“The point is, don’t you see, that progress of every sort is only made by the use of authority,” he said, evidently wishing to show he was not without culture. “Take the reforms of Peter, of Catherine, of Alexander. Take European history. And progress in agriculture more than anything else—the potato, for instance, that was introduced among us by force. The wooden plough too wasn’t always used. It was introduced maybe in the days before the Empire, but it was probably brought in by force. Now, in our own day, we landowners in the serf times used various improvements in our husbandry: drying machines and thrashing machines, and carting manure and all the modern implements—all that we brought into use by our authority, and the peasants opposed it at first, and ended by imitating us. Now, by the abolition of serfdom we have been deprived of our authority; and so our husbandry, where it had been raised to a high level, is bound to sink to the most savage primitive condition. That’s how I see it.”
“But why so? If it’s rational, you’ll be able to keep up the same system with hired labor,” said Sviazhsky.
“We’ve no power over them. With whom am I going to work the system, allow me to ask?”
“There it is—the labor force—the chief element in agriculture,” thought Levin.
“The laborers won’t work well, and won’t work with good implements. Our laborer can do nothing but get drunk like a pig, and when he’s drunk he ruins everything you give him. He makes the horses ill with too much water, cuts good harness, barters the tires of the wheels for drink, drops bits of iron into the thrashing machine, so as to break it. He loathes the sight of anything that’s not after his fashion. And that’s how it is the whole level of husbandry has fallen. Lands gone out of cultivation, overgrown with weeds, or divided among the peasants, and where millions of bushels were raised you get a hundred thousand; the wealth of the country has decreased. If the same thing had been done, but with care that...”
And he proceeded to unfold his own scheme of emancipation by means of which these drawbacks might have been avoided.
This did not interest Levin, but when he had finished, Levin went back to his first position, and, addressing Sviazhsky, and trying to draw him into expressing his serious opinion:—
“That the standard of culture is falling, and that with our present relations to the peasants there is no possibility of farming on a rational system to yield a profit—that’s perfectly true,” said he.
“I don’t believe it,” Sviazhsky replied quite seriously; “all I see is that we don’t know how to cultivate the land, and that our system of agriculture in the serf days was by no means too high, but too low. We have no machines, no good stock, no efficient supervision; we don’t even know how to keep accounts. Ask any landowner; he won’t be able to tell you what crop’s profitable, and what’s not.”