Monday, March 16, 2009

A Parable By Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy is of course known worldwide as a novelist, but his name is mentioned rarely in debate on the World Socialist Movement Discussion Forum.

This is not to say that Socialists regard his works as devoid of meaningful social comment. Indeed, one of Tolstoy's parables forms part of the introduction to 'The Futility of Reformism' by the late Samuel Leight:

I see mankind as a herd of cattle inside a fenced enclosure. Outside the fence are green pastures and plenty for the cattle to eat, while inside the fence there is not quite grass enough for the cattle. Consequently, the cattle are tramping underfoot what little grass there is and goring each other to death in their struggle for existence.

I saw the owner of the herd come to them, and when he saw their pitiful condition he was filled with compassion for them and thought of all he could do to improve their condition.

So he called his friends together and asked them to assist him in cutting grass from outside the fence and throwing it over the fence to the cattle. And that they called Charity.

Then, because the calves were dying off and not growing up into serviceable cattle, he arranged that they should each have a pint of milk every morning for breakfast.

Because they were dying off in the cold nights, he put up beautiful well-drained and well-ventilated cowsheds for the cattle.

Because they were goring each other in the struggle for existence, he put corks on the horns of the cattle, so that the wounds they gave cach other might not be so serious. Then he reserved a part of the enclosure for the old bulls and the old cows over 70 years of age.

In fact, he did everything he could think of to improve the condition of the cattle, and when I asked him why he did not do the one obvious thing, break down the fence, and let the cattle out, he answered: "If I let the cattle out, I should no longer be able to milk thern."

Samuel Leight was a member of the World Socialist Party (US) and also wrote 'World Without Wages', companion volume to 'The Futility of Reformism'.

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