Saturday, March 26, 2022

The Media Campaign Against Maxim Gorky

After the abortive 1905 attempt by the communist revolutionaries to seize power in Russia, the Russian author Maxim Gorky (Aleksei M. Peshkov), accompanied by his wife, actress Maria Andreyeva, came to the United States on April 10, 1906. He was on a political mission—Lenin had told him to raise money from American donors for the cause of the Russian revolution.

Gorky and his wife received a royal reception at Hoboken where their ship docked. Since they did not speak in English, an interpreter had come with them. Thousands of Russian immigrants cheered Gorky and carried him on their shoulders. Later in the day, he was the chief guest at a white-tie party that Mark Twain gave in his honor. Twain, then seventy years old, saw himself as a revolutionary and an iconoclast. Gorky’s tour was being sponsored by a group of intellectuals who called themselves the A Club. A committee with Twain as chairman was formed to handle the arrangements for Gorky’s tour.

William Randolph Hearst, publisher of The New York American, had promised to help Gorky in raising money for the Bolshevik cause. In return for Hearst’s help, Gorky agreed to have an exclusive agreement with the Hearst newspapers. As it turned out, the exclusive agreement with Hearst newspapers was Gorky’s mistake. It turned other newspapers against him. Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of The New York World, was peeved because Gorky had sold himself to Hearst.

Determined to tarnish Gorky’s reputation, Pulitzer got his newspaper to publish a scandalous front-page story under the title: “Gorky Brings Actress Here as Mme. Gorky.” The story revealed that Maria Andreyeva was not Gorky’s legal wife—she was a common law wife. The story was lavishly illustrated with pictures of Maria Andreyeva, and Gorky’s real wife and children who were in Moscow. Many of these pictures were supplied by the tsar’s diplomats who intended to trap Gorky in a scandal and make it difficult for him to raise money for the revolutionaries. Gorky might have divorced his legal wife and married Maria, but in those days divorce was difficult in Russia.

Other newspapers were doing similar stories on Gorky and Maria. They portrayed him as a Russian radical and libertine who had arrived with the aim of destroying American moral values. Late in the night, Gorky and Maria were thrown out of their suite in New York’s Hotel Belleclaire. The hotel’s owner told Gorky that “my hotel is a family hotel.” Gorky continued to insist that Maria was his wife. To the reporters, he said: “My wife is my wife—the wife of Maxim Gorky. She and I both consider it below us to go into any explanation.”

An acquaintance arrived to take them to the Hotel Lafayette-Brevoort. At this hotel they were told that they could have their meals there but they could not be allowed to sleep. But the hotel owner found rooms for them across the street in the Rhinelander apartments.

Twain was worried that his association with Gorky would make him unpopular with his American audience. He felt that by bringing with him a woman, who was not his lawfully wedded wife, Gorky had lost the moral stature of a Russian revolutionary. He cancelled most of his commitments with Gorky, and two days later he resigned from the post of the chairman of the committee. After that Gorky and Twain had some harsh things to say about each other.

When the owner of Rhinelander apartments came to know of the real identity of his guests, he ordered them to leave. Gorky’s entourage hailed some cabs and fled to a secret place. Later on it was discovered that they were living with some Fabian socialists who were the members of the A Club. Gorky’s contempt for the bourgeois soul was deepened—reflecting on his bad experience in New York, he said, “New York was a monstrous city which boiled people alive.” His tour of America was ruined, but several Russian immigrants still supported him and through them he was able to raise some funds for the Bolsheviks.

He spent a few days in the house of John Dewey who, unlike Twain, was not concerned about socializing with a man who was being denounced in the newspapers as a Russian libertine. The British author H G Wells, who was himself on a tour of America, spent a day with Gorky. In 1906, Gorky left America for Naples, and he settled down in a villa in Capri. In 1913, he was granted an amnesty by the tsar, enabling him to return to Russia.

Due to his closeness to Stalin, Gorky’s reputation has suffered. He was a very good writer. The autobiographical sketches that he has written in his trilogy My Childhood, In the World, My Universities gives a picture of his development as a writer, while also offering a moving account of the Russian life that he had experienced. His memoir of Tolstoy is very impressive. On his experiences in America, he wrote six essays which are available in the book called In America. These essays are scathing denunciations of American life. Gorky compares America with hell where people were slaves of the “Yellow Devil: Gold.”

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