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Chapter 27

"If I'd only the heart to throw up what's been set going...such a
lot of trouble wasted...I'd turn my back on the whole business,
sell up, go off like Nikolay Ivanovitch...to hear La Belle
Helene," said the landowner, a pleasant smile lighting up his
shrewd old face.

"But you see you don't throw it up," said Nikolay Ivanovitch
Sviazhsky; "so there must be something gained."

"The only gain is that I live in my own house, neither bought
nor hired. Besides, one keeps hoping the people will learn
sense. Though, instead of that, you'd never believe it--the
drunkenness, the immorality! They keep chopping and changing
their bits of land. Not a sight of a horse or a cow. The
peasant's dying of hunger, but just go and take him on as a
laborer, he'll do his best to do you a mischief, and then bring
you up before the justice of the peace."

"But then you make complaints to the justice too," said

"I lodge complaints? Not for anything in the world! Such a
talking, and such a to-do, that one would have cause to regret
it. At the works, for instance, they pocketed the advance-money
and made off. What did the justice do? Why, acquitted them.
Nothing keeps them in order but their own communal court and
their village elder. He'll flog them in the good old style! But
for that there'd be nothing for it but to give it all up and run

Obviously the landowner was chaffing Sviazhsky, who, far from
resenting it, was apparently amused by it.

"But you see we manage our land without such extreme measures,"
said he, smiling: "Levin and I and this gentleman."

He indicated the other landowner.

"Yes, the thing's done at Mihail Petrovitch's, but ask him how
it's done. Do you call that a rational system?" said the
landowner, obviously rather proud of the word "rational."

"My system's very simple," said Mihail Petrovitch, "thank God.
All my management rests on getting the money ready for the autumn
taxes, and the peasants come to me, 'Father, master, help us!'
Well, the peasants are all one's neighbors; one feels for them.
So one advances them a third, but one says: 'Remember, lads, I
have helped you, and you must help me when I need it--whether
it's the sowing of the oats, or the haycutting, or the harvest';
and well, one agrees, so much for each taxpayer--though there
are dishonest ones among them too, it's true."

Levin, who had long been familiar with these patriarchal methods,
exchanged glances with Sviazhsky and interrupted Mihail
Petrovitch, turning again to the gentleman with the gray

"Then what do you think?" he asked; "what system is one to adopt

"Why, manage like Mihail Petrovitch, or let the land for half the
crop or for rent to the peasants; that one can do--only that's
just how the general prosperity of the country is being ruined.
Where the land with serf-labor and good management gave a yield
of nine to one, on the half-crop system it yields three to one.
Russia has been ruined by the emancipation!"

Sviazhsky looked with smiling eyes at Levin, and even made a
faint gesture of irony to him; but Levin did not think the
landowner's words absurd, he understood them better than he did
Sviazhsky. A great deal more of what the gentleman with the gray
whiskers said to show in what way Russia was ruined by the
emancipation struck him indeed as very true, new to him, and
quite incontestable. The landowner unmistakably spoke his own
individual thought--a thing that very rarely happens--and a
thought to which he had been brought not by a desire of finding
some exercise for an idle brain, but a thought which had grown up
out of the conditions of his life, which he had brooded over in
the solitude of his village, and had considered in every aspect.

"The point is, don't you see, that progress of every sort is only
made by the use of authority," he said, evidently wishing to show
he was not without culture. "Take the reforms of Peter, of
Catherine, of Alexander. Take European history. And progress in
agriculture more than anything else--the potato, for instance,
that was introduced among us by force. The wooden plough too
wasn't always used. It was introduced maybe in the days before
the Empire, but it was probably brought in by force. Now, in our
own day, we landowners in the serf times used various
improvements in our husbandry: drying machines and thrashing
machines, and carting manure and all the modern implements--all
that we brought into use by our authority, and the peasants
opposed it at first, and ended by imitating us. Now by the
abolition of serfdom we have been deprived of our authority; and
so our husbandry, where it had been raised to a high level, is
bound to sink to the most savage primitive condition. That's how
I see it."

"But why so? If it's rational, you'll be able to keep up the
same system with hired labor," said Sviazhsky.

"We've no power over them. With whom am I going to work the
system, allow me to ask?"

"There it is--the labor force--the chief element in
agriculture," thought Levin.

"With laborers."

"The laborers won't work well, and won't work with good
implements. Our laborer can do nothing but get drunk like a pig,
and when he's drunk he ruins everything you give him. He makes
the horses ill with too much water, cuts good harness, barters
the tires of the wheels for drink, drops bits of iron into the
thrashing machine, so as to break it. He loathes the sight of
anything that's not after his fashion. And that's how it is the
whole level of husbandry has fallen. Lands gone out of
cultivation, overgrown with weeds, or divided among the peasants,
and where millions of bushels were raised you get a hundred
thousand; the wealth of the country has decreased. If the same
thing had been done, but with care that..."

And he proceeded to unfold his own scheme of emancipation by
means of which these drawbacks might have been avoided.

This did not interest Levin, but when he had finished, Levin went
back to his first position, and, addressing Sviazhsky, and trying
to draw him into expressing his serious opinion:-

"That the standard of culture is falling, and that with our
present relations to the peasants there is no possibility of
famling on a rational system to yield a profit--that's perfectly
true," said he.

"I don't believe it," Sviazhsky replied quite seriously; "all I
see is that we don't know how to cultivate the land, and that our
system of agriculture in the serf days was by no means too high,
but too low. We have no machines, no good stock, no efficient
supervision; we don't even know how to keep accounts. Ask any
landowner; he won't be able to tell you what crop's profitable,
and what's not."

"Italian bookkeeping," said the gentleman of the gray whiskers
ironically. "You may keep your books as you like, but if they
spoil everything for you, there won't be any profit."

"Why do they spoil things? A poor thrashing machine, or your
Russian presser, they will break, but my steam press they don't
break. A wretched Russian nag they'll ruin, but keep good
dray-horses--they won't ruin them. And so it is all round. We
must raise our farming to a higher level."

"Oh, if one only had the means to do it, Nikolay Ivanovitch!
It's all very well for you; but for me, with a son to keep at the
university, lads to be educated at the high school--how am I
going to buy these dray-horses?"

"Well, that's what the land banks are for."

"To get what's left me sold by auction? No, thank you."

"I don't agree that it's necessary or possible to raise the level
of agriculture still higher," said Levin. "I devote myself to
it, and I have means, but I can do nothing. As to the banks, I
don't know to whom they're any good. For my part, anyway,
whatever I've spent money on in the way of husbandry, it has been
a loss: stock--a loss, machinery--a loss."

"That's true enough," the gentleman with the gray whiskers chimed
in, positively laughing with satisfaction.

"And I'm not the only one," pursued Levin. "I mix with all the
neighboring landowners, who are cultivating their land on a
rational system; they all, with rare exceptions, are doing so at
a loss. Come, tell us how does your land do--does it pay?" said
Levin, and at once in Sviazhsky's eyes he detected that fleeting
expression of alarm which he had noticed whenever he had tried to
penetrate beyond the outer chambers of Sviazhsky's mind.

Moreover, this question on Levin's part was not quite in good
faith. Madame Sviazhskaya had just told him at tea that they had
that summer invited a Gemman expert in bookkeeping from Moscow,
who for a consideration of five hundred roubles had investigated
the management of their property, and found that it was costing
them a loss of three thousand odd roubles. She did not remember
the precise sum, but it appeared that the Gemman had worked it
out to the fraction of a farthing.

The gray-whiskered landowner smiled at the mention of the profits
of Sviazhsky's famling, obviously aware how much gain his
neighbor and marshal was likely to be making.

"Possibly it does not pay," answered Sviazhsky. "That merely
proves either that I'm a bad manager, or that I've sunk my
capital for the increase of my rents."

"Oh, rent!" Levin cried with horror. "Rent there may be in
Europe, where land has been improved by the labor put into it,
but with us all the land is deteriorating from the labor put into
it--in other words they're working it out; so there's no
question of rent."

"How no rent? It's a law."

"Then we're outside the law; rent explains nothing for us, but
simply muddles us. No, tell me how there can be a theory of

"Will you have some junket? Masha, pass us some junket or
raspberries." He turned to his wife. "Extraordinarily late the
raspberries are lasting this year."

And in the happiest frame of mind Sviazhsky got up and walked
off, apparently supposing the conversation to have ended at the
very point when to Levin it seemed that it was only just

Having lost his antagonist, Levin continued the conversation with
the gray-whiskered landowner, trying to prove to him that all the
difficulty arises from the fact that we don't find out the
peculiarities and habits of our laborer; but the landowner, like
all men who think independently and in isolation, was slow in
taking in any other person's idea, and particularly partial to
his own. He stuck to it that the Russian peasant is a swine and
likes swinishness, and that to get him out of his swinishness one
must have authority, and there is none; one must have the stick,
and we have become so liberal that we have all of a sudden
replaced the stick that served us for a thousand years by lawyers
and model prisons, where the worthless, stinking peasant is fed
on good soup and has a fixed allowance of cubic feet of air.

"What makes you think," said Levin, trying to get back to the
question, "that it's impossible to find some relation to the
laborer in which the labor would become productive?"

"That never could be so with the Russian peasantry; we've no
power over them," answered the landowner.

"How can new conditions be found?" said Sviazhsky. Having eaten
some junket and lighted a cigarette, he came back to the
discussion. "All possible relations to the labor force have been
defined and studied," he said. "The relic of barbarism, the
primitive commune with each guarantee for all, will disappear of
itself; serfdom has been abolished--there remains nothing but
free labor, and its fomms are fixed and ready made, and must be
adopted. Permanent hands, day-laborers, rammers--you can't get
out of those forms."

"But Europe is dissatisfied with these forms."

"Dissatisfied, and seeking new ones. And will find them, in all

"That's just what I was meaning," answered Levin. "Why
shouldn't we seek them for ourselves?"

"Because it would be just like inventing afresh the means for
constructing railways. They are ready, invented."

"But if they don't do for us, if they're stupid?" said Levin.

And again he detected the expression of alarm in the eyes of

"Oh, yes; we'll bury the world under our caps! We've found the
secret Europe was seeking for! I've heard all that; but, excuse
me, do you know all that's been done in Europe on the question of
the organization of labor?"

"No, very little."

"That question is now absorbing the best minds in Europe. The
Schulze-Delitsch movement.... And then all this enormous
literature of the labor question, the most liberal Lassalle
movement...the Mulhausen experiment? That's a fact by now, as
you're probably aware."

"I have some idea of it, but very vague."

"No, you only say that; no doubt you know all about it as well as
I do. I'm not a professor of sociology, of course, but it
interested me, and really, if it interests you, you ought to
study it."

"But what conclusion have they come to?"

"Excuse me..."

The two neighbors had risen, and Sviazhsky, once more checking
Levin in his inconvenient habit of peeping into what was beyond
the outer chambers of his mind, went to see his guests out.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fiction - Russian literature
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