Novelist. Author of APSARAS and tales from the beautiful Saigh Valley. First person to quantify spiritual values.

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Saturday 11 June 2011

Did Tolstoy see it coming?

I have been reading 'Anna Karenina', a mammoth novel written by Leo Tolstoy  in the eighteen seventies. It is widely thought that the ideas and thinking attributed to one of his characters, Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin,  reflect Tolstoy's own.

He wrote:
He (Levin) was writing now a new chapter on the causes of the present disastrous condition of agriculture in Russia. he maintained that the poverty of Russia arises not merely from the anomalous distribution of landed property and misdirected reforms, but that what had contributed of late years to this result was the civilization from without abnormally grafted upon Russia, especially facilities of communication, as railways, leading to centralization in towns, the development of luxury, and the consequent development of manufactures, credit and its accompaniment of speculation-all to the detriment of agriculture. It seemed to him that in anormal development of wealth in a state all these phenomena would arise only when a considerable amount of labor (sic) had been put into agriculture, when it had come under regular, or at least definite, conditions: that the wealth of a country ought to increase proportionally, and especially in such a way that other sources of wealth should not outstrip agriculture; that in harmony with acertain stage of agriculture there should be means of communication corresponding to it, and that in our unsettled condition of the land, railways, called into being by political and not economic needs, were premature, and instead of promoting agriculture, as was expected of them, they were competing with agriculture and promoting the development of manufactures and credit, and so arresting its progress; and that just as the one-sided and premature development of one organ in an animal would hinder its general development of wealth in Russia, credit, facilities of communication, manufacturing activity, indubitably necessary in Europe, where they had arisen in their proper time, had with us only done harm, by throwing into the background the chief question calling for settlement-the question of the organization of agriculture.
Later, he added, "yes, they (imported European advances in technology) draw away all the sap and give a false appearance of prosperity."

This struck me as painting a picture of nineteen century Russia that shows that things haven't changed much in the intervening time. Except that now, the equivalent in today's time of Russia's railways is the internet. For instance, cyberspace is now the main driving force of discontent in the so called 'Arab Spring'. It has raised the ambitions of the population, especially the young, of the middle-east countries to levels that cannot be matched because of the historic culture and present day reality of these countries. This will have a huge impact on how these and other, less advanced countries develop.

Interestingly, Tolstoy also pinpoints the problems caused to agriculture by 'manufactures, credit and it's accompaniment of speculation'. Although I believe he is wrong with respect to 'manufactures', do I detect in this statement an allusion to the pernicious expansion of Banks into spheres of business more akin to bookmaking than good practice, drawing money away from what is important- in his day, the production of food- to something more frivolous and presumably more profitable in the growth of stock markets and other financial instuments. In other words, the Banks were already distorting values one hundred and fifty years ago, values that today can be seen in uneducated (but good with figures) traders earning seven figure bonuses sat in air conditioned luxury, moving (not creating) money on a computer, whilst another works hard in sweaty conditions, over many hours in a week, making something useful for his fellow men, who can barely make ends meet.

It only demonstrates that mankind is not learning from its past. The same mistakes are being made because the same values always obtain, principally and namely some peoples' greed for power (wealth) overwhelming the need for real wealth creation through industry and not financial services, which merely concentrates existing wealth into the Bank's coffers.

There must be a better way.

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