S.N. Preeve October 1907

Maxim Gorky on Religion and Socialism

Source: Social Democrat, Vol. XI No. 10 October 15, 1907, pp. 616-617;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

At a time when the orthodox religions are rapidly nearing their final and decisive crisis, and numerous pigmies of philosophic thought are making feeble efforts to stem the swelling tide of the new social and moral philosophy, that will come with the new social order, by such hypocritical religious concoctions as, for instance, the so-called “Cowper-Templeism,” “Birreligion” and the stale “New Religion” of Mr. Campbell, at such a time it is interesting and, indeed, refreshing to learn the “religious” views of one of the most original and subtle minds of our day.

A French review, “Mercure de France,” initiated lately an enquête on the question of religion, and in its last issue there appeared letters from some of the foremost men in the worlds of science, literature and art. Some of the answers are interesting, some of them are simply nonsensical, although they emanate from distinguished persons, such as, for instance, the celebrated poet Francois Coppée, who writes: “I have said this morning, and shall say to-night, in my usual prayer, ‘Credo in sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam.’ That is my only credo and answer.”

M. Jules Lemaitre, the well-known writer and critic, candidly confesses that he knows nothing about the subject. But by far the most interesting answer comes from the famous Russian writer, our comrade Maxim Gorky, who writes as follows: –

“Religious feeling, as I understand it, is a joyous and proud feeling of harmonious unity existing between man and the universe. It is created by that inherent tendency towards synthesis, which is common to all men. It is developed by experience and first manifests itself in man’s consciousness of his place and role in the universe and life; then, evoking in him a joyous sensation of intrinsic freedom, it evolves into a feeling of pathos. Pathos is necessarily religious. The infinite variety of the phenomena of life, the beauty of man’s endeavours to understand and solve its mysteries; the creative power of his yearnings for freedom, truth and justice; the slow but sure and ever-accelerating march of humanity towards perfection – those are the sources from which mankind draws its pathos.

“The essence of humanity – let people with sluggish livers say what they will – is its onward march towards spiritual perfection, and the consciousness of that progress must evoke in every psychically sound man a religious feeling, a complete and creative feeling of faith and trust in his power, a feeling of hope for victory, of love of life, of rapture before the wonderful and wise harmony existing between his spirit and the spirit of all life.

“I think that we are now witnessing the beginning of the process leading to the development of a new psychological type – I see in the future a human being all of whose faculties will develop harmoniously, without interfering with, or contradicting, each other. This being I shall call perfect.

“But for his development it is necessary to have a vast and free intercourse between men placed on a footing of complete equality – a condition which can be guaranteed only by Socialism.

“Such intercourse would give to each and all equality of experience, equality in principle, if not in practice. It will enable all men to understand one another; it will set up amongst them new relationships, free of hatred, jealousy and greed; it will allow everyone to take full advantage of the experience of others, and all to be benefited by the experience of each.

“By experience I mean the totality of our knowledge of the fruits of our creative activity to the spheres of science and arts – those highest spheres of our intellectual activity.

“Such experience if possessed by the masses would enrich humanity and evoke in man a sense of dignity and self-respect, a proud desire to compete in creative activity with the generations of the past, and aspire to set up a higher standard for the generations to come.

“Then human life would become a process of creating, then man would not only feel his connections with the past, but also clearly conceive the influence of his spirit on the future. This fact should not be forgotten, our consciousness is capable of infinite expansion.

“And so, religious feeling, as I understand it, must exist, and develop, and ultimately make man perfect.”

Unfortunately, since he became an active member of the Russian Social-Democratic Party, Maxim Gorky has not been a very prolific writer, so fully and whole-heartedly did he identify himself with the precarious fortunes of the party. But when the Russian revolution gives way to systematic and steady evolution n the direction of Socialism, we may look forward to some great works from the pen of that original and clever writer, works that will considerably enrich Socialist literature, as well as that of the world in general.

S.N. Preeve