Maxim Gorky

Two Civilizations

Source: The Communist International, June 1919, No. 2, pp. 175-178 (1,187 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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History always and everywhere trained rural and urban man as two psychologically entirely different types and this difference waxes ever deeper, for the city rushes onward with the speed of Achilles, and the village is no faster than the tortoise.

The dweller of the village is a creature preeminently zoological, a being gaining bread by toiling like a galley-slave from the first days of spring till late autumn, in order to sell the greater part of that bread and to eat up the smaller in the cold, accursed days of winter.

No doubt “the living gold of glorious fields” is lovely in summer,—but in autumn, the naked earth, stripped of its living gold, again exacts galley-slave labour, again fruitlessly drains the strength of man.

This man is enslaved to the last, inwardly and outwardly, by the forces of nature,— he does not struggle against them, but merely fits himself to them. The short-lived results of his labour do not and cannot inspire him with self-respect, with respect towards his own creative force. Of all the work of his hands, earth knows only a heap of straw, and a dark, close, thatch-covered hut.

The peasant’s work is hard beyond measure, and this hardness together with the futility of its results, particularly—and perfectly naturally—deepens the dark instinct of property in the peasant’s soul and makes it nearly unassailable. This instinct is nearly unapproachable to the influence of that teaching, which counts property, and not the jest or the Devil and Eve at the expense of dullish Adam to be the original sin of man.

When I hear of “bourgeois” civilization, I have to think of the civilization of the village,—if one can unite the two notions village and civilization, nearly incompatible in their spiritual essence. Civilization is the process of the creation of ideas, their incarnation in the shape of books, machines, scientific instruments, pictures, buildings, monuments,— in the shape of various objects that, crystallizations of ideas, serve to wake to life others and increasing in quantity, spread in concentric circles, embracing an ever wider sphere, endeavouring to seize and discover the secret causes of all its phenomena. Such civilization is not brought forth by the village, the village sets itself monuments only in the shape of words—in the shape of tales and songs, and sayings. Yes, the sorrowful songs of the village are very touching, their wistful lyricism would, one should think, move a stone—and yet, stones are not moved by songs, neither are men. Doubtlessly there is much sad poetry in the village—that often draws us into sentimental mistakes but the prose, the still animalic-epic prose of the village is in its being as well as in its dimensions immeasurably, more significant. The village idyll recedes out of notice before the drama of every-day peasant life.

Compared to the passive, half-dead psychology of the old village the city bourgeoisie in a certain stage appears as a most precious creative principle, as that strong acid fully capable of dissolving the apparently yielding, in reality iron soul of the moozhik. The ignorance and backwardness of the village can be conquered only by science and large scale socialistic husbandry. A wondrous number of agricultural machines must be manufactured,—only these can convince the moozhik, that property is a chain that binds him like a beast; that it is harmful in the spirit, that unreasonable labour is improductive and that only reason, disciplined by science and blessed by art, can be an honoured guide on the road to liberty and happiness.

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The townsman’s work is wonderfully varied, monumental, everlasting. Out of clumps of soil, burnt into bricks, the townsman builds palaces and churches, out of shapeless lumps of iron ore he creates machines astonishingly intricate. He has already subjected the forces of nature to his high aims, they serve him, as the jinn of Eastern fairy tales serve the wizard who enthralled them by the force of his mind. The town-dweller has created an atmosphere of reason around himself, he constantly sees his own will incarnated in a variety of divine things, in thousands of books and pictures, where by pen and brush the great torments of his soul, his dreams and hopes, his love and hate are fixed for ever,—his limitless soul unquenchably burning with the thirst of new ideas, new doings, new forms.

Even when politically a slave, the townsman is still inwardly free and it is by the force of this inner freedom that he destroys and builds up afresh the forms of social life.

Man of action, he created for himself a life harrowing highwrought, full of vice—but of beauty as well. He is the fountain of all social disease and corruption, the creator of cruelty, hypocrisy and deceit, but—he thereby creates the microscope that allows him to see with such clearness the least movement of his everlasting unsatisfied spirit. He has educated in his circle the wizards of science, art, and technics,—wizards and sages who untiringly strengthen and develop these foundations of civilization.

A great sinner before his neighbour and maybe, still a greater one before his own self, he is the martyr of his own aspirations, that, killing their begetter, bear ever new joys and torments of being.

His spirit is like to accursed Ahasuerus,—he wanders ever on into limitless future, somewhere to the heart of the Cosmos, into the deserts of the universe that he is maybe, to replete with the emanations of his energy, creating what is unattainable to the conceptions of today’s reason.

For the intelligence the development of civilization is important in itself, without respect to its results, for intelligence in itself is before all an apparition of civilization, the most intricate and mysterious phenomenon of nature, the organ of its self-recognition.

For the instincts only the utilitarian results of civilization are of import—only what augments, external well-being, even if it be a humiliating lie.

For this reason now, when the roused instincts of the village must infallibly enter into a struggle with the intellectual forces of the city, when town-civilization—the fruit of centuries-old activity of the intellectual principle (that comprises the factory worker too) is in danger of being destroyed or hindered in its process of development,—now, these intellectual elements must revise their customary attitude towards the village.

A “people” does not exist—only classes exist. The working class until now was the creator of material values—it now wants to take active part in spiritual, intellectual work. The majority of the rural masses strive at all costs to strengthen their position of owners on the land—they reveal no other aspirations.

One and the same task looms before the intellectuals of all countries, of the whole world: to give their energy to that class, that ensures the further development of the process of civilization by its psychical qualities, and that is fully capable of speeding up the time of that process.

Maxim Gorki