Maxim Gorky 1920
Source: The Call, 25 March 1920, p. 2 (1,445 words)
Translation: Richard Clements from L’Humanité
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
I have received a whole batch of letters coming from different people. They are all written in a tone of despair, and reveal a mortal fear. One feels that the writers have lived through dark and difficult days, and that their hearts are tortured by restless thoughts that drive sleep away.
“What has come over these good Russian people? Why have they suddenly become transformed into beasts of prey, thirsting for blood”? one lady writes to me on her perfumed paper. “Christ forgotten, his teachings dishonoured,” writes the Comte de F …. “Are you satisfied? What has become of the great principle of love of one’s neighbour? The influence of the school and the Church”? asks Ch. Brouteim, of Tombov.
There are among them those who groan and threaten, while others confine themselves to tears. All of them are excited and depressed, all are seized with fear at the idea of living through this tragic and noble epoch. As I cannot reply, individually, I reply to them here, one and all, at the same time.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The days of expiation for your criminal indifference towards the life of the people have arrived. All that you suffer, all that torments you, has been well deserved. And I can only say and wish you one thing: that you may realise even more deeply and more intensely all the horrors of the life you have yourselves created. May your hearts be still more anxious, may the tears continue to trouble your sleep, and may the wind of cruelty and folly that is blowing over our country burn you like fire! You deserve that.
You will be destroyed, you say; but it may be that all that there is of health and honesty in your soul will be cleansed from dross, and vulgarity—your soul! to which you have paid so little heed, your soul so full of greed, of lies, of the spirit of domination, in a word, of all the vilest instincts!
Madame; you wish to know what has come over the people? They have lost patience. They have been silent for a long time; for a very long time they have submitted, without a protest, to violence; for ages their bent backs have borne the weight of life for the mighty. But they will not support any more. Nevertheless, they are far from having shaken off their shoulders all the burdens cast upon them. Do not alarm yourself too soon, dear lady.
To speak frankly, what would you expect the people to become, if not beasts of prey? What have you done that they might be otherwise? Have you inculcated anything that is reasonable, have you sown the smallest seed of goodness in their souls?
During your whole life you have exploited the people’s labour, taken their last crust of bread, without even understanding that you ‘did an evil thing.’ You lived without asking what it was that enabled you to live, what force it was that supported you. By the brilliance of your raiment you excited the envy of the poor and the unhappy; and when you went, into the country and lived near the Moujiks you looked down upon them as if they were an inferior race. They understood, nevertheless. By nature they were intelligent and good, but you have driven them into evil. You celebrated your fetes in which the disinherited had no part, and you expect gratitude from them! Your songs, your music, had no power to uplift the souls of starring men. Your contemptuous airs of condescension towards the peasants could not be expected to awaken in their souls any feeling of affection for you. What have you done for them? Have you ever shown any consideration for their feeling? No! you have only made them cruel!
Was it your desire that they should be more intelligent? No! you have never given the matter a thought. The Moujiks were for you beasts of burden; you bore yourself towards them as if they were savages, you never looked upon them as human, beings. Why, then, should it be a matter for surprise that they should act as wild animals towards you?
Dear lady! Your question not only expresses your ignorance of life, but also the hypocrisy of the sinner who, conscious of his sin, does not wish to avow it.
You knew, you could not help seeing, how the Moujik lived. The man that is crushed will sooner or later take his revenge. The man for whom one has no pity will never know pity. That is clear. And I would add that it is just. Understand me then: it is not fighting that is most terrible, but not being able to do anything else but fight; not failure to have pitied, but loss of the power to pity. How can you look for pity in a heart in which you have sown vengeance?
Dear lady! At Kief, the good Russian people threw from the window of his house one Brodsky, a well known capitalist, A governess who was in the house shared the same fate. But a little canary that was found in its cage was spared. Think a little about that incident. The helpless bird called up a feeling of pity, while the man was thrown from the window. There was a place for pity in the hearts of the rebels, but not for the man that had not deserved it. In that fact lies all the horror and all the tragedy.
Are you convinced, dear lady, that you have the right to ask that people should act towards you as a human being, while you have, during the whole of your life, been without pity for your neighbour and have never recognised in him your equal. You write letters, you have education. You have probably read books in which the life of the peasants was described. What can you now expect from the peasants when, knowing how they lived, you did nothing to ameliorate their lot. And now you are miserable. And here you are writing with a hand that fear has made tremble letters of despair to a man who—you must know that—cannot drive away your fears, nor soften your sorrow. No! Certainly not.
Expiation is in the order of things. We live in a country where until these days men were whipped with najaikas and beaten to death; a country in which men’s bones were broken and their bodies mutilated; a country in which the violence done to men had no limit; in which torture was infinitely varied, until it drove one mad with shame or disgust. A people brought up in a school that reminds one of the torments of hell on a small scale; a people accustomed to the clenched-fist, prison, and the whip, will not be blest with a tender heart. A people that the police agents have ridden over will be capable in their turn of walking over the bodies of others.
In a country where unrest has reigned so long it is difficult for the people to realise from one day to the next the power of right. One cannot demand from a man who has never known justice that he should be just. All these things are understandable in a world where you, madame, and your society have permitted every conceivable form of the violation of man. Men feel more deeply to-day than they did fifty years ago the cuff that your father was accustomed to give his lackey.
Men have developed, and as a consequence of their development, the sense of personal dignity has sprung up within them, and yet people still continue to treat them as slaves, and to look upon them as animals!
Dear lady! Do not ask of others what you have never done yourself. You have no right to pity, because you have never known pity. The people have been tormented, and continue to be tormented, by all those who have an advantage over them, Now that Tsarism, and capitalism have led the country into revolution all the obscure forces in the people have been unchained, all that has been repressed during centuries has burst forth, and vengeance has sprung up everywhere.
There is in our country another force, a luminous force, animated by a great idea, inspired by the blinding vision of a kingdom of justice, liberty and beauty. But what is the use, dear lady, of describing in words the might and beauty of the sea to those who have not eyes to see!