Born in Nizhny Novgorod (400km east of Moscow) he grew up in poverty. Gorky became an orphan at nine years old and thereafter lived with his grandmother, whose husband was a cruel man who often beat Maxim. After the death of his grandmother, whom he loved deeply, he attempted suicide in 1887. He the began his famous five years of "vagrant" wandering, which he called his "university." In these five years Gorky traveled around Russia on foot and took on many short-term odd jobs to support himself. After he "graduated" he began writing for provincial newspapers as well as preparing more substantial works. A master of short stories, novels, plays, and articles, his works focused on social questions and he was an open partisan of the downtrodden. Gorky's open partisanship for the oppressed was all the more authentic and unique in that he had a background of privatization and extreme poverty, not of wealth and comfort like many writers.
Considered to be the founder of Socialist Realism (not the subsequent bastardization), by the turn of the century he was an open supporter of Social Democracy. Giving financial and other support to the Russian Social Democratic Party, he was considered the writer of the Russian Marxists, although his relations with the Bolsheviks were far from stable. Arrested many times for his opposition to Tsarism, he lived in Italy from 1906 to 1913, the years of intense repression following the failed 1905 revolution. After the revolution he had many problems with the new Bolshevik government, partly due to an old artist's "handicap" (his political understanding was somewhat lacking), and partly due to some of the unnecessary measures of the Bolsheviks. Leaving for Italy again in 1921, he continued to live there until 1932, when he returned to the Soviet Union. Gorky was and will remain one of the greatest socialist novelists ever to pick up a pen, with an unrivaled ability in writing about the oppressed: sympathetically, realistically, and with the spirit of revolution.
The Autobiography of Maxim Gorky: 614 pages. An autobiography in three parts focusing on Gorky's early years. The first part "My Childhood," deals with the death of his father and his subsequent time living with his grandmother, as well as the short time he spent at school. The second part "In the World" starts with Gorky being forced to work after the death of his mother, although he is still only a child, and continues detailing his time working in workshops and other places under the worst conditions. The third part "My Universities" details Gorky's years of wandering around Russia on foot, working briefly and moving on, as well as with the death of his Grandmother and his relationship with a married woman. A powerful account of his early years, it vividly documents his pain and torment, as well as the conditions of the poor and working classes in Russia at the time.
The Three (1900): 466 pages. About the urban poor and the conditions and frustrations which they live through, as well as the capitalist illusions they may hold on to as dreams to sustain themselves. Written over a hundred years ago, it deals with a phenomenon which has continued: that of the rural poor migrating to urban areas, and the majority of the time being forced to live in slums (the only affordable housing for them) and work in very low-paid jobs in factories, or in the "informal" sector (i.e. street sellers, illegal activities, garbage collection/picking, etc...). In this novel the "main" character lives in run-down housing and works mainly in the informal sector, in specific garbage picking although he later becomes a street seller. Gorky also attacks and deconstructs the bourgeois myth of happiness: that all one needs is a little property to make money off of (like a small shop for instance) to be happy. He also shows the ridiculousness and impracticality of this notion for the lower classes, who it is often forced upon like so many other components of bourgeois culture/thought. In doing so, Gorky exposes the reality which stands behind bourgeois morality and "philosophy" and shows it to be in essence a dirty, useless, hypocritical, and greedy type of life, built on the exploitation of others (involving little to no serious labor on the oppressors part) in the sole pursuit of wealth. This is a surprisingly relevant novel, given the large number of people around the world living in slums and working in the "informal" sector, trying to feed themselves and stay alive when they have been given nothing but problems, and are dehumanized and brutalized constantly by the barbaric upper classes of the world.
Mother (1907): 243 pages. Without a doubt the most famous socialist novel ever written, it has been translated to just about every written language. Well known for being the book that introduced millions to communism over the years, and convinced many to join the fight for a a just society. Dealing with a working class family which suffers from the oppression and alienation of capitalism in a very direct way, who eventually turn to communism and dedicate themselves to it fully. The mother never had the chance to receive an education and her superstitions, cynicism, and apathy were forced on her, like on so many others, by the horrible conditions of her life which gave her no free time for thinking. Yet despite this she learns and becomes class conscious, even though she is no longer young, and becomes fiercely dedicated to communism. Gorky had long been involved with the Russian Social-Democratic party by this time, and the novel is also generally a fictional account of underground Social-Democratic work in Russia before the revolution.
Petty Bourgeois (1901): 92 pages
The Lower Depths (1902): 73 pages
Summer Folk (1904): 105 pages. A sketch of the Russian bourgeoisie on the eve of the 1905 Revolution. Shows the pettiness and ridiculousness of the bourgeoisie who occupy themselves with affairs and dirty deals while preaching morality. Gorky also points out the extent to which they fear change: for an improvement in the life of the masses would put an end to their ridiculous, parasitic mode of living. Gorky also shows a minority of bourgeoisie who are disgusted with this life and want to work towards a better future for all, in other words traitors to their class and people of principle. A radical anti-bourgeoisie play, one can feel the tension of those times.
Enemies (1906): 75 pages
Vassa Zheleznova (1910): 41 pages
Old Man (1915): 59 pages. An attack on hypocrisy, with the “Old Man” representing religious hypocrisy, and “Ivan Mastakov” representing bourgeoisie hypocrisy. It also points out how scared the bourgeois are of scandals, and how much they are illogically bound to “appearances” and the way they are viewed in society. Notice, for instance, that Mastakov's religiosity and fake “generosity” is due more to his idiotic bourgeois superstitions and vanity than anything else, since he feels that he is living a lie, which he is, and that he needs to “atone” for this. But the very fact that he is ashamed of the thing he is hiding is itself idiotic, and says a lot about what kind of person he is, i.e. a typical bourgeois hypocrite who only turns to religion and charity for selfish reasons. The old man needs little explanation, he wears his hypocrisy on his shoulder like a badge, and although he can't be considered bourgeois by any means, he is a perfect example of people, especially religious figures, who talk about religion constantly, who justify everything they do by invoking religion, and yet are the biggest, most disgusting hypocrites who don't even follow their own narrow views of what religion is.
Yegor Bulychov (1931): 56 pages
9th of January: Written about the 9th of January 1905 mass procession of workers to the Tsar's Winter Palace led by Priest Georgy Gapon which intended to present a petition to the Tsar. The workers in the procession were peaceful, but the army stationed around the Winter Palace opened fire several times on the peaceful, defenseless workers and slaughtered hundreds of them. This is also known as "Bloody Sunday," and was the start of the 1905 Russian Revolution. As always, Gorky is eloquent and passionate, and portrays the crackdown and betrayal very well. As you will notice when you read the story, Gorky makes the point of singling out the priest Georgy Gapon who is criticized by the workers in the procession. It is important to note here that Gapon was a traitor, he worked for the Tsarist secret police, and he was executed in 1906 by socialist-revolutionists who discovered he was a traitor and informer.
Comrade: Explores and articulates what the word "comrade" means to the struggling and oppressed, shows the power behind it and the ideas for which it stands.
The Lords of Life
Capitalist Terror in America Against Negro Workers (1931): Passionate and just attack on capitalism and the hypocrisy of the amerikans who rant about freedom and democracy while murdering and oppressing in the most obscene and brutal ways. Also a passionate call for internationalist class solidarity, and a strong condemnation of amerikan racist oppression.
Open Letter to French Journalists
Reply to a Questionnaire
The Bourgeois Press
The White Peril