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Maxim Gorky, "The Craftsmen of Culture," 1935

Maxim Gorky (1868-1936) was born Aleksei Maksimovich Peshkov at Nizhni Novgorod (now Gorky). He worked at a variety of odd jobs, including tramp, until he found his vocation as a write. His earliest pieces were romantic exercises that glorified the unusual, with vividly drawn characters, mostly of tramps. Foma Gordeyev (1899) marked Gorky's transition from romanticism to realism. His subsequent novels were weakened a bit by the inclusion of long passages on the meaning of life. His autobiographical trilogy contains his best writing. Involved in strikes and imprisoned in 1905, he lived abroad until 1914 and then engaged in revolutionary propaganda. From 1922 to 1928 he was again abroad for reasons of health -- upon his return he became a supporter of Stalin.

In the passage below, Gorky discusses the new standards in Soviet literature.

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The Communist-Leninist Party, the workers' and peasants' government of the Union of Socialist Soviets, which have destroyed capitalism throughout the length and breadth of tsarist Russia, which have handed over political power to the workers and the peasants, and which are organizing a free classless society, have made it the object of their daring, sage, and indefatigable activity to free the working masses from the age-old yoke of an old and outworn history, of the capitalist development of culture, which today has glaringly exposed all its vices and its creative decrepitude. And it is from the height of this great aim that we honest writers of the Union of Soviets must examine, appraise and organize our work. . . .

As the principal hero of our books we should choose labor, i.e., a person, organized by the processes of labor, who in our country is armed with the full might of modern technique, a person who, in his turn, so organizes labor that it becomes easier and more productive, raising it to the level of an art. . . .

The party leadership of literature must be thoroughly purged of all philistine influences. Party members active in literature must not only be the teachers of ideas which will muster the energy of the proletariat and all countries for the last battle of its freedom; the party leadership must, in all its conduct, show a morally authoritative force. This force must imbue literary workers first and foremost with a consciousness of their collective responsibility for all that happens in their midst. Soviet literature, with all its diversity of talents, and the steadily growing number of new and gifted writers, should be organized as an integral collective body, as a potent instrument of socialist culture. . . . The idea, of course, is not to restrict individual creation, but to furnish its with the widest means of continued powerful development. . . .

The high standard demanded of literature, which is being rapidly remolded by life itself and by the cultural revolutionary work of Lenin's party, is due to the high estimation in which the party holds the importance of the literary art. There has never been a state in the world where science and literature enjoyed such comradely help, such care for the raising of professional proficiency among the workers of art and science.

The proletarian state must educate thousands of first-class "craftsmen of culture," "engineers of the soul." This is necessary in order to restore to the whole mass of the working people the right to develop their intelligence talents and faculties -- a right of which they have been deprived everywhere else in the world. This aim, which is a fully practicable one, imposes on us writers the need of strict responsibility for our work and our social behavior. This places us not only in the position, traditional to realist literature, of "judges of the world and men," "critics of life," but gives us the right to participate directly in the construction of a new life, in the process of "changing the world." The possession of this right should impress every writer with a sense of his duty and responsibility for all literature, for all the aspects and its which should not be there. . . .

[Source: Maxim Gorky, "Literature and the Soviet Ideal," in H. G. Scott, ed., Problems of Soviet Literature (Moscow: Cooperative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the USSR, 1935), pp. 53-54, 64-67.]

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