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Maxim Gorky: a political history Calder, Loren David


Maxim Gorky was born in 1868. At nine he was thrown out into the world to fend for himself. Even as a boy he protested against the ugliness of life and refused to submit to the forces of circumstance. At sixteen he found himself in an intellectual and emotional quandry. He longed to activate leaden Russia and in desperation went to the University of Kazan. Unable to finance an education, he worked as a stevedore and experienced for the first time the joy of group labour. At Kazan he became involved in the incipient Populist movement and was excited by their determination to build a new life. At twenty-one he was arrested on suspicion of revolutionary activities. His first story was published in 1892. The first edition of his collected short stories appeared in I898. The whole cycle of these early stories, written with a revolutionary purpose, revolved around the central ideal of personal liberty, exuberant strength and fierce rebellion. In this he announced a new attitude of energy and courage which won him universal acclaim. The young Marxists were quick to appreciate the revolutionary significance of Gorky's work and soon involved him actively in their movement. After I898 he was forced to live under police surveillance. His significance both as a symbol and participant in the revolutionary movement increased rapidly. By 1902 he was a close collaborator of the Social Democratic Party and an important financial power behind the movement. After the split of 1905 he showed a decided preference for the Bolsheviks. In the revolution of 1905 he played a conspicuous role as a fund raiser and propagandist for the insurgents. In I906 he went into exile. In 1907 he reached the peak of his efforts to put literature to work for the revolution with the publication of Mother. As the Bolsheviks most fertile source of funds, he rendered an invaluable service to the Social Democratic Party Congress of 1907. During this period his acquaintance with Lenin deepened into a mature friendship, and he became a tireless exponent of democracy and unity within the warring Social Democratic Party. He also wrote essays on political and social consciousness. In 1909 he helped to organize a workers' school on Capri. In 1913 he returned to Russia, where he devoted himself increasingly to educative work. In 1914 he voiced his instinctive opposition to the war and sided with the Zimmerwald Left. Gorky was gloomy about the eventual outcome of the revolution in 1917, and played the role of a spectator rather than an actor. In the spring he founded a daily newspaper in which he campaigned against Bolshevik tactics and opposed Lenin's scheme for a rigorous proletarian dictatorship. He worked for the unity of the whole Social democracy. In August he became the leader of a small political party, the United-Internationalists. Foreseeing the eclipse of culture, he opposed the Bolshevik seizure of power in October and assailed Lenin with bitter invective. In 1919 he became reconciled to the Bolshevik order and concentrated his attention on salvaging and preserving Russian cultural values. In 1922 he went abroad. In I929 he returned to the Soviet Union, where he was already applauded as its greatest moral and cultural authority. By this time he was convinced that the working class was one of the most vital forces in Russia and that the working class together with the socialist intelligentsia could and would create a new society based on justice and equality. He felt that it was his duty to contribute to the building of the U.S.S.R. and gave unflagging public support to the regime. His great prestige, bolstered by his friendship with Stalin, made a powerful force of his capacity to mould public opinion. From 1930 to 1936, he gave his attention to reorganizing Soviet Literature and wittingly or unwittingly helped to turn literature into an instrument of state policy. Gorky died in 1936. The circumstances of his death were later used as a weapon in the inner-Party struggle for power.

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