Karl Radek

Maxim Gorki and
the Russian Revolution

(18 July 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 59, 18 July 1922, pp. 442–443.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). 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.

The Paris Populaire publishes a letter of the noted Russian author, Maxim Gorki, to the no less noted French author, Anatole France, on the trial of the Social Revolutionaries. Gorki writes:

“The trial of the S.R.’s bears the cynical character of a public preparation for the murder of people who honestly served the cause of liberation of the Russian people!”

At the same time Gorki publishes the letter which he sent to Comrade Rykov, member of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party in which he writes that during the entire revolutionary period he had a thousand times pointed out to the Soviet Government the senselessness and criminality of exterminating the intelligentsia in our uncivilized land of illiterates.

The Russian workers will pass over this letter and think no more of the matter. They will say to themselves, “Gorki, a good musician, but a bad politician”, for they know him very well. Gorki’s attitude during the entire second revolution was an extremely vacillating our. The only consistent point in his entire attitude was his vacillation. During the March Revolution he published the newspaper, Novaya Zhizn, which fought against the coalition with the bourgeoisie. But when the Mensheviki and the S.R.’s did not want to’ break with the bourgeoisie, thus causing the fall of the Kerensky Government, Gorki was an opponent of the October Revolution. Gorki’s standpoint was as follows: a bourgeois government is bad; coalition with the bourgeoisie is also bad; but a proletarian government is also bad. The articles in which he himself supported this point of view, have been published in a special issue of the Süddeutsche Monatshefte, one of the leading organs of the German monarchists, probably in order to prove that in view of the mortality of all things a Monarchist-Junker government is after all the best. When the intervention began and the Russian workers and peasants, whom Gorki represented as a horde of wild beasts, defended the independence of their country and the conquests of the October Revolution in a heroic three years’ struggle, Gorki sided with the Soviet Government and published the well-known article on Lenin, in which he stated that he (Gorki) was the stormy petrel of literature and could not stand aside during this “heroic experiment”. At the same time Gorki wailed at every case where the Soviet Republic in its difficult fight for existence against its enemies in the “intelligentsia”, could not handle them with silk gloves. Gorki has been living outside of Russia for the past few months, deprived of any connection with Russian life, surrounded by a clique of hysterical literati of both sexes; and when he does not accidentally spend an evening with a Russian Communist passing through Germany, with whom he speaks in terms full of ardor, he grants interviews to the bourgeois press which is full of pessimism and represents the Russian peasant as an antediluvian nun. The Russian workers read this and shrug their shoulders, for they know their Alexei Maximish and his changeable moods. But the foreign workers know Gorki only as a revolutionary author and his opinion has a certain weight with them, for they do not know the sources of’ Gorki’s vacillations which are entirely justified in his nature and past. The following is written for them:

Gorki testifies that the S.R.’s “sincerely served the cause of the liberation of the Russian people”. He, as a poet, is interested in the individual man just as he is created by God, sincere and without trousers. A poet can sympathize with every strong personality. When one reads Shakespeare, his heroes are a selected gang of cutthroats and none of them belong to the Communist Party. The only revolutionary he mentions, Jack Cade, receives nothing but curses. When we see the tragic heroes of Shakespeare on the stage we do not ask about the causes they serve, but we take them in their human strength and greatness and are deeply moved. When one reads Denikin’s book, one is no less moved and the book of one of the leading Russian Monarchists, Shulkin, The Year 1920, is a moving document of the sincerity and the inner purity of this defender of Czarist, monarchist Russia. And there is no doubt that there are thousands of monarchists in Russia, no less than in Germany, who are sincerely convinced that they are serving the cause of the liberation of their people when they fight for the privileges of a dying class and system of society. The Social Revolutionaries fought sincerely for the cause of the liberation of the Russian people not only from Czarisrn, but they are to-day certainly convinced that they are fighting for the cause of Socialism. Does that, however, bring back to life the dead workers whom they fought and shot down in thousands with the arms and money given them by the Entente? During the S.R. trial a non-partisan post office worker took the stand and turned to the leader of the S.R.’s, the defendant Gotz, with the following apostrophy:

“The post-office workers received a large house for their society from the Soviet Government. This house belonged to the tea millionaire Wissotzky, the uncle of Gotz. Does Gotz realize that with the victory of his party the house would be taken away from the post-office workers and given back to his uncle.”

This simple question illuminates the social sense of the policy of the sincere S.R.’s better than long theoretical essays. They are certainly sincere and convinced of the correctness of their policy, but that does not change the fact that the S.R.’s are the defenders of the interests of the bourgeoisie; every worker in Russia understands that, and he does not give a damn for the sincerity of the sorrowful heroes of the Russian counter-revolution, but says, “This party must be destroyed, because it is the enemy of the working people, and its illusions (therein lies its sincerity) make it even more dangerous, for they only mean that it serves the cause of the counter-revolution under the banner of the revolution.”

To destroy intellectuals in a poor land of illiterates - is that not a crime, asks Gorki. The Czar, the Czarist ministers, the bourgeoisie and the Junkers were all more educated than the peasant of Ryazan, and none the less they are to blame for the illiteracy of the peasant. If the Russian Soviet Government were to be overthrown, the educated white Guards who would slip into power would have other things to think about than the education of the masses; they would flay them alive. This proves that the fight against illiteracy consists not only framing the heads of the Russian illiterates, but, under certain circumstances can best be fought by cutting off the heads of the highly educated representatives of the counter-revolution who want to reestablish the rule of the bourgeoisie or do so without so desiring. Gorki welcomed the fight against the intervention in which thousands of Russians belonging to the “intelligentsia” were shot down by the machine-guns of the Red Army. Why was he then not concerned with the poor illiterates? Defending the S.R.’s with the argument that they have learned to read and write, and can even translate French poems, is a comical undertaking.

Why does not Gorki understand all that? Gorki comes from the petty bourgeois class. He lived for a long time among the slum proletariat, which served as the subject for his best novels. He himself obtained the education he now possesses under the greatest sacrifices. And as often happens with self-educated men, he became a Philistine on the subject of education. How many workers are there, who after starving themselves in order to buy a book, after studying handbooks of astronomy, Darwin and histories of culture, by the light of a candle, into the early hours of the morning, in their miserable attic rooms, prize their bit of hard-won knowledge more than anything else in the world. These learned rabbis of the working-class became estranged from it and placed education above the class-struggle. There were such strange folk all over the world.

With Gorki the matter was complicated by the fact that together with his educational philistinism, which knelt before every learned man, there was bound the fact that he was not rooted in the environment of the Russian industrial workers; his roots went back to the past of a petty bourgeois, slum proletariat milieu. Only he painted this artistically and genuinely. Wherever he depicts workers, as in his novel Mother, he is egregious; the revolutionary worker is an angel, an ideal spirit as it were, a worker turned into an idealist intellectual who rises like a giant over the stupid masses. Gorki is nowhere able to picture this mass. It is for him the wax which is kneaded.

His attitude to this mass is intellectually the same as that of the S.R.’s; Herald and Mass; not, however, the mass sufficient unto itself.

His educational philistinism gives rise to his hatred of the peasant in whom he sees nothing human. When the October Revolution broke out, he was convinced that because of the preponderance of the peasantry in Russia, it would have to end in the complete exstirpation of Russian culture. He was therefore an opponent of the October Revolution. He did not believe that the workers were strong enough to lead the peasant in the struggle for liberation. Only people who had read Newcombe’s Astronomy and could explain the second part of Faust could do this. The workers, however, have proved that they were able to lead the peasant in the fight which is creating the conditions for a new great people’s culture in Russia, even though it naturally – as every war has destroyed many objects of cultural value. Gorki understood that for a moment, but in his heart there remained a great fear of the lack of culture on the part of the workers and the inability of the peasants to receive culture at all. Hence his counter-revolutionary articles against the peasants and his hysterical cry, “O! Protect the intellectuals!”, even when they desire to murder the Russian Revolution in alliance with the Entente.

Gorki sits in Berlin with his hysterical literati.

He reads no newspapers printed in Russia, but instead he reads the White Guard papers appearing outside of Russia with all their lies and deceptions. All his petty bourgeois instincts awoke and dictated his letter. If Gorki should return to Russia and again live in the midst of Russian life and see the work done by the Soviet Government together with all the intellectuals who really do not want to return to the weak bourgeois culture on the backs of the outlawed and exploited masses, but who are looking forward to a new culture together with the fighting workers and peasants, he will (as often before) again blushingly smile and say, “You know very well that I understand but little of politics”. We will answer, “Good, one must take men as one finds them, particularly a poet.” But even a poet must not misuse the right to write nonsense, except when be writes verse, whereupon he can explain the nonsense as a new form of poetry.

Last updated on 5 May 2020