Russian Literary Giant • Writer & Political Thinker

Maxim Gorky

Alexander Peshkov, better known by his pseudonym Maxim Gorky, was born in Nizhny Novgorod on March 28, 1868. Gorky was orphaned as a child and was raised by his grandmother.

At 11 years old, Gorky was driven by desperate need to leave home and he spent time as an apprentice and child laborer in a variety of trades before ending up in a small village near the Tatar city of Kazan, where he worked at a bakery.

There, Gorky began attending meetings of radical groups who had been sent to the rural countryside and became committed to the ideals of revolution. Horrified after witnessing a violent pogrom in his hometown, Gorky opposed racism and anti-Semitism for the rest of his life and was devoted to revolutionary and liberation organizations.


Maxim Gorky

28 March 1868 – 18 June 1936


Gorky & Tevya

Gorky appears in Sholem Aleichem’s story “Chava,” in which Tevye's daughter keeps a copy of Gorky given to her by her non-Jewish suitor. Here is that scene in the 1939 film TEVYA.


A scene from Gorky's play YEGOR BULYCHOV performed by the Yiddish Workers’ Theatrical Alliance, New York, 1933-34.


Asch & Gorky

Sholem Asch, the most popular Yiddish fiction writer of his day, with the most beloved Russian writer.


On Guard

The Yiddish translation of Gorky's collection of essays LET US BE ON GUARD (БУДЕМ НА СТРАЖЕ!), 1931.

Partly on behalf of his outspoken criticism of anti-Semitism, calling the anti-Jewish atmosphere in Czarist Russia as “the most shameful manifestation in the world,” Gorky cultivated a loyal readership among Russia’s Jews, who read him in Russian and in Yiddish translation. In 1912, in an interview published in the popular Yiddish daily newspaper הייַנט (Today), Gorky declared:

“Russia belongs to all nationalities and all peoples, and every people has a right to its existence, to the full development of its national idiosyncrasies, to an autonomous life of its own. No one has the right to deprive a people of this elementary right! The most important thing right now is to have an effect on stopping the spread of this poison that is anti-Semitism, that has lately caught on among some Russian intellectuals, and could spread to the young people of Russia. I don’t forget about this. I am always warning our progressive and better readers.”

In 1891 Gorky moved to Tiflis (later Tbilisi), working as a railway painter, and published his first short story the following year. His story “Makar Chudra” was published under his newly chosen pseudonym Maxim Gorky — Maxim the Bitter — a reflection of the bitter truth he presented. Seeing literature as an agent of political change, Gorky’s work became popular among leftists. He joined in the 1905 Revolution, after which he was arrested and charged with incitement. He continued writing in prison and, after public outcry demanded his release, he was deported from Russia.

Gorky lived in exile on Capri from 1906 to 1913 and continued to support the revolutionary cause. He returned to Russia in 1914 and established the political-literary journal Летопись (Chronicle) the following year. He also helped establish the Russian Society for the Study of the Life of the Jews, an organization that protested anti-Jewish persecution. In 1917, he founded the journal, New Life, in which he also published his critical ideas about the new Bolshevik government after the revolution. While his popularity gave him a certain amount of political protection, his disillusionment with the fledgling Soviet government precipitated his self-exile back in Italy. Eventually persuaded to return to the Soviet Union in 1931, he became head of the Soviet Writers Union and gave the speech at its first congress.

Gorky died suddenly in his country home near Moscow on June 18, 1936, although rumors persist that he was a victim of Stalin’s Great Terror.