wsws.org, 2 December 2010The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy died one hundred years ago on November 20, 1910. Although eulogized by many writers, one of the best tributes to Tolstoy came two years before his death when Leon Trotsky wrote this article on Tolstoy’s eightieth birthday. It was first published in German in Die Neue Zeit on September 18, 1908; then in a Russian translation in Volume 20 of Trotsky’s Works in 1926; and finally in an English translation by John G. Wright in the journal Fourth International in May-June 1951 under the title, “Tolstoy, Poet and Rebel.” Minor revisions have been made to the original English translation. Several of the endnotes have been adapted from the 1926 Russian edition.
A remarkable thing! Not only Karl Marx but―to cite a name from a field closer to Tolstoy’s―Heinrich Heine as well appear to be contemporaries of ours. But from our great contemporary of Yasnaya Polyana we are already separated by the irreversible flow of time which differentiates all things.
This man was 33 years old when serfdom was abolished in Russia. As the descendant of “ten generations untouched by labor,” he matured and was shaped in an atmosphere of the old nobility, among inherited acres, in a spacious manorial home and in the shade of linden-tree alleys, so tranquil and patrician.
The traditions of landlord rule, its romanticism, its poetry, its whole style of living were irresistibly imbibed by Tolstoy and became an organic part of his spiritual makeup. From the first years of his consciousness he was, as he remains to this very day, an aristocrat, in the deepest and most secret recesses of his creativeness; and this, despite all his subsequent spiritual crises.