Dissertation Defense: Anita Kondoyanidi
Candidate Name: Anita Kondoyanidi
Thesis Advisor: Michael David-Fox, Ph.D.
Title: The Disillusioned Humanist: Maxim Gorky and the Russian Revolutions
This study investigates Maxim Gorky’s public and literary life based on new materials from Italian and Russian archives (Archivio Centrale Dello Stato and the Archives of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), which bring to light Gorky’s reasons for returning to the Soviet Union in 1928, then traveling back and forth to Italy until 1933 when he decided to remain in the Soviet Union. The period under examination, 1868-1936, witnessed the Revolution of 1905, World War I, the February and October Revolutions, the Civil War, NEP, and the cultural revolution of which Gorky became a zealous architect. This study argues that Gorky’s personal experiences with violence at the hands of the Russian bourgeoisie and peasantry generated his strong and tenacious desire to recast Man and heal Russia and Russians from their innate pessimism and laziness. Once Gorky accepted selective use of violence in building an ideal Soviet society and offered Russia a utopian project – the creation of a new, improved human being, he contributed to the horrifying reality of the 1930s, making himself an unintentional accomplice in the Soviet revolutionary and repressive experiment. The dissertation also analyzes Gorky both as a public servant and a writer with a unique interpretation of late imperial politics and the Russian literary scene.
The first part focuses on Gorky’s childhood memories and how they shaped his vision as a pubic servant. The second part explores Gorky’s conceptual affinity and differences with the Bolsheviks and demonstrates his view of World War I and the Revolution of 1905. It also analyzes Gorky’s experiment with God-building on Capri and its ultimate failure. The third part examines Gorky’s criticism of Lenin’s fanaticism, Marxist ideology, and the October Revolution. It also explores why Gorky decided to begin collaborating with the Bolsheviks. The fourth part demonstrates that Gorky became disillusioned with European politics, criticized Nazism and Fascism, and became more drawn to Soviet reality. Gorky made a pact with the Soviet government based on his grand delusion in order to continue writing his works for a Russian-speaking audience, preserve Russian and European cultures at a time when Fascism spread in Europe, and, most importantly, construct a new, creative, hardworking, and educated common people. He was continuing his crusade to recast “Man.” The fifth chapter explores Gorky’s role in building the Soviet cultural system. His preservation projects saved Russian culture, but not the millions of people who perished in Stalin’s labor camps. Yet, Gorky’s literary legacy, particularly his plays, where the human being occupies the center, still teach us to appreciate the humane, beautiful, and sublime without venerating money. Gorky’s belief in the human imagination and man’s abilities to create a good and purposeful life for oneself remains a matter of admiration and inspiration.
Saturday, December 7 at 3:00pm to 5:00pm
Edward B. Bunn, S.J. Intercultural Center, 662
37th and O St., N.W., Washington