Tolstoy’s Pacifist Philosophies

Our placement of Leo Tolstoy will rely heavily on a section of his 1884 book, What I Believe, in which Tolstoy outlined his personal interpretation of Christian theology.
Was Leo Tolstoy an absolute pacifist or a contingent pacifist? Without a doubt, Leo Tolstoy was an absolute pacifist. Take this quote from What I Believe, “The whole organization of our lives, the complicated mechanism of our institutions, whose sole object is violence, are but proofs of the degree to which violence is repugnant to human nature. No judge will ever undertake to strangle with his own hands the man whom he has condemned to death… Not a single general, not a single soldier, would kill hundreds of Turks or Germans, and devastate their villages – no, not one of them would consent to wound a single man, were it not in war, and in obedience to discipline and the oath of allegiance.” Within this quote, Leo Tolstoy laid out the insincerity of society’s violence and how society tricks individuals to go against their own nature and conduct destructive acts against others. Tolstoy pointed out that all violence is against human nature, thus placing him into the camp of absolute pacifism.
Would have Leo Tolstoy been a maximal pacifist or a minimal pacifist? Once again Tolstoy would have sided with the extreme form of pacifism, maximal. And again What I Believe offers proof of Tolstoy’s maximal ideals, “Who will deny that it is repugnant and harrowing to a man’s feelings to torture or kill, not only a man, but also even a dog, a hen, or a calf? I have known men, living by agricultural labor, who have ceased entirely to eat meat only because they had to kill their own cattle. And yet our lives are so organized that for one individual to obtain any advantage in life another must suffer, which is against human nature.” Not only did Tolstoy reject all violence onto other humans, he also rejected violence against animals as well. Tolstoy would have supported the maximal approach to pacifism.



March 4th: Stalin’s Social Revolution

From the hour Joseph Stalin realized his aspiration to become the supreme leader of the USSR in the mid-1920s, he undertook the reorganization of not only the USSR’s political structures but also the lifestyles and social opportunities of the people of the USSR. Tomorrow Max and I hope to lead a discussion focused around the effects of Stalin’s Five Year Plan and his creation of a new elite along with the lives of Ekaterina Olitskaia and Pasha Angelina.

  1. How did the Bolsheviks initially compensate for a lack of educated experts in their new government? 
  2. What were Stalin’s concerns surrounding the group of non-communist experts in the Soviet government? 
  3. What steps were initiated in creating a new Cadres that were both “Red and Expert”? 
  4. How did the Great Purges affect the introduction of the new cadres at the end of the 1930s?
  5. What were the characteristics of Stalin’s new Soviet “Intelligentsia” by the end of Stalin’s Cultural Revolution?
  6. How does Pasha Angelina’s view of the Soviet government differ from Ekaterina Olitskaia’s? (A-cat-er-en-ah O-leat-sky-yah) 
  7. Both Angelina and Olitskaia experience sexism throughout their lives within the USSR however, the sexism directed at Angelina differs greatly from the sexism aimed at Olitskaia. In what moments did Angelina and Ekaterina experience similar sexism? In what moments did the sexism contrast?
  8. Do you see the success of Pasha as a triumph for the USSR, even though the road for her was rough and unpaved? 
  9. Even though all of the women were “supposed to be Communists” when presented with the equal distribution of the green onions by Olitskaia, the imprisoned women within the train car converted back to capitalism. Why do you think Olitskaia chose to include this account in her My Reminiscences?
  10. When conversing with Tonia Bukina, Olitskaia hears about the effects of Stalin’s propaganda distributed after the arrest of Bolshevik party members. What does Tonia’s perspective of the aftermath of the arrests tell us about Stalin’s propaganda? Would propaganda about your own friends and companions be able to convince you of their treason and be as effective in today’s media?