Nikolay Chernyshevsky

What Is To Be Done?




These are passages from a famous novel bearing the sub-title Tales about new people. This text influenced many people, amongst them Vladimir Ulianovic Lenin who took the title for one of his pamphlets. The translation into English was made by Benjamin Tucker, the American individualist anarchist, to indicate the wide appeal of many ideas presented by the author about the organization of work and the relations between the sexes.



« You ask me what I seek in life. I wish neither to dominate nor to be dominated. I wish neither to dissimulate nor deceive; nor do I wish to exert myself to acquire what I am told is necessary, but of which I do not feel the need. I do not desire wealth. I wish to be independent and live in my own fashion. » « What I need I feel that I have the strength to earn; what I do not need I do not desire. » « What I do know is that I wish to be free; that I do not wish to be under obligations to any one. I wish to act after my own fancy. Let others do the same. I respect the liberty of others, as I wish them to respect mine. » (p. 40)

« Let every woman maintain, with all her strength, her independence of every man, however great her love for and confidence in him. »  (p. 109)

« … ideas as to the way in which we shall live. We will be friends. Only I wish to be your first friend. » (p. 110)

« First we will have two rooms, one for you and one for me, and a little parlour, where we will take breakfast, dine and receive our visitors. Second, I shall not dare to enter your room lest I bore you. Neither shall you dare enter mine. » (p. 111)

« I have seen the inner life of families. You cannot imagine how many quarrels there are between husbands and wives. »
« Do you know the conclusion that I have come to? That people should not live as they do now - always together, always together. They should see each other only when they need or wish to. How many times I have asked myself this question: Why are we so careful with strangers? Why do we try to appear better in their presence than in our families? Why is this? Why are we worse with our own, although we love them better? People say: how can one be rude to a woman or girl whom he does not know, or how can he criticise her? Well darling, here I am your fiancée and about to become your wife; treat me always as it is customary to treat strangers; that seems to me the best way of preserving harmony and love between us. Am I not right? » (p. 112)

« The important thing here is that, from the very first, in making a selection of a few, one be very circumspect. One must choose people who are honest, good and serious minded, steady, persistent and resilient, so that there shouldn’t be any silly squabbles, and that they know to select others. Right? » « They must also understand business management; the house must be self-sustaining and the business must be successful in a commercial sense. » (p. 139)

« Yes, motion is reality because motion is life. Now the principal element of life is labor, and consequently the principal element of reality is labor, and the characteristic by which it can be most surely recognised is activity. » (p. 145)

« Good and intelligent people have written many books concerning the way we should live in order that all may be happy; and the principal means that they recommend is the organisation of workshops on a new basis. » « Intelligent people say that nothing succeeds unless it is done voluntarily. » (p. 155)

« How did we define love the first time that we spoke of it? To rejoice in whatever is good for the loved one; to take pleasure in doing everything necessary to make the loved one happier - was that not what we said? » « Whatever is best for you pleases me. You will see what is best for you. Why get upset? If no misfortune has come to you, what misfortune can come to me? » (p. 214)

« Good feeling towards those we love implies a great desire for their happiness. Now, there is no happiness without liberty. You would not wish to stand in my way; no more so I wish to stand in yours. If you should stand in your own way for my sake, you would offend me. » (p. 222)

« Gymnastic, labor for the development of his strength and reading were Rakmetov’s personal occupations. » « Not to spend time on secondary matters and with second-rate men, but to attend only to relevant matters and relevant men. » (p. 233)

« Jealousy is a result of the fashion of considering one’s companion as an object that one has appropriated. » (p. 255)

« Company pleases me: only it is all combined for me either with work or with pleasure. But these occupations must be relieved by rest, that is, by solitude. As far as I can understand myself, I am moved by a desire of independence, of liberty. » (p. 266)

« If a person says to himself, ‘I can do nothing.’ he finds himself unable to do anything. Now, women have always been told that they are weak, and so they feel weak and to all intents and purposes are weak. You know instances where men really in good health have been seen to waste away and die from the single thought that they were going to weaken and die. But there are also instances of this in the conduct of great masses of people, entire humanity. » « We are weak because we consider ourselves weak. » (pp. 292-293)

« The charm that love gives to everything in man’s life, this intense gleam of life, should light not only the period of desire, of aspiration, the period called courting, or seeking in marriage. No, this period should be only the ravishing dawn of a day more ravishing yet. Among people of the old society such is not the case; the poetry of love does not survive satisfaction. The contrary is the rule among the people of the new generation. The longer they live together, the more they are warmed by the poetry of love, until time when the care of their growing children absorbs them. » (p. 303)

« Look upon your wife as you looked upon your sweetheart; remember that she, at any moment, has the right to say to you: ‘I am dissatisfied with you; leave me. » « Recognise her liberty as openly, as explicitly, and with as little reserve, as you recognise the liberty of your friends to be your friends or not, and ten years, twenty years after marriage you will be as dear to her as when you were her sweetheart. » (p. 303)

« A man loves a woman only if he is prepared to help his beloved to rise up and be independent. A person loves only if love brightens their thoughts and strengthens their hands. » (306)

« When a man recognises a woman as his equal he ceases to regard her as his property. »
« We feel free only with our equals. » (p. 317)

« Equality is the source of freedom. » (p. 318)

« You know my rule - to do nothing without the consent of the person in behalf of whom I wish to act. » (349)

« They live gaily and as friends, working and resting, enjoying life and looking forward to the future, if not without anxiety, at least with the firm assurance that the farther we advance in life, the better it becomes. » (p. 378)


[Home] [Top]