Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

About This Issue's Cover

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

About This Issue's Cover

Article excerpt

When I learned this issue of Anarchist Studies would focus on Tolstoi I was reminded of two reflections concerning his anarchism from the era of the Russian Civil War. The first is a letter Kropotkin sent to a Russian Tolstoyan group, dated November 20, 1 920, in which he expressed 'profound regret' that he could not join them in commemoration ofthat 'powerful voice' who had urged people 'to construct a new society on fraternal foundations and without masters'. The second is a poetic tribute by Alexi and Lev Gordin published in the March 6, 1918 issue oiAnarkhiia, the central newspaper of the Moscow Federation of Anarchists:

Lev Nikolai Tolstoi

You lion, you child

The wrath of your thought flames, loving and forgiving

You are the proclamation

and the evocation

of anarchy resurrected

and ethics are your foundation

Shepherd of feelings and ideas,

you are both vision and expression

'It cannot be . . . and it isn't!'

(translated by Allan Antlijf and Nina Gurianova)

The paradoxical twist in the last line (which alludes to the declarative ending of a short story by Tolstoi - 'Notes of a Madman' - in which the protagonist lives in terror of his own mortality), shows up the corrosive interplay between Tolstoi's ethical authoritarianism and his anarchism, which also figures in his theory of art. Tolstoi's definitive statement, What is Art (1898), critiques art's role in the service of power and dismisses rarefied aesthetic and critical practices as cultural elitism.

The 'best' art, he argues, sweeps away any barriers between it and the masses, transmitting, 'without any superfluities, the feeling which the artist has experienced and wishes to transmit' What is Art, 197). …

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