Maxim Gorky

Letter to a Monarchist

Written: unknown
Source: British Socialist, August, 1912, p. 378-384
Online Version: Maxim Gorky Internet Archive ( 2003
Transcription: Ted Crawford

I thank you, V. T., for your letter, and wish you everything that is good.

I read your letter, and thought to myself: what a pity it is that you are a Monarchist; it ill becomes you, a man with a strong will.

I cannot think otherwise, because I look upon monarchism as an error, and upon monarchism in Russia as a baneful error.

Why? First of all, because people recognise the supreme power of a single man, no different from one of themselves, and give him the sovereign right to dispose of their lives, their liberty or property, at his pleasure - it means that they efface themselves, their will and their reason, and bury their talents, so to say. Secondly, by giving one man unrestricted freedom to dispose of lives of millions of men you create a kind of God on Earth who is infallible, and give this God, created by yourselves the power to pervert and to revoke the laws of God in Heaven, in Whose exist epee you have such a firm belief.

Here in Russia, for instance, God's commandments: "Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not steal," are struck out life.

Why has the monarchical principle had such disastrous results in Russia especially?

You acknowledge yourself that the Russian "has not a strong will," and I agree with you that a strong will can only be acquired when there exists freedom of activity for man, coupled with definite aims for the future; we are deprived of the first condition, and in the majority of cases we do not recognise the necessity of the second condition.

When, some time ago, I tramped over nearly the whole of Russia in order to understand the spirit of my native people, tried to grasp its semi-pagan conceptions of God, its creative spirit as it is expressed in popular legends, songs, tales and proverbs, I witnessed the same thing everywhere: weakness of will, changeableness and instability of thought, the absence of definite aims and of real cares about the future, the regrettable inclination to ethereal day-dreaming and obscure philosophising in the Eastern manner.

All these national traits are characteristic of persons of all strata of society, look carefully and you will see that Oblomoff[1] is not only a type of a Russian landowner, he is the general type of a Russian; amongst the merchants, muzhiks, or officials you will find as many lazy Oblomoffs as you like.

It is well known that "an apple never falls far from the tree," and you in vain accuse the educated classes of Russia of Nihilism, Anarchism, and other sins; the Russian muzhik had invented Anarchism before Bakunin's time, and embraced Nihilism long before Pisareff; just look at the sect of "runners" or "pilgrims"; think over their teachings. Also observe how the muzhiks build up religious sects, and compare their method of constructing with that of the Russian political parties; you will see at once that the spirit is the same in both cases. People set to work with enthusiasm, even fanaticism, but soon cool down, split up into small sects and groups; they have ridiculous disputes with each other, not over the substance of the matter but about mere words. If we examine the shortcomings of the Russian educated classes, we see that they are born of the flesh and blood of the Russian people, but if we look at their merits, then the educated classes, judged by their heroism and the amount of work they have done, constitute a phenomenon quite without parallel in the history of Europe; it is to them that you are indebted for not being looked upon as Asiatics.

Let us take, for instance, your organisations of "truly Russian men." The authorities give you complete freedom of action, but you are unable to form a Party with a clear and definite programme; you have split up into several factions, you accuse each other of having stolen public moneys. In Moscow your business is going from bad to worse; about 30 branches have been closed, and about 40 more are to be shut down "for want of means."

Your organisations are weak everywhere; they collapse, and will continue to collapse, because what else can you, Monarchists, do except to arrange "pogroms"? What do you trouble about the disorder that is crushing the Fatherland: ignorance, drunkenness, famine, and brutality all round, which are fostered by you in league with the Government? You are miserable people, badly educated, ignorant. You don't know the history or the needs of the Russian people; you don't know anything except that you want peace at any price! Generally speaking you are people with no wills; that is why the writer Leskoff, who was no revolutionary but simply a nationalist, called you "the Slav sweepings" and "the native rubbish."

You who look upon yourselves as "truly Russian men" are that part of the people in whose veins there flows most Mongol blood, and you are saturated with Mongol and Eastern principles, inculcated in your brains by Mongols, and accentuated during centuries, of serfdom.

This slavish Mongol blood is still in your veins, and you should know that Russia is still a semi-Asiatic country because of your existence; that your "Russian soul" is saturated with fatalism - the Eastern faith in the invincibleness of fate, your baneful lack of faith in the power of human will and reason, your Eastern passive submission to elemental forces.

You have praised me for my books. I am certain that you have read them without understanding them. I Have always written, and do still write, that a passive attitude towards life is harmful, that we must take an active part in it; that we Russians philosophise a lot, and do it ineffectively; we work little and badly. I have written that we must struggle with what the East has grafted on us, and that we shall perish if we do not overcome it.

But, as you see, even the Mongols of Japan and China reorganise their life on an Aryan basis, by adopting the experience gained by Europe; but Russia, owing to the laziness and ignorance of people like you, and owing to the selfish activity of incapable users force, who are at the head) of the Government - Russia is left even behind the Mongols. This cannot fail to threaten us with grave calamities, for we live side by side with them, and over-populated China, having organised its affairs, will pounce on us to revenge those misfortunes and degradations to which it has been subjected by the policy of the Russian Government in the past.

"We are all human and all equal," you write. Is that so?

In my opinion there is a marked difference between us and the Japanese; or have you forgotten how they defeated you? There is not less difference between us and the Germans, who will also soon defeat us, and who don't know the disease typhus, which is; so common with us; they have forgotten about it because they live in cleanliness and not in filth, and their peasantry do not starve., There is also a serious difference between us and the French, in whose debt we are up to our ears; but no doubt your Government will betray them at a time when they are pressed hard.

No; between Russia, as represented by you, and Europe then is a weighty difference; it is not a Russian capital that exploits the resources of France, England, and Germany, but the reverse the case; these three States are gradually grabbing the wealth of Russia in the Ural Mountains, on the Don, in Siberia, on the Caspian Sea and in the Caucasus.

And you, blinking with your blind eyes, talk nonsense and boast of the "broadness of the Russian soul," and gaze at the way, in which you are being robbed.

Leskoff once said:-

"In fifty or a hundred years' time we shall disgust everybody in such a manner that we shall have to face a European coalition. The Germans or a new set of Normans will come and conquer us."

You Monarchists and "patriots," think of these words! The one that they predict seems not to be far off, if not already upon our heels.

A country which is all covered with blood and filth, where agents of the police kill Ministers, where thousands of people denounced by agents-provocateurs are sent to the gallows, to hard labour in the mines, or to prison; where in the prisons and police stations mediaeval tortures are resorted to, where a man is not worth a farthing, and thousands of people are slaughtered in a country where the suicides of youths have assumed the character of an epidemic, where little children playing at "court-martial"ing each other - this country naturally is quite capable of evoking the loathing of Europe, and even more serious feelings than loathing, for it might prove the hotbed of disease in the long run which could threaten all sane and healthy people.

Don't you think that the impotence of Russia is pleasant and expedient for somebody, and that the moment will come when strong people who have no scruples will come and say to you:-

"Well, fellows, enough of your unbecoming deeds! We are tired of them. In this wild state you are more dangerous to European civilisation than China was at one time, and hence we will divide you in a brotherly manner as you once divided Poland; we will divide and take in hand your bringing up."

They will divide you as they now divide Persia; they will also divide Turkey. It seems evident that strong and healthy peoples tend to divide up all those nations which lag behind the Aryan civilisation, either being incapable, or not wishing, to adopt it, and thus impeding its normal development.

Let me ask you a few "patriotic" questions:-

Why did your beloved heroes - Herschelman, Stakelberg, Rennenkampf, and others - their name is legion - fight so badly against the Japanese, and kill and mutilate the Russian people so well, so cruelly, and with so much zest?

Why does the majority of the Baltic German barons play the role of hired servants in Russian history, whose duty it is to hold the Russian by the throat?

You shout, Russia for the Russians! Down with the minor nationalities!

If you can bring about what this proud war-cry of yours implies - begin at once!

Let me point out a non-Russian family which is most harmful for Russia - a family which during centuries has cruelly bled our country, and has thrice in a hundred' years led the country nearly to the brink of national catastrophes. I speak about the successors of Karl Ulrich, the Prince of Holstein, who ruled Russia under the name of Peter III., and his wife Sophia Augustovna, Princess of Zerbst, who also reigned under the name of Catherine II.

Peter III. the "Russian Czar," without fear of offending his subjects, and speaking very bad Russian, styled himself "the faithful servant of the Prussian King," and knelt before his statue. He began his reign by returning to the Germans Berlin and all the German lands conquered by the soldiers of Elisabeth.

Catherine, having killed him and the Czar Ivan, gave the; Russian people into slavery to landowners thousands of Russian peasants fled across the frontier. She invited Germans to come, and settled them on the best lands of the Southern steppes and. along the Volga. She called forth the terrible Pugatchoff insurrection.

Paul I. and Alexander I. led a struggle championing the old forms of the shattered, French monarchy; this struggle in the long run brought about the invasion of the French in 18I2. This was, the first catastrophe, which ended rather favourably for the German Czars on the Russian throne, for the simple reason that the Russian muzhik and the soldier did not understand who was the real cause of the French invasion.

The patricide Alexander I. was a typical German as to his character and his policy. How can we presume that there can be, a drop of Slav blood in the Russian Czars when generation after generation of them marry German women- Where are the proofs that the Russian people is near and interesting to them, and loved by them? Just consider. Why, in 1848, Russian soldiers defeated the Hungarians to please the Austrians? Who incited Russia to declare war on Turkey in 1878, just after the Turks had been granted a constitution which might have made them a strong and civilised people? As soon as any people wakes up and a struggle for new forms of life ensues, why does the Russian Government send its soldiers to strangle and kill nations striving after freedom a culture, as it does in Persia now?

Nicholas I. flogged all your grandfathers, and led Russia to the second catastrophe - the Sebastopol débâcle.

You have styled Nicholas II. the "benefactor"; this is a mistake due to your ignorance - or, more correctly, your hypocrisy and cynicism. In the eyes of all honest people of the world this man stands as the gloomiest, bloodiest and the most hypocritical phenomenon of the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of twentieth centuries. He is a manufacturer of corpses, destroyer of life, something more terrible than the plague; he plays with the lives of the Russian people as a blind man at chess.

When the Governor of Ufa wrote in his report that 47 people had been killed while he was quelling a labour disturbance, Czar wrote on the margin of the report: "What a pity so few!"

That is the watchword of his reign: "What a pity that so few people have been killed."

I do not tell you fables - these are the Czar's own words. There is more cruel and cold-blooded advice given by him to his servants, which has been written by him personally, and printed in a secret book called, "A Collection of the Most High Comments Written by His Majesty on the Reports of Governors." It is published every year and sent to the provincial Governors for their "guidance." Find these books, read them, and you will see what your "benefactor" is like.

General Kazbek, the Commander of Vladikavkaz, tells him in a personal report that he had managed to quell a popular disturbance without a single shot being fired. The "kind" Czar, who loves the Russian people, advised him instructively:-

"One must always shoot; always shoot, general!"

On Bloody Sunday he enjoyed himself, for on this day the shooting was merciless, and at close range. No one could understand why the shooting went on. Thousands of people went to their "kind chief" with a firm belief in his good heart - should people be killed far that?

He is a man quite indifferent as to the fate of Russia. When the battleship Petropavlovsk went down, Makaroff perished; Nicholas II. was told about it.

"I know it already," replied your chief, and began to shoot crows through the window with a Monte Cristo gun. This is related by an adjutant of his.

Should I remind you about Lao-Yan, Mukden, Tsushima - the third national catastrophe?

During the reign of Nicholas II. as many Russians have perished as in all the wars of the nineteenth century. As a murderer he has become more notorious for his bloodthirstiness than the famous Abdul-Hamid, whose bloody fame your Czar has surpassed.

"The cunning Byzantine," said a person closely connected with him, omitting to add:-

"Who is cruel and indifferent to everything, except himself and his own life; let it always be sad, filled with the fear of death and remorse."

"But Russia continues to grow and expand," you will say.

You will see, no doubt, hour this question will be answered by a generation brought up in an atmosphere of "provocations," executions, suicides,, robberies, thefts, under the influence and impression of such grandiose trials as the trials of the commissariat chiefs, the unearthing of the activities of the secret police; under the pressure of general cynicism, of Sadic, sickly cruelty. The new generation is growing up in an atmosphere which poisons one's reason and conscience, and all this has been created by you.

But whatever you do, the revolution is inevitable, and the law of November 9,[2] which you praise so much, will accelerate it.

It must be expected that the future revolution will not fail to strike down you - half-brutes - by its cruelty. There will be much in that revolution that is unhealthy, called forth from the depths of what is of the brute in man, for in the last five years you have done everything to make people lose all idea of the value of their own and other people's lives; you have done everything to awaken the bestial element in man.

You seek "pacification," believing that it can be attained by imprisonment, hard labour, gallows; you have stored up a lot of anger in the country which will blow you to pieces.

And when the future revolution will have turned into a "Russian mutiny, merciless and pitiless," as Pushkin styled it; history will blame you for all these horrors, you who have lost your head from fear of being compelled to become Europeans. History will blame your half-witted, hypocritical Czar, suffering; from latent insanity, your Government which has lost every idea of right, honour, conscience and reason.

You are far from being terrible and strong men, as it seems to you, when you collect together in a crowd. No; you are miserable, half-sickly people, with the blood of Asiatics and slaves in your veins, poisoning Russia by rotting alive; and you are doomed to die out.

That Russia will live which has already renounced passive submission to another will and to the past, which will go to the West, accept its great experience, its forms of life, and which will live attentively following its work, revering its active Aryan culture which has set as its aim the unification of all mankind in one family.

1. The type of a lazy landowner in a novel by Goncharoff. - Translator.

2. Stolypin's law, 1909, dissolving the village "mir." - Translator.