Literature by Leo Tolstoy




Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a pivotal figure in the history of nonviolence, linking the many peace movements of the 19th century to a new generation of leaders in the 20th century, including Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and their spiritual offspring. While it is true that he did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, he nonetheless believed absolutely and unswervingly in obeying Jesus' commands. To Tolstoy, Jesus was Lord without being God.  To many, many of today's Christians, who call Jesus "Lord, Lord" without doing what He said, Jesus is God without really being Lord.  It is our belief that those in the former group are in a better place spiritually than the latter.




The following material is unabridged and free.
There is no copyright to worry about.
We hope you are inspired!



This is all we have been able to find, but there may be more.

Please email us if you know where to find a work of
Tolstoy on nonviolence that is not posted here!



1882

Church and State

    complete

    complete

Only a deceptive and counterfeit of faith can be forced upon another person, but this is precisely the kind of faith that endorses and is endorsed by the State.



1884

What I Believe

by chapter

    complete

    complete

    audio

Tolstoy is considered one of the greatest of all novelists, but following the publication of Anna Karenina his life underwent a complete change and he henceforth entirely devoted himself to Christ's teaching.  In What I Believe Tolstoy describes his epiphany, expounds on the Sermon on the Mount, and contrasts the teachings of Jesus to the dogma and practices of the Orthodox Church.  Many of his criticisms are equally applicable to most of today's Protestant Churches.  The Kingdom of God is Within You serves as a sequel to this work.



1886

Nicholas Stick

complete

    complete

Nicholas I of Russia was nicknamed "Nicholas Stick" because of a particular brutality to which he subjected his soldiers.  Breaking the cycle of violence begins by admitting that we are carriers of the same disease.



1887

What a Christian May and May Not Do

complete

    complete

What is God’s, in the opinion of our Christians, never interferes with what is Caesar’s, and Caesar’s is always in agreement with God’s. The whole life of our Christians is given up to the service of Caesar, and only what does not interfere with Caesar is turned over to God.



1887

Letter to Engelhard

complete

    complete

I am guilty and wretched, and that I deserve contempt for not fulfilling the Christian teaching. But, at the same time I say, “Look at my former and at my present life, and you will see that I am trying to fulfill them. I am to blame, but I have not fulfilled them, not because I did not want to, but because I could not. Accuse me – I do so myself – but accuse me only, and not the path over which I walk, and which I point out to those who ask me where, in my opinion, the path is.”



1888

Letter to a Revolutionary

complete

    complete

To kill people is not love.  To torture and beat them in the name of something is also not love.  The commandment about not resisting evil with violence is a commandment that points out the limit where the activity of love ends.



1889

Recollections from Sevastopol

complete

    complete

Tolstoy criticizes A. I. Ershov, author of Recollections from Sevastopol, for describing the physical horrors of war without also speaking of what is even more horrible: the author's own spiritual condition at the time and what moves people to engage in an activity as horrible as war.



1890

Letter on Nonresistance

complete

    complete

You are in the habit of struggling against evil by means of violence and retribution.  These are bad, wicked, means.  The best means is not to repay except with good. We ought not to do the same evil against which we fight.



1893

The Kingdom of God is Within You

by chapter

    complete

    complete

    audio

Tolstoy continues his exposition, begun in What I Believe, of what is wrong with the Church and what is necessary to usher in the Kingdom of God in this work, which profoundly inspired both Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  In the gospels Jesus told us what to do and how to live.  In this book Tolstoy explains why those admonitions work and why they are, in fact, the only future that humanity has.  He also prophetically explains why violent revolutions (such as the Russian revolution) ultimately fail to make things better and why genocides (such as those in Rwanda and Darfur) go unchecked.  Please note that this is a new transcription - not the error riddled ones found on other websites.



1894

On Patriotism

by chapter

    complete

    complete

Tolstoy uses unusual events of his day - celebrations of a newly established friendship between Russia and France - to expound upon the shallowness of patriotism.



1894

Letter to the Editor of the Daily Chronicle

complete

    complete

If the fulfillment of God’s will destroys the existing social order, it is proof that the existing order is contrary to God’s will and ought to be destroyed.



1895

Three Parables

complete

    complete

Tolstoy tells three stories about people who are ignore, reviled, and slandered because they try to speak the truth, and then relates the stores to his own attempts to speak the truth.



1895

Epilogue to Drózhzhin’s Life and Death

complete

    complete

Yevdokim Nikitich Drózhzhin (1866-1894) was a peasant teacher, socialist revolutionary, and pacifist who was imprisoned by the Russian government for refusing mandatory military service, a punishment which eventually killed him.  Tolstoy laments his friend's death and repudiates the power of the state.



1895

Letter to a Pole

complete

    complete

There is no such thing as "good" patriotism. It contradicts the fundamental meaning of Christ’s teaching, and Christianity makes it superfluous, unnecessary, and interfering.



1895

The Persecution of the Dukhobors

complete

    complete

All governments since the time of Constantine have have instinctively done everything they could for their self-preservation, shrouding the true meaning of Christianity and crushing its spirit. But the moment of the substitution of another force that shall bind men together for the violence of government has already come.



1896

On Revolution and Participation

complete

    complete

The two common methods of attempting to change society - violent revolution and participation in government - are ultimately unsuccessful. Fortunately, there is a third option.



1896

Patriotism or Peace

complete

    complete

Our whole life – with the Christian teaching of humility and love, and with the life of an armed den of robbers at the same time – can be nothing but one solid, terrible hypocrisy. It is very convenient to profess a teaching at one end of which is Christian sanctity and infallibility, and the pagan sword and gallows at the other, so that, when the deception of sanctity does not work, the sword and the gallows are put into effect. Such a teaching is very convenient, but the time comes when this lie is dispersed, it is no longer possible to continue to keep both, and it is necessary to ally oneself with either one or the other. One cannot have both patriotism and peace.



1896

Letter to Ernest Howard Crosby

complete

    complete

Imaginary cases prove only that there are men who know that it is not right to kill, but who use all the efforts in order to justify their acts. There does not exist a moral rule for which it would be impossible to invent a situation when it would be hard to decide whether to depart from it or obey it. Such invented cases in no way prove that the rules about killing are incorrect.



1896

The Deception of the Church

complete

    complete

I have included this letter, though not specifically about nonviolence, because it gives insight into Tolstoy's faith. It is remarkable that, in spite if such unconventional beliefs, Tolstoy had a trust in obedience to Christ's commands that puts many more orthodox Christians to shame.



1896

Letter to the Ministers of Internal Affairs and Justice

complete

    complete

Many of these works of Tolstoy were banned by the Russian government, which persecuted some of those who disseminated them. In this letter, Tolstoy asks that all such persecution be directed toward himself.



1896

Letter to the Liberals

complete

    complete

People waste their strength in fighting the government in the field of those very laws which are arbitrarily written by the government itself. The method of fighting on a legal basis, without violence, by a gradual acquisition of rights has assiduously been applied and has failed. It is unprofitable to waste energy on the attainment of practical ends so long as people lack a consciousness of the meaning of their lives.



1896

The Beginning of the End

complete

    complete

A non-Christian refuses military service in the National Guard of Holland for reasons that ought to be understandable and adoptable by everyone.



1896

Letter to Eugen Heinrich Schmitt

complete

    complete

The state is violence.  Christianity is humility, nonresistance, and love.  And so the state cannot be Christian, and a man who wants to be a Christian cannot serve the state.



1896

Letter to the Chief of the Irkútsk Disciplinary Battalion

complete

    complete

Tolstoy pleads the cause of two soldiers who became convinced of the true demands of the Christian faith, refused to fight any more, and were being sent to a penal battalion as punishment.



1896

Help!

complete

    complete

Tolstoy pleads the cause of the Dukhobors, a pacifist group religious persecuted by the Russian Government.



1896

Shame!

complete

    complete

Tolstoy speaks against the torture of peasants by beating them with rods, which was common practice in his day.



1897

Nobel's Bequest

complete

    complete

Tolstoy makes the case for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dukhobors, a pacifist group religious persecuted by the Russian Government.



1898

Carthago Delenda Est

complete

    complete

We do not need international tribunals, courts of arbitration, or a United Nations to put an end to war.  The only thing necessary to abolish war is for people to simply refuse to fight.



1898

Appeal on Behalf of the Dukhobors

complete

    complete

Tolstoy issues an appeal to help the Dukhobor people emigrate to Canada. (He was ultimately able to personally raise and provide half the the funding necessary.)



1898

Two Wars

complete

    complete

Tolstoy compares the Spanish-American war of colonial conquest to the war of the Russian government against the peaceful Dukhobors.



1899

Letter to a Corporal

complete

    complete

Governments are obliged to pretend that they are professing the highest religious teaching known to men: Christianity. This teaching is opposed to every murder and every violence, and so, to be able to control the masses and be considered Christian, the governments had to distort Christianity and to conceal its true meaning, thus depriving men of the good that Christ brought to them.



1899

Letter on the Peace Conference

complete

    complete

Tolstoy predicted that the Hague Peace Conference of 1899 will be ineffective at curbing armaments, armies, and warfare.  Considering the abandonment of the conference's provisions during World War I, Tolstoy was correct.



1899

Who is to Blame?

complete

    complete

The Transvaal War, and all wars, are caused by the unequal distribution of property, the existence of a military class, and the false and deceptive religious teaching in which the young generations are forcibly educated.



1900

Letters to the Dukhobors

complete

    complete

Tolstoy wrote letters of encouragement to the Dukhobors before and after their emigration, and expounded on the difficulties associated with the private ownership of property.



1900

Patriotism and Government

complete

    complete

We can save ourselves from all our calamities only when we free ourselves from the obsolete idea of patriotism and from the blind obedience to government that is based upon it.



1900

The Slavery of Our Time

by chapter

    complete

    complete

    audio

One means of enslavement is abolished only when another has already taken its place. Outright slavery has been replaced by the lack of land and the imposition of taxes, which drive the men into conditions of servitude and the temptations of more luxurious habits.  These habits cannot be gratified except by selling one's labor and freedom, thus enticing people into these conditions and retaining them there. This is all enforced by the organized violence of the governments through their militaries, and this power is given to the governments by their oppressed citizens themselves.



1900

Thou Shalt Not Kill

complete

    complete

To have no oppressions and no unnecessary wars, and for no one to be provoked to assassinate those who instigate them, people should merely understand things as they are, should call them by their real names, and should know that the levy and maintenance of an army is a preparation for murder on a grand scale.



1900

Where is the Way Out?

complete

    complete

Bribed officials and clergy prepare the soldiers by stupefying them.  The soldiers take the income from the land and commerce for the benefit of the ruling classes.  But the ruling classes use a part of this money for bribing the officials and clergy. The way out of this circle consists of refusing to enter into the army, before being subjected to its corrupting influence.



1900

Need It Be So?

complete

    complete

The ruling classes have worked out a harmless Christianity, which makes real Christianity innocuous. This ecclesiastic Christianity either repels sensible people with its terrible insipidity, or removes them from true Christianity to such an extent that they no longer see its real significance and even look upon it with hostility.



1900

Letter to Nicholas II

complete

    complete

Tolstoy asks the Czar for religious tolerance to be shown toward Christian denominations that refuse military conscription.



1901

Appeal to the Czar

complete

    complete

Tolstoy explains that the unrest and disturbances being experienced were not due to troublesome and wicked men, but to policies and actions of the government, and outlines simple and easily implemented actions the government could take to rectify the situation.



1901

Answer to the Synod

complete

    complete

It is not surprising that Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church.  In response to the the Church's action, Tolstoy explained exactly what he did and did not believe and exposed what he saw as "gross superstition and sorcery."



1901

The Only Means

complete

    complete

The slavery and the wretched condition of the working people be destroyed only when men will believe that the law about treating others as they would want to be treated is the chief law of God for our time.



1901

Letters to the Editor of "Free Thought"

complete

    complete

Tolstoy writes on behalf of a Bulgarian who is being tortured for refusing military conscription.



1901

On the Street Riots

complete

    complete

Tolstoy reacts to a pamphlet that encourages rioters to try to disarm soldiers or murder them.



1901

Reminders for Soldiers

complete

    complete

Tolstoy directly addresses soldiers and exposes the cruel and shameful lies used to convince them that it is alright to kill their fellow men.



1901

Reminders for Officers

complete

    complete

Tolstoy directly addresses officers, charges them with responsibility for the deception of the common soldiers, and urges them the expose the deception and renounce their commissions.



1902

On Religious Toleration

complete

    complete

The governments and ruling classes could not exist without the corruption of Christianity, which is called the church.  The church could not exist without the direct or indirect violence of the governments and ruling classes. Only the true, free Christianity can be tolerant, since it is not connected with any worldly institutions.



1902

Appeal to the Working People

complete

    complete

Tolstoy saw the private ownership of the land by non-working proprietors as one of the principal ways in which the common people were oppressed, and he describes this problem and its solution in this treatise.  He lays the responsibility for the continued existence of this system squarely on the workers themselves. His explanation here of why socialist revolution will fail to realize its objectives is particularly noteworthy.



1902

Appeal to the Clergy

complete

    complete

This is Tolstoy’s most biting and inflammatory criticism of the Church ant its clergy, and it gives unique insight into his philosophy.



1903

The Restoration of Hell

complete

    complete

Tolstoy uses an allegory of the overthrow and subsequent restoration of hell to explain what went wrong with true Christian teaching.



1903

Letter to a Jew

complete

    complete

Tolstoy expresses his grief at the pogrom that occurred in the city of Kishinév, his inability to stir public outrage at it, his conviction that the Russian government was responsible for the tragedy, and his encouragement to the Jews to "struggle with the government by means of a good life, which excludes every violence against one’s neighbor."



1904

Introduction to a Biography of Garrison

complete

    complete

Tolstoy celebrates the life and passion of William Lloyd Garrison, and his application of nonresistance to the American system of slavery.



1904

Bethink Yourselves

by chapter

    complete

    complete

    audio

Tolstoy calls his readers to repent concerning the Russo-Japanese war, and instead turn to their one true salvation: the fulfillment of the will of God by each individual within himself, which is that portion of the universe which alone is subject to that individual's power.



1905

The Crisis in Russia

complete

    complete

The alteration of a despotic form of government into a constitutional or republican form will not deliver a country from its calamities. All constitutional states are incessantly and senselessly arming themselves and send their people to commit fratricide when it suggests itself to a few individuals in power. All rational men should endeavor with all their power to free themselves from all governments by refusing to participate in and support them.



1905

The End of the Age

by chapter

    complete

    complete

Tolstoy introduces several important points in this treatise - notably a) that Christian nations cannot hope to surpass non-Christian nations in military prowess, because the latter are unencumbered by the Gospel, while the former are at a disadvantage even if they have accepted a Gospel that is corrupted, and b) that it is only possible to cease to obey governments when one obeys the higher law of God.



1906

What's To Be Done?

complete

    complete

If the question, "What’s to be done" is really a question and not a justification, a clear and simple answer naturally suggests itself. The answer is that you must not do what anyone else demands of you, but what is demanded of you by that Power which sent you into the world – the Power most people are accustomed to call God.



1907

The Meaning of the Russian Revolution

by chapter

    complete

    complete

Ten years before it occurred, Tolstoy predicted, described the reasons for, and detailed the possible outcomes of the inevitable Russian Revolution. Sadly, the agrarian Christian Anarchist government he hoped for was never realized.



1907

An Appeal to Russians

complete

    complete

Tolstoy tells the government to enact real and meaningful reform that would put itself out of a job, tells the revolutionaries that they are parasites who do not represent the Russian people, and tells the people to obey neither the government nor the revolutionaries.



1907

Letter to a Chinese

complete

    complete

Eastern nations, seeing all the calamity of the Western peoples, should endeavor to free themselves from the error of human authority, not by that artificial method consisting in the imaginary limitation of power, but should solve the problem of power by another more radical and simple plan. It consists merely in the following of that law which excludes the possibility of obeying human authority.



1907

Thou Shalt Kill No One

complete

    complete

It is inevitable that a time will come when the people of our Christian world, having freed themselves from false faith and from the violence resulting from it, will all unite in such a religious conception of life as will render the killing of man by man not merely impossible, but quite unnecessary.



1907

Love One Another

complete

    complete

One cannot know whether anything is good or bad unless one tests it in life. If a farmer is told that it is good to sow rye in rows, or a beekeeper is told that it is good to use frame-hives, a reasonable farmer or beekeeper will experiment to find out whether what he has been told is true. And he will follow or not follow the advice, according to the degree to which his experiment succeeds. So it is with the whole business of life. To surely know how far the doctrine of Love is applicable – try it!



1908

I Cannot Be Silent

complete

    complete

Tolstoy's opposition to capital punishment was a natural part of his opposition to any sort of violence. In this essay he eloquently states that opposition against the backdrop of the Romanovs' brutal attempts to preserve the Russian monarchy at any cost.



1908

Letter to Pável Ivánovich

complete

    complete

Tolstoy describes an incident much earlier in his life in which he tried to defend a soldier against the death penalty.



1908

The Law of Love and the Law of Violence

by chapter

    complete

    complete

To impose an imaginary state of government on others by violence is not only a vulgar superstition, but even a criminal work. Stop looking for illusionary happiness by participating in the administration of the State and in all kinds of parties that have the good of the masses as an aim. Pay attention to only one thing: the increase of love in us by the suppression of vices and passions that keep it from manifesting itself. Remember it and consecrate your life to this joyous work.



1909

Capital Punishment and Christianity

complete

    complete

I know that those people associated with our false system of government who commit those crimes called executions will not hear my cries and entreaties because they do not wish to. Nevertheless, I shall not cease to shout and implore about this same thing until the last moment of my life, of which so little remains. I will continue until these very people, whom I accuse of these evil doings, prevent me from indicting them by doing with me what they do with others who are unpleasant to them, and of late more and more often with my friends who circulate my books. I cannot be silent.



1909

Address to the Swedish Peace Congress

complete

    complete

If it is admitted that Christianity forbids murder, both armies and governments become impossible. And if it is admitted that governments acknowledge the lawfulness of murder and deny Christianity, no one will wish to obey a government that exists merely by its power to kill. Therefore, the governments, being unable to say either one thing or the other, are anxious to hide the necessity of solving this dilemma from their subjects. We must put that dilemma quite clearly and definitely both to those who form governments and to the masses of the people who compose the army.



1909

The Inevitable Revolution

complete

    complete

We are standing on the threshold of a new and joyful life. The entrance into that life depends on our freeing ourselves from the ever-increasingly painful superstition that violence is necessary for the united life of men, and on our acceptance of that eternal principle of love which has already long lived in men’s consciousness, and \must inevitably replace the outworn, long-since unnecessary, and pernicious principle of violence.



1910

The Wisdom of Children

complete

    complete

Through a collection of short vignettes, Tolstoy presents the simple and innocent solutions that children have to vexing adult issues such as war, capital punishment, private property, and drunkenness.



1910

Letter to a Japanese

complete

    complete

For a religious man, there cannot be any question of the consequences of his actions or of what will happen to his body and his temporal, physical life. For such a man only one thing is necessary: to fulfill what is required of him by the spiritual essence that dwells within him. And that spiritual essence demands very definitely that he should not participate in actions that are most contrary to love: in the murders and in preparation for murders involved in war.



1909-10

Correspondence with Gandhi

complete

    complete

Gandhi was quite strongly influenced by Tolstoy's Kingdom of God is Within You, even naming his first experiment in collective farming as the Tolstoy Farm. They corresponded during the last year of Tolstoy's life. In his last letter, written two months before he died, Tolstoy commended Gandhi for his work in the Transvaal, South Africa. Gandhi ends this selection by eulogizing Tolstoy.