Maxim Gorky (1868-1936) is one of the most famous Russian writers. 5 times he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ever since the end of the 19th century, in his works, Gorky raised the questions of the revolutionary change in society, he was in clear opposition to tsarism and sympathized with the Social Democrats. The writer met the revolution with distrust, but eventually returned from abroad and in recent years became a classic of Soviet literature during his lifetime.
We have met Gorky since school. We read the stories “Childhood” and “In People”, we learn the fragment “Song of the Petrel”, as adults we read “The Life of Klim Samgin”. It is difficult to overestimate the cultural influence of Maxim Gorky on the life of the Soviet people. But the image of the writer was far from unambiguous.
The myth about him began to be created even before the revolution, and the Soviet government only approved it, canonizing Gorky. We will talk about the most controversial moments in the writer's biography, which formed the basis of the myths about him.
Gorky is the real name of the writer. Alexey Peshkov began publishing under the pseudonym Maxim Gorky in 1892. Then his story “Makar Chudra” appeared in the Tiflis newspaper Kavkaz. But this pseudonym appeared not by chance. The writer's father had a sharp tongue, that's why they called him Gorky. While living in Tiflis, Aleksey Peshkov met the revolutionary Kalyuzhny. He, having gone through hard labor and working on the railroad, helped the aspiring writer to look at himself seriously. Kalyuzhny and advised Peshkov to take the pseudonym Gorky, which would correspond to the acute social orientation of the works.
Gorky is Peshkov's only pseudonym. Beginning to work in Samara as a provincial newspaperman, Aleksey Peshkom used the pseudonym Yehudiel Chlamida. The first feuilletons of the writer were published under this name, where the main topic was the exploitation of the working person.
Gorky was an insignificant writer. There is a well-known quote from Vladimir Nabokov: "Gorky's artistic talent is of little value." The writer called his colleague's gift poor, denied him an intellectual scope. And Merezhkovsky in his work "Chekhov and Gorky" believed that he did not deserve more than a couple of words, and that his poetry should be condescendingly forgotten. Another clear owner of literary taste, Ivan Bunin, in his work "Gorky" in 1936, noted the unparalleled undeservedness of his colleague's world fame and even accused him of falsifying his biography. However, these are far from the only authoritative reviews of Gorky's work. Many famous contemporaries confessed their love to him, admired his talent. Chekhov called his talent "real and dashing", Blok called him a "Russian artist." Always reserved and caustic, Khodasevich noted the "high standard" of the writer. Marina Tsvetaeva, in response to Bunin being awarded the Nobel Prize, wrote that she considered Gorky much more worthy of this award, for he is bigger, more original and more humane. According to the poetess, Bunin was the end of an era, while Gorky personified it all.
Gorky created socialist realism. In Soviet literary criticism, the development of realism went from the critical forms of Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy to the socialist one. This artistic method was considered official and the only correct one for Soviet art. And if Chekhov was considered the last representative of critical realism, then Gorky was called the creator of socialist realism and all Soviet literature. The play Enemies (1906) and the novel Mother (1906) were considered classical examples. But the theory of socialist realism itself was fully formed only in the 1930s, at the same time a genealogy of works was built with Gorky at its core. But his classic novel was written 30 years earlier, and besides, in America, far from his homeland. Gorky himself considered that trip unsuccessful, and thus explained the shortcomings of his book. Modern researchers of the writer's work believe that his ideology was not based on Marxism, as Soviet literary critics imagined, but on the idea of creating a new man and the world. And the last work of Gorky, the unfinished Life of Klim Samgin, even in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, is ranked as critical realism.
Gorky fought against social injustice. There is no doubt that the writer does not accept the modern world order. But his rebellion was not only social. Even the critic of Gorky's work, Merezhkovsky, pointed to a metaphysical, God-fighting view of the problem. In his opinion, Chekhov and Gorky became prophets, but not in the generally accepted sense. Writers blessed what they wanted to curse and cursed what they wanted to bless. They tried to show that man does not need God, he himself appears to him, but from the works it becomes clear that man becomes a beast and cattle, or even worse. Gorky was close to the ideas of Russian cosmism, he fought death as an absolute evil, trying to overcome it by immortality and resurrection. While dying, the writer, delirious, said that he was furiously arguing with God. The writer's revolt concerned the very foundations of the universe, life and death. This was much higher than just a change in social order. The tale in verse "The Girl and Death" (1892) forced even Stalin to declare that this work is stronger than "Faust".
Gorky was an anti-modernist. Gorky is called an opponent of modernism and decadence, a preacher of realism. But this image will quickly crumble if you look at the writer's real place in the creative processes of the Silver Age. In the early stories of Gorky, there is a God-seeking, Nietzscheanism, which is in full harmony with the Russian tendencies of modernism, which excited the minds at the turn of the XIX-XX centuries. Annensky wrote about the play At the Bottom in 1906 that Gorky appears as the most prominent Russian Symbolist after Dostoevsky. The realism of creativity is different from that of Goncharov or Ostrovsky. Reading Gorky, any everyday situation appears as an illusion or a dream. Even the myth of his life, created by the writer himself, can be perceived as a symbol of life creation. And Gorky was close with many modernists, which makes us skeptical about the traditional Soviet approach to his work. The nature of the writer's art was best described by Vladislav Khodasevich. This prominent representative of Russian modernism was a close friend of Gorky for several years.
Gorky was friends with Lenin. Could the great proletarian writer not be friends with Lenin, the stormbringer of the revolution? A legend was born about the closeness of two powerful figures. Numerous sculptures, paintings and even photographs have rendered her. They show the talks between the leader and the creator of socialist realism. But after the revolution, the political position of the writer was already ambiguous, he lost his influence. In 1918, Gorky found himself in Petrograd in an ambiguous situation, starting to write essays "Untimely Thoughts" critical of the new government. In Russia, this book was published only in 1990. Gorky developed a feud with Grigory Zinoviev, the influential chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. Because of this, Gorky left, albeit in honorary exile. It was officially believed that Lenin insisted on treating the classic abroad. There was no place for the writer in post-revolutionary life. With such views and activities, he was threatened with arrest. But Gorky himself helped to create this myth. In his biographical essay Lenin, he described his friendship with the leader in a rather sentimental manner. Lenin met Gorky back in 1905, quickly becoming close. However, then the revolutionary began to note the mistakes and vacillations of the writer, trying to fight for him. Gorky looked differently at the causes of the First World War, he could not wish his country to be defeated in it. Lenin believed that emigration and weakened ties with the Motherland were to blame. In 1918 the writer was published in the newspaper Novaya Zhizn, which was openly criticized by Pravda and called petty bourgeois. Lenin began to see in Gorky a temporarily erring comrade.
Gorky had a mutual dislike for Stalin. The last period of Gorky's life took place in Soviet Russia. These years were overgrown with a legend, becoming an ideological basis. Already in our time there were rumors that the writer was tightly controlled by the Chekists, that Stalin threatened him and eventually destroyed first his son, and then Gorky himself. However, the facts tell a different story. Gorky sincerely welcomed Stalinism, and relations with the country's leader himself were at least neutral. In the Soviet Union, the writer saw what methods the Bolsheviks use to remake a person. This state laboratory delighted the writer. Living in exile, Gorky was embarrassed and weighed down by his situation. Why did she not need him, the petrel of the revolution? Gorky wanted to personally take part in all events in his homeland. Moreover, Stalin soon destroyed the enemy of the writer, Zinoviev. This allowed Gorky to return, taking an influential place as a cultural leader. Even Lenin did not give him such a position. And the writer liked Stalin's personality, he flattered him not only in official speeches. The writer and the politician needed each other. Stalin, through the channels of the NKVD, gave Gorky everything he needed, and he, with his support, legitimized his actions.
Maxim Gorky was killed. On May 27, 1936, when visiting the grave of his son, the writer caught a cold and fell ill. Death occurred 3 weeks later, on June 18. The coffin of the great Russian writer was carried, including by Molotov and Stalin. But already during the Third Moscow trial, Genrikh Yagoda was accused of murdering Gorky's son. He confessed in his testimony that he had killed the writer himself, on the orders of Trotsky. Gorky's secretary, as well as famous doctors, took part in the conspiracy. For a long time Yagoda tried to embroil the writer with Stalin, and when he did not succeed, he committed murder. The conspirators feared that if the leader died, an authoritative writer might not support them. Later versions appeared according to which the order to kill Gorky was given by Stalin himself, or he simply sent poisoned candies as a gift. But this seems like an obvious exaggeration - the writer did not like sweets, distributing them to guests. And there is no convincing evidence for this myth. How can you believe the testimony given under torture? But the legend itself turned out to be beneficial to Stalin, it helped him to deal with political competitors. And Stalin's denouncers easily included Gorky among the victims of the regime.
Gorky loved Russian peasants. This image quickly collapses if you learn how the proletarian writer treated the countryside and the Russian peasantry. He simply hated them! Gorky believed that the peasant contains all the worst traits of human nature: laziness, stupidity, narrow-mindedness, down-to-earthness. The favorite type of the writer, a tramp, originally from this environment, towered over her and denied with all his further existence. In the story "Chelkash" the old wolf, the drunkard and the clever thief Chelkash faced the cowardly, weak and insignificant peasant Gavrila. The picture is indicative. Gorky wrote that the semi-savage, stupid and difficult people of the villages would die out, and a new tribe would come to replace them, competent, reasonable and cheerful. And it should be different from the nice and nice people, being businesslike and not indifferent only to their needs.
Gorky was an anti-Semite. The Jews were just a model of that very new people, in which reason, efficiency and diligence should merge together. Gorky just wrote about this replacement of the classical Russian peasantry. The Jewish theme generally occupies an important place in his work, he always defended this people and fiercely opposed anti-Semites. Gorky said that on a person's path to progress, Jews protested against everything dirty and low, against violence, vulgarity and spiritual ignorance. Already in Samara in 1895-1896, Gorky became a celebrity. For Samara, the aspiring writer was a strange person. Nobody saw his talent. His acquaintances were educated people, from the nobility. Gorky, in relation to them, was really "from the people." Even in a photograph from the time of "Samarskaya Gazeta" the writer is depicted with a stick and in boots. He was treated accordingly. This myth appeared already in Soviet times. But when Gorky's plays began to be staged in Samara, few people remembered that he lived here at all. One of the writer's friends, Alexander Smirnov, decided to make a creative career on this basis. His memories of Gorky are the only thing that was published. Writers in Samara made a list of people with whom Gorky spoke. For them memoirs were written, revealing the life and character of the classic.
Gorky was always poor. Soviet propaganda extolled Gorky as a proletarian writer from among the people who had known need and deprivation from childhood. However, Alexey Peshkov was born into a wealthy family. His father was the manager of a steamship office, his mother was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Gorky's parents died early, he became a wealthy heir. He clearly did not live on fees alone. The writer Leonid Andreev scolded his colleague, who, pretending to be a proletarian, clung to the rich and traveled like a prince. Poetess Gippius recalled how in 1918 Gorky bought old valuables from starving people. He was no stranger to material well-being. And life abroad has always required a lot of money.
Gorky was an ardent Bolshevik. Although the writer was positioned as a fierce revolutionary, shortly after the events of October 1917, he was already criticizing his recent friends. Gorky wrote that Lenin and Trotsky were poisoned by the poison of power, trampling on democratic freedoms. In conversations, the writer predicted the imminent destruction of the communists by the insurgent peasants. But soon fate made Gorky the new tribune of the regime.
Gorky had an unequivocal attitude towards religion. Was the writer really a militant atheist? Throughout his life, Gorky did not stop trying to find the spiritual path. He talked a lot with priests, together with Tolstoy helped the Christians-Molokans to leave for the West. But the writer himself never came to religion. In 1929 Gorky declared that in the love of believers there is only hatred for people. The writer signed a letter asking to destroy the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. And Christian humility was alien to the writer, he wrote that he never intended to repent of anything.
Gorky was tolerant of gays. There were homosexuals in the writer's immediate circle. In that creative environment, this phenomenon flourished (Meyerhold, Eisenstein). At the same time, the writer showed no tolerance towards homosexuals. On the pages of Pravda and Izvestia, he openly called the phenomenon socially criminal and punishable, declared that fascism was based on it.
Gorky was not involved in the Stalinist repression. For all the merits of Gorky in the field of literature, one should not forget about his role in the repressions of the regime. It was the writer who authored a voluminous book about the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal. There, Gorky admires how skilled workers emerged from former enemies of the proletariat. The writer openly admired the country's corrective labor policy.The world famous person was believed. Gorky's trip to Solovki in 1929 helped convince the West to buy timber from the USSR. The writer preferred not to pay attention to the situation of the prisoners.