He who does not work, does not eat by mattsteinglass
November 5, 2009, 1:35 am
Filed under: Conservatism, Economics

It’s just one of those weird slippages one sometimes gets into while blogging, but the other day Megan McArdle wrote that upstate New Yorkers have “a farmer’s contempt for welfare,” and had a bunch of people jump all over her because of the massive government subsidization of farm production and in some cases government payments to farmers not to farm. And then, clearing up what she meant, she wrote that “The core of the farmer aversion to welfare programs specifically is that old farmer maxim:  ‘If you don’t work, you don’t eat.'”

As far as I know that’s mainly an old Soviet maxim: “Кто не работает, тот не ест.” (“He who does not work, does not eat.”) Lenin used it in an essay called “On Hunger”, and it figures in the Stalin-era 1936 Constitution of the USSR. According to this site, pictures of Lenin emblazoned with the slogan used to hang in the “Red Corner” of many Russian homes in the early years of Soviet power. The slogan was used to justify the famines that followed the anti-kulak campaigns during the collectivization of agriculture, and decades later to justify the arrests of people for the crime of being unemployed, which was a way to prosecute political dissidents, black-market traders and prostitutes. Though the website, published by the Russian Orthodox Church, is mainly pointing out that the phrase, which it says Russians universally think of as a Communist one, originally comes from 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat”).

Anyway, while I’m sure that many farmers hate “welfare” in the sense of state minimum income payments, so do a lot of other people. I’d like to see some evidence that the attitude is more prevalent among farmers than among the population at large. There’s also a very funny song by the Russian modern-folk singer Brodiagi that comments on who really makes the money, in both communist and capitalist society: “Кто не работает, тот ест; кто работает, тот пёт” (“He who does not work, eats [i.e. profits]; he who works, drinks”).

Kto ne rabotaet

Soviet 1920s constructivist poster: "He who does not work, does not eat!"


7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This is an old soviet maxim as far as you know because you didn’t grow up near a farm. I promise you, it’s a US farmer maxim, because farm kids from across the country have also heard it. But the idea is not particularly original, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t also an old Russian peasant maxim.

The evidence that farmers hate welfare more than others? Look at where the Republican votes are in blue states. They’re actually quite sympathetic to other forms of transfer payments . . . but not to people who are able-bodied, and not working.

Comment by mmcardle

I think that depends on whether talking about the weather counts as working. Otherwise, I’d say farmers, in so much as they share a political philosophy, oppose transfers to those who are able bodied and not working in their stead.

Comment by citifieddoug

Has anyone yet said “those who don’t know any farmers don’t idealize their values?” The same is especially true for those who know many farmers.

Citing folk-singers pays off, on the other hand. That’s a good line at the end.

Comment by citifieddoug

It was a positive statement about rural Republican voters in the north, not a normative one.

Comment by mmcardle

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by russ_walker and Matt Steinglass, Tweets Tube. Tweets Tube said: He who does not work, does not eat […]

Pingback by Tweets that mention Matt Steinglass - Accumulating Peripherals – He who does not work, does not eat - True/Slant --

The phrase is the punchline of activist songwriter Malvina Reynold’s delightful song “Little Red Hen”, which uses its resonance with traditional American ideals as a taunt. It’s really pretty great.

Comment by swaldman

By the way, Matt, have you read Hammer and Tickle ( The author looked at Soviet humor to test a hypothesis that underground jokes helped bring down Communism. Not sure I agree with his methodology, but some of the jokes are amusing. Though I’m sure they have counterparts in most nations…

Comment by Michael Peck

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: