The Tolstoyans

The numerous admirers of Count Tolstoi will find in his writings some

derivations, whether conscious or unconscious, from the principles

elaborated by many of the Russian sects. The doctrine of

non-resistance, or inaction, the abolition of the army, vegetarianism,

the defiance of law, and of dogmatic Christianity, together with many

other conceptions which either scandalised or enraptured his readers,

were already wid
spread among the Russian peasantry; though Tolstoi was

able to give them new forms of expression and an original, if

disquieting, philosophic basis.

But even as the products of the earth which we consume return to earth

again, so do ideas and doctrines ever return to the source from which

they sprang. A great reformer usually gathers his ideas from his

environment, until, transformed by the workings of his brain, they

react once more upon those to whom they actually owed their origin.

Renan has traced very accurately the evolution of a religious leader,

and Tolstoi passed through all its logical phases, only stopping short

of the martyrdom necessary ere he could enter the ranks of the prophets.

Imbued with the hopes and dreams that flourished all around him, he

began, at a ripe age and in full possession of his faculties, to

express his philosophy in poetic and alluring parables, the hostility

of the government having only served to fire his enthusiasms and

embitter his individual opinions. After first declaring that the

masters of men are their equals, he taught later on that they are their

persecutors, and finally, in old age, arrived at the conclusion that

all who rule or direct others are simply criminals!

"You are not at all obliged to fulfil your duties," he wrote, in the

_Life and Death of Drojine_, 1895, dedicated to a Tolstoyan martyr.

"You could, if you wished, find another occupation, so that you would

no longer have to tyrannise over men. . . . You men of power, emperors

and kings, you are not Christians, and it is time you renounced the

name as well as the moral code upon which you depend in order to

dominate others."

It would be difficult to give a complete list either of the beliefs of

the Tolstoyans, or of their colonies, in many of which members of the

highest aristocracy were to be found.

"We have in Russia tens of thousands of men who have refused to swear

allegiance to the new Tsar," wrote Tolstoi, a couple of years before

his death, "and who consider military service merely a school for


We have no right to doubt his word--but did Tolstoi know all his

followers? Like all who have scattered seed, he was not in a position

to count it. But however that may be, he transformed the highest

aspirations of man's soul into a noble philosophy of human progress,

and attracted the uneducated as well as the cultured classes by his

genuine desire for equality and justice.

Early in June, 1895, several hundreds of _verigintzi_ (members of a

sect named after Veregine, their leader) came from the south of Russia

to the Karsk district. The government's suspicions were aroused, and

at Karsk the pilgrims were stopped, and punished for having attempted

to emigrate without special permission. Inquiries showed that all were

Tolstoyans, who practised the doctrine of non-resistance to evil on a

large scale. For their co-religionists in Elisabethpol suddenly

refused to bear arms, and nine soldiers also belonging to the sect

repeated without ceasing that "our heavenly Father has forbidden us to

kill our fellowmen." Those who were in the reserve sent in their

papers, saying that they wished to have nothing more to do with the


One section of the _verigintzi_ especially distinguished themselves by

the zeal with which they practised the Tolstoyan doctrines. They

reverenced their leader under the name of "General Tolstoi," gave up

sugar as well as meat, drank only tea and ate only bread. They were

called "the fasters," and their gentleness became proverbial. In the

village of Orlovka they were exposed to most cruel outrages, the

inhabitants having been stirred up against them by the priests and

officials. They were spat upon, flogged, and generally ill-treated,

but never ceased to pray, "O God, help us to bear our misery." Their

meekness at last melted the hearts of their persecutors, who, becoming

infected by their religious ardour, went down on their knees before

those whom they had struck with whips a few minutes before.