than to remove the
obstacles to the development of this life, and to assist it.

This idea, that the relations of men to poverty are at the foundation
of all popular suffering, is expressed in the Gospels with striking
harshness, but at the same time, with decision and clearness for all.

"He who has clothed the naked, fed the hungry, visited the prisoner,
that man has clothed Me, fed Me, visited Me," that is, has done the
deed for that which is the most important thing in the world.

However a man may look upon things, every one knows that this is more
important than all else on earth.

And this must not be forgotten, and we must not permit any other
consideration to veil from us the most weighty fact of our existence.
Let us inscribe, and reckon, but let us not forget that if we
encounter a man who is hungry and without clothes, it is of more
moment to succor him than to make all possible investigations, than
to discover all possible sciences. Perish the whole census if we may
but feed an old woman. The census will be longer and more difficult,
but we cannot pass by people in the poorer quarters and merely note
them down without taking any heed of them and without endeavoring,
according to the measure of our strength and moral sensitiveness, to
aid them. This in the first place. In the second, this is what must
be done: All of us, who are to take part in the census, must refrain
from irritation because we are annoyed; let us understand that this
census is very useful for us; that if this is not cure, it is at
least an effort to study the disease, for which we should be
thankful; that we must seize this occasion, and, in connection with
it, we must seek to recover our health, in some small degree. Let
all of us, then, who are connected with the census, endeavor to take
advantage of this solitary opportunity in ten years to purify
ourselves somewhat; let us not strive against, but assist the census,
and assist it especially in this sense, that it may not have merely
the harsh character of the investigation of a hopelessly sick person,
but may have the character of healing and restoration to health. For
the occasion is unique: eighty energetic, cultivated men, having
under their orders two thousand young men of the same stamp, are to
make their way over the whole of Moscow, and not leave a single man
in Moscow with whom they have not entered into personal relations.
All the wounds of society, the wounds of poverty, of vice, of
ignorance--all will be laid bare. Is there not something re-assuring
in this? The census-takers will go about Moscow, they will set down
in their lists, without distinction, those insolent with prosperity,
the satisfied, the calm, those who are on the way to ruin, and those
who are ruined, and the curtain will fall. The census-takers, our
sons and brothers, these young men will behold all this. They will
say: "Yes, our life is very terrible and incurable," and with this
admission they will live on like the rest of us, awaiting a remedy
for the evil from this or that extraneous force. But those who are
perishing will go on dying, in their ruin, and those on the road to
ruin will continue in their course. No, let us rather grasp the idea
that science has its task, and that we, on the occasion of this
census, have our task, and let us not allow the curtain once lifted
to be dropped, but let us profit by the opportunity in order to
remove the immense evil of the separation existing between us and the
poor, and to establish intercourse and the work of redressing the
evil of unhappiness and ignorance, and our still greater misfortune,-
-the indifference and aimlessness of our life.

I already hear the customary remark: "All this is very fine, these
are sounding phrases; but do you tell us what to do and how to do
it?" Before I say what is to be done, it is indispensable that I
should say what is not to be done. It is indispensable, first of
all, in my opinion, in order that something practical may come of
this activity, that no society should be formed, that there should be
no publicity, that there should be no collection of money by balls,
bazaars or theatres; that there should be no announcement that Prince
A. has contributed one thousand rubles, and the honorable citizen B.
three thousand; that there shall be no collection, no calling to
account, no writing up,--most of all, no writing up, so that there
may not be the least shadow of any institution, either governmental
or philanthropic.

But in my opinion, this is what should be done instantly: Firstly,
All those who agree with me should go to the directors, and ask for
their shares the poorest sections, the poorest dwellings; and in
company with the census-takers, twenty-three, twenty-four or twenty-
five in number, they should go to these quarters, enter into
relations with the people who are in need of assistance, and labor
for them.

Secondly: We should direct the attention of the superintendents and
census-takers to the inhabitants in need of assistance, and work for
them personally, and point them out to those who wish to work over
them. But I am asked: What do you mean by WORKING OVER THEM? I
reply; Doing good to people. The words "doing good" are usually
understood to mean, giving money. But, in my opinion, doing good and
giving money are not only not the same thing, but two different and
generally opposite things. Money, in itself, is evil. And therefore
he who gives money gives evil. This error of thinking that the
giving of money means doing good, arose from the fact, that
generally, when a man does good, he frees himself from evil, and from
money among other evils. And therefore, to give money is only a sign
that a man is beginning to rid himself of evil. To do good,
signifies to do that which is good for man. But, in order to know
what is good for man, it is necessary to be on humane, i.e., on
friendly terms with him. And therefore, in order to do good, it is
not money that is necessary, but, first of all, a capacity for
detaching ourselves, for a time at least, from the conditions of our
own life. It is necessary that we should not be afraid to soil our
boots and clothing, that we should not fear lice and bedbugs, that we
should not fear typhus fever, diphtheria, and small-pox. It is
necessary that we should be in a condition to seat ourselves by the
bunk of a tatterdemalion and converse earnestly with him in such a
manner, that he may feel that the man who is talking with him
respects and loves him, and is not putting on airs and admiring
himself. And in order that this may be so, it is necessary that a
man should find the meaning of life outside himself. This is what is
requisite in order that good should be done, and this is what it is
difficult to find.

When the idea of assisting through the medium of the census occurred
to me, I discussed the matter with divers of the wealthy, and I saw
how glad the rich were of this opportunity of decently getting rid of
their money, that extraneous sin which they cherish in their hearts.
"Take three hundred--five hundred rubles, if you like," they said to
me, "but I cannot go into those dens myself." There was no lack of
money. Remember Zaccheus, the chief of the Publicans in the Gospel.
Remember how he, because he was small of stature, climbed into a tree
to see Christ, and how when Christ announced that he was going to his
house, having understood but one thing, that the Master did not
approve of riches, he leaped headlong from the tree, ran home and
arranged his feast. And how, as soon as Christ entered, Zaccheus
instantly declared that he gave the half of his goods to the poor,
and if he had wronged any man, to him he would restore fourfold. And
remember how all of us, when we read the Gospel, set but little store
on this Zaccheus, and involuntarily look with scorn on this half of
his goods, and fourfold restitution. And our feeling is correct.
Zaccheus, according to his lights, performed a great deed. He had
not even begun to do good. He had only begun in some small measure
to purify himself from evil, and so Christ told him.

He merely said to him: "To-day is salvation come nigh unto this

What if the Moscow Zaccheuses were to do the same that he did?
Assuredly, more than one milliard could be collected. Well, and what
of that? Nothing. There would be still greater sin if we were to
think of distributing this money among the poor. Money is not
needed. What is needed is self-sacrificing action; what is needed
are people who would like to do good, not by giving extraneous sin-
money, but by giving their own labor, themselves, their lives. Where
are such people to be found? Here they are, walking about Moscow.
They are the student enumerators. I have seen how they write out
their charts. The student writes in the night lodging-house, by the
bedside of a sick man. "What is your disease?"--"Small-pox." And
the student does not make a wry face, but proceeds with his writing.
And this he does for the sake of some doubtful science. What would
he do if he were doing it for the sake of his own undoubted good and
the good of others?

When children, in merry mood, feel a desire to laugh, they never
think of devising some reason for laughter, but they laugh without
any reason, because they are gay; and thus these charming youths
sacrifice themselves. They have not, as yet, contrived to devise any
means of sacrificing themselves, but they devote their attention,
their labor, their lives, in order to write out a chart, from which
something does or does not appear. What would it be if this labor
were something really worth their while? There is and there always
will be labor of this sort, which is worthy of the devotion of a
whole life, whatever the man's life may be. This labor is the loving
intercourse of man with man, and the breaking-down of the barriers
which men have erected between themselves, so that the enjoyment of
the rich man may not be disturbed by the wild howls of the men who
are reverting to beasts, and by the groans of helpless hunger, cold
and disease.

This census will place before the eyes of us well-to-do and so-called
cultivated people, all the poverty and oppression which is lurking in
every corner of Moscow. Two thousand of our brothers, who stand on
the highest rung of the ladder, will come face to face with thousands
of people who stand on the lowest round of society. Let us not miss
this opportunity of communion. Let us, through these two thousand
men, preserve this communion, and let us make use of it to free
ourselves from the aimlessness and the deformity of our lives, and to
free the condemned from that indigence and misery which do not allow
the sensitive people in our ranks to enjoy our good fortune in peace.

This is what I propose: (1) That all our directors and enumerators
should join to their business of the census a task of assistance,--of
work in the interest of the good of these people, who, in our
opinion, are in need of assistance, and with whom we shall come in
contact; (2) That all of us, directors and enumerators, not by
appointment of the committee of the City Council, but by the
appointment of our own hearts, shall remain in our posts,--that is,
in our relations to the inhabitants of the town who are in need of
assistance,--and that, at the conclusion of the work of the census,
we shall continue our work of aid. If I have succeeded in any degree
in expressing what I feel, I am sure that the only impossibility will
be getting the directors and enumerators to abandon this, and that
others will present themselves in the places of those who leave; (3)
That we should collect all those inhabitants of Moscow, who feel
themselves fit to work for the needy, into sections, and begin our
activity now, in accordance with the hints of the census-takers and
directors, and afterwards carry it on; (4) That all who, on account
of age, weakness, or other causes, cannot give their personal labor
among the needy, shall intrust the task to their young, strong, and
willing relatives. (Good consists not in the giving of money, it
consists in the loving intercourse of men. This alone is needed.)

Whatever may be the outcome of this, any thing will be better than
the present state of things.

Then let the final act of our enumerators and directors be to
distribute a hundred twenty-kopek pieces to those who have no food;
and this will be not a little, not so much because the hungry will
have food, but because the directors and enumerators will conduct
themselves in a humane manner towards a hundred poor people. How are
we to compute the possible results which will accrue to the balance
of public morality from the fact that, instead of the sentiments of
irritation, anger, and envy which we arouse by reckoning the hungry,
we shall awaken in a hundred instances a sentiment of good, which
will be communicated to a second and a third, and an endless wave
which will thus be set in motion and flow between men? And this is a
great deal. Let those of the two thousand enumerators who have never
comprehended this before, come to understand that, when going about
among the poor, it is impossible to say, "This is very interesting;"
that a man should not express himself with regard to another man's
wretchedness by interest only; and this will be a good thing. Then
let assistance be rendered to all those unfortunates, of whom there
are not so many as I at first supposed in Moscow, who can easily be
helped by money alone to a great extent. Then let those laborers who
have come to Moscow and have eaten their very clothing from their
backs, and who cannot return to the country, be despatched to their
homes; let the abandoned orphans receive supervision; let feeble old
men and indigent old women, who subsist on the charity of their
companions, be released from their half-famished and dying condition.
(And this is very possible. There are not very many of them.) And
this will also be a very, very great deal accomplished. But why not
think and hope that more and yet more will be done? Why not expect
that that real task will be partially carried out, or at least begun,
which is effected, not by money, but by labor; that weak drunkards
who have lost their health, unlucky thieves, and prostitutes who are
still capable of reformation, should be saved? All evil may not be
exterminated, but there will arise some understanding of it, and the
contest with it will not be police methods, but by inward modes,--by
the brotherly intercourse of the men who perceive the evil, with the
men who do not perceive it because they are a part of it.

No matter what may be accomplished, it will be a great deal. But why
not hope that every thing will be accomplished? Why not hope that we
shall accomplish thus much, that there shall not exist in Moscow a
single person in want of clothing, a single hungry person, a single
human being sold for money, nor a single individual oppressed by the
judgment of man, who shall not know that there is fraternal aid for
him? It is not surprising that this should not be so, but it is
surprising that this should exist side by side with our superfluous
leisure and wealth, and that we can live on composedly, knowing that
these things are so. Let us forget that in great cities and in
London, there is a proletariat, and let us not say that so it must
needs be. It need not be this, and it should not, for this is
contrary to our reason and our heart, and it cannot be if we are
living people. Why not hope that we shall come to understand that
there is not a single duty incumbent upon us, not to mention personal
duty, for ourselves, nor our family, nor social, nor governmental,
nor scientific, which is more weighty than this? Why not think that
we shall at last come to apprehend this? Only because to do so would
be too great a happiness. Why not hope that some the people will
wake up, and will comprehend that every thing else is a delusion, but
that this is the only work in life? And why should not this "some
time" be now, and in Moscow? Why not hope that the same thing may
happen in society and humanity which suddenly takes place in a
diseased organism, when the moment of convalescence suddenly sets in?
The organism is diseased this means, that the cells cease to perform
their mysterious functions; some die, others become infected, others
still remain in perfect condition, and work on by themselves. But
all of a sudden the moment comes when every living cell enters upon
an independent and healthy activity: it crowds out the dead cells,
encloses the infected ones in a living wall, it communicates life to
that which was lifeless; and the body is restored, and lives with new

Why should we not think and expect that the cells of our society will
acquire fresh life and re-invigorate the organism? We know not in
what the power of the cells consists, but we do know that our life is
in our own power. We can show forth the light that is in us, or we
may extinguish it.

Let one man approach the Lyapinsky house in the dusk, when a thousand
persons, naked and hungry, are waiting in the bitter cold for
admission, and let that one man attempt to help, and his heart will
ache till it bleeds, and he will flee thence with despair and anger
against men; but let a thousand men approach that other thousand with
a desire to help, and the task will prove easy and delightful. Let
the mechanicians invent a machine for lifting the weight that is
crushing us--that is a good thing; but until they shall have invented
it, let us bear down upon the people, like fools, like muzhiki, like
peasants, like Christians, and see whether we cannot raise them.

And now, brothers, all together, and away it goes!


{1} The fine, tall members of a regiment, selected and placed
together to form a showy squad.

{2} [] Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition printed in
Russia, in the set of Count Tolstoi's works.

{3} Reaumur.

{4} A drink made of water, honey, and laurel or salvia leaves, which
is drunk as tea, especially by the poorer classes.

{5} [] Omitted by the censor from the authorized edition published
in Russia in the set of count Tolstoi's works. The omission is
indicated thus . . .

{6} Kalatch, a kind of roll: baranki, cracknels of fine flour.

{7} An arshin is twenty-eight inches.

{8} A myeshchanin, or citizen, who pays only poll-tax and not a
guild tax.

{9} Omitted in authorized edition.

{10} Omitted by the censor in the authorized edition.

{11} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{12} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{13} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{14} Omitted by the Censor from the authorized edition.

{15} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{16} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition

{17} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{18} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{19} A very complicated sort of whist.

{20} The whole of this chapter is omitted by the Censor in the
authorized edition, and is there represented by the following
sentence: "And I felt that in money, in money itself, in the
possession of it, there was something immoral; and I asked myself,
What is money?"

{21} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{22} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{23} The above passage is omitted in the authorized edition, and the
following is added: "I came to the simple and natural conclusion,
that, if I pity the tortured horse upon which I am riding, the first
thing for me to do is to alight, and to walk on my own feet."

{24} Omitted in the authorized edition.

{25} Omitted in the authorized edition.

{26} "Into a worse state," in the authorized edition.

{27} Omitted in the authorized edition.

{28} Omitted in the authorized edition.

{29} Reaumur.

{30} In the Moscow edition (authorized by the Censor), the
concluding paragraph is replaced by the following: --"They say: The
action of a single man is but a drop in the sea. A drop in the sea!

"There is an Indian legend relating how a man dropped a pearl into
the sea, and in order to recover it he took a bucket, and began to
bail out, and to pour the water on the shore. Thus he toiled without
intermission, and on the seventh day the spirit of the sea grew
alarmed lest the man should dip the sea dry, and so he brought him
his pearl. If our social evil of persecuting man were the sea, then
that pearl which we have lost is equivalent to devoting our lives to
bailing out the sea of that evil. The prince of this world will take
fright, he will succumb more promptly than did the spirit of the sea;
but this social evil is not the sea, but a foul cesspool, which we
assiduously fill with our own uncleanness. All that is required is
for us to come to our senses, and to comprehend what we are doing; to
fall out of love with our own uncleanness,--in order that that
imaginary sea should dry away, and that we should come into
possession of that priceless pearl,--fraternal, humane life."

{31} An arshin is twenty-eight inches.

{32} The fast extends from the 5th to the 30th of June, O.S. (June
27 to July 12, N.S.)

{33} A pood is thirty-six pounds.

{34} Robinson Crusoe.

{35} Here something has been omitted by the Censor, which I am
unable to supply.--TRANS.

Book of the day: