Reply to a Questionnaire of an American
by Maxim Gorky
“Does your country hate America, and what do you think of American civilization?”
The very putting of such questions, and in such a form, smacks of a distorted, a truly American love of exaggeration and sensation. I cannot imagine a European putting such questions simply to “make money.” As to your first question—and all the others, for that matter—permit me to say that I have no right to speak in the name of the 150 million citizens of my country, because I am not in a position to ask them what their attitude to your country is.
I presume that even in the countries whose blood your capitalists coin into dollars—in the Philippines, the South American republics, China—and even among the ten million coloured people in the U.S.A.—you will not find a single sensible man who will have the presumption to declare in the name of his people: “Yes, my country, my people, hate America, all its inhabitants, workers as well as billionaires, coloured people as well as whites; they hate the women and children of your country, its fields, rivers and forests, its beasts and birds, its past and its present, its science and its scientists, its magnificent technical achievements, Edison and Luther Burbank, Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman, Washington and Lincoln, Dreiser and O’Neill, Sherwood Anderson and all its talented artists, and that splendid romanticist, Bret Harte, the spiritual Father of Jack London; they hate Thoreau and Emerson and everything that makes up the United States of America and all who inhabit those states."
I hope you do not expect to find an idiot capable of giving such an insane answer to your question, an answer so filled with hatred of human beings and culture.
However, l need not say that what you call American civilization does not appeal and cannot appeal to my sympathies. I think that your civilization is the most ugly civilization on our planet, because it has monstrously exaggerated all the diverse. and shameful deformities of European civilization. Europe is tragically perverted enough by the cynicism of the class state, but it is still impossible to find in Europe such a pernicious and senseless phenomenon as your billionaires and millionaires, people who present your country with degenerates. You remember, of course, the case of the two rich Boston boys who murdered another boy out of curiosity? And how many similar crimes are prompted by "snobbery,” by curiosity in your country? Europe, too, can boast of the downtrodden and defenceless condition of its citizens, but it has not yet gone to such shameful lengths as the murder of Sacco and Vanzetti. In France there was the “Dreyfus case,” also a shameful affair: but in France, men like Emile Zola and Anatole France rose up in defense of the innocent man, and thousands followed their lead. An organization of manslayers resembling the Ku Klux Klan sprang up in Germany after the war; but there they were rounded up and put on trial. That is not the fashion in your country; there the Ku Klux Klan murders and cynically manhandles coloured people, even women, with impunity, just as governors of states wreak violence on Socialist workers with impunity.
There is no such disgusting thing in Europe as the baiting of "coloured” people, though it suifers from another shameful disease—antisemitism. However, America too is infected with this disease.
Crime is gradually increasing in Europe also, but it has not yet gone to the length of what—to judge by your newspapers—is happening in Chicago, where, besides the bandits of the stock exchange and the banks, bandits armed with guns and bombs rule the roost. Nor are the bloody affrays which prohibition gives rise to in your country possible in Europe. Nor would you find a city mayor who would publicly burn English classics, as the mayor of Chicago did.
I do not think Bernard Shaw would be entitled to answer an invitation to visit any other country as sarcastically as he did in reply to. the invitation of the editor of the Nation, O.G. Villard, to visit America.
Capitalists are a revolting and inhuman tribe in all countries, but yours are the worst. They are apparently more stupidly greedy for money. Incidentally, my own private translation of the word “businessman“ is—maniac.
Just think how idiotic and shameful it all is: our splendid planet, which we have learned with such difficulty to adorn and enrich—practically the whole earth—is in the greedy clutches of an insignificant tribe who are incapable of making anything except money! The magnificent creative power, the blood and brains of the scientists,engineers, poets and workers, who are the builders of culture, of our "second nature," are coined by these doltish people into yellow metallic discs and check slips.
What, besides money, do the capitalists breed? Pessimism, envy, greed and hatred, which will inevitably destroy them, but which, together with them, may in their explosion destroy a multitude of cultural treasures. Dire tragedy is what your morbidly hypertrophied civilization holds out for you.
Personally, of course, I am of the opinion that true civilization and rapid cultural progress are possible only where political power entirely belongs to the working people, and not to parasites who live on the labour of others. And, of course, I recommend that the capitalists be proclaimed a group of socially dangerous people, that their property be confiscated by the state, and that they be transplanted to some ocean island where they may be allowed to die out in peace. This would be a very humane way of solving a social problem, and entirely in the spirit of “American idealism,” which is nothing but the most naive optimism of people who have not yet lived through the dramas and tragedies which, taken together, are called the "history of a nation."