IF Id only the heart to throw up whats been set going such a lot of trouble wasted Id turn my back on the whole business, sell up, go off like Nikolay Ivanovitch to hear La Belle Hélène, said the landowner, a pleasant smile lighting up his shrewd old face.
The only gain is that I live in my own house, neither bought nor hired. Besides, one keeps hoping the people will learn sense. Though, instead of that, youd never believe itthe drunkenness, the immorality! They keep chopping and changing their bits of land. Not a sight of a horse or a cow. The peasants dying of hunger, but just go and take him on as a laborer, hell do his best to do you a mischief, and then bring you up before the justice of the peace.
I lodge complaints? Not for anything in the world! Such a talking, and such a to-do, that one would have cause to regret it. At the works, for instance, they pocketed the advance-money and made off. What did the justice do? Why, acquitted them. Nothing keeps them in order but their own communal court and their village elder. Hell flog them in the good old style! But for that thered be nothing for it but to give it all up and run away.
My systems very simple, said Mihail Petrovitch, thank God. All my management rests on getting the money ready for the autumn taxes, and the peasants come to me, Father, master, help us! Well, the peasants are all ones neighbours; one feels for them. So one advances them a third, but one says: Remember, lads, I have helped you, and you must help me when I need itwhether its the sowing of the oats, or the hay-cutting, or the harvest; and well, one agrees, so much for each taxpayerthough there are dishonest ones among them too, its true.
Why, manage like Mihail Petrovitch, or let the land for half the crop or for rent to the peasants; that one can doonly thats just how the general prosperity of the country is being ruined. Where the land with serf-labour and good management gave a yield of nine to one, on the half-crop system it yields three to one. Russia has been ruined by the emancipation!
Sviazhsky looked with smiling eyes at Levin, and even made a faint gesture of irony to him; but Levin did not think the landowners words absurd, he understood them better than he did Sviazhsky. A great deal more of what the gentleman with the grey whiskers said to show in what way Russia was ruined by the emancipation struck him indeed as very true, new to him, and quite incontestable. The landowner unmistakably spoke his own individual thoughta thing that rarely happensand a thought to which he had been brought not by a desire of finding some exercise for an idle brain, but a thought which had grown up out of the conditions of his life, which he had brooded over in the solitude of his village, and had considered in every aspect.
The point is, dont you see, that progress of every sort is only made by the use of authority, he said, evidently wishing to show he was not without culture. Take the reforms of Peter, of Catherine, of Alexander. Take European history. And progress in agriculture more than anything elsethe potato, for instance, that was introduced among us by force. The wooden plough too wasnt always used. It was introduced may be in the days before the Empire, but it was probably brought in by force. Now, in our own day, we landowners in the serf times used various improvements in our husbandry: drying-machines and thrashing-machines, and carting manure and all the modern implementsall that we brought into use by our authority, and the peasants opposed it at first, and ended by imitating us. Now, by the abolition of serfdom we have been deprived of our authority; and so our husbandry, where it had been raised to a high level, is bound to sink to the most savage primitive condition. Thats how I see it.
The laborers wont work well, and wont work with good implements. Our laborer can do nothing but get drunk like a pig, and when hes drunk he ruins everything you give him. He makes the horses ill with too much water, cuts good harness, barters the tyres of the wheels for drink, drops bits of iron into the thrashing-machine, so as to break it. He loathes the sight of anything thats not after his fashion. And thats how it is the whole level of husbandry has fallen. Lands gone out of cultivation, overgrown with weeds, or divided among the peasants, and where millions of bushels were raised you get a hundred thousand; the wealth of the country has decreased. If the same thing had been done, but with care that
I dont believe it, Sviazhsky replied quite seriously; all I see is that we dont know how to cultivate the land, and that our system of agriculture in the serf-days was by no means too high, but too low. We have no machines, no good stock, no efficient supervision; we dont even know how to keep accounts. Ask any landowner; he wont be able to tell you what crops profitable, and whats not.
Why do they spoil things? A poor thrashing-machine, or your Russian presser, they will break, but my steam-press they dont break. A wretched Russian nag theyll ruin, but keep good dray-horses or cart-horsesthey wont ruin them. And so it is all round. We must raise our farming to a higher level.
Oh, if one only had the means to do it, Nikolay Ivanovitch! Its all very well for you; but for me, with a son to keep at the university, lads to be educated at the high schoolhow am I going to buy these dray-horses?
I dont agree that its necessary or possible to raise the level of agriculture still higher, said Levin. I devote myself to it, and I have means, but I can do nothing. As to the banks, I dont know to whom theyre any good. For my part, anyway, whatever Ive spent money on in the way of husbandry, it has been a loss: stocka loss, machinerya loss.
And Im not the only one, pursued Levin. I mix with all the neighbouring landowners, who are cultivating their land on a rational system; they all, with rare exceptions, are doing so at a loss. Come, tell us how does your land dodoes it pay? said Levin, and at once in Sviazhskys eyes he detected that fleeting expression of alarm which he had noticed whenever he had tried to penetrate beyond the outer chambers of Sviazhskys mind.
Moreover, this question on Levins part was not quite in good faith. Madame Sviazhsky had just told him at tea that they had that summer invited a German expert in book- keeping from Moscow, who for a consideration of five hundred roubles had investigated the management of their property, and found that it was costing them a loss of three thousand odd roubles. She did not remember the precise sum, but it appeared that the German had worked it out to the fraction of a farthing.
Oh, rent! Levin cried with horror. Rent there may be in Europe, where land has been improved by the labour put into it; but with us all the land is deteriorating from the labour put into itin other words, theyre working it out; so theres no question of rent.
Having lost his antagonist, Levin continued the conversation with the grey-whiskered landowner, trying to prove to him that all the difficulty arises from the fact that we dont find out the peculiarities and habits of our laborer; but the landowner, like all men who think independently and in isolation, was slow in taking in any other persons idea, and particularly partial to his own. He stuck to it that the Russian peasant is a swine and likes swinishness, and that to get him out of his swinishness one must have authority, and there is none; one must have the stick, and we have become so liberal that we have all of and a sudden replaced the stick that served us for a thousand years by lawyers and model prisons, where the worthless, stinking peasant is fed on good soup and has a fixed allowance of cubic feet of air.
How can new conditions be found? said Sviazhsky. Having eaten some junket and lighted a cigarette, he came back to the discussion. All possible relations to the labour force have been defined and studied, he said. The relic of barbarism, the primitive commune with each guarantee for all, will disappear of itself; serfdom has been abolishedthere remains nothing but free labour, and its forms are fixed and ready made, and must be adopted. Permanent hands, day-labourers, farmersyou cant get out of those forms.
Oh yes; well bury the world under our caps! Weve found the secret Europe was seeking for! Ive heard all that; but, excuse me, do you know all thats been done in Europe on the question of the organisation of labour?
That question is now absorbing the best minds in Europe. The Schulze-Delitsch movement. And then all this enormous literature of the labour question, the most liberal Lassalle movement the Mulhausen experiment? Thats a fact by now, as youre probably aware.