So it is with the manifestation of the Christian standard of opinion on force and all that is based on force. If this standard already influences some, the most impressionable, and impels each in his own sphere to abandon advantages based on the use of force, then its influence will extend further and further till it transforms the whole order of men’s actions and puts it into accord with the Christian ideal which is already a living force in the vanguard of humanity.
And if there are now rulers, who do not decide on any step on their own authority, who try to be as unlike monarchs, and as like plain mortals as possible, who state their readiness to give up their prerogatives and become simply the first citizens of a republic; if there are already soldiers who realize all the sin and harm of war, and are not willing to fire on men either of their own or a foreign country; judges and prosecutors who do not like to try and to condemn criminals; priests, who abjure deception; tax-gatherers who try to perform as little as they can of their duties, and rich men renouncing their wealth–then the same thing will inevitably happen to other rulers, other soldiers, other judges, priests, tax-gatherers, and rich men. And when there are no longer men willing to fill these offices, these offices themselves will disappear too.
But this is not the only way in which public opinion is leading men to the abolition of the prevailing order and the substitution of a new order. As the positions based on the rule of force become less attractive and fewer men are found willing to fill them, the more will their uselessness be apparent.
Everywhere throughout the Christian world the same rulers, and the same governments, the same armies, the same law courts, the same tax-gatherers, the same priests, the same rich men, landowners, manufacturers, and capitalists, as ever, but the attitude of the world to them, and their attitude to themselves is altogether changed.
The same sovereigns have still the same audiences and interviews, hunts and banquets, and balls and uniforms; there are the same diplomats and the same deliberations on alliances and wars; there are still the same parliaments, with the same debates on the Eastern question and Africa, on treaties and violations of treaties, and Home Rule and the eight-hour day; and one set of ministers replacing another in the same way, and the same speeches and the same incidents. But for men who observe how one newspaper article has more effect on the position of affairs than dozens of royal audiences or parliamentary sessions, it becomes more and more evident that these audiences and interviews and debates in parliaments do not direct the course of affairs, but something independent of all that, which cannot be concentrated in one place.
The same generals and officers and soldiers, and cannons and fortresses, and reviews and maneuvers, but no war breaks out. One year, ten, twenty years pass by. And it becomes less and less possible to rely on the army for the pacification of riots, and more and more evident, consequently, that generals, and officers, and soldiers are only figures in solemn processions–objects of amusement for governments–a sort of immense–and far too expensive–CORPS DE BALLET.
The same lawyers and judges, and the same assizes, but it becomes more and more evident that the civil courts decide cases on the most diverse grounds, but regardless of justice, and that criminal trials are quite senseless, because the punishments do not attain the objects aimed at by the judges themselves. These institutions therefore serve no other purpose than to provide a means of livelihood for men who are not capable of doing anything more useful.
The same priests and archbishops and churches and synods, but it becomes more and more evident that they have long ago ceased to believe in what they preach, and therefore they can convince no one of the necessity of believing what they don’t believe themselves.
The same tax collectors, but they are less and less capable of taking men’s property from them by force, and it becomes more and more evident that people can collect all that is necessary by voluntary subscription without their aid.
The same rich men, but it becomes more and more evident that they can only be of use by ceasing to administer their property in person and giving up to society the whole or at least a part of their wealth.
And when all this has become absolutely evident to everyone, it will be natural for men to ask themselves: “But why should we keep and maintain all these kings, emperors, presidents, and members of all sorts of senates and ministries, since nothing comes of all their debates and audiences? Wouldn’t it be better, as some humorist suggested, to make a queen of india-rubber?”
And what good to us are these armies with their generals and bands and horses and drums? And what need is there of them when there is no war, and no one wants to make war? and if there were a war, other nations would not let us gain any advantage from it; while the soldiers refuse to fire on their fellow-countrymen.
And what is the use of these lawyers and judges who don’t decide civil cases with justice and recognize themselves the uselessness of punishments in criminal cases?
And what is the use of tax collectors who collect the taxes unwillingly, when it is easy to raise all that is wanted without them?
What is the use of the clergy, who don’t believe in what they preach?
And what is the use of capital in the hands of private persons, when it can only be of use as the property of all?
And when once people have asked themselves these questions they cannot help coming to some decision and ceasing to support all these institutions which are no longer of use.
But even before those who support these institutions decide to abolish them, the men who occupy these positions will be reduced to the necessity of throwing them up.
Public opinion more and more condemns the use of force, and therefore men are less and less willing to fill positions which rest on the use of force, and if they do occupy them, are less and less able to make use of force in them. And hence they must become more and more superfluous.
I once took part in Moscow in a religious meeting which used to take place generally in the week after Easter near the church in the Ohotny Row. A little knot of some twenty men were collected together on the pavement, engaged in serious religious discussion. At the same time there was a kind of concert going on in the buildings of the Court Club in the same street, and a police officer noticing the little group collected near the church sent a mounted policeman to disperse it. It was absolutely unnecessary for the officer to disperse it. A group of twenty men was no obstruction to anyone, but he had been standing there the whole morning, and he wanted to do something. The policeman, a young fellow, with a resolute flourish of his right arm and a clink of his saber, came up to us and commanded us severely: “Move on! what’s this meeting about?” Everyone looked at the policeman, and one of the speakers, a quiet man in a peasant’s dress, answered with a calm and gracious air, “We are speaking of serious matters, and there is no need for us to move on; you would do better, young man, to get off your horse and listen. It might do you good”; and turning round he continued his discourse. The policeman turned his horse and went off without a word.
That is just what should be done in all cases of violence.
The officer was bored, he had nothing to do. He had been put, poor fellow, in a position in which he had no choice but to give orders. He was shut off from all human existence; he could do nothing but superintend and give orders, and give orders and superintend, though his superintendence and his orders served no useful purpose whatever. And this is the position in which all these unlucky rulers, ministers, members of parliament, governors, generals, officers, archbishops, priests, and even rich men find themselves to some extent already, and will find themselves altogether as time goes on. They can do nothing but give orders, and they give orders and send their messengers, as the officer sent the policeman, to interfere with people. And because the people they hinder turn to them and request them not to interfere, they fancy they are very useful indeed.
But the time will come and is coming when it will be perfectly evident to everyone that they are not of any use at all, and only a hindrance, and those whom they interfere with will say gently and quietly to them, like my friend in the street meeting, “Pray don’t interfere with us.” And all the messengers and those who send them too will be obliged to follow this good advice, that is to say, will leave off galloping about, with their arms akimbo, interfering with people, and getting off their horses and removing their spurs, will listen to what is being said, and mixing with others, will take their place with them in some real human work.
The time will come and is inevitably coming when all institutions based on force will disappear through their uselessness, stupidity, and even inconvenience becoming obvious to all.
The time must come when the men of our modern world who fill offices based upon violence will find themselves in the position of the emperor in Andersen’s tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” when the child seeing the emperor undressed, cried in all simplicity, “Look, he is naked!” And then all the rest, who had seen him and said nothing, could not help recognizing it too.
The story is that there was once an emperor, very fond of new clothes. And to him came two tailors, who promised to make him some extraordinary clothes. The emperor engages them and they begin to sew at them, but they explain that the clothes have the extraordinary property of remaining invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position. The courtiers come to look at the tailors’ work and see nothing, for the men are plying their needles in empty space. But remembering the extraordinary property of the clothes, they all declare they see them and are loud in their admiration. The emperor does the same himself. The day of the procession comes in which the emperor is to go out in his new clothes. The emperor undresses and puts on his new clothes, that is to say, remains naked, and naked he walks through the town. But remembering the magic property of the clothes, no one ventures to say that he has nothing on till a little child cries out: “Look, he is naked!”
This will be exactly the situation of all who continue through inertia to fill offices which have long become useless directly someone who has no interest in concealing their uselessness exclaims in all simplicity: “But these people have been of no use to anyone for a long time past!”
The condition of Christian humanity with its fortresses, cannons, dynamite, guns, torpedoes, prisons, gallows, churches, factories, customs offices, and palaces is really terrible. But still cannons and guns will not fire themselves, prisons will not shut men up of themselves, gallows will not hang them, churches will not delude them, nor customs offices hinder them, and palaces and factories are not built nor kept up of themselves. All those things are the work of men. If men come to understand that they ought not to do these things, then they will cease to be. And already they are beginning to understand it. Though all do not understand it yet, the advanced guard understand and the rest will follow them. And the advanced guard cannot cease to understand what they have once understood; and what they understand the rest not only can but must inevitably understand hereafter.
So that the prophecy that the time will come when men will be taught of God, will learn war no more, will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into reaping-hooks, which means, translating it into our language, the fortresses, prisons, barracks, palaces, and churches will remain empty, and all the gibbets and guns and cannons will be left unused, is no longer a dream, but the definite new form of life to which mankind is approaching with ever-increasing rapidity.
But when will it be?
Eighteen hundred years ago to this question Christ answered that the end of the world (that is, of the pagan organization of life) shall come when the tribulation of men is greater than it has ever been, and when the Gospel of the kingdom of God, that is, the possibility of a new organization of life, shall be preached in the world unto all nations. (Matt. xxiv. 3-28.) But of that day and hour knoweth no man but the Father only (Matt. xxiv. 3-6), said Christ. For it may come any time, in such an hour as ye think not.
To the question when this hour cometh Christ answers that we cannot know, but just because we cannot know when that hour is coming we ought to be always ready to meet it, just as the master ought to watch who guards his house from thieves, as the virgins ought to watch with lamps alight for the bridegroom; and further, we ought to work with all the powers given us to bring that hour to pass, as the servants ought to work with the talents intrusted to them. (Matt. xxiv. 43, and xxvi. 13, 14-30.) And there could be no answer but this one. Men cannot know when the day and the hour of the kingdom of God will come, because its coming depends on themselves alone.
The answer is like that of the wise man who, when asked whether it was far to the town, answered, “Walk!”
How can we tell whether it is far to the goal which humanity is approaching, when we do not know how men are going toward it, while it depends on them whether they go or do not go, stand still, slacken their pace or hasten it? All we can know is what we who make up mankind ought to do, and not to do, to bring about the coming of the kingdom of God. And that we all know. And we need only each begin to do what we ought to do, we need only each live with all the light that is in us, to bring about at once the promised kingdom of God to which every man’s heart is yearning.
CONCLUSION–REPENT YE, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND.
1. Chance Meeting with a Train Carrying Soldiers to Restore Order Among the Famishing Peasants–Reason of the Expedition–How the Decisions of the Higher Authorities are Enforced in Cases of Insubordination on Part of the Peasants–What Happened at Orel, as an Example of How the Rights of the Propertied Classes are Maintained by Murder and Torture–All the Privileges of the Wealthy are Based on Similar Acts of Violence.
2. The Elements that Made up the Force Sent to Toula, and the Conduct of the Men Composing it–How these Men Could Carry Out such Acts–The Explanation is Not to be Found in Ignorance, Conviction, Cruelty, Heartlessness, or Want of Moral Sense–They do these Things Because they are Necessary to Support the Existing Order, which they Consider it Every Man’s Duty to Support–The Basis of this Conviction that the Existing Order is Necessary and Inevitable–In the Upper Classes this Conviction is Based on the Advantages of the Existing Order for Themselves–But what Forces Men of the Lower Classes to Believe in the Immutability of the Existing Order, from which they Derive no Advantage, and which they Aid in Maintaining, Facts Contrary to their Conscience?–This is the Result of the Lower Classes being Deluded by the Upper, Both as to the Inevitability of the Existing Order and the Lawfulness of the Acts of Violence Needed to Maintain it– Deception in General–Special Form of Deception in Regard to Military Service–Conscription.
3. How can Men Allow that Murder is Permissible while they Preach Principles of Morality, and How can they Allow of the Existence in their Midst of a Military Organization of Physical Force which is a Constant Menace to Public Security?–It is only Allowed by the Upper Classes, who Profit by this Organization, Because their Privileges are Maintained by it–The Upper Classes Allow it, and the Lower Classes Carry it into Effect in Spite of their Consciousness of the Immorality of the Deeds of Violence, the More Readily Because Through the Arrangements of the Government the Moral Responsibility for such Deeds is Divided among a Great Number of Participants in it, and Everyone Throws the Responsibility on Someone Else–Moreover, the Sense of Moral Responsibility is Lost through the Delusion of Inequality, and the Consequent Intoxication of Power on the Part of Superiors, and Servility on the Part of Inferiors–The Condition of these Men, Acting against the Dictates of their Conscience, is Like that of Hypnotized Subjects Acting by Suggestion–The Difference between this Obedience to Government Suggestion, and Obedience to Public Opinion, and to the Guidance of Men of a Higher Moral Sense–The Existing Order of Society, which is the Result of an Extinct Public Opinion and is Inconsistent with the Already Existing Public Opinion of the Future, is only Maintained by the Stupefaction of the Conscience, Produced Spontaneously by Self- interest in the Upper Classes and Through Hypnotizing in the Lower Classes–The Conscience or the Common Sense of such Men may Awaken, and there are Examples of its Sudden Awakening, so that one can Never be Sure of the Deeds of Violence they are Prepared for–It Depends Entirely on the Point which the Sense of the Unlawfulness of Acts of Violence has Reached, and this Sense may Spontaneously Awaken in Men, or may be Reawakened by the Influence of Men of more Conscience.
4. Everything Depends on the Strength of the Consciousness of Christian Truths in Each Individual Man–The Leading Men of Modern Times, however, do not Think it Necessary to Preach or Practice the Truths of Christianity, but Regard the Modification of the External Conditions of Existence within the Limit Imposed by Governments as Sufficient to Reform the Life of Humanity–On this Scientific Theory of Hypocrisy, which has Replaced the Hypocrisy of Religion, Men of the Wealthy Classes Base their Justification of their Position–Through this Hypocrisy they can Enjoy the Exclusive Privileges of their Position by Force and Fraud, and Still Pretend to be Christians to One Another and be Easy in their Minds–This Hypocrisy Allows Men who Preach Christianity to Take Part in Institutions Based on Violence–No External Reformation of Life will Render it Less Miserable–Its Misery the Result of Disunion Caused by Following Lies, not the Truth–Union only Possible in Truth–Hypocrisy Hinders this Union, since Hypocrites Conceal from themselves and Others the Truth they Know–Hypocrisy Turns all Reforms of Life to Evil–Hypocrisy Distorts the Idea of Good and Evil, and so Stands in the Way of the Progress of Men toward Perfection–Undisguised Criminals and Malefactors do Less Harm than those who Live by Legalized Violence, Disguised by Hypocrisy–All Men Feel the Iniquity of our Life, and would Long Ago have Transformed it if it had not been Dissimulated by Hypocrisy–But Seem to have Reached the Extreme Limits of Hypocrisy, and we Need only Make an Effort of Conscience to Awaken as from a Nightmare to a Different Reality.
5. Can Man Make this Effort?–According to the Hypocritical Theory of the Day, Man is not Free to Transform his Life–Man is not Free in his Actions, but he is Free to Admit or to Deny the Truth he Knows–When Truth is Once Admitted, it Becomes the Basis of Action–Man’s Threefold Relation to Truth–The Reason of the Apparent Insolubility of the Problem of Free Will–Man’s Freedom Consists in the Recognition of the Truth Revealed to him. There is no Other Freedom–Recognition of Truth Gives Freedom, and Shows the Path Along which, Willingly or Unwillingly by Mankind, Man Must Advance–The Recognition of Truth and Real Freedom Enables Man to Share in the Work of God, not as the Slave, but as the Creator of Life–Men Need only Make the Effort to Renounce all Thought of Bettering the External Conditions of Life and Bend all their Efforts to Recognizing and Preaching the Truth they Know, to put an End to the Existing Miserable State of Things, and to Enter upon the Kingdom of God so far as it is yet Accessible to Man–All that is Needed is to Make an End of Lying and Hypocrisy–But then what Awaits us in the Future?–What will Happen to Humanity if Men Follow the Dictates of their Conscience, and how can Life go on with the Conditions of Civilized Life to which we are Accustomed? –All Uneasiness on these Points may be Removed by the Reflection that Nothing True and Good can be Destroyed by the Realization of Truth, but will only be Freed from the Alloy of Falsehood.
6. Our Life has Reached the Extreme Limit of Misery and Cannot be Improved by any Systems of Organization–All our Life and all our Institutions are Quite Meaningless–Are we Doing what God Wills of us by Preserving our Privileges and Duties to Government?–We are put in this Position not Because the World is so Made and it is Inevitable, but Because we Wish it to be so, Because it is to the Advantage of Some of us–Our Conscience is in Opposition to our Position and all our Conduct, and the Way Out of the Contradiction is to be Found in the Recognition of the Christian Truth: Do Not unto Others what you Would Not they should Do unto You–As our Duties to Self Must be Subordinated to our Duties to Others, so Must our Duties to Others be Subordinated to our Duties to God– The Only Way Out of our Position Lies, if not in Renouncing our Position and our Privileges, at Least in Recognizing our Sin and not Justifying it nor Disguising it–The Only Object of Life is to Learn the Truth and to Act on it–Acceptance of the Position and of State Action Deprives Life of all Object–It is God’s Will that we should Serve Him in our Life, that is, that we should Bring About the Greatest Unity of all that has Life, a Unity only Possible in Truth.
I was finishing this book, which I had been working at for two years, when I happened on the 9th of September to be traveling by rail through the governments of Toula and Riazan, where the peasants were starving last year and where the famine is even more severe now. At one of the railway stations my train passed an extra train which was taking a troop of soldiers under the conduct of the governor of the province, together with muskets, cartridges, and rods, to flog and murder these same famishing peasants.
The punishment of flogging by way of carrying the decrees of the authorities into effect has been more and more frequently adopted of late in Russia, in spite of the fact that corporal punishment was abolished by law thirty years ago.
I had heard of this, I had even read in the newspapers of the fearful floggings which had been inflicted in Tchernigov, Tambov, Saratov, Astrakhan, and Orel, and of those of which the governor of Nijni-Novgorod, General Baranov, had boasted. But I had never before happened to see men in the process of carrying out these punishments.
And here I saw the spectacle of good Russians full of the Christian spirit traveling with guns and rods to torture and kill their starving brethren. The reason for their expedition was as follows:
On one of the estates of a rich landowner the peasants had common rights on the forest, and having always enjoyed these rights, regarded the forest as their own, or at least as theirs in common with the owner. The landowner wished to keep the forest entirely to himself and began to fell the trees. The peasants lodged a complaint. The judges in the first instance gave an unjust decision (I say unjust on the authority of the lawyer and governor, who ought to understand the matter), and decided the case in favor of the landowner. All the later decisions, even that of the senate, though they could see that the matter had been unjustly decided, confirmed the judgment and adjudged the forest to the landowner. He began to cut down the trees, but the peasants, unable to believe that such obvious injustice could be done them by the higher authorities, did not submit to the decision and drove away the men sent to cut down the trees, declaring that the forest belonged to them and they would go to the Tzar before they would let them cut it down.
The matter was referred to Petersburg, and the order was transmitted to the governor to carry the decision of the court into effect. The governor asked for a troop of soldiers. And here were the soldiers with bayonets and cartridges, and moreover, a supply of rods, expressly prepared for the purpose and heaped up in one of the trucks, going to carry the decision of the higher authorities into effect.
The decisions of the higher authorities are carried into effect by means of murder or torture, or threats of one or the other, according to whether they offer resistance or not.
In the first case if the peasants offer resistance the practice is in Russia, and it is the same everywhere where a state organization and private property exist, as follows. The governor delivers an address in which he demands submission. The excited crowd, generally deluded by their leaders, don’t understand a word of what the representative of authority is saying in the pompous official language, and their excitement continues. Then the governor announces that if they do not submit and disperse, he will be obliged to have recourse to force. If the crowd does not disperse even on this, the governor gives the order to fire over the heads of the crowd. If the crowd does not even then disperse, the governor gives the order to fire straight into the crowd; the soldiers fire and the killed and wounded fall about the street. Then the crowd usually runs away in all directions, and the troops at the governor’s command take those who are supposed to be the ringleaders and lead them off under escort. Then they pick up the dying, the wounded, and the dead, covered with blood, sometimes women and children among them. The dead they bury and the wounded they carry to the hospital. Those whom they regard as the ringleaders they take to the town hall and have them tried by a special court-martial. And if they have had recourse to violence on their side, they are condemned to be hanged. And then the gallows is erected. And they solemnly strangle a few defenseless creatures.
This is what has often been done in Russia, and is and must always be done where the social order is based on force.
But in the second case, when the peasants do submit, something quite special, peculiar to Russia, takes place. The governor arrives on the scene of action and delivers an harangue to the people, reproaching them for their insubordination, and either stations troops in the houses of the villages, where sometimes for a whole month the soldiers drain the resources of the peasants, or contenting himself with threats, he mercifully takes leave of the people, or what is the most frequent course, he announces that the ringleaders must be punished, and quite arbitrarily without any trial selects a certain number of men, regarded as ringleaders, and commands them to be flogged in his presence.
In order to give an idea of how such things are done I will describe a proceeding of the kind which took place in Orel, and received the full approval of the highest authorities.
This is what took place in Orel. Just as here in the Toula province, a landlord wanted to appropriate the property of the peasants and just in the same way the peasants opposed it. The matter in dispute was a fall of water, which irrigated the peasants’ fields, and which the landowner wanted to cut off and divert to turn his mill. The peasants rebelled against this being done. The land owner laid a complaint before the district commander, who illegally (as was recognized later even by a legal decision) decided the matter in favor of the landowner, and allowed him to divert the water course. The landowner sent workmen to dig the conduit by which the water was to be let off to turn the mill. The peasants were indignant at this unjust decision, and sent their women to prevent the landowner’s men from digging this conduit. The women went to the dykes, overturned the carts, and drove away the men. The landowner made a complaint against the women for thus taking the law into their own hands. The district commander made out an order that from every house throughout the village one woman was to be taken and put in prison. The order was not easily executed. For in every household there were several women, and it was impossible to know which one was to be arrested. Consequently the police did not carry out the order. The landowner complained to the governor of the neglect on the part of the police, and the latter, without examining into the affair, gave the chief official of the police strict orders to carry out the instructions of the district commander without delay. The police official, in obedience to his superior, went to the village and with the insolence peculiar to Russian officials ordered his policemen to take one woman out of each house. But since there were more than one woman in each house, and there was no knowing which one was sentenced to imprisonment, disputes and opposition arose. In spite of these disputes and opposition, however, the officer of police gave orders that some woman, whichever came first, should be taken from each household and led away to prison. The peasants began to defend their wives and mothers, would not let them go, and beat the police and their officer. This was a fresh and terrible crime: resistance was offered to the authorities. A report of this new offense was sent to the town. And so this governor– precisely as the governor of Toula was doing on that day–with a battalion of soldiers with guns and rods, hastily brought together by means of telegraphs and telephones and railways, proceeded by a special train to the scene of action, with a learned doctor whose duty it was to insure the flogging being of an hygienic character. Herzen’s prophecy of the modern Ghenghis Khan with his telegrams is completely realized by this governor.
Before the town hall of the district were the soldiery, a battalion of police with their revolvers slung round them with red cords, the persons of most importance among the peasants, and the culprits. A crowd of one thousand or more people were standing round. The governor, on arriving, stepped out of his carriage, delivered a prepared harangue, and asked for the culprits and a bench. The latter demand was at first not understood. But a police constable whom the governor always took about with him, and who undertook to organize such executions–by no means exceptional in that province–explained that what was meant was a bench for flogging. A bench was brought as well as the rods, and then the executioners were summoned (the latter had been selected beforehand from some horsestealers of the same village, as the soldiers refused the office). When everything was ready, the governor ordered the first of the twelve culprits pointed out by the landowner as the most guilty to come forward. The first to come forward was the head of a family, a man of forty who had always stood up manfully for the rights of his class, and therefore was held in the greatest esteem by all the villagers. He was led to the bench and stripped, and then ordered to lie down.
The peasant attempted to supplicate for mercy, but seeing it was useless, he crossed himself and lay down. Two police constables hastened to hold him down. The learned doctor stood by, in readiness to give his aid and his medical science when they should be needed. The convicts spit into their hands, brandished the rods, and began to flog. It seemed, however, that the bench was too narrow, and it was difficult to keep the victim writhing in torture upon it. Then the governor ordered them to bring another bench and to put a plank across them. Soldiers, with their hands raised to their caps, and respectful murmurs of “Yes, your Excellency,” hasten obediently to carry out this order. Meanwhile the tortured man, half naked, pale and scowling, stood waiting, his eyes fixed on the ground and his teeth chattering. When another bench had been brought they again made him lie down, and the convicted thieves again began to flog him.
The victim’s back and thighs and legs, and even his sides, became more and more covered with scars and wheals, and at every blow there came the sound of the deep groans which he could no longer restrain. In the crowd standing round were heard the sobs of wives, mothers, children, the families of the tortured man and of all the others picked out for punishment.
The miserable governor, intoxicated with power, was counting the strokes on his fingers, and never left off smoking cigarettes, while several officious persons hastened on every opportunity to offer him a burning match to light them. When more than fifty strokes had been given, the peasant ceased to shriek and writhe, and the doctor, who had been educated in a government institution to serve his sovereign and his country with his scientific attainments, went up to the victim, felt his pulse, listened to his heart, and announced to the representative of authority that the man undergoing punishment had lost consciousness, and that, in accordance with the conclusions of science, to continue the punishment would endanger the victim’s life. But the miserable governor, now completely intoxicated by the sight of blood, gave orders that the punishment should go on, and the flogging was continued up to seventy strokes, the number which the governor had for some reason fixed upon as necessary. When the seventieth stroke had been reached, the governor said “Enough! Next one!” And the mutilated victim, his back covered with blood, was lifted up and carried away unconscious, and another was led up. The sobs and groans of the crowd grew louder. But the representative of the state continued the torture.
Thus they flogged each of them up to the twelfth, and each of them received seventy strokes. They all implored mercy, shrieked and groaned. The sobs and cries of the crowd of women grew louder and more heart-rending, and the men’s faces grew darker and darker. But they were surrounded by troops, and the torture did not cease till it had reached the limit which had been fixed by the caprice of the miserable half-drunken and insane creature they called the governor.
The officials, and officers, and soldiers not only assisted in it, but were even partly responsible for the affair, since by their presence they prevented any interference on the part of the crowd.
When I inquired of one of the governors why they made use of this kind of torture when people had already submitted and soldiers were stationed in the village, he replied with the important air of a man who thoroughly understands all the subtleties of statecraft, that if the peasants were not thoroughly subdued by flogging, they would begin offering opposition to the decisions of authorities again. When some of them had been thoroughly tortured, the authority of the state would be secured forever among them.
And so that was why the Governor of Toula was going in his turn with his subordinate officials, officers, and soldiers to carry out a similar measure. By precisely the same means, i. e., by murder and torture, obedience to the decision of the higher authorities was to be secured. And this decision was to enable a young landowner, who had an income of one hundred thousand, to gain three thousand rubles more by stealing a forest from a whole community of cold and famished peasants, to spend it, in two or three weeks in the saloons of Moscow, Petersburg, or Paris. That was what those people whom I met were going to do.
After my thoughts had for two years been turned in the same direction, fate seemed expressly to have brought me face to face for the first time in my life with a fact which showed me absolutely unmistakably in practice what had long been clear to me in theory, that the organization of ur society rests, not as people interested in maintaining the present order of things like to imagine, on certain principles of jurisprudence, but on simple brute force, on the murder and torture of men.
People who own great estates or fortunes, or who receive great revenues drawn from the class who are in want even of necessities, the working class, as well as all those who like merchants, doctors, artists, clerks, learned professors, coachmen, cooks, writers, valets, and barristers, make their living about these rich people, like to believe that the privileges they enjoy are not the result of force, but of absolutely free and just interchange of services, and that their advantages, far from being gained by such punishments and murders as took place in Orel and several parts of Russia this year, and are always taking place all over Europe and America, have no kind of connection with these acts of violence. They like to believe that their privileges exist apart and are the result of free contract among people; and that the violent cruelties perpetrated on the people also exist apart and are the result of some general judicial, political, or economical laws. They try not to see that they all enjoy their privileges as a result of the same fact which forces the peasants who have tended the forest, and who are in the direct need of it for fuel, to give it up to a rich landowner who has taken no part in caring for its growth and has no need of it whatever–the fact, that is, that if they don’t give it up they will be flogged or killed.
And yet if it is clear that it was only by means of menaces, blows, or murder, that the mill in Orel was enabled to yield a larger income, or that the forest which the peasants had planted became the property of a landowner, it should be equally clear that all the other exclusive rights enjoyed by the rich, by robbing the poor of their necessities, rest on the same basis of violence. If the peasants, who need land to maintain their families, may not cultivate the land about their houses, but one man, a Russian, English, Austrian, or any other great landowner, possesses land enough to maintain a thousand families, though he does not cultivate it himself, and if a merchant profiting by the misery of the cultivators, taking corn from them at a third of its value, can keep this corn in his granaries with perfect security while men are starving all around him, and sell it again for three times its value to the very cultivators he bought it from, it is evident that all this too comes from the same cause. And if one man may not buy of another a commodity from the other side of a certain fixed line, called the frontier, without paying certain duties on it to men who have taken no part whatever in its production–and if men are driven to sell their last cow to pay taxes which the government distributes among its functionaries, and spends on maintaining soldiers to murder these very taxpayers- it would appear self-evident that all this does not come about as the result of any abstract laws, but is based on just what was done in Orel, and which may be done in Toula, and is done periodically in one form or another throughout the whole world wherever there is a government, and where there are rich and poor.
Simply because torture and murder are not employed in every instance of oppression by force, those who enjoy the exclusive privileges of the ruling classes persuade themselves and others that their privileges are not based on torture and murder, but on some mysterious general causes, abstract laws, and so on. Yet one would think it was perfectly clear that if men, who consider it unjust (and all the working classes do consider it so nowadays), still pay the principal part of the produce of their labor away to the capitalist and the landowner, and pay taxes, though they know to what a bad use these taxes are put, they do so not from recognition of abstract laws of which they have never heard, but only because they know they will be beaten and killed if they don’t do so.
And if there is no need to imprison, beat, and kill men every time the landlord collects his rents, every time those who are in want of bread have to pay a swindling merchant three times its value, every time the factory hand has to be content with a wage less than half of the profit made by the employer, and every time a poor man pays his last ruble in taxes, it is because so many men have been beaten and killed for trying to resist these demands, that the lesson has now been learnt very thoroughly.
Just as a trained tiger, who does not eat meat put under his nose, and jumps over a stick at the word of command, does not act thus because he likes it, but because he remembers the red-hot irons or the fast with which he was punished every time he did not obey; so men submitting to what is disadvantageous or even ruinous to them, and considered by them as unjust, act thus because they remember what they suffered for resisting it.
As for those who profit by the privileges gained by previous acts of violence, they often forget and like to forget how these privileges were obtained. But one need only recall the facts of history, not the history of the exploits of different dynasties of rulers, but real history, the history of the oppression of the majority by a small number of men, to see that all the advantages the rich have over the poor are based on nothing but flogging, imprisonment, and murder.
One need but reflect on the unceasing, persistent struggle of all to better their material position, which is the guiding motive of men of the present day, to be convinced that the advantages of the rich over the poor could never and can never be maintained by anything but force.
There may be cases of oppression, of violence, and of punishments, though they are rare, the aim of which is not to secure the privileges of the propertied classes. But one may confidently assert that in any society where, for every man living in ease, there are ten exhausted by labor, envious, covetous, and often suffering with their families from direct privation, all the privileges of the rich, all their luxuries and superfluities, are obtained and maintained only by tortures, imprisonment, and murder.
The train I met on the 9th of September going with soldiers, guns, cartridges, and rods, to confirm the rich landowner in the possession of a small forest which he had taken from the starving peasants, which they were in the direst need of, and he was in no need of at all, was a striking proof of how men are capable of doing deeds directly opposed to their principles and their conscience without perceiving it.
The special train consisted of one first-class carriage for the governor, the officials, and officers, and several luggage vans crammed full of soldiers. The latter, smart young fellows in their clean new uniforms, were standing about in groups or sitting swinging their legs in the wide open doorways of the luggage vans. Some were smoking, nudging each other, joking, grinning, and laughing, others were munching sunflower seeds and spitting out the husks with an air of dignity. Some of them ran along the platform to drink some water from a tub there, and when they met the officers they slackened their pace, made their stupid gesture of salutation, raising their hands to their heads with serious faces as though they were doing something of the greatest importance. They kept their eyes on them till they had passed by them, and then set off running still more merrily, stamping their heels on the platform, laughing and chattering after the manner of healthy, good-natured young fellows, traveling in lively company.
They were going to assist at the murder of their fathers or grandfathers just as if they were going on a party of pleasure, or at any rate on some quite ordinary business.
The same impression was produced by the well-dressed functionaries and officers who were scattered about the platform and in the first-class carriage. At a table covered with bottles was sitting the governor, who was responsible for the whole expedition, dressed in his half-military uniform and eating something while he chatted tranquilly about the weather with some acquaintances he had met, as though the business he was upon was of so simple and ordinary a character that it could not disturb his serenity and his interest in the change of weather.
At a little distance from the table sat the general of the police. He was not taking any refreshment, and had an impenetrable bored expression, as though he were weary of the formalities to be gone through. On all sides officers were bustling noisily about in their red uniforms trimmed with gold; one sat at a table finishing his bottle of beer, another stood at the buffet eating a cake, and brushing the crumbs off his uniform, threw down his money with a self-confident air; another was sauntering before the carriages of our train, staring at the faces of the women.
All these men who were going to murder or to torture the famishing and defenseless creatures who provide them their sustenance had the air of men who knew very well that they were doing their duty, and some were even proud, were “glorying” in what they were doing.
What is the meaning of it?
All these people are within half an hour of reaching the place where, in order to provide a wealthy young man with three thousand rubles stolen from a whole community of famishing peasants, they may be forced to commit the most horrible acts one can conceive, to murder or torture, as was done in Orel, innocent beings, their brothers. And they see the place and time approaching with untroubled serenity.
To say that all these government officials, officers, and soldiers do not know what is before them is impossible, for they are prepared for it. The governor must have given directions about the rods, the officials must have sent an order for them, purchased them, and entered the item in their accounts. The military officers have given and received orders about cartridges. They all know that they are going to torture, perhaps to kill, their famishing fellow-creatures, and that they must set to work within an hour.
To say, as is usually said, and as they would themselves repeat, that they are acting from conviction of the necessity for supporting the state organization, would be a mistake. For in the first place, these men have probably never even thought about state organization and the necessity of it; in the second place, they cannot possibly be convinced that the act in which they are taking part will tend to support rather than to ruin the state; and thirdly, in reality the majority, if not all, of these men, far from ever sacrificing their own pleasure or tranquillity to support the state, never let slip an opportunity of profiting at the expense of the state in every way they can increase their own pleasure and ease. So that they are not acting thus for the sake of the abstract principle of the state.
What is the meaning of it?
Yet I know all these men. If I don’t know all of them personally, I know their characters pretty nearly, their past, and their way of thinking. They certainly all have mothers, some of them wives and children. They are certainly for the most part good, kind, even tender-hearted fellows, who hate every sort of cruelty, not to speak of murder; many of them would not kill or hurt an animal. Moreover, they are all professed Christians and regard all violence directed against the defenseless as base and disgraceful.
Certainly not one of them would be capable in everyday life, for his own personal profit, of doing a hundredth part of what the Governor of Orel did. Every one of them would be insulted at the supposition that he was capable of doing anything of the kind in private life.
And yet they are within half an hour of reaching the place where they may be reduced to the inevitable necessity of committing this crime.
What is the meaning of it?
But it is not only these men who are going by train prepared for murder and torture. How could the men who began the whole business, the landowner, the commissioner, the judges, and those who gave the order and are responsible for it, the ministers, the Tzar, who are also good men, professed Christians, how could they elaborate such a plan and assent to it, knowing its consequences? The spectators even, who took no part in the affair, how could they, who are indignant at the sight of any cruelty in private life, even the overtaxing of a horse, allow such a horrible deed to be perpetrated? How was it they did not rise in indignation and bar the roads, shouting, “No; flog and kill starving men because they won’t let their last possession be stolen from them without resistance, that we won’t allow!” But far from anyone doing this, the majority, even of those who were the cause of the affair, such as the commissioner, the landowner, the judge, and those who took part in it and arranged it, as the governor, the ministers, and the Tzar, are perfectly tranquil and do not even feel a prick of conscience. And apparently all the men who are going to carry out this crime are equally undisturbed.
The spectators, who one would suppose could have no personal interest in the affair, looked rather with sympathy than with disapproval at all these people preparing to carry out this infamous action. In the same compartment with me was a wood merchant, who had risen from a peasant. He openly expressed aloud his sympathy with such punishments. “They can’t disobey the authorities,” he said; “that’s what the authorities are for. Let them have a lesson; send their fleas flying! They’ll give over making commotions, I warrant you. That’s what they want.”
What is the meaning of it?
It is not possible to say that all these people who have provoked or aided or allowed this deed are such worthless creatures that, knowing all the infamy of what they are doing, they do it against their principles, some for pay and for profit, others through fear of punishment. All of them in certain circumstances know how to stand up for their principles. Not one of these officials would steal a purse, read another man’s letter, or put up with an affront without demanding satisfaction. Not one of these officers would consent to cheat at cards, would refuse to pay a debt of honor, would betray a comrade, run away on the field of battle, or desert the flag. Not one of these soldiers would spit out the holy sacrament or eat meat on Good Friday. All these men are ready to face any kind of privation, suffering, or danger rather than consent to do what they regard as wrong. They have therefore the strength to resist doing what is against their principles.
It is even less possible to assert that all these men are such brutes that it is natural and not distasteful to them to do such deeds. One need only talk to these people a little to see that all of them, the landowner even, and the judge, and the minister and the Tzar and the government, the officers and the soldiers, not only disapprove of such things in the depth of their soul, but suffer from the consciousness of their participation in them when they recollect what they imply. But they try not to think about it.
One need only talk to any of these who are taking part in the affair from the landowner to the lowest policeman or soldier to see that in the depth of their soul they all know it is a wicked thing, that it would be better to have nothing to do with it, and are suffering from the knowledge.
A lady of liberal views, who was traveling in the same train with us, seeing the governor and the officers in the first-class saloon and learning the object of the expedition, began, intentionally raising her voice so that they should hear, to abuse the existing order of things and to cry shame on men who would take part in such proceedings. Everyone felt awkward, none knew where to look, but no one contradicted her. They tried to look as though such remarks were not worth answering. But one could see by their faces and their averted eyes that they were ashamed. I noticed the same thing in the soldiers. They too knew that what they were sent to do was a shameful thing, but they did not want to think about what was before them.
When the wood merchant, as I suspect insincerely only to show that he was a man of education, began to speak of the necessity of such measures, the soldiers who heard him all turned away from him, scowling and pretending not to hear.
All the men who, like the landowner, the commissioner, the minister, and the Tzar, were responsible for the perpetration of this act, as well as those who were now going to execute it, and even those who were mere spectators of it, knew that it was a wickedness, and were ashamed of taking any share in it, and even of being present at it.
Then why did they do it, or allow it to be done?
Ask them the question. And the landowner who started the affair, and the judge who pronounced a clearly unjust even though formally legal decision, and those who commanded the execution of the decision, and those who, like the policemen, soldiers, and peasants, will execute the deed with their own hands, flogging and killing their brothers, all who have devised, abetted, decreed, executed, or allowed such crimes, will make substantially the same reply.
The authorities, those who have started, devised, and decreed the matter, will say that such acts are necessary for the maintenance of the existing order; the maintenance of the existing order is necessary for the welfare of the country and of humanity, for the possibility of social existence and human progress.
Men of the poorer class, peasants and soldiers, who will have to execute the deed of violence with their own hands, say that they do so because it is the command of their superior authority, and the superior authority knows what he is about. That those are in authority who ought to be in authority, and that they know what they are doing appears to them a truth of which there can be no doubt. If they could admit the possibility of mistake or error, it would only be in functionaries of a lower grade; the highest authority on which all the rest depends seems to them immaculate beyond suspicion.
Though expressing the motives of their conduct differently, both those in command and their subordinates are agreed in saying that they act thus because the existing order is the order which must and ought to exist at the present time, and that therefore to support it is the sacred duty of every man.
On this acceptance of the necessity and therefore immutability of the existing order, all who take part in acts of violence on the part of government base the argument always advanced in their justification. “Since the existing order is immutable,” they say, “the refusal of a single individual to perform the duties laid upon him will effect no change in things, and will only mean that some other man will be put in his place who may do the work worse, that is to say, more cruelly, to the still greater injury of the victims of the act of violence.”
This conviction that the existing order is the necessary and therefore immutable order, which it is a sacred duty for every man to support, enables good men, of high principles in private life, to take part with conscience more or less untroubled in crimes such as that perpetrated in Orel, and that which the men in the Toula train were going to perpetrate.
But what is this conviction based on? It is easy to understand that the landowner prefers to believe that the existing order is inevitable and immutable, because this existing order secures him an income from his hundreds and thousands of acres, by means of which he can lead his habitual indolent and luxurious life.
It is easy to understand that the judge readily believes in the necessity of an order of things through which he receives a wage fifty times as great as the most industrious laborer can earn, and the same applies to all the higher officials. It is only under the existing RÉGIME that as governor, prosecutor, senator, members of the various councils, they can receive their several thousands of rubles a year, without which they and their families would at once sink into ruin, since if it were not for the position they occupy they would never by their own abilities, industry, or acquirements get a thousandth part of their salaries. The minister, the Tzar, and all the higher authorities are in the same position. The only distinction is that the higher and the more exceptional their position, the more necessary it is for them to believe that the existing order is the only possible order of things. For without it they would not only be unable to gain an equal position, but would be found to fall lower than all other people. A man who has of his own free will entered the police force at a wage of ten rubles, which he could easily earn in any other position, is hardly dependent on the preservation of the existing RÉGIME, and so he may not believe in its immutability. But a king or an emperor, who receives millions for his post, and knows that there are thousands of people round him who would like to dethrone him and take his place, who knows that he will never receive such a revenue or so much honor in any other position, who knows, in most cases through his more or less despotic rule, that if he were dethroned he would have to answer for all his abuse of power–he cannot but believe in the necessity and even sacredness of the existing order. The higher and the more profitable a man’s position, the more unstable it becomes, and the more terrible and dangerous a fall from it for him, the more firmly the man believes in the existing order, and therefore with the more ease of conscience can such a man perpetrate cruel and wicked acts, as though they were not in his own interest, but for the maintenance of that order.
This is the case with all men in authority, who occupy positions more profitable than they could occupy except for the present RÉGIME, from the lowest police officer to the Tzar. All of them are more or less convinced that the existing order is immutable, because–the chief consideration–it is to their advantage. But the peasants, the soldiers, who are at the bottom of the social scale, who have no kind of advantage from the existing order, who are in the very lowest position of subjection and humiliation, what forces them to believe that the existing order in which they are in their humble and disadvantageous position is the order which ought to exist, and which they ought to support even at the cost of evil actions contrary to their conscience?
What forces these men to the false reasoning that the existing order is unchanging, and that therefore they ought to support it, when it is so obvious, on the contrary, that it is only unchanging because they themselves support it?
What forces these peasants, taken only yesterday from the plow and dressed in ugly and unseemly costumes with blue collars and gilt buttons, to go with guns and sabers and murder their famishing fathers and brothers? They gain no kind of advantage and can be in no fear of losing the position they occupy, because it is worse than that from which they have been taken.
The persons in authority of the higher orders–landowners, merchants, judges, senators, governors, ministers, tzars, and officers–take part in such doings because the existing order is to their advantage. In other respects they are often good and kind-hearted men, and they are more able to take part in such doings because their share in them is limited to suggestions, decisions, and orders. These persons in authority never do themselves what they suggest, decide, or command to be done. For the most part they do not even see how all the atrocious deeds they have suggested and authorized are carried out. But the unfortunate men of the lower orders, who gain no kind of advantage from the existing RÉGIME, but, on the contrary, are treated with the utmost contempt, support it even by dragging people with their own hands from their families, handcuffing them, throwing them in prison, guarding them, shooting them.
Why do they do it? What forces them to believe that the existing order is unchanging and they must support it?
All violence rests, we know, on those who do the beating, the handcuffing, the imprisoning, and the killing with their own hands. If there were no soldiers or armed policemen, ready to kill or outrage anyone as they are ordered, not one of those people who sign sentences of death, imprisonment, or galley- slavery for life would make up his mind to hang, imprison, or torture a thousandth part of those whom, quietly sitting in his study, he now orders to be tortured in all kinds of ways, simply because he does not see it nor do it himself, but only gets it done at a distance by these servile tools.
All the acts of injustice and cruelty which are committed in the ordinary course of daily life have only become habitual because there are these men always ready to carry out such acts of injustice and cruelty. If it were not for them, far from anyone using violence against the immense masses who are now ill-treated, those who now command their punishment would not venture to sentence them, would not even dare to dream of the sentences they decree with such easy confidence at present. And if it were not for these men, ready to kill or torture anyone at their commander’s will, no one would dare to claim, as all the idle landowners claim with such assurance, that a piece of land, surrounded by peasants, who are in wretchedness from want of land, is the property of a man who does not cultivate it, or that stores of corn taken by swindling from the peasants ought to remain untouched in the midst of a population dying of hunger because the merchants must make their profit. If it were not for these servile instruments at the disposal of the authorities, it could never have entered the head of the landowner to rob the peasants of the forest they had tended, nor of the officials to think they are entitled to their salaries, taken from the famishing people, the price of their oppression; least of all could anyone dream of killing or exiling men for exposing falsehood and telling the truth. All this can only be done because the authorities are confidently assured that they have always these servile tools at hand, ready to carry all their demands into effect by means of torture and murder.
All the deeds of violence of tyrants from Napoleon to the lowest commander of a company who fires upon a crowd, can only be explained by the intoxicating effect of their absolute power over these slaves. All force, therefore, rests on these men, who carry out the deeds of violence with their own hands, the men who serve in the police or the army, especially the army, for the police only venture to do their work because the army is at their back.
What, then, has brought these masses of honest men, on whom the whole thing depends, who gain nothing by it, and who have to do these atrocious deeds with their own hands, what has brought them to accept the amazing delusion that the existing order, unprofitable, ruinous, and fatal as it is for them, is the order which ought to exist?
Who has led them into this amazing delusion?
They can never have persuaded themselves that they ought to do what is against their conscience, and also the source of misery and ruin for themselves, and all their class, who make up nine- tenths of the population.
“How can you kill people, when it is written in God’s commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill’?” I have often inquired of different soldiers. And I always drove them to embarrassment and confusion by reminding them of what they did not want to think about. They knew they were bound by the law of God, “Thou shalt not kill,” and knew too that they were bound by their duty as soldiers, but had never reflected on the contradiction between these duties. The drift of the timid answers I received to this question was always approximately this: that killing in war and executing criminals by command of the government are not included in the general prohibition of murder. But when I said this distinction was not made in the law of God, and reminded them of the Christian duty of fraternity, forgiveness of injuries, and love, which could not be reconciled with murder, the peasants usually agreed, but in their turn began to ask me questions. “How does it happen,” they inquired, “that the government [which according to their ideas cannot do wrong] sends the army to war and orders criminals to be executed.” When I answered that the government does wrong in giving such orders, the peasants fell into still greater confusion, and either broke off the conversation or else got angry with me.
“They must have found a law for it. The archbishops know as much about it as we do, I should hope,” a Russian soldier once observed to me. And in saying this the soldier obviously set his mind at rest, in the full conviction that his spiritual guides had found a law which authorized his ancestors, and the tzars and their descendants, and millions of men, to serve as he was doing himself, and that the question I had put him was a kind of hoax or conundrum on my part.
Everyone in our Christian society knows, either by tradition or by revelation or by the voice of conscience, that murder is one of the most fearful crimes a man can commit, as the Gospel tells us, and that the sin of murder cannot be limited to certain persons, that is, murder cannot be a sin for some and not a sin for others. Everyone knows that if murder is a sin, it is always a sin, whoever are the victims murdered, just like the sin of adultery, theft, or any other. At the same time from their childhood up men see that murder is not only permitted, but even sanctioned by the blessing of those whom they are accustomed to regard as their divinely appointed spiritual guides, and see their secular leaders with calm assurance organizing murder, proud to wear murderous arms, and demanding of others in the name of the laws of the country, and even of God, that they should take part in murder. Men see that there is some inconsistency here, but not being able to analyze it, involuntarily assume that this apparent inconsistency is only the result of their ignorance. The very grossness and obviousness of the inconsistency confirms them in this conviction.
They cannot imagine that the leaders of civilization, the educated classes, could so confidently preach two such opposed principles as the law of Christ and murder. A simple uncorrupted youth cannot imagine that those who stand so high in his opinion, whom he regards as holy or learned men, could for any object whatever mislead him so shamefully. But this is just what has always been and always is done to him. It is done (1) by instilling, by example and direct instruction, from childhood up, into the working people, who have not time to study moral and religious questions for themselves, the idea that torture and murder are compatible with Christianity, and that for certain objects of state, torture and murder are not only admissible, but ought to be employed; and (2) by instilling into certain of the people, who have either voluntarily enlisted or been taken by compulsion into the army, the idea that the perpetration of murder and torture with their own hands is a sacred duty, and even a glorious exploit, worthy of praise and reward.
The general delusion is diffused among all people by means of the catechisms or books, which nowadays replace them, in use for the compulsory education of children. In them it is stated that violence, that is, imprisonment and execution, as well as murder in civil or foreign war in the defense and maintenance of the existing state organization (whatever that may be, absolute or limited monarchy, convention, consulate, empire of this or that Napoleon or Boulanger, constitutional monarchy, commune or republic) is absolutely lawful and not opposed to morality and Christianity.
This is stated in all catechisms or books used in schools. And men are so thoroughly persuaded of it that they grow up, live and die in that conviction without once entertaining a doubt about it.
This is one form of deception, the general deception instilled into everyone, but there is another special deception practiced upon the soldiers or police who are picked out by one means or another to do the torturing and murdering necessary to defend and maintain the existing RÉGIME.
In all military instructions there appears in one form or another what is expressed in the Russian military code in the following words:
ARTICLE 87. To carry out exactly and without comment the orders of a superior officer means: to carry out an order received from a superior officer exactly without considering whether it is good or not, and whether it is possible to carry it out. The superior officer is responsible for the consequences of the order he gives.
ARTICLE 88. The subordinate ought never to refuse to carry out the orders of a superior officer except when he sees clearly that in carrying out his superior officer’s command, he breaks [the law of God, one involuntarily expects; not at all] HIS OATH OF FIDELITY AND ALLEGIANCE TO THE TZAR.
It is here said that the man who is a soldier can and ought to carry out all the orders of his superior without exception. And as these orders for the most part involve murder, it follows that he ought to break all the laws of God and man. The one law he may not break is that of fidelity and allegiance to the man who happens at a given moment to be in power.
Precisely the same thing is said in other words in all codes of military instruction. And it could not be otherwise, since the whole power of the army and the state is based in reality on this delusive emancipation of men from their duty to God and their conscience, and the substitution of duty to their superior officer for all other duties.
This, then, is the foundation of the belief of the lower classes that the existing RÉGIME so fatal for them is the RÉGIME which ought to exist, and which they ought therefore to support even by torture and murder.
This belief is founded on a conscious deception practiced on them by the higher classes.
And it cannot be otherwise. To compel the lower classes, which are more numerous, to oppress and ill treat themselves, even at the cost of actions opposed to their conscience, it was necessary to deceive them. And it has been done accordingly.
Not many days ago I saw once more this shameless deception being openly practiced, and once more I marveled that it could be practiced so easily and impudently.
At the beginning of November, as I was passing through Toula, I saw once again at the gates of the Zemsky Courthouse the crowd of peasants I had so often seen before, and heard the drunken shouts of the men mingled with the pitiful lamentations of their wives and mothers. It was the recruiting session.
I can never pass by the spectacle. It attracts me by a kind of fascination of repulsion. I again went into the crowd, took my stand among the peasants, looked about and asked questions. And once again I was amazed that this hideous crime can be perpetrated so easily in broad daylight and in the midst of a large town.
As the custom is every year, in all the villages and hamlets of the one hundred millions of Russians, on the 1st of November, the village elders had assembled the young men inscribed on the lists, often their own sons among them, and had brought them to the town.
On the road the recruits have been drinking without intermission, unchecked by the elders, who feel that going on such an insane errand, abandoning their wives and mothers and renouncing all they hold sacred in order to become a senseless instrument of destruction, would be too agonizing if they were not stupefied with spirits.
And so they have come, drinking, swearing, singing, fighting and scuffling with one another. They have spent the night in taverns. In the morning they have slept off their drunkenness and have gathered together at the Zemsky Court-house.
Some of them, in new sheepskin pelisses, with knitted scarves round their necks, their eyes swollen from drinking, are shouting wildly to one another to show their courage; others, crowded near the door, are quietly and mournfully waiting their turn, between their weeping wives and mothers (I had chanced upon the day of the actual enrolling, that is, the examination of those whose names are on the list); others meantime were crowding into the hall of the recruiting office.
Inside the office the work was going on rapidly. The door is opened and the guard calls Piotr Sidorov. Piotr Sidorov starts, crosses himself, and goes into a little room with a glass door, where the conscripts undress. A comrade of Piotr Sidorov’s, who has just been passed for service, and come naked out of the revision office, is dressing hurriedly, his teeth chattering. Sidorov has already heard the news, and can see from his face too that he has been taken. He wants to ask him questions, but they hurry him and tell him to make haste and undress. He throws off his pelisse, slips his boots off his feet, takes off his waistcoat and draws his shirt over his head, and naked, trembling all over, and exhaling an odor of tobacco, spirits, and sweat, goes into the revision office, not knowing what to do with his brawny bare arms.
Directly facing him in the revision office hangs in a great gold frame a portrait of the Tzar in full uniform with decorations, and in the corner a little portrait of Christ in a shirt and a crown of thorns. In the middle of the room is a table covered with green cloth, on which there are papers lying and a three-cornered ornament surmounted by an eagle the zertzal. Round the table are sitting the revising officers, looking collected and indifferent. One is smoking a cigarette; another is looking through some papers. Directly Sidorov comes in, a guard goes up to him, places him under the measuring frame, raising him under his chin, and straightening his legs.
The man with the cigarette–he is the doctor–comes up, and without looking at the recruit’s face, but somewhere beyond it, feels his body over with an air of disgust, measures him, tests him, tells the guard to open his mouth, tells him to breathe, to speak. Someone notes something down. At last without having once looked him in the face the doctor says, “Right. Next one!” and with a weary air sits down again at the table. The soldiers again hustle and hurry the lad. He somehow gets into his trousers, wraps his feet in rags, puts on his boots, looks for his scarf and cap, and bundles his pelisse under his arm. Then they lead him into the main hall, shutting him off apart from the rest by a bench, behind which all the conscripts who have been passed for service are waiting. Another village lad like himself, but from a distant province, now a soldier armed with a gun with a sharp- pointed bayonet at the end, keeps watch over him, ready to run him through the body if he should think of trying to escape.
Meantime the crowd of fathers, mothers, and wives, hustled by the police, are pressing round the doors to hear whose lad has been taken, whose is let off. One of the rejected comes out and announces that Piotr is taken, and at once a shrill cry is heard from Piotr’s young wife, for whom this word “taken” means separation for four or five years, the life of a soldier’s wife as a servant, often a prostitute.
But here comes a man along the street with flowing hair and in a peculiar dress, who gets out of his droskhy and goes into the Zemsky Court-house. The police clear a way for him through the crowd. It is the “reverend father” come to administer the oath. And this “father,” who has been persuaded that he is specially and exclusively devoted to the service of Christ, and who, for the most part, does not himself see the deception in which he lives, goes into the hall where the conscripts are waiting. He throws round him a kind of curtain of brocade, pulls his long hair out over it, opens the very Gospel in which swearing is forbidden, takes the cross, the very cross on which Christ was crucified because he would not do what this false servant of his is telling men to do, and puts them on the lectern. And all these unhappy, defenseless, and deluded lads repeat after him the lie, which he utters with the assurance of familiarity.
He reads and they repeat after him:
“I promise and swear by Almighty God upon his holy Gospel,” etc., “to defend,” etc., and that is, to murder anyone I am told to, and to do everything I am told by men I know nothing of, and who care nothing for me except as an instrument for perpetrating the crimes by which they are kept in their position of power, and my brothers in their condition of misery. All the conscripts repeat these ferocious words without thinking. And then the so-called “father” goes away with a sense of having correctly and conscientiously done his duty. And all these poor deluded lads believe that these nonsensical and incomprehensible words which they have just uttered set them free for the whole time of their service from their duties as men, and lay upon them fresh and more binding duties as soldiers.
And this crime is perpetrated publicly and no one cries out to the deceiving and the deceived: “Think what you are doing; this is the basest, falsest lie, by which not bodies only, but souls too, are destroyed.”
No one does this. On the contrary, when all have been enrolled, and they are to be let out again, the military officer goes with a confident and majestic air into the hall where the drunken, cheated lads are shut up, and cries in a bold, military voice: “Your health, my lads! I congratulate you on ‘serving the Tzar!'” And they, poor fellows (someone has given them a hint beforehand), mutter awkwardly, their voices thick with drink, something to the effect that they are glad.
Meantime the crowd of fathers, mothers, and wives is standing at the doors waiting. The women keep their tearful eyes fixed on the doors. They open at last, and out come the conscripts, unsteady, but trying to put a good face on it. Here are Piotr and Vania and Makar trying not to look their dear ones in the face. Nothing is heard but the wailing of the wives and mothers. Some of the lads embrace them and weep with them, others make a show of courage, and others try to comfort them.
The wives and mothers, knowing that they will be left for three, four, or five years without their breadwinners, weep and rehearse their woes aloud. The fathers say little. They only utter a clucking sound with their tongues and sigh mournfully, knowing that they will see no more of the steady lads they have reared and trained to help them, that they will come back not the same quiet hard-working laborers, but for the most part conceited and demoralized, unfitted for their simple life.
And then all the crowd get into their sledges again and move away down the street to the taverns and pot-houses, and louder than ever sounds the medley of singing and sobbing, drunken shouts, and the wailing of the wives and mothers, the sounds of the accordeon and oaths. They all turn into the taverns, whose revenues go to the government, and the drinking bout begins, which stifles their sense of the wrong which is being done them.
For two or three weeks they go on living at home, and most of that time they are “jaunting,” that is, drinking.
On a fixed day they collect them, drive them together like a flock of sheep, and begin to train them in the military exercises and drill. Their teachers are fellows like themselves, only deceived and brutalized two or three years sooner. The means of instruction are: deception, stupefaction, blows, and vodka. And before a year has passed these good, intelligent, healthy-minded lads will be as brutal beings as their instructors.
“Come, now, suppose your father were arrested and tried to make his escape?” I asked a young soldier.
“I should run him through with my bayonet,” he answered with the foolish intonation peculiar to soldiers; “and if he made off, I ought to shoot him,” he added, obviously proud of knowing what he must do if his father were escaping.
And when a good-hearted lad has been brought to a state lower than that of a brute, he is just what is wanted by those who use him as an instrument of violence. He is ready; the man has been destroyed and a new instrument of violence has been created. And all this is done every year, every autumn, everywhere, through all Russia in broad daylight in the midst of large towns, where all may see it, and the deception is so clever, so skillful, that though all men know the infamy of it in their hearts, and see all its horrible results, they cannot throw it off and be free.
When one’s eyes are opened to this awful deception practiced upon us, one marvels that the teachers of the Christian religion and of morals, the instructors of youth, or even the good-hearted and intelligent parents who are to be found in every society, can teach any kind of morality in a society in which it is openly admitted (it is so admitted, under all governments and all churches) that murder and torture form an indispensable element in the life of all, and that there must always be special men trained to kill their fellows, and that any one of us may have to become such a trained assassin.
How can children, youths, and people generally be taught any kind of morality–not to speak of teaching in the spirit of Christianity–side by side with the doctrine that murder is necessary for the public weal, and therefore legitimate, and that there are men, of whom each of us may have to be one, whose duty is to murder and torture and commit all sorts of crimes at the will of those who are in possession of authority. If this is so, and one can and ought to murder and torture, there is not, and cannot be, any kind of moral law, but only the law that might is right. And this is just how it is. In reality that is the doctrine–justified to some by the theory of the struggle for existence–which reigns in our society.
And, indeed, what sort of ethical doctrine could admit the legitimacy of murder for any object whatever? It is as impossible as a theory of mathematics admitting that two is equal to three.
There may be a semblance of mathematics admitting that two is equal to three, but there can be no real science of mathematics. And there can only be a semblance of ethics in which murder in the shape of war and the execution of criminals is allowed, but no true ethics. The recognition of the life of every man as sacred is the first and only basis of all ethics.
The doctrine of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth has been abrogated by Christianity, because it is the justification of immorality, and a mere semblance of equity, and has no real meaning. Life is a value which has no weight nor size, and cannot be compared to any other, and so there is no sense in destroying a life for a life. Besides, every social law aims at the amelioration of man’s life. What way, then, can the annihilation of the life of some men ameliorate men’s life? Annihilation of life cannot be a means of the amelioration of life; it is a suicidal act.
To destroy another life for the sake of justice is as though a man, to repair the misfortune of losing one arm, should cut off the other arm for the sake of equity.
But putting aside the sin of deluding men into regarding the most awful crime as a duty, putting aside the revolting sin of using the name and authority of Christ to sanction what he most condemned, not to speak of the curse on those who cause these “little ones” to offend–how can people who cherish their own way of life, their progress, even from the point of view of their personal security, allow the formation in their midst of an overwhelming force as senseless, cruel, and destructive as every government is organized on the basis of an army? Even the most cruel band of brigands is not so much to be dreaded as such a government.
The power of every brigand chief is at least so far limited that the men of his band preserve at least some human liberty, and can refuse to commit acts opposed to their conscience. But, owing to the perfection to which the discipline of the army has been brought, there is no limit to check men who form part of a regularly organized government. There are no crimes so revolting that they would not readily be committed by men who form part of a government or army, at the will of anyone (such as Boulanger, Napoleon, or Pougachef) who may chance to be at their head.
Often when one sees conscription levies, military drills and maneuvers, police officers with loaded revolvers, and sentinels at their posts with bayonets on their rifles; when one hears for whole days at a time (as I hear it in Hamovniky where I live) the whistle of balls and the dull thud as they fall in the sand; when one sees in the midst of a town where any effort at violence in self-defense is forbidden, where the sale of powder and of chemicals, where furious driving and practicing as a doctor without a diploma, and so on, are not allowed; thousands of disciplined troops, trained to murder, and subject to one man’s will; one asks oneself how can people who prize their security quietly allow it, and put up with it? Apart from the immorality and evil effects of it, nothing can possibly be more unsafe. What are people thinking about? I don’t mean now Christians, ministers of religion, philanthropists, and moralists, but simply people who value their life, their security, and their comfort. This organization, we know, will work just as well in one man’s hands as another’s. To-day, let us assume, power is in the hands of a ruler who can be endured, but to-morrow it may be seized by a Biron, an Elizabeth, a Catherine, a Pougachef, a Napoleon I., or a Napoleon III.
And the man in authority, endurable to-day, may become a brute to- morrow, or may be succeeded by a mad or imbecile heir, like the King of Bavaria or our Paul I.
And not only the highest authorities, but all little satraps scattered over everywhere, like so many General Baranovs, governors, police officers even, and commanders of companies, can perpetrate the most awful crimes before there is time for them to be removed from office. And this is what is constantly happening.
One involuntarily asks how can men let it go on, not from higher considerations only, but from regard to their own safety?
The answer to this question is that it is not all people who do tolerate it (some–the greater proportion–deluded and submissive, have no choice and have to tolerate anything). It is tolerated by those who only under such an organization can occupy a position of profit. They tolerate it, because for them the risks of suffering from a foolish or cruel man being at the head of the government or the army are always less than the disadvantages to which they would be exposed by the destruction of the organization itself.
A judge, a commander of police, a governor, or an officer will keep his position just the same under Boulanger or the republic, under Pougachef or Catherine. He will lose his profitable position for certain, if the existing order of things which secured it to him is destroyed. And so all these people feel no uneasiness as to who is at the head of the organization, they will adapt themselves to anyone; they only dread the downfall of the organization itself, and that is the reason–though often an unconscious one–that they support it.
One often wonders why independent people, who are not forced to do so in any way, the so-called ÉLITE of society, should go into the army in Russia, England, Germany, Austria, and even France, and seek opportunities of becoming murderers. Why do even high- principled parents send their boys to military schools? Why do mothers buy their children toy helmets, guns, and swords as playthings? (The peasant’s children never play at soldiers, by the way). Why do good men and even women, who have certainly no interest in war, go into raptures over the various exploits of Skobeloff and others, and vie with one another in glorifying them? Why do men, who are not obliged to do so, and get no fee for it, devote, like the marshals of nobility in Russia, whole months of toil to a business physically disagreeable and morally painful– the enrolling of conscripts? Why do all kings and emperors wear the military uniform? Why do they all hold military reviews, why do they organize maneuvers, distribute rewards to the military, and raise monuments to generals and successful commanders? Why do rich men of independent position consider it an honor to perform a valet’s duties in attendance on crowned personages, flattering them and cringing to them and pretending to believe in their peculiar superiority? Why do men who have ceased to believe in the superstitions of the mediaeval Church, and who could not possibly believe in them seriously and consistently, pretend to believe in and give their support to the demoralizing and blasphemous institution of the church? Why is it that not only governments but private persons of the higher classes, try so jealously to maintain the ignorance of the people? Why do they fall with such fury on any effort at breaking down religious superstitions or really enlightening the people? Why do historians, novelists, and poets, who have no hope of gaining anything by their flatteries, make heroes of kings, emperors, and conquerors of past times? Why do men, who call themselves learned, dedicate whole lifetimes to making theories to prove that violence employed by authority against the people is not violence at all, but a special right? One often wonders why a fashionable lady or an artist, who, one would think, would take no interest in political or military questions, should always condemn strikes of working people, and defend war; and should always be found without hesitation opposed to the one, favorable to the other.
But one no longer wonders when one realizes that in the higher classes there is an unerring instinct of what tends to maintain and of what tends to destroy the organization by virtue of which they enjoy their privileges. The fashionable lady had certainly not reasoned out that if there were no capitalists and no army to defend them, her husband would have no fortune, and she could not have her entertainments and her ball-dresses. And the artist certainly does not argue that he needs the capitalists and the troops to defend them, so that they may buy his pictures. But instinct, replacing reason in this instance, guides them unerringly. And it is precisely this instinct which leads all men, with few exceptions, to support all the religious, political, and economic institutions which are to their advantage.
But is it possible that the higher classes support the existing order of things simply because it is to their advantage? Cannot they see that this order of things is essentially irrational, that it is no longer consistent with the stage of moral development attained by people, and with public opinion, and that it is fraught with perils? The governing classes, or at least the good, honest, and intelligent people of them, cannot but suffer from these fundamental inconsistencies, and see the dangers with which they are threatened. And is it possible that all the millions of the lower classes can feel easy in conscience when they commit such obviously evil deeds as torture and murder from fear of punishment? Indeed, it could not be so, neither the former nor the latter could fail to see the irrationality of their conduct, if the complexity of government organization did not obscure the unnatural senselessness of their actions.
So many instigate, assist, or sanction the commission of every one of these actions that no one who has a hand in them feels himself morally responsible for it.
It is the custom among assassins to oblige all the witnesses of a murder to strike the murdered victim, that the responsibility may be divided among as large a number of people as possible. The same principle in different forms is applied under the government organization in the perpetration of the crimes, without which no government organization could exist. Rulers always try to implicate as many citizens as possible in all the crimes committed in their support.
Of late this tendency has been expressed in a very obvious manner by the obligation of all citizens to take part in legal processes as jurors, in the army as soldiers, in the local government, or legislative assembly, as electors or members.
Just as in a wicker basket all the ends are so hidden away that it is hard to find them, in the state organization the responsibility for the crimes committed is so hidden away that men will commit the most atrocious acts without seeing their responsibility for them.
In ancient times tyrants got credit for the crimes they committed, but in our day the most atrocious infamies, inconceivable under the Neros, are perpetrated and no one gets blamed for them.
One set of people have suggested, another set have proposed, a third have reported, a fourth have decided, a fifth have confirmed, a sixth have given the order, and a seventh set of men have carried it out. They hang, they flog to death women, old men, and innocent people, as was done recently among us in Russia at the Yuzovsky factory, and is always being done everywhere in Europe and America in the struggle with the anarchists and all other rebels against the existing order; they shoot and hang men by hundreds and thousands, or massacre millions in war, or break men’s hearts in solitary confinement, and ruin their souls in the corruption of a soldier’s life, and no one is responsible.
At the bottom of the social scale soldiers, armed with guns, pistols, and sabers, injure and murder people, and compel men through these means to enter the army, and are absolutely convinced that the responsibility for the actions rests solely on the officers who command them.
At the top of the scale–the Tzars, presidents, ministers, and parliaments decree these tortures and murders and military conscription, and are fully convinced that since they are either placed in authority by the grace of God or by the society they govern, which demands such decrees from them, they cannot be held responsible. Between these two extremes are the intermediary personages who superintend the murders and other acts of violence, and are fully convinced that the responsibility is taken off their shoulders partly by their superiors who have given the order, partly by the fact that such orders are expected from them by all who are at the bottom of the scale.
The authority who gives the orders and the authority who executes them at the two extreme ends of the state organization, meet together like the two ends of a ring; they support and rest on one another and inclose all that lies within the ring.
Without the conviction that there is a person or persons who will take the whole responsibility of his acts, not one soldier would ever lift a hand to commit a murder or other deed of violence.
Without the conviction that it is expected by the whole people not a single king, emperor, president, or parliament would order murders or acts of violence.
Without the conviction that there are persons of a higher grade who will take the responsibility, and people of a lower grade who require such acts for their welfare, not one of the intermediate class would superintend such deeds.
The state is so organized that wherever a man is placed in the social scale, his irresponsibility is the same. The higher his grade the more he is under the influence of demands from below, and the less he is controlled by orders from above, and VICE VERSA.
All men, then, bound together by state organization, throw the responsibility of their acts on one another, the peasant soldier on the nobleman or merchant who is his officer, and the officer on the nobleman who has been appointed governor, the governor on the nobleman or son of an official who is minister, the minister on the member of the royal family who occupies the post of Tzar, and the Tzar again on all these officials, noblemen, merchants, and peasants. But that is not all. Besides the fact that men get rid of the sense of responsibility for their actions in this way, they lose their moral sense of responsibility also, by the fact that in forming themselves into a state organization they persuade themselves and each other so continually, and so indefatigably, that they are not all equal, but “as the stars apart,” that they come to believe it genuinely themselves. Thus some are persuaded that they are not simple people like everyone else, but special people who are to be specially honored. It is instilled into another set of men by every possible means that they are inferior to others, and therefore must submit without a murmur to every order given them by their superiors.
On this inequality, above all, on the elevation of some and the degradation of others, rests the capacity men have of being blind to the insanity of the existing order of life, and all the cruelty and criminality of the deception practiced by one set of men on another.
Those in whom the idea has been instilled that they are invested with a special supernatural grandeur and consequence, are so intoxicated with a sense of their own imaginary dignity that they cease to feel their responsibility for what they do.
While those, on the other hand, in whom the idea is fostered that they are inferior animals, bound to obey their superiors in everything, fall, through this perpetual humiliation, into a strange condition of stupefied servility, and in this stupefied state do not see the significance of their actions and lose all consciousness of responsibility for what they do.
The intermediate class, who obey the orders of their superiors on the one hand and regard themselves as superior beings on the other, are intoxicated by power and stupefied by servility at the same time and so lose the sense of their responsibility.
One need only glance during a review at the commander-in-chief, intoxicated with self-importance, followed by his retinue, all on magnificent and gayly appareled horses, in splendid uniforms and wearing decorations, and see how they ride to the harmonious and solemn strains of music before the ranks of soldiers, all presenting arms and petrified with servility. One need only glance at this spectacle to understand that at such moments, when they are in a state of the most complete intoxication, commander- in-chief, soldiers, and intermediate officers alike, would be capable of committing crimes of which they would never dream under other conditions.
The intoxication produced by such stimulants as parades, reviews, religious solemnities, and coronations, is, however, an acute and temporary condition; but there are other forms of chronic, permanent intoxication, to which those are liable who have any kind of authority, from that of the Tzar to that of the lowest police officer at the street corner, and also those who are in subjection to authority and in a state of stupefied servility. The latter, like all slaves, always find a justification for their own servility, in ascribing the greatest possible dignity and importance to those they serve.
It is principally through this false idea of inequality, and the intoxication of power and of servility resulting from it, that men associated in a state organization are enabled to commit acts opposed to their conscience without the least scruple or remorse. Under the influence of this intoxication, men imagine themselves no longer simply men as they are, but some special beings– noblemen, merchants, governors, judges, officers, tzars, ministers, or soldiers–no longer bound by ordinary human duties, but by other duties far more weighty–the peculiar duties of a nobleman, merchant, governor, judge, officer, tzar, minister, or soldier.
Thus the landowner, who claimed the forest, acted as he did only because he fancied himself not a simple man, having the same rights to life as the peasants living beside him and everyone else, but a great landowner, a member of the nobility, and under the influence of the intoxication of power he felt his dignity offended by the peasants’ claims. It was only through this feeling that, without considering the consequences that might follow, he sent in a claim to be reinstated in his pretended rights.
In the same way the judges, who wrongfully adjudged the forest to the proprietor, did so simply because they fancied themselves not simply men like everyone else, and so bound to be guided in everything only by what they consider right, but, under the intoxicating influence of power, imagined themselves the representatives of the justice which cannot err; while under the intoxicating influence of servility they imagined themselves bound to carry out to the letter the instructions inscribed in a certain book, the so-called law. In the same way all who take part in such an affair, from the highest representative of authority who signs his assent to the report, from the superintendent presiding at the recruiting sessions, and the priest who deludes the recruits, to the lowest soldier who is ready now to fire on his own brothers, imagine, in the intoxication of power or of servility, that they are some conventional characters. They do not face the question that is presented to them, whether or not they ought to take part in what their conscience judges an evil act, but fancy themselves various conventional personages–one as the Tzar, God’s anointed, an exceptional being, called to watch over the happiness of one hundred millions of men; another as the representative of nobility; another as a priest, who has received special grace by his ordination; another as a soldier, bound by his military oath to carry out all he is commanded without reflection.
Only under the intoxication of the power or the servility of their imagined positions could all these people act as they do.
Were not they all firmly convinced that their respective vocations of tzar, minister, governor, judge, nobleman, landowner, superintendent, officer, and soldier are something real and important, not one of them would even think without horror and aversion of taking part in what they do now.
The conventional positions, established hundreds of years, recognized for centuries and by everyone, distinguished by special names and dresses, and, moreover, confirmed by every kind of solemnity, have so penetrated into men’s minds through their senses, that, forgetting the ordinary conditions of life common to all, they look at themselves and everyone only from this conventional point of view, and are guided in their estimation of their own actions and those of others by this conventional standard.
Thus we see a man of perfect sanity and ripe age, simply because he is decked out with some fringe, or embroidered keys on his coat tails, or a colored ribbon only fit for some gayly dressed girl, and is told that he is a general, a chamberlain, a knight of the order of St. Andrew, or some similar nonsense, suddenly become self-important, proud, and even happy, or, on the contrary, grow melancholy and unhappy to the point of falling ill, because he has failed to obtain the expected decoration or title. Or what is still more striking, a young man, perfectly sane in every other matter, independent and beyond the fear of want, simply because he has been appointed judicial prosecutor or district commander, separates a poor widow from her little children, and shuts her up in prison, leaving her children uncared for, all because the unhappy woman carried on a secret trade in spirits, and so deprived the revenue of twenty-five rubles, and he does not feel the least pang of remorse. Or what is still more amazing; a man, otherwise sensible and good-hearted, simply because he is given a badge or a uniform to wear, and told that he is a guard or customs officer, is ready to fire on people, and neither he nor those around him regard him as to blame for it, but, on the contrary, would regard him as to blame if he did not fire. To say nothing of judges and juries who condemn men to death, and soldiers who kill men by thousands without the slightest scruple merely because it has been instilled into them that they are not simply men, but jurors, judges, generals, and soldiers.
This strange and abnormal condition of men under state organization is usually expressed in the following words: “As a man, I pity him; but as guard, judge, general, governor, tzar, or soldier, it is my duty to kill or torture him.” Just as though there were some positions conferred and recognized, which would exonerate us from the obligations laid on each of us by the fact of our common humanity.
So, for example, in the case before us, men are going to murder and torture the famishing, and they admit that in the dispute between the peasants and the landowner the peasants are right (all those in command said as much to me). They know that the peasants are wretched, poor, and hungry, and the landowner is rich and inspires no sympathy. Yet they are all going to kill the peasants to secure three thousand rubles for the landowner, only because at that moment they fancy themselves not men but governor, official, general of police, officer, and soldier, respectively, and consider themselves bound to obey, not the eternal demands of the conscience of man, but the casual, temporary demands of their positions as officers or soldiers.
Strange as it may seem, the sole explanation of this astonishing phenomenon is that they are in the condition of the hypnotized, who, they say, feel and act like the creatures they are commanded by the hypnotizer to represent. When, for instance, it is suggested to the hypnotized subject that he is lame, he begins to walk lame, that he is blind, and he cannot see, that he is a wild beast, and he begins to bite. This is the state, not only of those who were going on this expedition, but of all men who fulfill their state and social duties in preference to and in detriment of their human duties.
The essence of this state is that under the influence of one suggestion they lose the power of criticising their actions, and therefore do, without thinking, everything consistent with the suggestion to which they are led by example, precept, or insinuation.
The difference between those hypnotized by scientific men and those under the influence of the state hypnotism, is that an imaginary position is suggested to the former suddenly by one person in a very brief space of time, and so the hypnotized state appears to us in a striking and surprising form, while the imaginary position suggested by state influence is induced slowly, little by little, imperceptibly from childhood, sometimes during years, or even generations, and not in one person alone but in a whole society.
“But,” it will be said,” at all times, in all societies, the majority of persons–all the children, all the women absorbed in the bearing and rearing of the young, all the great mass of the laboring population, who are under the necessity of incessant and fatiguing physical labor, all those of weak character by nature, all those who are abnormally enfeebled intellectually by the effects of nicotine, alcohol, opium, or other intoxicants–are always in a condition of incapacity for independent thought, and are either in subjection to those who are on a higher intellectual level, or else under the influence of family or social traditions, of what is called public opinion, and there is nothing unnatural or incongruous in their subjection.”
And truly there is nothing unnatural in it, and the tendency of men of small intellectual power to follow the lead of those on a higher level of intelligence is a constant law, and it is owing to it that men can live in societies and on the same principles at all. The minority consciously adopt certain rational principles through their correspondence with reason, while the majority act on the same principles unconsciously because it is required by