Maxim Gorky. A Political Biograhy

Article excerpt

Tovah Yedlin. Maxim Gorky. A Political Biography. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1999. xiv, 260pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $59.95, cloth.

Amidst the horrors of WWI Maxim Gorky wrote to Roman Rolland: "A man must learn that he is the creator and master of the world, that he carries a responsibility for all the disasters as well as the glory for all the good that there is on earth." This is the closest that Gorky came to enunciating a political credo. A humanist and a Westernizer, he believed in the role of culture as the agent of progress. Although he loved Russians and predicted for them a "failylike and heroic life," Gorky also deeply despised the anarchy and destructiveness that he saw as Russian history's legacy to the peasants. The solution for him was enlightenment through long and patient cultural work, and the transmission of the values of European civilization to the Russian masses that were so deformed by their history. Gorky believed in proletarian socialism, but not in its premature introduction. For that reason he opposed the October revolution in spite of his friendship with many leading Bolsheviks. During the Civil War and subsequent repressions, Gorky worked to preserve and promote culture, using his network of friends to save an impressive list of intelligenty from prison or death. The Bolsheviks, anxious to take advantage of his prestige at home and abroad, countered his criticisms of their rule by distinguishing Gorky the artist from Gorky the publicist. Believing that only the leadership of Lenin could restrain peasant anarchism in Russia's current political climate, Gorky tempered but did not cease his criticism of the fledgling regime. In such accommodations are moral tragedies forged.

Gorky maintained his uneasy relationship with the Soviet regime throughout the 1920s. He did much good in his pursuit of enlightenment for the masses. From 1928 onward, however, accommodation for noble ends inexorably metamorphosed into complicity in unspeakable crimes. Early in the revolution Lenin had warned Gorky, "It is time that you realized that politics is a dirty business and you had better stay out of it." Far too late did Gorky comprehend that under Stalin politics was not only dirty but also inescapable. And what one man could carry a responsibility for the disasters of Stalin's rule? …