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Appeal to the Czar

by Leo Tolstoy

Again there are murders.  Again there are disturbances and slaughter in the streets.  Again we shall have executions, terror, false accusations, threats, and anger on the one side; and hatred, thirst for vengeance, and readiness for self-sacrifice on the other.  Again all Russians are divided into two hostile camps, and are committing and preparing to commit the greatest crimes.

The disturbances that have now broken out may very possibly be suppressed, though it is also possible that the troops of soldiers and police, on whom the Government places such reliance, may realize that they are being called on to commit the terrible crime of fratricide and may refuse to obey.  But even if the present disturbance is suppressed, it will not be extinguished.  It will burn in secret more and more fiercely, and will inevitably burst out sooner or later with increased strength, producing yet greater sufferings and crimes.

Why is this?  Why should these things occur, when they might so easily be avoided?

We address all you who are in power, from the Czar, the members of the Council of State, and Ministers, to the uncles, brothers, and entourage of the Czar, and all who can influence him by persuasion.  We appeal to you not as to enemies, but as to brothers, who, whether willingly or not, are inseparably bound up with us.  All the sufferings we undergo react on you also, and react much more painfully if you feel that you could remove these sufferings but have failed to do so.  We appeal to you to act so that the existing state of things may cease.

It seems to you, or to most of you, that it has all happened because, amid the regular current of life, some troublesome, dissatisfied men have arisen, who disturb the people and interrupt this regular current, and that what is wrong is all the fault of these people.  You believe that these troublesome, dissatisfied people should be subdued and repressed, and then everything will again be all right, and nothing will need to be altered.

But if, really, it were all due to troublesome and wicked men, it would be only necessary to catch them and shut them up in prison and execute them, and all disturbances would be end.  But, in fact, during more than thirty years, these people have been caught, imprisoned and executed, or banished by thousands.  Their number is ever increasing, and discontent with the present conditions of life not only grows, but also spreads so that it has now reached millions of the working classes and most of the nation.  Evidently, this dissatisfaction is not caused by troublesome and wicked men, but by something else.  And you of the Government need only turn your attention for a moment from the acute strife in which you are now absorbed, and cease to naively credit the statement made by the Minister of the Interior in a recent circular, who said, “It is only necessary for the police to disperse the crowd promptly, and to fire at it if it does not disperse, for all to be tranquil and quiet.  Then you will clearly see the cause that produces discontent among the people, and finds expression in disturbances that are assuming ever greater and wider and deeper dimensions.”

Those causes are the following.  A Czar who had freed the serfs unfortunately happened to be murdered by a small group of people who mistakenly imagined that they would thereby serve the nation.  As a result, the Government has decided not to advance in the direction of gradually discarding despotic methods and advancing in agreement with the general development and increasing complexity of modern life.  Instead, imagining safety to lie in those coarse and obsolete methods of despotism, it has not even stood still, but has receded for the last twenty years, and has separated itself more and more from the people and their demands by this retrograde movement.

It is not some wicked and troublesome people, but it is you yourselves, the rulers, who are the problem.  You do not wish to consider anything but your own tranquility for the passing moment.  The thing needed is not that you should defend yourselves from enemies who wish to injure you.  No one wishes to injure you.  The thing needed is that, having recognized the cause of the social discontent, you should remove it.  Men, as a whole, cannot desire discord and enmity, but always prefer to live in agreement and amity with their fellows.  And if they now are disquiet and seem to wish you ill, it is only because you appear to them as an obstacle depriving not only them, but also millions of their brothers, of the best human blessings: freedom and enlightenment.

Very little is required for them to cease being perturbed and to cease attacking you, and that little is so necessary for you yourselves, and would so evidently give you peace, that it will be strange indeed if you do not grant it.  What needs to be done at once is very little – only the following:

First: Grant the peasants equal rights with all other citizens.  To equalize the rights of the peasantry (who form the immense majority of the people) with the rights of the other classes is particularly important, for no social system can be durable or stable, under which the majority does not enjoy equal rights but is kept in a servile position, bound by exceptional laws.  Only when the laboring majority has the same rights as all other citizens, and is freed from shameful disabilities, is a firm order of society possible.  It is therefore necessary to –

(a) Abolish the stupid, arbitrary institution of the Zémsky Natchálniks[1].

(b) Repeal the special rules framed to regulate the relations between workmen and their employers.

(c) Free the peasants from the constraint of needing passports to move from place to place, and also from the compulsion, laid only on them, to furnish lodging and horses for officials, and men for police service.

(d) Free them from the unjust law which makes them jointly responsible for other peasants’ debts, and from the land-redemption payments which have already, long ago, exceeded the value of the land received by them at the time of their emancipation.

(e) And, chiefly, abolish the senseless, utterly unnecessary and shameful system of corporal punishment, which has been retained only for the most industrious, moral, and numerous class of the population.

Second: The Statute of Increased Protection[2], which abolishes all existing laws and hands over the population into the power of immoral, stupid, and cruel officials, must cease to be applied.  Its abandonment is especially important because, by stopping the action of the common law, it develops the practice of secret denunciations and the spy system.  It encourages and evokes gross violence, often employed against workingmen who have differences with their employers or with the landowners.  Nowhere are such cruelties practiced as in the districts where this statute is in force.  But above all, its abandonment is important because to this terrible measure, and to it alone, do we owe the introduction and frequent infliction of capital punishment, which most surely depraves men, is contrary to the Christian spirit of the Russian people, was formerly unknown in our code of laws, and is itself the greatest of crimes, and one forbidden by God and by conscience.

Third: All barriers to education, instruction, and imparting knowledge should be destroyed.  To set education and instruction free from the restraints now imposed upon them is important, because these restraints alone hinder the working people from freeing themselves from that very ignorance which now serves the government as a chief excuse for imposing restraints on the peasants.  The liberation of the working classes from governmental interference in matters of education would be the easiest and quickest way to enable the people to gain all the knowledge they need, in place of such knowledge as is now being forced upon them.  It is therefore necessary to –

(a) Make no distinctions barring people of any class from education.  Abolish all restrictions aimed specially at the peasant class that forbid popular readings, classes, and books, which for some reason are supposed to be bad for the common people.

(b) Allow people of any race or religion to have access to all schools.  This includes the Jews, who for some reason are now deprived of that right.

(c) Cease to hinder teachers from using in school the language spoken by the children who attend the school.

(d) Above all, allow the establishment and continuance of all sorts of private schools, elementary and higher, by all who wish to devote themselves to education.  Liberty for private schools to be opened and maintained by private people would end the disturbances now continually arising among students dissatisfied with the management of the establishments in which they find themselves.  Were there no obstacles to opening private schools and colleges, both elementary and advanced, young people dissatisfied with the management of the government educational institutions would enter private establishments that suited their requirements.

Lastly, fourth, and most important of all, all limitation of religions liberty should be abolished.  It is necessary to do this because history and science have shown that religious persecutions fail to achieve their goal, and even produce a reverse effect by strengthening what people wish to destroy.  It is a fact that the intervention of government in matters of faith produces that most harmful and therefore worst of vices – hypocrisy – which Christ so strongly denounced.  Even beyond these reasons, the interference of government in matters of faith hinders each individual and the whole people from attaining the highest of all blessings: union with one another.  This union is attained, not by the forcible and impossible retention of all men in the bonds of one and the same external, once-accepted, supposedly infallible confession of a religions teaching, but only by the free advance of the whole of humanity towards truth, which alone can truly unite men.  It is therefore necessary to –

(a) Repeal all the laws under which any secession from the established Church is punished as a crime.

(b) Allow Old-Believers[3], Baptists, Molokáns[4], Stundists[5], and others to open and maintain churches, chapels, and houses of prayer.

(c) Allow religious meetings and the preaching of all faiths.

(d) Do not hinder people of different faiths from educating their children in those faiths.

Such are the modest and easily realizable desires, we believe, of most of the Russian people.   The adoption of these measures would undoubtedly pacify the people and free them from those terrible sufferings and crimes which will inevitably be committed on both sides if the government busies itself only with the suppression of these disturbances, leaving their cause untouched.

We appeal to you all – to the Czar, to the Ministers, to the Members of the Council of State, to the Privy Councilors, to those who surround the Czar, and to all, in general, who have power – to help to give peace to the nation, and free it from suffering and crime.  We appeal to you, not as to men of a hostile camp, but as to men who must of necessity agree with us, as to fellow-workers and brothers.

It cannot be that, in a society of men mutually bound together, one section should feel at ease while another suffers.  And this is especially so if it is the majority that suffers.  It can only be well for all when it is well for the strongest and most industrious majority, which supports the whole society.

Help, then, to improve the position of that majority, and help it in that which is most important: in what regards its freedom and enlightenment.  Only then can your position also be safe and really strong.

This is written by Leo Tolstoy, who in writing it has tried to express not his own thoughts only, but also the opinion of many of the best, kindest, most disinterested, most reasonable people, who all desire these things.

March 15, 1901

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[1] During the reign of Alexander II, many iniquities of the old judicial system were abolished.  Among other innovations, “Judges of the Peace” were appointed to act as magistrates.  They were elected indirectly.  Men of any class were eligible if they possessed a certain property qualification, and the regulations under which they acted were drawn up in a comparatively liberal spirit.  Under Alexander III the office of “Judge of the Peace” was abolished and was replaced by Zémsky Natchálniks.  Only members of the aristocracy were eligible.  They were not elected, but appointed by the government and armed with the authority to have peasants flogged.

[2] The Statute of Increased Protection, usually translated “State of Siege,” was first applied to Petersburg and Moscow only, but was subsequently extended to Odessa, Kiev, Khárkov, and Warsaw. Under this law, practically absolute power, including that of capital punishment, was entrusted to the Governors-General of the Provinces in question.

[3] The Old-Believers is a general name for the sects that separated from the Russo-Greek Church in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

[4] The Molokáns are a more modern sect.  They reject the sacraments and ceremonies of the Russo-Greek Church and pay much attention to the Bible.

[5] Stundist is a general name for the Protestant and rationalistic sects of many shades that have rapidly sprung up and increased, chiefly in South Russia, during the last quarter century.