Two Direct Action Essays from Tolstoy

In recent days a stampede of browsers have come by to read Leo Tolstoy’s Letter to the Liberals. Unfortunately, the referrer is obscured and so I don’t know the cause for the sudden interest. But this led me to re-read the essay and thereby to remind myself of how much I admire it.

We could use more Tolstoy around these parts, and so I’ve added a couple more essays to those hosted at The Picket Line.

The first is his essay “Carthago Delenda Est”. Here is a brief excerpt:

A man cannot help but wish that his life should not be a useless, aimless existence, but that it should be a service to God and men. Frequently a man lives his life, without finding an opportunity for this service. The call to take part in military service is that opportunity which presents itself to every man of our time. Every man, by refusing to take part personally in military service, either as a recruit or as a payer of taxes to the government, which uses these taxes for military matters, by this refusal in the most efficacious manner does a great service to God and men, because by this refusal he in the most efficacious manner contributes to the forward movement of humanity toward that better social structure, toward which humanity is striving and at which it must arrive.

The second is his essay Patriotism and Government, which diagnoses that dual problem, its bloody symptoms, and its cure. Excerpt:

In the schools they fan patriotism in the children by means of history, by describing their nation as the best of all the nations and always in the right; in the adults the same sentiment is roused by means of spectacles, celebrations, monuments, and a patriotic, lying press; but patriotism is chiefly roused in them by this, that, committing all kinds of unjust acts and cruelties against other nations, they provoke in these nations a hatred for their own nation, and then use this hatred for provoking such a hatred in their own nation.

That almost sounds like the plank of a contemporary American political platform or two.

The Vote

From the issue of The Vote:

Tax Resistance.

Miss Cummin, of Troufield, Petersfield, is resisting the payment of Income-tax and Inhabited House-duty, and is organising her resistance so as to have all the benefits of publicity. We congratulate our good comrade on her determination, and shall rally to the protest when the Government finally takes action.

The Insurance Commissioners have at last begun to wake up to the fact that the Women’s Freedom League is not doing its stamp-licking; and an official was despatched to Headquarters’ Office to make further inquiries. Full details of the facts were supplied to her; but when she approached the subject of who was to be prosecuted the trouble began.

“I am afraid you must find that out for yourself,” I remarked — I trust politely. “We can’t do your work for you.”

“Were we an Incorporated Society? No, certainly not; not so foolish as that!” I had not until that moment realised the true strength of the position.

“Then our secretary is not responsible? No, I don’t think she can be. You see, the position is greatly beautified by the fact that several of the officials who should insure the employees are themselves insurable and don’t insure. How will you deal with that?” This seemed a real poser.

“Won’t I give you any information? Well, as a suggestion, how about the Annual Conference! The Conference lays down the policy and appoints people to carry it out. I should suggest that you try proceedings against the Conference—” But at this stage the interview ended, the very pleasant lady who represented Law and Order feeling that my suggestions were not exactly helpful. All the same, I should love to see the Government try to prosecute a Conference. It has never been done yet, and might create precedents of a magnitude undreamed of.

The following case, quoted in ’s Sunday Press, appears to be one in which a very serious point arises. There is no question of principle or conscience involved; and the fact that the Insurance money was deducted, yet the stamps were not put on, gives it an ugly appearance:—

A summons was heard in the Doncaster Borough Court against Joseph Lister, contractor, Town Moor-avenue, for failing to stamp a National Insurance contribution card of a workman for thirty-one weeks. Defendant had been doing contract work for houses at the Rossington Colliery Village and employed John William Carr as a joiner. Carr entered his service in August last year, and when he left his former employment he left his employment book with the local office at South Elmsall and obtained from them a card to give to his future employer to enable him to get his book from the local office.

He remained with Lister for several months, and was under the impression that defendant had obtained the book as he had deducted from his wages the amount due for insurance purposes. On leaving defendant’s employ he asked for his book and was told it was stamped up, but was at defendant’s home. However, the book was not forthcoming, and it transpired that it was not stamped until proceedings were commenced.

Mr. Andrews stated that defendant was liable to a penalty of £10 for each week and three times the value of the stamps. After hearing evidence the Bench imposed a fine of 50s. in one case, and ordered defendant to pay the costs in the other cases.

Contrast the sentence with that on Mrs. Harvey:—

On , Mrs. Kate Harvey, of Brackenhill, Bromley, was summoned on ten counts in respect of her gardener, William David Asquith. She was fined £1 on each count, costs £4 10s., “special costs” asked for by the Insurance Commissioners £2 2s., and ordered to pay the arrears, 5s. 10d.; total, £16 17s. 10d..

Mrs. Harvey’s fate is still in the balance, but there is a threat of immediate proceedings.