An Interview with Count Ilya Tolstoy
[Reprinted from The Singltaxer, February
Count Ilya Tolstoy is a son of Leo Tolstoy.
I was tempted to write "the son" because of the
resemblance between the father and son.
He is a very large man, satisfying one's preconceptions of Russians
in this respect. In fact so large a man that we seemed cramped and
crowded in the room in which we were sealed - a typical New York
apartment room so far as size was concerned. Yet his movements are
certain and graceful. There is no awkwardness despite the height and
breadth of shoulders. Perhaps this is because there is not an ounce
of superfluous flesh upon his frame.
The photograph, taken in Russia pictures him as a stern man. But he
is in reality a rather kindly looking gentleman - a man sympathetic
"Two things are bringing the principles of Henry George
forward," Count Tolstoy said thoughtfully in answer to a
question of mine. "The first is the rise of the working
classes. The war will not be settled by Wilson or William the
Second. It will be settled by the working classes. We are entering a
new era. The working classes must find employment. Workers who
cannot or do not wish to work in cities, must be freely able to work
upon the land.
"The second thing," he continued, "is the fact that
we are facing a world famine. The food shortage is a problem not
only of the government here, but of every government in the world.
Every possible acre of land must be used to grow food. As soon as
this fact enters the consciousness of Americans - the land question
will come to the front here, as it to the front in Russia now."
Count Tolstoy asked me about the progress of the Ideas of Henry
George in America. I tried to give him an insight into American
conditions - especially in the great agricultural states of the
nation -and an outline of the progress of the Single Tax movement. I
described the Great Adventure in California. I mentioned the
emphasis placed upon the fiscal aspect of the Single Tax.
"The matter of the land," he said emphatically, "is
a moral question. I feel that present conditions are unjust. And
this is how the Russian peasant feels. The peasant considers that
that land belongs to nobody but God. He is more accustomed to the
idea that he himself is property than that land is property. The
peasants used to be sold and bartered as we sell and exchange land
today. The land, of which there seemed at that time an unlimited
supply in Russia, was worth little to the nobles. Only by acquiring
serfs with an estate could the landowners obtain anything from its
It is a mistake to assume that the peasant thinks of land as he
thinks of other property. I have here many pamphlets dealing with
the land question," and he showed me quite a number of them "some
of them printed in Russia itself, but they have been written by men
educated in cities. Some of the Single Tax pamphlets speak of the
Injustices of taxation. The peasant picks up a pamphlet dealing with
taxation. The moment he sees the word, he throws it aside, saying "I
already pay enough taxes."
I asked him how he thought the peasant should be approached. His
eyes twinkled shrewdly.
"I would tell the peasant, that under our program be could
have all the land he wants to till. Then I would point out that in
paying for it, all his neighbors would be forced to pay just as much
as be does for the use of the land."
Count Tolstoy pointed to some photographs upon the wall of his
room. One was a large picture of a Russian hunting party on a
hillside. Scattered in the snow about the group were the carcasses
of ten wolves. He pointed to n figure in the group - the Count
himself - and said: "This Is an oppressor of the Russian
peasants. The wolves are the peasants."
Then he showed me another photograph of the same scene, but in this
the hunters had taken the bodies of the wolves and set them upon
their haunches. Some of tile wolves had rifles in their front paws.
It was a picture in which the role of the hunted and hunter bad been
reversed. In front of the formidable band of wolves one of the
hunters was lying, apparently dead. Another was on his knees
appealing for mercy. Count Tolstoy pointed to this second picture
and said: "This is the situation today. The peasants have
turned upon those who oppressed them."
We turned from the discussion of the Russian situation to America.
I told him of ambitious plans for a revival of Single Tax activities
In the political field - of the hopes which we had in the Single Tax
"This is work which is near to my heart," he said. "If
I can only trust my English I shall do what I can to help.
For nearly two hours we exchanged views. The American press,
American culture, American agricultural conditions, political
personages, were some of the subjects upon which we lighted now and
then. I left feeling that Count Tolstoy had come, as if by
inheritance, to rekindle amongst us the faith of olden days. Not
only that, but I had the assurance that as soon as he freed himself
from his present engagements - he is bout to leave on a lecture tour
- he will endeavor to lend a hand to the task of awakening America.
As he said: "We have nowhere an example of any country that has
adopted the Single Tax. In New Zealand and Australia it is a method
of taxation only. If we can but make an example of one of the States
- the rest will prove comparatively a simpler tusk."