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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a utopian religious trend prevalent in Russia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It emerged during the political reaction of the 1880’s under the influence of L. N. Tolstoy’s religious and philosophical doctrine.

The foundations of Tolstoyism were expounded in Tolstoy’s A Confession, What I Believe, and The Kreutzer Sonata. The Tolstoyans believed that society could be changed through individual religious and moral self-perfection; they advocated universal love and passive nonresistance to evil. V. I. Lenin wrote that the Tolstoyans “sought to convert the weakest side of [Tolstoy’s] doctrine into a dogma” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 17, p. 210). The Tolstoyans were persecuted by the clergy and police for their attacks on the Orthodox Church and official religion, their passive rejection of autocracy, their advocacy of egalitarianism, and their sympathy for such sects as the Molokans, Dukhobors, and Stundists. In 1897, Tolstoyism was declared to be a dangerous sect. Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Orthodox Church in 1901, and his followers were arrested and exiled.

Colonies of Tolstoyans, called cultural hermitages, were established in the 1880’s in Tver’, Simbirsk, and Kharkov provinces and in Transcaucasia, but they soon disbanded. The Tolstoyans’ educational activities were of greater importance. The Posrednik publishing house, founded by the Tolstoyans V. G. Chertkov and P. I. Biriukov, published books for the common people in large printings, including works by Tolstoy, G. I. Uspenskii, and A. P. Chekhov, as well as textbooks on agronomy, veterinary medicine, and hygiene.

Tolstoyism found adherents in Western Europe, Japan, and India (M. Gandhi), who attempted to found Tolstoyan colonies in England and South Africa between 1880 and 1910. However, Tolstoyism did not have a noticeable influence in Russia. Since it was an expression of “the primitive peasant democratic masses” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 20, p. 20) and a result of reaction and the decline of the revolutionary movement, it was outdated by the early 20th century, when the social movement again became prominent.


Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. (See Index volume, part 1, p. 676.)
Krivenko, S. N. Na rasput’i, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1901.
Prugavin, A. S. O L’ve Tolstom i tolstovtsakh. Moscow, 1911.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The philosophy that became known as 'Tolstoyism' was outlined in the body of work the writer produced from the late 1870s onwards.
The impact of Tolstoyism was not restricted to Russia.
In Britain the leading centre of Tolstoyism was the Croydon Brotherhood Church and its associated colony at Purleigh near Maldon in Essex.
Other centres of British Tolstoyism included the Christian Communist Friends, led by William Murray in Blackburn, who circulated Tolstoy's literature 'because his conception of life is nearest to ours'; and a group led by George Gibson and D.B.
Schmitt's newspapers were more introspective than other vehicles of Tolstoyism and were in constant financial difficulty.
Prior to his conversion to Tolstoyism he had been a 'free socialist" or anarchist, and not a Christian at all.
Emest Crosby described Tolstoyism as'my ism: Tolstoyans like Crosby and Kenworthy, Chertkov, Albert Skarvan and Pavel Biriukov devoted themselves to translating, pubfishing and promoting To[stoy's works abroad and also to furthering his vision.
At its height in the late 1890s Tolstoyism seemed to be winning western converts by the minute.
Tolstoyism operated for many years as a vigorous international reform movement.
Cataloguing the failures of the movement serves to obscure the more interesting questions about why individuais chose Tolstoyism, why they subsequently rejected it and the contexts from which they arrived and into which they departed.
Chertkov may have been moved by ulterior motives in documenting this, but he was also maintaining a narrative that begged to be written in the culture of Tolstoyism. (Even then, however, Sofia Andreyevna had many defenders.) In the more recent context, other dimensions of the marriage have come to the fore, as biographers have considered the human cost of Tolstoy's moral imperatives.