Statement of Purpose

Besides his literary preeminence, Leo Tolstoy is also a towering figure in the history of nonviolence, and the literature on his life, literary work, and philosophy is vast. However, in our research project into the War Resisters’ International archive we were able to uncover a hitherto unknown translation of Tolstoy’s peace and nonviolence writings, compiled and translated by his private secretary Vladimir Tchertkoff. Tolstoy’s theory of “non-resistance to evil”, published in his The Kingdom of God Is Within You, was a great influence on Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, as they both have attested. Our Tchertkoff document, compiled from Tolstoy’s diaries, adds significantly to that book.

Letter to Mahatma Gandhi

by Vladimir Tchertkoff

Editor’s Preface: The prominent religious figure Vladimir Tchertkoff was Tolstoy’s editor in the latter part of Tolstoy’s life. This letter, dated 9 March 1931 is taken from The War Resister: Quarterly News Sheet of the War Resisters’ International, issue XXIX, Summer 1931, and is another in our WRI project. We have also previously posted several articles by Tchertkoff, including unpublished correspondence with Gandhi and a previously unpublished Tolstoy translation. Please consult the Editor’s Note at the end for further biographical information and links. Tchertkoff’s other articles may be accessed via our WRI Project category. JG

Dear Mahatma Gandhi,

Allow me, on behalf of myself and our Moscow friends, to express our deep and heartfelt joy at your liberation from prison. We earnestly desire for you the necessary strength to continue your righteous and great work. May God help India to attain as quickly as possible that emancipation from foreign dominance that she so fervently desires. We yet more desire for you and ourselves the emancipation of everyone, not only from foreign oppression, but particularly from all servitude of man to man, even though it be within the limit of one and the same race; and especially from the last remnants of that superstition that one can [anymore] protect any righteous cause by force of arms or military preparations.

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Declaration of Sentiments

by the Non-Resistance Society

Editor’s Preface: In conjunction with the Tolstoy article (just below) and his theory of non-resistance, we are posting today the statement of purpose of the Non-Resistance Society founded in Boston in September 1838 at a special peace convention organized by the abolitionist social reformer, William Lloyd Garrison; the Declaration was indeed primarily written by Garrison. It was agreed upon at the Boston convention and published on September 20, 1838. The society further rejected social distinctions based on race, nationality or gender, refused obedience to “human governments”, and opposed individual acts of self-defense. The declaration is one of the earliest statements of philosophical anarchism, pacifism, and non-resistance in the USA. Please see the Editor’s Note at the end for further information and links. JG

William Lloyd Garrison cigar box cartoon; courtesy

Assembled in Convention, from various sections of the American Union, for the promotion of peace on earth and good will among men, we, the undersigned, regard it as due to ourselves, to the cause which we love, to the country in which we live, and to the world, to publish a Declaration, expressive of the principles we cherish, the purposes we aim to accomplish, and the measures we shall adopt to carry forward the work of peaceful and universal reformation.

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An Unpublished Tolstoy Translation

by Vladimir Tchertkoff

Tolstoy, 1905; photographer unknown; courtesy IISG/WRI

Editor’s Preface: The document that follows, Thoughts on Life, Death, Love, Non-Resistance, Religion, Revolution, Socialism, Communism, etc. is an unpublished English translation of selections from Tolstoy’s diaries between the years 1907-1908. The selection was made by Vladimir Tchertkoff (1854-1936), Tolstoy’s literary agent and the editor-in-chief of his collected works. The date of the selection is not mentioned, although the typescript bears a date of 1934 (see heading below). The translator is also unnamed. There is however an accompanying note by Tchertkoff, “How to translate Tolstoy”, addressed to his secretary Alexander Sirnis, who, together with Charles James Hogarth, was responsible for the translation of The Diaries of Leo Tolstoy: Youth 1847 to 1852, New York: Dutton, 1917.  It is likely that Sirnis was responsible for this translation, and if so, it can be dated to between 1908 and 1918 (the death of Sirnis). This same note also mentions a Mrs. Mayo as providing corrections. Isabella Fyvie Mayo was an author who knew both Tolstoy and Gandhi, and had collaborated previously with Sirnis on several translations. If she was indeed responsible for the editing of the translation, the typescript must date to no later than 1914, the year of her death. In “How to translate Tolstoy” Tchertkoff insists that the translation be as literal as possible and must preserve the style and flavor of Tolstoy’s literary style and vocabulary. The phrasing is often quaint and differs radically from later translations of Tolstoy’s diaries, such as R.F. Christian’s Tolstoy’s Diaries, London: The Athlone Press, 1985.  It is not clear whether Tchertkoff intended Thoughts as a “manifesto” for the flourishing Tolstoyan movement, of which he was a leader, or as an appendix to The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894), in which Tolstoy argued that Christians had not sufficiently recognized that love for everyone also required that evil not be resisted by violence, particularly in the form of war or state sanctioned coercion. The insistence on the notion that God is love and the overriding importance of non-resistance are certainly two key elements of these Thoughts. Although Tchertkoff edited two volumes of Tolstoy’s diaries, The Diaries of Leo Tolstoy: Youth, 1847 to 1852, New York: Dutton, 1917; translated by C.J. Hogarth and A. Sirnis, and The Journal of Leo Tolstoy: First Volume, 1895 to 1899, New York: Knopf, 1917; translated by Rose Strunsky, the document that follows has never been published. It forms part of a larger collection of Tchertkoff and Tolstoy material that was donated in the early 1970s to the War Resisters’ International by the daughter of Ludvig Perno, a Tolstoy scholar and translator, and is part of the WRI archive at the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Further notes on the text and photographs are at the end of the transcript. A pdf scan of the original may be accessed by clicking on this link. Another pdf scan of the Perno acquisition letter can be accessed at this link. Gertjan Cobelens

Thoughts on Life, Death, Love, Non-Resistance, Religion,
Revolution, Socialism, Communism, etc.

  Unpublished Diaries and Notebooks of Leo Tolstoy;
supplied by V. G. Tchertkoff, Box 1234, Moscow, USSR;
no rights reserved.
Copy of this was sent to Russia, 12-11-34.

Tolstoy in the woods at Yasnaya Polyana; photo by Vladimir Tchertkoff; courtesy IISG/WRI

Tolstoy’s Diaries and Notebooks

[No date. GC] How strange it must be to feel oneself alone in the world, separated from everything else. No matter how far he may have strayed from the path, a man would not be able to live if he did not feel his spiritual bond with the world, with God. If he loses the consciousness of this bond, he is unable to live and kills himself. This explains almost all the cases of suicide.

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Formative Influences in Gandhi’s Life

by William J. Jackson

When I taught university courses in which students read and discussed Gandhi’s Autobiography, I always found it rewarding to consider the early formative influences in his life, which Gandhi discussed in the opening chapters. These influential experiences are interesting to consider, because as Wordsworth wrote, “The child is father to the man.”

Mohandas Gandhi’s father had “rich experience of practical affairs” though he was uneducated in fields like history and  geography. (Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, New York: Dover Publications, 1983, p. 2) His mother made an impression of saintliness, with practices of daily prayer and fasting. One practice was vowing not to eat during the day until seeing the sun. Gandhi and his brother would run out on cloudy days and look at the sky when it seemed the sun was coming out, then run back in and tell her they saw the sun. And she would go out and look, and not seeing the sun, would continue fasting, cheerfully saying, “God did not want me to eat today.” She was a daily lesson in loyalty to a vow, self-control, and self-deprivation. (pp. 2-3)

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Gandhi and War: The Mahatma Gandhi / Bart de Ligt Correspondence

by Christian Bartolf

Four times Gandhi offered his services to the army: in 1899-1900 during the Boer War, in 1906 on the occasion of the so-called Zulu Rebellion, in 1914 during his stay in London at the outset of World War I; and lastly in India in 1918 near the conclusion of that war. After World War I Gandhi on a number of occasions was asked how he could reconcile his participation in war with his principle of nonviolence (ahimsa). Bart de Ligt was not the only person to correspond with Gandhi on this issue, but he was the most forthright and compelling. Leo Tolstoy’s friend and secretary, Vladimir Tchertkov, had also questioned Gandhi about it. In fact, it was a common reverence for Tolstoy’s doctrine of non-resistance or non-violent resistance that was the foundation for the critical dialogue between Bart de Ligt and Gandhi between 1928 and 1930. As an introduction to this correspondence, we shall first summarize Gandhi’s participation in various wars, and the exchanges of letters and conversations, which Gandhi had on this matter, including his dialogue with Bart de Ligt.(1)

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The Mahatma Gandhi / Bart de Ligt Public Correspondence On Peace and War

In the years immediately following World War I, Western pacifists were seeing with alarming clarity the possibility of another war, and speaking out with increasing urgency against militarism. Having suffered through the trauma of appalling destruction, pacifist writing in the 1920s and 1930s has the aura of a survival myth. The advent of Gandhian satyagraha presented pacifists with a possible strategy for averting tragedy, as an antidote to war, and moved Bart de Ligt to write publicly and openly to Gandhi, to enlist him in the pacifist cause. Gandhi’s nonviolence was never a fixed principle; was ever evolving. The Salt March of March 1930, which some see as pivotal to the development of Gandhian nonviolent resistance, had not yet taken place when these letters were published. On the one hand, there are pacifists determined to staunch the advent of another daimonic war, and on the other hand there is Gandhi in a death struggle with the British for Indian independence, his nonviolence, by his own admission, imperfect. De Ligt’s call for Gandhi to reject war, to commit satyagraha to the ending of war was a prophetic call. [JG]

Letter One: Bart de Ligt to Gandhi; May, 1928.

Most venerated Gandhi:

Without doubt, there is no man who attracts the attention of the modern world as you do. And you are certainly worthy of this admiration because you have been able in a wise, heroic way to awaken everywhere confidence in that moral force which slumbers in each individual. To oppose the severe oppression of so-called Christian civilization, and the violence of proud and pretentious Westerners, you have awakened in the East immense spiritual forces, making it seem that Christ reigns over your “pagan” world rather than in our official Christian churches. You have not only proclaimed the gospel of non-resistance — or spiritual warfare — but you have yourself practiced it and have paid with your own person.

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The Mahatma Gandhi / Vladimir Tchertkov Public Correspondence On Peace and War

Tolstoy family gathering, 1905; Tchertkov to Tolstoy’s right; photographer unknown.

My article, “My Attitude Towards War”, published in Young India, 13th September 1928, has given rise to much correspondence with me and in the European press that is interested in war against war. In the personal correspondence there is a letter from Tolstoy’s friend and follower, V. Tchertkov, which, coming as it does from one who commands great respect among lovers of peace, the reader will like me to share with him. Here is the letter:

Personal Letter from Vladimir Tchertkov

Your Russian friends send you their warmest greetings and best wishes for the further success of your devoted service for God and men. With the liveliest interest do we follow your life, the work of your mind, and your activity, and we rejoice at each of your successes. We realize that all that you attain in your own country is at the same time also our attainment, for, although under different circumstances, we are serving the one and the same cause. We feel a great gratitude to you for all that you have given and are giving us by your person, the example of your life, and your fruitful social work. We feel the deepest and most joyous spiritual union with you.

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My Correspondence with Gandhi

by Bart de Ligt

From Germany, Austria and other countries, I have been urged for information about my correspondence with Gandhi, which so far has only been published in French, English and Dutch and for various reasons could not be published in German. I am therefore most grateful to the editorial staff of Neue Generation (New Generation) for the opportunity to acquaint you with a few matters.

It was only in 1928 that I could really go more profoundly into Gandhi’s life. I had read, of course, with great interest a number of his articles. As well as that, I had taken note of various articles written about him. The most important insights I owe to the short book by Romain Rolland (Mahatma Gandhi, 1922) and a few articles published in magazines.

From these I came to understand Gandhi as the legitimate follower of Tolstoy. Whereas Tolstoy would have been the “John the Baptist” of revolutionary nonviolence, Gandhi would have been the Christ, so to speak, of this movement; Tolstoy the Great Precursor and Prophet, Gandhi the Performer fulfilling the Prophecy.

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Mahatma Gandhi’s Attitude Towards War

by Bart de Ligt

At the Congress of War Resisters, held in Lyons, August 1931, Tolstoy’s last secretary, Valentin Bulgakov spoke of the “great experience” gained by India in its struggle against England. Not without reason did he express admiration for the role Gandhi played in this struggle. But Bulgakov tended to attribute to the Mahatma an attitude that was consistently hostile to any sort of violence, an attitude which, according to Gandhi himself, does not correspond with the facts.

In Le Semeur of October 15th, 1931, Bulgakov also declared that the correspondence which Vladimir Tchertkov and I have had with the Indian leader, regarding Gandhi’s attitude during the Boer War, the Zulu-Natal War and the World War, concerns only “a few ill-advised declarations” of Gandhi, “purely accidental” and remaining “without effect; Gandhi’s actions demonstrating that he in no way approves of cooperation with violence.”

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The Effectiveness of Non-Violent Struggle

by Bart de Ligt

We would do well to situate in an historical context not only this far-ranging essay by the Dutch anarcho-pacifist Bart de Ligt (1883-1938) but Gandhi’s writings as well. It is easy to lose sight of the international foment at the time of Gandhi’s nonviolent campaigns in South Africa and India, and to disregard the intensity of the contemporary discourse on peace and war in Europe and the United States. By the mid 1930s when de Ligt published this essay in his book The Conquest of Violence, a devastating World War I had ended only a few years before; the rise of Nazism alarmingly threatened the outbreak of another. The debate over militarism versus Gandhian nonviolence has here the air of a struggle for survival and informs de Ligt’s essay with a sense of passion and urgency. It goes a long way to explain why he is so comprehensive in mentioning the views of thinkers whose philosophies were compatible with aspects of nonviolent resistance. The nonviolent boycott and labor strike were well-established methods that might be used in the service of peace. De Ligt knew that Gandhi did not conceive of Satyagraha in a vacuum, nor was it ever isolated on some higher plane from contemporary life. Satyagraha was ever at the heart of historical engagement, a life force that might be marshaled against the force of war.

Pluto Press edition; illustration by Ingrid van Peski-de Ligt; courtesy of J. E. de Ligt.

Concerning his Satyagraha campaign in South Africa, Mohandas Gandhi wrote,  “Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law—to the strength of the spirit.”

How much more noble non-violent methods of struggle are than violent, and how much more effective, when they are well prepared!

Despite the justice of its cause, the religious fanaticism of its people, its famous marksmen, and a strategic geographical position the Transvaal was unable to hold out against the brutality of British imperialism. In the Transvaal in the early 1900s there lived a group of Hindu immigrants subject to harsh and special laws, which shackled them socially and economically and were profoundly offensive to their human dignity. Indian coolies were employed in the mines of Natal and elsewhere in South Africa, and they were tied to their work by five-year contracts. As a rule, they were very industrious. A great number of Indians, once their contracts had expired, stayed behind in the country as small farmers or tradesmen. By 1900 there were 12,500 Indians in the Transvaal.  Although they had occupied the country by violence, the white people began to look on these peaceable rivals as undesirable intruders.

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi