First, an apology
Sometimes, I think I should apologize to my friends and readers. Blogging wisdom tells authors to select a topic, write about it widely and deeply, and provide usable and shareable content for readers. And don’t forget the SEO! Besides the brute fact that I hate the very concept of ‘content’ rather that just plain writing, there are just too many things that fascinate me to limit my writing to one topic. I tried running multiple sites at a time and it was just too time consuming. So I appreciate every reader who hangs in there when something like Tolstoyan communes, something I know won’t interest everyone, pops up.
I saw this article in the New Yorker about life in one of the last Tolstoyan communes. Now, I love me some Tolstoy. I’ve read most of his major writing at least once, studied Russian – Здравствуйте! – to read his books in the original (and have never done so), and whenever asked, I’m happy to offer my opinion that Anna Karenina is the greatest novel ever written. It’s a little embarrassing, but I even dressed like the Great Man once. Nothing like mowing the lawn while wearing a bright green peasant’s smock with a wide leather belt to get some stares.
It’s understood among students of Tolstoy that he invented his own religion based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He rejected mystery, miracles, and the spiritual and considered Jesus to be a wise but very human teacher. He corresponded frequently with Gandhi about non-violence and pacifism and ate a vegetarian diet. He identified with the poor, setting up schools and eschewed a life of ease and wealth. He tried to forgo sex and struggled deeply with his ‘animal lust’ as Troyat outlines in his biography of the writer. In other words, he actually lived the way he talked. Unheard of today, even, or especially, in religious circles, and one reason for his appeal in a time of great tumult.
Wiki says that there were Tolstoyan communes throughout the world and all adhered to principles of non-violence, non-resistance, and vegetarianism. Commune members lived simply and did not participate in government. They considered the state to be a violent and corrupt means of artificial control. In many ways, they were similar to the British and American Shakers. Alas, Tolstoyan Communities had a short history. Most attempted to be self-sustaining and weren’t able to support themselves. Neighbors were often suspicious of their non-violent neighbors and governments made life difficult for them. And I’ll state the obvious: it’s hard to keep a movement growing when you fail to propagate membership from within. Abstinence wasn’t a requirement but was very highly regarded.
Tolstoy had mixed feelings about the groups formed in his name. He was happy to see people joining to champion non-violence and simplicity, but argued strongly that he should never be propped up as a model and that every man should seek out his own answers within himself. I’m sure that his wife Sonya agreed.
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