“Leo Tolstoy as a mirror of the Russian Revolution”

In “Leo Tolstoy as a mirror to the Russian Revolution” Vladimir Ilyich makes one quintessential point that he uses the rest of his essay justifying, which is “The Contradictions in Tolstoy’s views are indeed a mirror of these contradictory conditions under which the peasantry had to play their historical part in our revolution”(Lenin, 7). At this time Leo Tolstoy had just passed and many political thinkers were writing on the author in an attempt to turn his ideology into either a symbol of revolution, or patriotism for the motherland. However, Vladimir Ilyich disagreed with all of these assessments and adopted a stance that had not been previously taken in Russian revolutionary circles or in the mainstream government press, the fact that Leo Tolstoy was an adamant anti-socialist, but also one of the most fervent advocates of the revolution. Vladimir Ilyich explained this by saying that Tolstoy was so close to the peasantry and was able to portray their experiences so accurately he unknowingly adopted their weaknesses, habits, and sentiments, “Tolstoy reflected seething hatred, a mature striving for a better lot, a desire to get rid of the past—and also immature dreaming, political ignorance, and revolutionary flabbiness”(Lenin, 9). This contradiction is expressed through Tolstoy’s ideology commonly called Tolstoyism at the time, were in he criticizes the “official” church, and private property, while at the same time preaching moral self-perfection, abstention from politics, and a “new purified religion”. What Tolstoy conveyed in his teachings was a renewed religiosity apart from the corruption of the Russian Orthodox Church, and a disdain of the encroaching capitalism that caused the erosion of traditional Russian peasant life. His teachings and literature were acutely important because of the epoch Russia found herself in from 1861 through 1905. During this period Russia was going through a series of significant historical, political, and cultural changes, and one of these was the abolition of serfdom. Although the abolition of serfdom was initially welcomed by the majority of Russian serfs, for they thought it would bring them new opportunities, many of the Russian peasants quickly became disillusioned with the realities of freedom, “… This criticism really reflected the change in the outlook of millions of peasants who had only recently been emancipated from serfdom and who saw that this emancipation meant new horrors of ruin, death from starvation, a homeless life in the “doss houses” in the towns etc.”(Lenin, 17). The others teachings spouted by Tolstoy were also very visible in the Russian peasantry during the 1905 Revolution, specifically ideas like political docility and “bearing your cross”, “The men wavered, after killing some hated superior, they released the rest of the arrested officers…then some faced the firing squad, others bared truer backs for the birch, and then put on the yoke again—quite in the spirit of Leo Tolstoy!”(Lenin, 9). The fact that Leo Tolstoy was able to so accurately depict the plight of the Russian peasant, while at the same time denouncing socialism and the revolutionary struggle caused Vladimir Ilyich to believe that “He was the spokesman for the vast majority of the Russian people who already hate the masters of present-day society, but have not yet realized the necessity of waging a consistent, uncompromising fight to the finish against them”(Lenin, 18). This helps summarize Vladimir Ilyich’s view on the great author, while he greatly admired his artistic style and his ability to depict the masses in an accurate picture, he greatly detested using Tolstoy’s works as a guide, since he was unable to understand the most important question and struggle facing Russia during this period, the class struggle, “The Russian people will achieve their emancipation only when they realize that they must learn how to secure a better way of life not from Tolstoy, but from the class whose significance Tolstoy did not understand, and who alone is capable of destroying the old world that Tolstoy hated, namely, from the proletariat.”(Lenin, 18)


Vladimir Lenin’s essay’s on Tolstoy

This post earned a place in the “Comrade’s Corner” from the editorial team.


Published by De'Vonte A Tinsley

Russian and Soviet history has been an avid passion of mine since I was ten. Subsequently, in my freshman year of high school, I made a commitment to be fluent in Russian by the time I graduate college. Ever since then, I have been independently studying Russian history, culture, and language for years.

3 thoughts on ““Leo Tolstoy as a mirror of the Russian Revolution”

  1. What an interesting analysis of Lenin’s essay about Tolstoy! It’s ironic, I suppose that Tolstoy the author was revered in the Soviet period, while Tolstoy, the pacifist, celibate, vegetarian and devote Christian was more problematic! Is the image of Yasnaya Polyana from the Prokudin-Gorskii collection? If so, please include a citation to that effect – and if it’s from somewhere else, your readers would like to know that as well. Same with the photo of Tolstoy — please include a citation to the source of the image. I really enjoyed reading this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yes the picture of Yasnaya Polyana is from the Prokudin-Gorskii collection, I attempted to site it using the chrome extension you used in class on Thursday but was unable to figure it out. I will try again.


  2. P.S. Please change your display name to something that uses Latin characters. The Cyrillic gets garbled on the way to the main course site, and it ends up looking like Clay is the author of your posts!


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