First, an apology and a thanks
Sometimes, I think I should apologize to my friends and readers. Every drop of bogging genius tells me to select a topic and hone in on it like a laser, shot from space by super-smart aliens. Once you’ve figured out exactly what to write about, break it into even smaller chunks and write about just one of those. The more focused you are, the wisdom goes, the fewer readers you will have, but they will hang perilously on to your every word. And don’t forget about SEO!
So I had sites about the Good Life and evolution and Saabs and, well, I just can’t do it. There are too many things that fascinate me to limit my writing to one topic. Just the business of running several blogs wore me out, so I appreciate every reader who hangs in there when something like Tolstoyan communes sparks my interest. It’s something that I know won’t interest everyone, but, well, it interests me.
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, and took up Russian – Здравствуйте! – to read his books in the original language (and have never done so). Whenever I’m asked, I’m happy to offer my most humble opinion that Anna Karenina is the greatest novel ever written. It’s a little embarrassing, okay, maybe a lot embarrassing, but I even started dressing like the Great Man. There’s nothing like wearing a bright green smock with a wide leather belt to get you some stares.
It’s well known among students of Tolstoy that he invented his own Christian denomination based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount even though he rejected almost everything about Jesus. In this regard, he was a true modern accepting Jesus as a wise teacher and rejecting the mere thought of mystery or miracles or anything spiritual. I’m being mean to my best friend, but it sounds a lot like molding G in your own image. He corresponded frequently with Gandhi about non-violence and pacifism and ate a vegetarian diet. He identified with the poor, setting up schools and eschewing a life of wealth and ease, which his family legacy and writing status afforded him. He tried to forgo sex but struggled with his ‘animal lust’ as Troyat outlines in his biography of the writer. In other words, he tried to live the way he talked. It’s almost unheard of today, and one reason for his appeal in a time of great tumult.
Wiki says 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, considering the state 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 but weren’t able to support themselves. Neighbors were suspicious of their non-violent neighbors, and governments made life difficult for them. And wouldn’t you know it? It’s hard to keep a movement growing when you fail to propagate membership from within. Abstinence wasn’t a requirement but was highly regarded.
Tolstoy had mixed feelings about these groups formed in his name. He was happy to see people joining together 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.