Tolstoy Farm was a community started by Gandhi in Transvaal, South Africa, in 1910. It became the headquarters of the campaign of satyagraha (non-violence) which he lead at that time. This campaign was a reaction to the discrimination against Indians in Transvaal, and at one stage, 2,500 people of Indian origin were in jail for non-violent resistance to the racist laws.
The farm, 22 miles from Johannesburg, had been bought by Herman Kallenbach, one of Gandhi’s supporters and placed at the disposal of the Satyagrahis for as long as the campaign lasted. It was less than 2 miles from the nearest railway station and already had 1,000 fruit bearing trees on the 1,100 acres of land. There were 2 wells and a spring, but only a couple of small buildings. The name, Tolstoy Farm, was suggested by Kallenbach.
Gandhi recalled that between 70 and 80 people lived in this “co-operative commonwealth”, but sometimes there were more. They were mostly young men and children, with a few women and older men. They were members of various religions and various origins, not just Indians. Various languages, Gujarati, Tamil, Hindi and English, were spoken by the residents. Adults and children worked in farming and gardening, including pruning fruit trees, growing, harvesting, and clearing woodland. The emphasis was upon simple communal living combined with a clearly structured routine of work, school, bathing and a general meeting at the end of the day. Meals were vegetarian.
Within six months, the residents had completed 3 big buildings. One building was for the women, one for the men (with laundry and kitchen), and one was a combination of offices, workshop and a school. There was a “tailoring department” producing trousers and shirts, and a sandal workshop soon produced footwear for the commune members.
The children and young people were schooled in the community by Gandhi himself. 3 hours practical learning in the morning (gardening, cloth making, sandal making and agriculture) were balanced by lessons in writing, arithmetic, geography, history, singing and story telling. There was some religious teaching too, and Gandhi asked the residents to respect each others religions and asked them to observe the fasts of the others. In his teaching, Gandhi used no text books, and girls and boys were together in the classes.
The end of the campaign:
The repression against the satyagraha movement was brutal, but public outcry against the harsh methods and violence used against the Indians meant that the South African government had to make a compromise with Gandhi and his supporters. The campaign of non-violence, came to an end, and Tolstoy Farm was no longer needed as a centre for the resistance. Gandhi left South Africa in 1914, going first to England for a visit. In 1915, he returned to India.
“The Tolstoy Farm: Gandhi’s Experiment in Cooperative Commonwealth.” by Surendra Bhana, South African Historical Journal No.7, November 1975.