Appeal to the
Working People

by Leo Tolstoy

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  (John 8:32)

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I have but little time left to live,[1] and I should like before my death to tell you, the working people, what I have been thinking about your oppressed condition and about those means which will help you to free yourselves from it.  Maybe something of what I have been thinking (and I have been thinking much about it) will do you some good.

I naturally turn to the Russian laborers, among whom I live and whom I know better than the laborers of any other country, but I hope that my remarks may not be useless to the laborers of other countries as well

Everyone who has eyes and a heart sees that you, workingmen, are obliged to pass your lives in want and in hard labor, which is useless to you, while other men, who do not work, enjoy all that you accomplish – that you are the slaves of these men, and that this ought not to be.

But what should be done that this might not be?

The first, simplest, and most natural means, which has presented itself to men from olden times, is to take by force what those who live by your labor illegally enjoy.  Thus, since remote antiquity, acted the slaves of Rome and the peasants of the Middle Ages.  Thus they have frequently acted in Russia, since the times of Sténka Rázin and Pugachév.  Thus even now Russian laborers act at times.

This means suggests itself to the injured workingmen before any other, and yet this means not only never attains its end, but always more certainly makes worse, rather than improves, the condition of the workingmen.  It was possible anciently, when the power of the government was not yet so strong as it is now, to hope for the success of such uprisings.  But now, when immense sums of money, the railways, the telegraphs, the police, and the army are all in the hands of the government, which always protects those who do not work, all such attempts end in the torture and execution of the rioters, as lately ended the uprisings in Poltáva and of Khárkov.  The power of the non-workers over the workers is only made firmer.

In trying to oppose violence to violence, you workingmen do what a man bound with ropes would do if, to free himself, he should tug at the ropes: he only tightens the knots that fetter him.  The same is true as regards your attempts by means of violence to take away what is withheld from you by means of violence.


It has now become obvious that the method of riots does not attain its purpose, and that it does not improve the condition of the workingmen, but rather makes it worse.  And so of late, men who desire the good of the working masses have discovered a new means for the liberation of the workingmen.  This new means is based on the teaching that all the workingmen, after being deprived of the land that they formerly possessed, and after having become hired laborers (which according to this teaching is to happen as inevitably as the sunset at a given hour), will arrange unions, societies, and demonstrations, and will choose their partisans for parliament.  By these means they will keep improving their condition, and finally will appropriate to themselves all the works, factories, implements of labor, and land, and then they will be absolutely free and prosperous.  In spite of the fact that this teaching is full of obscurities, arbitrary propositions, contradictions, and simple absurdities, it has of late been disseminated more and more widely.

This doctrine is accepted not only in those countries where the majority of the population has fallen away from agricultural labor for several generations, but also where the majority of workingmen have not yet thought of abandoning the land.

This doctrine first of all demands the transition of the agricultural laborer from the customary, healthy, and joyous conditions of varied agricultural labor to the unhealthy, somber, and pernicious conditions of monotonous, stultifying work, and from the independence that the village worker feels in satisfying nearly all his needs to the complete slavish dependence of the factory workman on his master.  It would seem that this doctrine ought to have no success in countries where the laborers still live on the land and support themselves by means of agricultural labor.  But the preaching of this modem doctrine called socialism, even in such countries as Russia, where ninety-eight per cent of the laboring population lives by means of agricultural labor, is gladly accepted by those two per cent of workingmen who have fallen away from agricultural labor.  This is due to the fact that, when he abandons the labor on the land, the workingman involuntarily submits to those temptations which are connected with life in the city and in the factory.  He only finds the justification of these temptations in the socialistic doctrine, which considers the increase of necessities a sign of man’s improvement.

Such workingmen, who have filled themselves with fragments of the socialistic doctrine, preach it with particular fervor to their fellow workingmen, considering themselves, in consequence of this propaganda and in consequence of those needs which they have developed, to be advanced people who stand infinitely higher than a coarse peasant or a village worker.  Fortunately, there are still very few such workingmen in Russia.  The vast majority of Russian laborers have never heard anything about the socialistic doctrine.  If these laborers ever heard of it, they receive such a doctrine as entirely alien to them and not touching upon their real needs.

All those socialistic methods of unions, demonstrations, and election of partisans for the parliaments, by means of which the factory hands try to lighten their condition as slaves, present no interest for free agricultural laborers.  If the agricultural laborers need anything, it is not a raise of wages, not a diminution of hours of work, and not general funds, but only one thing: land, of which they all have too little to be able to support themselves and their families.  But nothing is said in the socialistic doctrine of this one necessary thing for the rural laborers.


All sensible Russian laborers understand that land, free land, is the only means for the improvement of their condition and for their liberation from slavery.  This is what a Russian peasant, a Stundist[2], writes regarding it to a friend of his:

If a revolution is to be started while the land remains private property, then, of course, it is not worthwhile to start it.  Thus, for example, our brothers who live abroad in Romania tell us that they have a constitution and parliaments there, but that the land is nearly all of it in the hands of proprietors.  What use is this parliament to the masses?  In the parliament, they say, only a struggle of one party against another is taking place, but the masses are terribly enslaved and in servitude to the proprietors.  The proprietors have huts upon their lands.  Half of the land they generally lease to the peasants, as a rule only for one year.  When a peasant has worked the land well, the proprietor himself sows in this plot the next year, and allots another piece of ground to the peasant.  After these poor wretches have lived for a few years on the land of a proprietor, they still remain his debtors.  The government takes their last possessions for taxes – their horse, cow, wagon, plough, clothes, bed, and utensils – and sells them all at a low price.  Then the poor wretch picks up his starving family and goes to another proprietor, who seems to him to be kinder.  This one gives him oxen, a plough, seeds, and so forth.  But, after he has lived here for some time, the same story is repeated.  Then he goes to a third proprietor, and so forth.  Then the proprietors who do their own sowing hire laborers during the harvest, but it is their custom to pay the wages at the end of the harvest, and few of the proprietors ever pay their hands.  Most hold back half the pay, if not all.  And there is no way of getting justice.  So there you have a constitution!  There you have a parliament!

The land is the first indispensable condition that the masses should strive after.  The factories and works, it seems to me, will naturally pass over into the hands of the workingmen.  When the peasants get land, they will work on it and live freely upon their labor.  Many will refuse to labor in the factories and works, and consequently there will be less competition for the workingmen.  Then the wages will rise, and they will be able to organize their circles and funds, and will be able themselves to compete with their masters.  The latter will not find it advantageous to have factories, and they will enter into agreements with the workingmen.  Land is the chief object of the struggle.  This ought to be explained to the workingmen.  Even if they should obtain an increase in wages, this would only be a temporary measure to allay their minds.  Then the conditions of life will change again.  Instead of one dissatisfied man, ten others shall be waiting to take his place.  How can they then ask for an increase of wages?

Though the information given in the letter concerning the state of affairs in Romania is not quite correct, and though these oppressions do not exist in other countries, the essence of the matter is that the first condition for the improvement of the workingmen’s condition is to be found in free land, and this letter expressed it with unusual clarity.


This unlearned peasant writes that land is the chief object of the struggle.  But the learned socialists say that the chief object of the struggle is works, factories, and only lastly land.  For the workingmen to get land they must, according to the doctrine of the socialists, first of all struggle against the capitalists for the possession of plants and factories, and only after they shall have taken possession of the plants and factories will they get possession of the land.  Men need land, and they are told that they must first of all abandon it and then obtain it again by a complex process, as predicted by the socialistic prophets, together with unnecessary works and factories.  This demand to get possession of works and factories, which are of no use to the farmers, in order to get possession of the land, reminds one of the methods used by certain usurers.  You ask such a usurer for a thousand rubles in currency, for you need only the currency, but the usurer tells you, “I cannot give you just the one thousand rubles.  Take five thousand from me, four thousand of which will be in the form of a few tons of soap, of a few bolts of silk stuffs, and so forth – things that you do not need – and then I shall be able to give you the one thousand rubles in currency.”

In the same way, the socialists, having quite irregularly decided that the land is just such an implement of labor as a plant or a factory, propose to the laborers, who are suffering only from lack of land, that they go away from the land and busy themselves with taking possession of the factories which produce cannons, guns, soap, mirrors, ribbons, and all kinds of articles of luxury.  Then only, after these laborers shall have learned to quickly produce mirrors and ribbons, but shall have become unfit to work the land, shall they also take possession of the land.


However strange it is to see a working man, who has abandoned a life in the country amidst the freedom of the fields, meadows, and woods, and who ten years later, sometimes even after several generations, rejoices when he receives from his master a little house in the infected air with a twenty-foot garden in which he can plant a dozen cucumbers and two sunflowers – such a joy is comprehensible.  The possibility of living on the land and gaining one’s sustenance from it by means of one’s own labor has always been and always will be one of the chief conditions of a happy and independent human life.  All men have always known this, and so all men will always strive, like a fish for the water, at least for the semblance of such a life.

The socialistic doctrine says that men do not need such a life amidst plants and animals for happiness, but that a life in industrial centers with infected air with ever increasing demands, the gratification of which is possible only by means of senseless labor in the factories, is sufficient.  The workingmen who are enmeshed in the temptations of their factory lives believe this and use all their efforts in a miserable struggle with the capitalists for the sake of hours of labor and additional pennies.  They imagine that they are doing some very important work, whereas the only important work, for which those workingmen ought to use all their forces, should consist in finding a means of returning to a life amidst Nature and to agricultural labor.  “But,” say the socialists, “even if it were true that a life amidst Nature is better than a life in a factory, there are now so many factory workmen, and these men have abandoned agricultural life so long ago that their return to life on the land is now impossible.  It is impossible because such a transition will, without any necessity, diminish the productions of the manufacturing industries, which form the wealth of the country.  Besides, even if this were not so, there is not enough free land for the settlement and sustenance of all factory workmen.”

It is not true that the workingmen’s resettlement of the land will diminish the wealth of the country, because life on the land does not exclude the possibility of the laborers’ participation, for a part of their time, in manufacturing labor at home or even in factories.  But if, in consequence of this resettlement, the manufacture of useless and injurious articles shall be diminished, and the now usual overproduction of necessary articles shall come to an end, while the amount of corn, vegetables, fruit, and domestic animals shall be increased, this will in no way diminish the wealth of people, but will only increase it.

The argument that there will not be enough land for the settlement and sustenance of all the workingmen in factories is untrue.  In most countries (to say nothing of Russia, where the land retained by the large landed proprietors would suffice for all the factory workingmen in Russia and in the whole of Europe), and even in such countries as England and Belgium, the land that belongs to the large landed proprietors would suffice for the sustenance of all working people – if only the cultivation of this land were carried to that stage of perfection which it can attain with the present perfection of the mechanical arts, or even to that degree of perfection to which it was carried thousands of years ago in China.

Let those who are interested in this question read Kropótkin’s books, La, conquête du pain and Fields, Factories, and Workshops, and the very good book published by the Posrédnik, Popov’s The Corn Garden.  They will see how many times the productivity of agriculture may still be increased with intensive cultivation, and how many times the present number of men may be fed from the same plot of ground.  The improved methods of cultivation will certainly be introduced by the small proprietors, if only they shall not be compelled to give all their income to the large landowners, as they now are.  These landowners rent out the land and have no need to increase its productivity, since they already derive a great income from it without doing any work.

Some say that there will not be enough free land for all working people, and so it is not worthwhile to worry about the land that is kept from them by the landowners.  Imagine that a crowd is standing in a storm and in the cold in front of an unoccupied house, asking the owner to be allowed to take shelter in it, and the owner says, “These people must not be let in, because all of them cannot be accommodated in it.”  Instead, let in those who beg to be let in, and then we shall see, from the way they locate themselves, whether all can be accommodated or not.  And even if not all can be accommodated, why should not those be admitted who can find room?  The same is true of the land.  Give the land that is kept back from the workingmen to those who ask for it, and then we shall see whether this land is sufficient or not.

Besides, the argument about the insufficiency of land for the working people, who now work in factories, is incorrect in its essence.  If the factory population now buys bread, there is no reason why, instead of buying grain that is produced by others, they should not themselves work the land on which the grain is produced and on which they feed, no matter where this land may be – in India, Argentina, Australia, or Siberia.

Thus, all the arguments about why the workmen in the factories should not and could not go back to the land have no foundation, whatever.  On the contrary, it is clear that such a change not only could not be injurious to the common welfare, but would even increase it and would certainly do away with those chronic famines in India, Russia, and other places, which more obviously than anything else show the irregularity of the present distribution of land.

It is true that, where the manufacturing industry is particularly developed, as in England, Belgium, and a few States in America, the life of the working people has to such an extent been corrupted that a return to the land presents itself as very difficult.  But the difficulty of such a return of the workingmen to an agricultural life by no means excludes the possibility of realizing such a change.  For it to take place, it is necessary for the working people first of all to understand that this change is indispensable for their good, and that they should find means for its realization, instead of accepting (as the socialistic doctrine now teaches them) their factory slavery as their eternal, immutable condition, which can be alleviated, but never destroyed.

Thus, even the workingmen who have left the land and live by factory labor do not need unions, societies, strikes, childish processions with flags on the first of May, and so forth.  Instead, they only need to find the means for freeing themselves from their factory slavery and for settling on the land, the chief impediment to which is the seizure of the land by the owners who do not work it.  They should ask and demand this of their rulers.  And, in demanding this, they will not be demanding something not their own or not belonging to them, but the restitution of their most unquestionable and inalienable right, which is inherent in every animal, to live on the land and get their sustenance from it, without asking anyone else’s permission to do so.

It is for this that the deputies of the workingmen ought to struggle in the parliaments.  This ought to be preached by the press, which stands on the side of the workingmen.  The workingmen in the factories must prepare themselves for this.

Thus it is in the case of the laborers who have left the land.  But for laborers, like the majority of the Russian laborers, ninety-eight per cent of whom still live on the land, the question consists only in how they may be able to improve their condition, without abandoning their land and surrendering themselves to the temptations of a factory life.  For this one thing is needed: to turn over the land, which is now held by the large landowners, to the laborers.

Talk to any peasant you meet, who is working in town.  Ask why he is not faring well, and he will invariably give the same answer: “I have no land, nothing to put my hands to.”  And here, in Russia, where the whole nation raises an unabated cry on account of the insufficiency of land, men who think that they are serving the masses do not preach to them about means for returning to them the land, which has been taken away from them, but about methods for struggling in the factories with the capitalists.

“But should all men live in the country and busy themselves with agriculture?”  People who are accustomed to the unnatural life of the present time will say this, because such a thought presents itself to them as rather strange and impossible.  But why should not all men live in the country and busy themselves with agriculture?  If people shall be found with such strange tastes as to prefer factory slavery to life in the country, nothing will keep them from doing so.  The only point is that every man should have a chance to live in human fashion.  When we say that it is desirable that every man should have a family, we do not say that every man should get married and have children, but only, that we do not approve of a structure of society in which a man cannot have the chance to do so.


Even during the time of serfdom, the peasants used to say to their masters, “We are yours, but the land is ours.”  They recognized that, no matter how illegal and cruel the possession of one man by another was, the right of a man to own land without working it was even more illegal and cruel.  Recently, a few of the Russian peasants have imitated the landowners and have begun to buy land and to deal in it, considering the ownership of it to he legal and unafraid that it will be taken from them.  But there are only a few frivolous peasants who are blinded by such greed.  The majority, all the real Russian farmers, believe firmly that the land cannot and must not be the property of those who do not work it, and that, although the land is now taken away by those who do not work it, the time will come when it shall be taken away from those who now own it and shall become a common possession as it ought to be.  The Russian peasants are quite right in believing that this is so and should be so.  The time has come when the injustice, irrationality, and cruelty of the ownership of land by those who do not work it has become as obvious as the injustice, irrationality, and cruelty of the ownership of serfs was fifty years ago.  Either because the other methods of oppression have been destroyed, or because the number of people has increased, or because men have become more enlightened, all (both those who own land and those who are deprived of it) see clearly what they did not see before.  If a peasant who has worked all his life does not have enough grain because he has no ground on which to sow it, if he has no milk for the children and for the old because he has no pasture, and if he does not have a rod of timber with which to mend his rotten cabin and keep it warm, while the neighboring landowner, who does no work, lives on an immense estate, feeds milk to his puppies, builds arbors and stables with plate-glass windows, raises sheep and establishes forests and parks on tens of thousands of hectares of land, and consumes food in a week what would keep a famished neighboring village alive for a whole year – then such a structure of life should not exist.  The injustice, irrationality, and cruelty of such a state of affairs now startles everyone, just as men were formerly startled by the injustice, irrationality, and cruelty of serfdom.  And as soon as the injustice, irrationality, and cruelty of any structure become clear to men, this structure will come to an end in one way or another.  Thus ended serfdom, and thus very soon lauded property will come to an end.


Landed property must inevitably be destroyed, because the injustice, irrationality, and cruelty of this institution have become too obvious.  The only question is how it will be abolished.  Serfdom and slavery, not only in Russia, but also in all other countries, have been abolished by order of the governments, and it would seem that the ownership of land could be abolished by a similar order.  But it is not likely that such an order can or ever will be promulgated by a government.

All governments are composed of men who live by other people’s labor, and it is the ownership of land that more than anything else makes it possible to lead such a life.  But it is not the rulers and the large landed proprietors alone who will not permit the abolition of landed property.  Men who have nothing in common with the government or with the ownership of land – officials, artists, scholars, and merchants who serve the rich – feeling instinctively that their advantageous position is connected with the ownership of land, either always defend the ownership of land, or, attacking everything which is less important, never touch the question.

A striking illustration of such a relation to the question on the part of the men of the wealthy classes may be found in the change that has taken place in the views of the famous Herbert Spencer concerning the ownership of land.  So long as Herbert Spencer was a young beginner, who had no ties with the rich and the rulers, he looked upon the question of the ownership of land as every man who is not tied by any preconceived notions must look upon it: he rejected it in the most radical manner and proved its injustice.  But decades passed, and Herbert Spencer went from being an unknown young man to being a famous writer.  He established relations with rulers and large landed proprietors, and he modified his views upon the ownership of land to such an extent that he tried to destroy all those editions in which he had so forcibly expressed the correct ideas about the illegality of landed property.

Thus the majority of well-to-do people feel instinctively, if not consciously, that their advantageous position depends on the ownership of the land.  As a result, the parliaments, pretending to care for the good of the masses, propose, discuss, and adopt the most varied measures to improve their condition.  But they do not propose the one measure that would really improve the condition of the masses: the abolition of the ownership of land.

Thus, to solve the question about the ownership of the land, it is necessary first of all to destroy the consciously concordant silence that has established itself in regard to this question.  That will be difficult in those countries where part of the power is in the parliaments.  But in Russia, where the whole power is in the hands of the Czar, the provision for the abolition of the ownership of land is still less possible.  In Russia, the power is only nominally in the hands of the Czar.  In reality, it is in the hands of a few hundred fortunate men, relatives and near friends of the Czar, who compel him to do what pleases them.  All these men own immense tracts of land, and so they will never allow the Czar to free the land from the power of the landed proprietors, even if he should wish to do so.  No matter how hard it was for the Czar who liberated the peasants to compel his retainers to give up the right of serfdom, he was able to do so because these retainers did not give up the land.  But in giving up the land, the retainers and the relatives of the Czar know that they lose their last chance of living as they have been accustomed to live.  Thus, it is absolutely impossible to expect the emancipation of the land from the government in general, and in Russia from the Czar.

It is impossible to take away the land that is retained by the landed proprietors by means of violence, because strength has always been and will always be on the side of those who have already seized the power.  It is quite senseless to wait for the emancipation of the land to be achieved in the manner proposed by the socialists, that is, to be prepared to give up the conditions of a good life in exchange for the very worst in the expectation of victory at some indefinite time in the future.

Every rational man sees that this method not only does not emancipate, but more and more makes the workingmen the slaves of their masters, and prepares them for slavery in the future in relation to those managers who will have charge of the new order.  It is still more senseless to wait for the abolition of the ownership of land from a representative government or from the Czar, as the Russian peasants have been waiting for it for the last two reigns.  All the retainers of the Czar and the Czar himself own immense tracts of land, and, though they pretend to be interested in the welfare of the peasants, they will never give them the one thing that they need: the land.  They know that, without the ownership of the land, they will be deprived of their advantageous position as idle men who enjoy the labors of the masses.

What, then, are the workingmen to do in order to free themselves from their oppression?


At first it seems that there is nothing to be done, and that the workingmen are so fettered that they have no possibility whatever of freeing themselves.  But that only seems so.  The workingmen need only ponder on the causes of their enslavement to see that besides riots, besides socialism, and besides the vain hopes in the governments, and in Russia in the Czar, they have a means for freeing themselves such as no one and nothing can interfere with, and which has always been and even now is in their hands.

Indeed, there is but one cause for the wretched condition of the workingmen: that the landed proprietors own the land that the workingmen need.  But what is it that gives the proprietors the possibility of owning this land?

In the first place, this, the proprietors send for troops if the workingmen attempt to make use of this land, and the troops will disperse, beat, and kill those workingmen who have seized the land, and will return it to the landowners.  Now these troops are composed of you, the workingmen.  Thus you yourselves, the workingmen, by becoming soldiers and obeying the military authorities, make it possible for the landed proprietors to own their land, which ought to belong to you.  (I have written many times that a Christian cannot be a soldier, that he cannot promise to kill his like, and that he must refuse to use weapons – among others in a pamphlet, Reminders for Soldiers, where I tried to prove from the Gospel why every Christian should act thus.)

But, besides your making it possible for the proprietors to own the land that belongs to all men by your participation in the army, you also make this possible for the proprietors by working on and renting their lands.  You, the laborers, need only stop doing so, and the ownership of the land will not only become useless for the proprietors, but also impossible, and their land will become common property.  No matter how much the landed proprietors may try to substitute machines for laborers, and instead of agriculture to introduce cattle-raising and forestry, they nonetheless cannot get along without laborers, and they will one after another and willy-nilly give up their lands.

Thus the means for freeing you, the workingmen, from your enslavement consists only in coming to understand that the ownership of land is a crime and not taking part in it as soldiers, who take the land away from the workers, or as laborers on the lands of the proprietors, or as tenants on these lands.


 “But the means of non-participation in the army and in working on and renting the lands of the proprietors would be effective,” I shall be told, “only in case all the working people of the world struck and refused to take part in the crimes, to work on the estates of the proprietors, and to rent land, and this is not the case and never can be.  Even if a part of the workingmen should do as you say, other working people, frequently of other nationalities, will not find such a restraint necessary, and the ownership of the land will not be impaired.  Thus the working people who will refuse to take part in the ownership of the land will only be deprived of their advantages in vain, without alleviating the condition of all.”  This retort is quite just, if it is a question of a strike.  But what I propose is not a strike.  I do not propose a strike, but that the working people shall refuse to take part in the army, which exercises violence against their brothers, and in working on and renting the lands of the proprietors.  I do not propose this because it is unprofitable for the laborers and produces their enslavement, but because this participation is a bad thing, from which any good man must abstain, just as he must abstain from murder, theft, robbery, and so forth.  That participation in the lawlessness of the ownership of land and its support are bad things there can be no doubt, if the workingmen will only ponder on the whole meaning of their participation in the ownership of the land by the non-workers.  To support the proprietors’ ownership of the land means to be the cause of the privations and sufferings of thousands of people – of old men and children, who are insufficiently fed, who work above their strength, and who die before their time – only because they do not get the land that has been seized by the proprietors.

If such are the consequences of the ownership of land by the proprietors – and it is obvious to anyone that they are – it is also clear that participation in the ownership of land by the proprietors and in its maintenance is a bad thing from which every man must abstain.  Hundreds of millions of men consider usury, debauchery, violence against the weak, theft, murder, and many other things to be evil, and abstain from these acts.  The workingmen ought to do the same in respect to the ownership of land.  They themselves see the whole lawlessness of such ownership and consider it a bad, cruel business.  So why do they not only take part in it, but even support it?


Thus I do not propose a strike, but a clear consciousness of the criminality and sinfulness of participating in the ownership of land, and, in consequence of this consciousness, abstaining from such participation.  It is true, such an abstinence does not, like a strike, at once unite all interested people in one decision and so cannot give those results, defined in advance, which are obtained by a successful strike.  But, on the other hand, such an abstinence produces a much more lasting and continuous union than the one produced by a strike.  The artificial union of men that arises at a strike comes to an end the moment the aim of the strike is attained.  But the union, birthed from a concordant activity or from abstinence in consequence of an identical consciousness, not only never comes to an end, but constantly grows stronger, attracting an ever increasing number of men.  Thus it can and must be in the case of the workingmen’s abstaining from taking part in the ownership of land, not in consequence of a strike, but in consequence of the consciousness of the sinfulness of this participation.  It is very likely that, when the workingmen shall understand the lawlessness of participation in the proprietors’ ownership of land, not all of them, but only a small part, will abstain from working on and renting the proprietors’ lands.  But since they will not abstain in consequence of a local and temporary agreement, but from a consciousness of right and wrong that is always equally binding for all men, it will be natural for the number of such workingmen to be constantly increasing.

It is absolutely impossible to foresee what change in the structure of society will actually be produced by the workingmen’s recognition that participation in the ownership of land is bad, but there is no doubt that these changes will take place and that they will be the more significant, the more this consciousness shall be diffused.  These changes may consist in at least a part of the workingmen refusing to work for and rent land from the proprietors, and the landowners, no longer finding the ownership of land to be profitable, will either enter into arrangements with the workingmen, or else will entirely give up the ownership of land.  It is also possible that the workingmen who are enlisted in the army, having come to comprehend the illegality of the ownership of land, will more and more frequently refuse to take part in acts of violence against their brothers, the agricultural laborers.  The government will then be compelled to abandon the protection of the proprietors’ landed property, and the land of the proprietors will become free.

Finally, it may be that the government, having come to see the inevitableness of the emancipation of the land, will find it necessary to forestall the victory of the workingmen by lending it the aspect of its own decree, and will abolish the ownership of land by law.

The changes that can and must take place in the ownership of land, in consequence of the workingmen’s recognition of the illegality of participation in such ownership, may be quite varied, and it is difficult to foresee precisely of what character they will be.  But one thing is unquestionable: not one sincere effort of a man to act in this matter in godly fashion or in accordance with his conscience will be lost.

“What can I alone do against all?” people frequently ask, when they are confronted with an act that is not countenanced by the majority.  To these people, it seems that there must be all, or at least many, for the success of a thing.  But there must be many only for a bad thing.  For a good thing it is enough if there is just one, because God is always with him who does a good thing.  And, sooner or later, all men will be with the one whom God is with.

In any case, all the improvements will take place only because the workingmen themselves will act more in conformity with God’s will, more in accordance with their consciences, and more morally than they have acted before.


Workingmen have tried to free themselves by means of violence and riots, and they have not attained their end.  They have tried to free themselves by socialistic methods through unions, strikes, demonstrations, and elections to parliaments, but all this at best only alleviates their condition for a short time, and not only does not free them, but even confirms their slavery.

The workingmen have tried, each one separately, to free themselves by supporting the illegality of the ownership of land, which they themselves condemn, and if the condition of a few is improved for a brief time by such a participation in an evil thing, the condition of all only gets worse.  This is due to the fact that what permanently improves the condition of men (not of one man, but of a society of men) is activity that conforms to the rule that we should do to others what we wish others would do to us.  But all three if the means that have been employed so far by the workingmen have not conformed to this rule.

The means of the riots, which employs violence against men who consider land that they have inherited or purchased to be their property, is inconsistent with the rule about doing to others what we wish others would do to us.  Not one man who takes part in the riots would like to have what he considers to be his own taken from him, the more so, since such a seizure is generally accompanied by cruel acts of violence.

Not less inconsistent with the rule about doing to others what we wish that others would do to us is the whole socialistic activity.  It is inconsistent with this rule, in the first place, because, by putting class strife at its basis, it provokes hostile feelings in the workingmen toward the masters and the non-workers in general, which can in no way be desirable for the workingmen.  It is also inconsistent with this rule because the workingmen are very frequently, for the success of their undertaking, brought to using violence against those workingmen, of their own nation or foreigners, who wish to take their places during a strike.

Similarly inconsistent with the rule about doing to others what we wish that others would do to us, and even outright immoral, is the doctrine which promises to the workingmen the transference of all the implements of labor, factories, and works into their full possession.  Every factory is the product of the labor, not only of many workingmen of the present, but also of those who built the factory, prepared the material for its construction, and other mental and manual workingmen of former generations, without whose work no factory could exist.  There is absolutely no possibility of figuring out the part of all men in the working of a factory.  And so, according to the doctrine of the socialists themselves, every factory, like the land, is the common possession of the whole people, with one difference.  The ownership of land can be abolished at once, without waiting for the socialization of all the implements of labor.  But a factory can become the legal possession of the people only when the unrealizable fancy of the socialists shall be achieved – the socialization of literally all the implements of labor – and not as is proposed by the majority of working socialists, when they shall have seized the factories of their masters and shall have made them their own.  A master has no right whatever to own a factory, but the workingmen have just as little right to any factory whatever, so long as the unrealizable socialization of the implements of labor is not an accomplished fact.

For this reason, I say that the doctrine which promises to the workingmen the seizure of those factories in which they work, previous to the socialization of all the implements of labor (as is generally proposed), is not only a doctrine that is contrary to the golden rule of doing to others what we wish that others would do to us, but one that is even downright immoral.

Similarly inconsistent with this rule is the workingmen’s support of the ownership of land, be it by means of violence in the form of soldiers, or in the form of laborers or tenants on the land.  Such a support of the ownership of land is inconsistent, because, if such acts improve the condition of those persons who perform them for a time, they certainly make the condition of other workingmen worse.

Thus all the means that have heretofore been used by the workingmen for the purpose of their liberation, such as direct violence, socialistic activity, and acts of separate individuals who maintain the illegality of the ownership of land for the sake of their own advantage, have not attained their purpose.  They have all been inconsistent with the rule of morality about doing to others what we wish that others would do to us.

What will free the workingmen from their slavery is not even an activity, but the mere abstinence from sin, because such abstinence is just and moral and in conformity with God’s will.


  “But what about the deprivation that will ensue!” I shall be told.  No matter how convinced a man may be of the illegality of the ownership of land, it is hard for him, if he is a soldier and needs to feed his starving children, to keep from going where he is sent and working for the proprietors.  Or how can a peasant abstain from renting the proprietor’s land, when he has but half a hectare to each soul and knows that he cannot support his family on the his own land?  It is true, this is very hard, but the same difficulty is met with in refraining from any bad thing.  And yet men for the most part abstain from anything bad.  Here the abstinence is less difficult than in the majority of bad acts, but the harm from the bad act – participation in the seizure of land – is more obvious than in many bad acts from which people refrain.  I am not speaking of the refusal to participate in the army, when the troops are sent out against the peasants.  It is true, for such a refusal it takes more than ordinary courage and a readiness to sacrifice oneself, and not everyone is able to do so.  On the other hand, the cases when this refusal is to be applied are rarely met with.  But it takes much less effort and sacrifice not to work on and rent the proprietors’ lands.  If all workingmen fully comprehended that working for the proprietors and renting their lands are bad, there would be fewer and fewer people ready to work on the proprietors’ lands and to rent them.  Millions of people live without having any need of the proprietors’ lands, busying themselves at home with some trade or attending to all kinds of industries away from home.  Nor do those millions of peasants feel any need of the proprietors’ lands, who, in spite of the whole difficulty of this matter, leave their old places and go to new places, where they get all the land they wish and where they for the most part do not suffer.  Some even grow rich, soon forgetting the want that drove them out.  Even those peasants and good farmers live without working for the proprietors or renting their lands, who, though having but little land to till, live frugally and work their land well.  Other thousands live without having any need of working on and renting the proprietors’ lands – the men who live a Christian life, not living each for himself, but aiding one another.  Many in Russia’s Christian communes live this way, of whom the Dukhobors are especially known to me.

There can be deprivation only in a society of men who live according to the animal law of struggling against one another, but among Christian societies there ought to be no want.  As soon as men divide among themselves what they have, everyone always has what he needs, and much is still left.  When the people who heard Christ’s sermon grew faint with hunger, Christ learned that some of them had provisions, and commanded that all should sit down in a circle and that those who had the provisions should give them to their neighbors on one side.  And the neighbors, having appeased their hunger, handed the provisions to those farther away.  When the whole circle was made, all had their hunger appeased, and much was still left over.

In the same way, there can be no want in the society of men who act similarly, and such people do not need to work for the proprietors or rent their lands.  Thus deprivation cannot always be a sufficient reason for doing what is harmful to one’s brothers.

If the working people now go and work for the proprietors and rent their lands, they do so only because they have not come to understand the sinfulness of their acts or the whole evil that they are doing to their brothers and to themselves by it.  As more men clearly understand the significance of their participation in the ownership of land, the power of the non-workers over the workers will more and more destroy itself of its own accord.


The only sure, indubitable means for improving the condition of the workingmen, which, at the same time, is consistent with God’s will, consists in the emancipation of the land from its seizure by the proprietors.  This emancipation of the land is attained, not only through the workingmen’s refusal to take part in the army, when the army is directed against the working people, but also by abstaining from working on and renting the proprietors’ lands.  But it is not enough for you, the workingmen, to know that you need to liberate the land from its seizure by the proprietors, and that this liberation is attained through your refraining from committing acts of violence against your brothers and from working on and renting the lands of the proprietors.  You must also know in advance how to manage the land when it shall be freed from seizure by the proprietors, and how to distribute it among the workers.

Most of you generally think that all that is necessary is to take the land away from the non-workers, and all will be well.  But that is not so.  It is easy to say, “Take the land away from the non-workers and give it to those who work it.”  But how is this to be done, without violating justice and without again giving the rich a chance to accumulate great extents of territory and thus again to rule over the workers?  To leave it, as some of you think, to each individual worker to mow or plough wherever one pleases, as was done anciently and is even now done among the Cossacks, is possible only where there are few people, there is much land, and the land is all of one quality.  But where there are more people than the land can support, and the land is of varying quality, it is necessary to find a different means for the exploitation of the land.  Could you divide the land according to the number of men?  If the land is divided up according to the number of men, it will also come into the hands of those who do not know how to work it, these non-workers will rent it out or sell it to the rich purchasers, and there will again appear people who own large tracts of land and who do not till it.  Could you prohibit the non-workers from selling or renting out the land?  But then the land that belongs to a man who does not wish or is unable to work it will lie unused.  Besides, in dividing the land up according to the number of men, how will you estimate its quality?  There is black loam and fruitful land, as well as sandy, swampy, sterile land.  There is land in the cities, which brings as much as one thousand rubles income from each hectare, and there is land in the backwoods, which does not bring any income.  How, then, is the land to be distributed in such a way that there may not again arise the ownership of land by those who do not work it, and that there may not be such as are improperly treated, so that there may be no discussions, quarrels, or civil wars?  Men have been busy discussing and solving these questions for a long time.  Many projects have been proposed for the correct distribution of land among the workers.

To say nothing of the so-called communist structure of society, in which the land is regarded as a common possession and is worked by all men in common, I am also acquainted with the project of the Englishman, William Ogilvie, who lived in the eighteenth century.  Ogilvie said that, since every man has the full right to live by what the world produces, in consequence of being born into this world, this right cannot be limited by some people’s regarding great tracts of land as their property.  For this reason, everyone has the free right to own such a plot of land as falls to his share.  But if a person owns more land than falls to his share, and exploits plots that are unused by other men, this person should pay the government a tax for such possession.

Another Englishman, Thomas Spence, solved the land question a few years later by recognizing the land to be the property of parishes, which could dispose of it as they pleased.  In this way the private possession of separate individuals was completely abolished.  A beautiful illustration of Spence’s view is found in the account of what happened to him in the year 1788 at Haydon Bridge, which he calls a  “Sylvan Joke:”

While I was in the wood alone by myself a-gathering of nuts, the forester popped through the bushes upon me, and, asking me what I did there, I replied, “Gathering nuts.”

“Gathering nuts!” said he, “and dare you say so?”

“Yes,” said I, “why not?  Would you question a monkey or a squirrel about such a business?  And am I to be treated as an inferior to one of these creatures, or have I a less right?  But who are you,” I continued, “that thus take it upon you to interrupt me?”

“I’ll let you know that,” said he, “when I arrest you for trespassing here.”

“Indeed,” I answered, “but how can I trespass here where no man ever planted or cultivated, for these nuts are the spontaneous gift of Nature, ordained alike for the sustenance of man and beast that choose to gather them, and, therefore, they are common.”

“I tell you,” said he, “this wood is not common.  It belongs to the Duke of Portland.”

“Oh!  My service to the Duke of Portland,” I said.  “Nature knows no more of him than of me.  Therefore, as in Nature’s storehouse, the rule is ‘first come first served,’ so the Duke of Portland must look sharp if he wants any nuts.”

Spence, in conclusion, declared that if he were called upon to defend a country in which he dared not pluck a nut, he would throw down his rifle, saying, “ Let the Duke of Portland, who claims the country, fight for it!”

The question was similarly solved by the famous author of Age of Reason and Rights of Man, Thomas Paine.  The peculiarity of this solution consisted in recognizing the land to be a common possession, abolishing the right of the ownership of land by separate individuals, and preventing the inheritance of privately held land.  Such land would become the possession of the nation at the owner’s death.

In our century, it was Patrick Edward Dove who was the next, after Thomas Paine, to write and think about this subject.  Dove’s theory is that the value of the land is due to two sources: to the property of the land itself and to the work put into it.  The value of the land due to the work put into it may be the possession of private individuals, but the value of the land that is due to its properties is the possession of the whole nation.  This can never belong to separate individuals, as it is now supposed to be, but must be the common possession of the whole nation.[3]

Such also is the project of the Japanese Land Reclaiming Society, the essence of which is that every man has the right to own as much land as is apportioned to him, on condition of paying an established tax for it.  This would give him the right to demand an allotment of land from someone who has more than the share allotted to each person.  But the best, fairest, and most workable project, in my opinion, is the one by Henry George, which is called the Single Tax.


Henry George’s project may, on a small scale, be imagined in this way.  Let us imagine that in some locality the whole land belongs to a very rich proprietor who lives abroad, to another proprietor who is not well off and who lives and farms at home, and to a hundred peasants who own small tracts.  In addition, this locality is inhabited by a few dozen landless men – artisans, traders, and officials – who serve and live in rented houses.  Let us assume that all the inhabitants of this locality, having come to the conclusion that the whole land is a common possession, have decided to manage the land in conformity with this conviction.

What shall they do?

It is impossible to take the land away from those who own it and to allow anyone to use the land he chooses, since there will be several candidates for the same tract causing endless dissensions.  It is inconvenient for all to unite into one cooperative society and to plough, mow, and harvest in common, and then to divide up the harvest, because some have ploughs, horses, or carts, while others do not have them.  Besides, some of the inhabitants do not know how to till the land, and do not have the strength to do so. So, too, it is very difficult to divide the land according to the number of persons into such holdings as, by their quality, would be equal among themselves. If the whole land is divided up into small plots of varying quality, so that each person should get one each of the best, mediocre, poor, field, mowing, and woodland plots, there will be too many such tiny plots.

Besides, such a division is dangerous, because those who do not wish to work or who are in great need will sell their land to the rich, and large landed proprietors will again come into existence.

And so the inhabitants of the locality decide to leave the land in the hands of those who now own it, but oblige each owner to pay an amount of money into the common treasury that represents the income they derive from the land they use.  This payment is made according to the valuation of the land, not according to the labor put into it, but according to its quality and location.  Then they decide to divide this money into equal parts. But such a collection of money from all the owners and its subsequent equal distribution among the inhabitants is troublesome.  Besides, all the inhabitants pay taxes to support common needs – schools, churches, fire departments, shepherds, mending of roads, and so forth – and such money is always insufficient for public purposes.  Therefore, the inhabitants of the locality decide to collect and use the whole income from the land on common necessities. Having established themselves in this manner, the inhabitants of the locality demand a fixed payment from the proprietors for the land in their possession, and also from the peasants who own small holdings.  But nothing is demanded from the few dozen men who do not own any land, they being permitted to use gratis all that which is supported from the income on the land.

This arrangement has the effect of making it unprofitable for the absent proprietor, who produces little on his land, to continue holding his land, and encourages him to give it up.  But the other proprietor, who is a good farmer, gives up only a part of his land, and retains only that part of it on which he can produce more than what is demanded of him by the land tax.

Those of the peasants who own small tracts but have many workers, and some who have no land but wish to support themselves by means of work on the land, will take over the land that is given up by the proprietors.  Thus, with such a solution, all the inhabitants of this locality find it possible to live on the land and to support themselves from it, and the whole land passes over into the hands or remains in the hands of those who like to till it and are able to produce much on it.  Meanwhile, the public institutions of the locality improve, since more money is obtained for public needs than before.  Above all else, all this transference of landed property takes place without any disputes, quarrels, interference, or violence, but by the voluntary abandonment of the land by those who do not know how to cultivate it profitably.

Such is Henry George’s project in its application to separate localities, states, and even all humanity.  This project is just and beneficent, and, above all, easily applied everywhere, in all societies, no matter what order of agriculture may be established there.

For this reason, I personally consider this project to be the best of all those in existence.  But this is my personal opinion, which may be faulty.  You, the workingmen, will discuss for yourselves these and all other projects when the time comes to attend to the land.  You will choose the one that you will consider the best, or you will yourselves discover a more equitable or more applicable one.  The reason I have explained these projects more in detail is that you, understanding on the one hand the whole injustice of the ownership of land, and, on the other, the whole difficulty and complexity of a just distribution of the land, may not fall into those errors of a thoughtless distribution of the land, which would make your condition worse than what it is at present.


I shall briefly repeat the essence of what I wanted to say to you.  I advise you, the workingmen, in the first place, to understand clearly what it is you need, and not to labor to obtain what is absolutely unnecessary for you.  You need but this one thing: free land, on which you may be able to live and support yourselves.

In the second place, I advise you to understand clearly in what way you may be able to obtain the land you need.  You can obtain the land, not through riots (may God save you from them), not through demonstrations, nor strikes, nor socialistic deputies in parliaments, but only through non-participation in what you yourselves consider to be bad, that is, by not supporting the illegality of the ownership of land, either by means of violence exerted by the army, or by working on the proprietors’ lands and renting them.

In the third place, I advise you to consider in advance how you will distribute the land when it becomes free.  For you to be able correctly to consider this, you must not think the land that will be abandoned by the proprietors will become your property.  You must understand that, for the use of the land to be apportioned regularly and without bias among all men, the right to own land, even if it is only one acre, should not be acknowledged in the case of anyone.  Only by recognizing the land as just such an article of common possession as the sun and air will you be able, justly and without bias, to establish the ownership of land among all men, according to any new or existing system composed or chosen by you in common.

In the fourth place, and this is most important, I advise you, for the purpose of obtaining everything you need, to direct your forces, not to a struggle with the ruling classes by means of revolts, revolutions, or socialistic propaganda, but only to yourselves – to how you may live better.

People fare badly only because they themselves live badly.  And there is no more injurious thought for people than that the causes of their wretched position are not in themselves, but in external conditions.  A man or a society of men need but imagine that the evil they experience is due to external conditions and to direct their attention and efforts to the change of these external conditions, and the evil will be increased.  But a man or a society of men need but sincerely direct their attention to themselves, and in themselves and their lives look for the causes of that evil from which they suffer, in order that these causes may be at once found and destroyed.

“Seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”  This is the fundamental law of human life.  If you live badly, contrary to God’s law, no efforts of yours will procure the well being that you are seeking.  If you live morally well, in accordance with God’s will, this well-being will naturally establish itself among you in a way you have never thought of.

It seems so natural and simple to push against the door leading to that which we need, and the more natural, since a crowd stands behind us, pressing against us, and jamming us against the door.  However, the more stubbornly we press against the door leading to that which we consider a good, the less hope there is to penetrate through it.  The door opens toward us.  Thus, to obtain the good, a man must not trouble himself about the change of external conditions, but only about changing himself.  He must stop doing what is evil and must begin to do good.  All the doors that lead men to the true good only open outwardly.

We say that the working people are enslaved by the government and by the rich.  But who are these men who form the government and the wealthy classes?  Are they heroes, each of whom can vanquish tens and hundreds of working people?  Or are there very many of them, while there are but few workingmen?  Or are these men, the rulers and the wealthy, the only ones who know how to make and produce everything the people need to live by?  None of these is true.  These men are no heroes.  On the contrary, they are weakened, helpless people, and not only are they not numerous, but they are even hundreds of times fewer than the working people.  And everything that men need to live is produced not by them, but by the workingmen, while they are both unable and unwilling to do anything and only devour what the workingmen produce.  Why, then, does this small band of feeble, idle men, who cannot and will not do anything, rule over millions of workingmen?  There is but one answer: it is due to the fact that the workingmen are guided by the same rules and laws by which their oppressors are guided.  If the workingmen work and do not exploit the labors of the poor and the feeble to such an extent as do the non‑working rulers and the wealthy, this is not due to the fact that they consider this bad, but because they cannot do it so well as the rulers and the rich, who are more agile and cunning than the rest.  The rulers and the rich rule the working people only because the working people wish to rule their own fellow workingmen in precisely the same manner.  For this same reason – the equal comprehension of life – the workingmen are unable to successfully rebel against their oppressors.  No matter how hard it is for the workingman to be oppressed by the rulers and the rich, he knows in his heart that he himself would act similarly toward his brothers.  The working people have fettered themselves by their desire to enslave one another, and so it is easy for the shrewd people who have already got them in their power to enslave them.  If the working people were not exactly like the rulers and the rich, who are concerned only about exploiting their neighbor’s want, but lived in a brotherly way, thinking of one another and mutually offering aid, no one would be able to enslave them.  And so, to free themselves from the oppression in which they are held by the rulers and the rich, the working people have but one means: to free themselves from those principles by which they are guided in their lives, to stop serving mammon, and to begin serving God.

The pretended friends of the people tell you, and you yourselves – at least a few of you – say to yourselves, that the present order must be changed, that you must take possession of the implements of labor and of the land, and that you must overthrow the present government and establish a new one.  You believe this, and you hope and work for the attainment of these ends.  But let us assume that you will attain what you wish, overthrow the present government, establish a new government, and take possession of all the factories, works, and land.  Why do you assume that the people who will form the new government will be guided by new principles, different from those by which the present men are guided?  And if they shall be guided by the same principles, they will, like those of the present, not only retain, but also strengthen their power, and use their power to take as much as they can.  Why do you assume that the people who will have charge of the factories and land, being people with just such views as the men of the present, will not find means for seizing the lion’s share, leaving to the humble and meek only what is indispensable?  I shall be told, “It will be so arranged that it will be impossible to do so.”  But see how well all was arranged by God Himself, or by Nature – the ownership of the earth by all who are born and live upon it – and yet people have been cunning enough to violate this divine arrangement.  And so thousands of means for distorting the human order will always be discovered by those men who are guided in their lives by nothing but care for their personal well-being.  No modifications of the external order will ever improve or ever can improve the condition of men.  And so my fourth and most important advice to you, workingmen, is that, without condemning other people or your oppressors, you should direct your attention to yourselves and change your inner lives.

You may think that it is lawful and useful to forcibly take away and appropriate to yourselves what has been taken from you and is retained by force.  Or, you may think that, following the teaching of erring men, it is lawful and useful to take part in the struggle of the classes and to strive after the acquisition of the implements of labor created by others.  Or, you may think that, serving as soldiers, you are obliged to obey the authorities, who compel you to offer violence to your brothers and kill them, and not to obey God, who commands you not to do so.  Or, you may think that, in maintaining the lawlessness of the ownership of land by your work on the lands of the proprietors and by renting them, you are not doing anything wrong.  If you think and do any of these things, your condition will become worse and worse, and you will forever remain slaves.

But if you come to understand that, for your true good, you need only live a life of brotherly love according to God’s law, doing to others what you wish they would do to you, then, in the measure in which you will understand and execute it, you will obtain what you wish for, and your slavery be destroyed.  “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Yásnaya Polyána, September 1902

[1] Transcriber’s note – In fact, it would be another eight years before Tolstoy died.

[2] Transcriber’s note – The Stundists were one of the first Protestant groups in Ukraine.

[3] This information is taken from a beautiful English book by John Morrison Davidson, Precursors of Henry George.