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Tolstoy's Largess

October 28, 1990

Prof. Edward Condren's review of Jay Parini's "The Last Station" (Sept. 9), relative to Tolstoy's final days, is grossly inaccurate in certain important respects.

Referring to Tolstoy's purported "fondness for half-baked ideals which actually arose from some personal inability," Condren asserts that Tolstoy believed and continually lectured "that to own property is to be a thief." This is an unfortunate distortion of Tolstoy's viewpoints.

In fact, Tolstoy vigorously opposed the Marxist revolutionaries of his time. He was a follower of the economist Henry George, and believed that unearned increments from land ownership should belong to the community, but contended that buildings and personal property should be freed from governmental interference and taxation. He stated that "possession of land by people who do not use it is immoral--just like the possession of slaves."

Tolstoy and his eldest daughter distributed thousands of acres among his peasants to be administered according to the ideas of Henry George. And he would have given much more, except for the protests of his wife and certain of his children.

Prof. Condren refers to Tolstoy's giving away of copyrights as "a gesture that could only have hurt others." Those copyrights were given to charitable organizations and persecuted religious groups. Again, protests of his wife and some of his children prevented further gifts of copyrights to needy persons. If these were "half-baked ideals"--so be it.

STANLEY SAPIRO

MALIBU

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