Roza and Margarita Riaikkenen's
  • Articles
  • Memories
  • Lectures
  • Essays on Tolstoy
  • Contact info
  • Links

    available in:
  • English



    By Roza Riaikkenen




    In his work What Should We Do? , Leo Tolstoy came to the conclusion about the abusive role of money and the meaninglessness of forced labour and work just for money and property, “for the sake of which all the horrible evil in the world is taking place: wars, executions, courts, jails, depravity, murder and doom for the people”. He understood that the only real human property is that what a person is able and “has to apply, increase and improve. For any person, such property is only he or she himself or herself.”

    Tolstoy rejected the attachment to personal property. In his consciousness, he disconnected the concepts of property and labor, which are usually connected in the minds of the people of our civilization. In Tolstoy’s mind and work, labor became “the essence and joy of life”, any “labor, agricultural, and craft, and intellectual, and establishing communications between the people”.

    “Retreat from one or many of common kind jobs and accepting a special job will be justified only when a person of this special job, who loves this job and knows that he or she does this job better than anyone else, sacrifices his or her profit in order to be able to fulfil the requirements of this particular job. Only this view of labor and the following natural separation of duties eliminates the curse, which our imagination puts on labor; then any kind of labor becomes joy because either a person will do an undoubtedly useful and joyful, and none too burdensome work, or the person will understand their sacrifice while doing a heavier, exceptional labor for the good of others.” (L.Tolstoy, What Should We Do)

    These Tolstoy’s ideas haven’t been accepted and put into action by the majority, neither in his time, nor even today. For the following century our civilization passed further on its way of separation and intensification of labor for the purpose of collecting money and property. The increase of productivity became the target, for the sake of which the society is sacrificing everything else: the environment, the morals, the education of children and even their birth.

    Not long ago, there weren’t any doubts that earlier or later all the countries and peoples would follow the latter way of life, and on this way, everyone would find their personal good, if only they would be able to fit into the market mechanism of a capitalist state.

    The doubts appeared from two sides: from the Nature herself, and from human nature. On the one hand, productivity increase without the alteration in technologies is leading to climate change. On the other hand, common standards of morality are declining. The young generation, if it accepts consumerism and unlimited search for life pleasures as its goal, is moving further towards drugs and alcohol consumption, towards the unlimited sex without love, and towards violence and crimes.

    The events of daily life show us that the society is in fact heading this way. So, we would like to return to Tolstoy’s ideas and have a look on how he expected to turn people to voluntarily loving work for the common good, and make everyone happy without consumerism. The writer described this kind of life as following: “If people’s life is filled with work and they know the pleasure of rest, they don’t need more of houses, furniture, clothes, etc.; they need less of expensive foodstuff, vehicles, entertainment…A person who thinks of their life as work will use their skills, dexterity and endurance to have a fulfilling life through work.”

    When Tolstoy spoke about the possibility of such lifestyle, wasn’t he just fantasising? Did he see anywhere around such non-egoistic and sacrificial people enough to lead the society to these goals? Yes, he saw this ability in women, who are naturally constantly working with love and sacrifice for the sake of their children.

    When a woman is pregnant with a baby and sick for 9 months; when she is giving birth, in pain and with risks for her life; when she is nursing her baby and subduing the “strongest human want for sleep” to her love for the baby; when she is later on minding and educating the child, who often torments her, and she looks neither for a result nor for a reward for her sacrificial work around the clock – this is, according to Tolstoy, the image of real work, on the brink of life and death, which is possible only because of great love.

    A mother is able to teach her children to do such unselfish work and educate them in a way that they would feel a need for such work. “She will not need to ask what should she teach and to which outcomes to prepare her children: she knows what is people’s vocation, and therefore knows what to teach and for what to prepare the children.”

    “A mother of this kind will give birth by herself, feed by herself; she will first and foremost feed and prepare food for her children, and sew, and wash, and teach her children, and sleep and speak with them, because she understands this work as the purpose of her life. Only this kind of woman-mother will not look for outward security for her children like the money of her husband or the children’s diplomas – she will cultivate in them the ability of selfless execution of the divine will, which she knows in herself, the ability of carrying work while spending and risking her life, because she knows that only this can secure and bring good into life. A mother of this kind will not ask others what she should do – she will know everything and fear nothing.”

    According to Tolstoy, such woman-mother is reaching in her life that highest perfection, “to which people are striving as to the highest good”, and she can teach men this perfection.

    “Women of this kind, who follow and execute their vocation, are leading the men-leaders; women of this kind are preparing the new generations of people and establishing social opinion; and therefore in the hands of these women lies the highest power of saving the people from the existing and threatening evils of our times.” And in the conclusion Tolstoy writes: “Yes, women-mothers, in your hands, more than in anyone else’s, is the saving of the world!”