How much land does a man need?

This is the title of a short story written in 1886 by Leo Tolstoy, the author of the famous War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).

Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana, 1908 – by Prokudin-Gorsky

The complete tale can be read here, but I’ll summarize it now in this post. Although, of course, it’s better to read the original tale, Tolstoy used to write better than me.

A man, named Pahom, is told about the land of the Bashkirs, far away. A tradesman tells Pahom that the Bashkirs own a huge amount of land and they are so simple-minded people that sell land by almost nothing. Then Pahom decides to do the journey there to get land.

After a long journey, he finds the tribe of the Bashkirs, living in tents at the steppe. First Pahom gives them some gifts, and he is led to meet the chief. When Pahom says that he would like to buy land, the chief makes him a strange offer: he will can buy, for just one thousand rubles, as much land as he can go round on his feet in a day, marking his route with a spade… with a condition: if Pahom doesn’t return at the starting point on the same day, by the sunset, his money is lost and don’t get any land.

Pahom accepts the deal. The next morning, the chief leads Pahom to a hillock and places his fox-fur cap on the ground, “This will be the mark. Start from here, and return here again. All the land you go round shall be yours.” Pahom pays him the thousand rubles and starts walking.

He does the first mark after having walked during some hours. But the sun is high yet, and he decides to continue walking, “another three miles, it would be a pity to lose it. The further one goes, the better the land seems.” He continues until the hillock is scarcely visible, and then sits down to eat something and rest, before to turn back, thinking that he had got enough land already. But when he stands up again, he sees a damp hollow at some distance, and decides to continue once more to add a bit more to his land.

When he turns back towards the hillock, he is tired after so many hours walking under the hot sun. Then he notices that the sun is low already, and it seems to be lowering quickly. The hillock is far yet, and Pahom realizes that he has been too much greedy. He starts running, his heart beating like a hammer. He runs desperately the next miles, feeling sick, but he can’t stop now that he is near to the starting point, and the sun almost has reached the earth. The chief and other people are there, shouting to him, and Pahom gathers his last strength to run until the cap. He utters a cry, falls on the ground and reaches the cap with his hands. When his servant tries to help him to stand up, finds that Pahom has died.

He is buried in a grave dug there, on the hillock. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.

           

 

It’s nicely sad. But I have written it here for a reason, because I reminded it some days ago when I was talking with a friend about the actual scam-crisis. The tale is useful to explain the scam-crisis.

– Our rulers and their masters (bankers and financiers) are Pahom.

– The actual socio-politic system (welfare state, labour regulation, workers rights) is the land that the rulers want to get. They want to dismantle all that system, built during the second half of XXth century, to return to the XIXth system. They use the named crisis to claim that is needed to change the system, and do it so quick as they can, as Naomi Klein explains in her excellent book The Shock Doctrine. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007). So, our rulers and their masters aren’t as incompetent as it seems, simply they don’t want that the “crisis” end by the moment. They know that their austerity measures are making worse the “crisis”, meanwhile they are destroying the system that was built during decades of class struggle. It isn’t a crisis but a scam, a robbery.

– The danger or limit, like the sunset in Tolstoy’s story, is that the people rebel against them and cause a revolution if they are too greedy and don’t know to stop in time. Then they might lose all, like Pahom.

 

So, they need to do their “reforms”, dismantleing all the system, as quick as they can, using the so named crisis as pretext. The scam-crisis will end when:

a) When they are satisfied. But that never will happen. To hope that the financier elite will think some day that they have got enough wealth would be like if rabbits hope that wolves will turn vegetarians. This hypotesis can be ruled out. As Pahom, they always will want a bit more, and later a bit more.

b) When the revolution happens, if they don’t know to stop in time, like Pahom. This seems too far right now, it’s right. Nowdays financiers and rulers at Western World seem very safe, as much as Gadaffi at Libia four or five years ago.

c) When they see the rebellion too close and dangerous, or at least so much widespread discontent, unrest, strikes, that capitalism can’t work as they would wish. Then they’ll have to stop, against their will, to get some social peace.

 

Probably the last option, c), is the most likely possibility. Anyway, continuing the class struggle is needed, to get b) or c)… or we’ll stay getting worse indefinitely, hoping that option a) will happen some day, hoping that wolves will become vegetarians or financier elite will become human beings.

Of course, I prefer the option b). And Leo Tolstoy, an anarchist, probably would say the same.

La liberté guidant le peuple – Eugène Delacroix, 1830
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