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Maksim Gorkii


Maksim Gorkii, USSR Author.


Gorkii, Maksim was born on March 28, 1868 in Nizhnii-Novgorod (now Gorkii).


Spent his youth as a vagabond and itinerant workman. First story Makar Chudra, published in 1892 in Tiflis. Soon became known as a genuine proletarian, turned writer.

Two volumes of stories and sketches, published in 1898, about the colourful and carefree life of tramps and similar characters made him widely popular, and turned him into a best-selling author. The play Lower Depths (1902) made him known throughout the world. Wrote and financed revolutionary propaganda during the 1905 Revolution, and joined the Bolshevik Party.

Left Russia for America in 1906. Travelled around the USA lecturing, and causing a scandal in the country by travelling in the company of the actress Maria Andreeva without being legally married to her (she became his wife later). Lived on Capri, 1906-1913, and organized and financed a Bolshevik Party school.

Returned to Russia in 1913. Remained close to the Bolsheviks, condemned W W1. After the October Revolution 1917, sharply criticized the communist dictatorship in his newspaper Novaia Zhizn'.

During the chaotic revolutionary years, felt that his duty lay in saving as much culture as possible. Organized many cultural initiatives (the publishing house World Literature, and so on), and became the natural focus of requests for help from the intelligentsia. His relations with Lenin became so strained that he left Russia in autumn 1921 (officially for health reasons).

Lived in Sorrento, 1924-1931. Became the best-known communist author in the world, living and writing freely in Mussolini’s fascist Italy. In the late 1920s his world popularity diminished considerably.

Returned to Moscow in 1931. In the last years of his life, he was proclaimed the founding father of socialist realism and was showered with honours. In complete contrast to his courageous stand against Lenin’s dictatorship in the early revolutionary years, adopted a servile attitude towards Stalin, praising collectivization (he was always anti-peasant, supporting the tramp against the farmer), glorifying Stalin personally, approving of the activity of the Cheka in general and the show trials in particular (the quotation ‘if the enemy does not surrender, he must be annihilated’ became virtually the motto of the secret police, and completely erased in the memory of many Soviet prisoners the considerable humanistic work of his previous years).

According to other versions, this was only a cover for Stalin’s personal involvement in his death, after he had shown signs that he was unwilling to approve of further Stalinist crimes. In fact, the exact circumstances of his death are still unknown (apart from anything else, he had a lung illness dating from his youth). As with many best-selling authors, his posthumous fame shrank, despite all the official support.

The constant stress on him as the father of socialist realism, the hated official literary dogma, has further damaged his reputation. Some of his plays and his autobiography remain popular, while some of his articles dating from 1918-1919 condemning the communist dictatorship remain banned in the USSR.