Literary Models for Alternative
Social Development in Russia

Kevin Daniel Werbach

Senior Honors Thesis

University of California at Berkeley
Departments of Social Science and Slavic

Professors Irina Paperno and Kathleen Moran

May, 1991


  1. Introduction
  2. A Window of Opportunity
  3. The Literary Context
  4. Three Visions for Russian Society
  5. Tolstoy and 'I Cannot be Silent'
  6. Leonid Andreyev and 'The Seven Who Were Hanged'
  7. Maxim Gorky and 'Mother'
  8. Conclusion
  9. Bibliography


    Literature occupies a unique position at the nexus of past and future realities. No fictional work can be totally divorced from the historical circumstances of its conception[1], but literature represents much more than a pristine chronicle of a particular time and place. This is one distinction between creative writers and journalists. The news-reporter takes actual situations and merely tries to recreate them for a reading audience, while the writer incorporates events into a framework which can greatly exceed the limits of present-day reality. As a flexible medium, literature allows the author to manipulate modalities of past and future, real and unreal to alter patterns of perception. While a work can be reactive to historical events, the translation of those occurrences into a text invariably incorporates elements of the author's own views and experiences. Works which describe and respond to contemporary events can also provide implied prescriptive models, or pointers to hypothetical future realities. Analysis of these models can shed light on the events which actually took place, and on the scope of possibility for alternative outcomes.

    Russia has long provided fertile ground for studying the intersection of literature and social realities, as many brilliant writers have utilized the literary form to describe and mold historical developments. The transforming upheavals of the early twentieth century in Russia only served to emphasize this traditional role of the writer as a social figure. Works of this period often responded directly to historical events, but many such texts can also be read to encompass prescriptive models for the future. In particular, I will analyze three works which provided implicit visions for the future social development of Russia--"I Cannot Be Silent" by Lev Tolstoy, "The Seven Who Were Hanged" by Leonid Andreyev, and Mother by Maxim Gorky. These texts, written between 1906 and 1908, were promulgated amidst a climate favorable to the articulation of alternative possibilities. While most of the social alternatives discussed in this period collapsed in the conflagration of the Russian Revolution, they nonetheless can provide insights into the potential for different historical outcomes. Hindsight makes it easy to find reasons for the eventual triumph of the Bolsheviks in November, 1917, but we must not forget the earlier period in which alternatives were indeed quite conceivable.

    As three of the leading writers in Russia during the first decade of the twentieth century, Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky automatically had great stature as social figures. But they were emphatically not politicians. At the same time as were putting forth their visions for society, the newly-formed Russian Duma was debating the future of the country. It would be impossible to fully elucidate the relationship of "I Cannot Be Silent," "The Seven Who Were Hanged," and Mother with public opinion, political programs, and historical outcomes. But analyzing the implied models for future social development in these texts does provide a platform from which to survey the pre-revolutionary period. As Russia once again faces the uncertainty of radical change, a better conception of the historical possibilities available prior to the Russian Revolution can contribute, however slightly, to our understanding of our own time.


    The views advanced by Russian writers in the early years of the twentieth century cannot be understood without a clear conception of their grounding in a particular historical period. Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky operated within a discursive framework defined at least partly by external events. As it turned out, the socio-political situation of Russia after 1905 provided a unique window of opportunity for visions of future development to be expressed in literature. The central event of this period was the Revolution of 1905-- in that year, the tensions between state and society in Russia finally erupted.[2] What in retrospect became known as the First Russian Revolution was comprised of a series of strikes, demonstrations, and incidents which shattered the myth that order had been restored to the country, and removed any doubt that the autocracy could remain in its current state. While 1905 Revolution stopped short of overturning the Russian monarchy, it sowed the seeds for the eventual triumph of the Bolsheviks in 1917. As a symbol to those who sought a transformation of Russian society, and a direct impetus for reforms which made freer expression of more diverse ideas possible, the Revolution of 1905 was a critical jumping-off point. The defining events of 1905 thus served as a context for the major works of literature which appeared in the years following it.. On the surface, the occurrences of 1904-5 can hardly be called a revolution. While there was clearly a broad-based movement against the government[3], in most places this took the form of sporadic but growing strikes and uprisings, in contrast to the total warfare of 1917[4]. Social anger and calls for reforms had been growing for several years, intensified by the disastrous famine of 1891 and the bungled government response to this tragedy. The refusal of Tsar Nicholas II to broach any political liberalization only served to further radicalize society. More damaging was his continued appointment of reactionaries to key government posts, such as the notorious Minister of the Interior Plehve, who was assassinated by revolutionary terrorists in 1904 for his repressive policies.[5] While most historians agree that Nicholas was not responsible for the deep-seated conflicts which led to the Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, his indecision and ineffectual leadership made any successful resolution impossible. As Nicholas Riazanovsky indicates, "it may well be argued that another Peter the Great could have saved the Romanovs and imperial Russia. There can be no doubt that Nicholas II did not."[6]

    The most direct motive force of the revolution was undoubtedly the disastrous Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. While the Tsarist regime was assaulted by all segments of society in the years prior to 1905, the war stripped aside the one final base of support for the government: its military strength. The vast size and military power of the Russian empire fed a sense of national patriotism, which reinforced the power of the paternalistic Tsar. The war against Japan demonstrated the disorganization and weakness of the Russian military, as the country suffered defeat after defeat against what was considered to be a minor power. Jacob Walkin summarizes the political effects of Russia's disastrous defeats at the hands of Japan.

    Mass discontent had arisen long before the outbreak of the war and would have continued inexorably until the basic causes of discontent were removed, but the new of defeat after defeat in the Far East dealt the autocracy its last fatal blows. For society at large, the war was final proof of the bankruptcy of police-bureaucratic rule. By undermining the faith in the omniscience of the Czar, the reactionary groups around him, and the bureaucracy in general, it was to result in the isolation of the Czar and a readiness on his part to yield to popular clamor.[7]

    The continued negative course of the war provided a perfect rallying point for opposition movements, just as opposition to World War I would prove a key support of the success of the Bolsheviks twelve years later.

    The years 1904-5 witnessed a series of popular demonstrations and strikes, unprecedented in scale in Russia. At the height of the uprising, general strikes were held which virtually shut down the country. But the most identifiable rallying point of the revolution were the events of January 9, 1905, a day which has gone down in history as "Bloody Sunday." In an attempt to counter the growing strength of independent workers committees and groups, the Tsarist secret police (known as the Okhrana) began to support several working-class leaders. The hope was that by controlling such people, the secret police could use them to channel the anger of society away from the Tsar. One such agent was Father Grigori Gapon, who created a large organization of workers in St. Petersburg. On January 9, he decided to stage a huge rally, in which workers would march to the Winter Palace to present their grievances to the Tsar. Although some of these included a demand for a constituent assembly, most were purely minor economic difficulties, and the thrust of the demonstration was to petition the Tsar to protect his children against evil bureaucrats and factory owners. Many of the marchers even carried icons and pictures of the Tsar, and the police had been informed ahead of time of the nature of the march. For some reason, however, the police and military ordered the marchers to disperse, and when they did not respond fired into the crowd. The ensuing panic left hundreds of unarmed marchers dead, and galvanized the opposition movement. As Harcave explains,

    Bloody Sunday served as a powerful catalyst that speeded up the tempo of psychological change. It heightened animosity, strengthened faith in the possibility of change, encouraged greater daring in the conception of what could be changed. And the explosion of discontent and anger that it had touched off had a cumulative effect....[8]

    While the Tsar sought to play down the damage caused by this incident, it swung the views of many liberals and moderates in a more radical direction.

    Throughout, the Tsar seemed strangely behind the times. When moderate demands for liberalization were made in the years 1902-4, he refused to grant any concessions. When demands for a legislative assembly, or Duma, grew louder, he vacillated and eventually promised to create an advisory body at some later date[9]. Finally, when cries for the end of the autocracy and a constituent assembly were joined by even more moderate elements of society, he grudgingly agreed to a legislative Duma. Though the Tsar felt that he had made tremendous concessions, by the time he acted many Russians had concluded that only the complete overthrow of the Tsar could solve the problems facing Russian society. As Harcave explains, by 1905 virtual all of Russian society agreed that the autocracy was the fundamental problem facing Russia.

    The groups that worked to bring about the Revolution of 1905 pursued various and often conflicting ultimate goals; but they accepted a common intermediate goal, the fundamental need to curb the power of the autocracy. It was clear that, whatever the ultimate goals--all of which involved change of some kind--they would remain unattainable as long as the regime held absolute power and used it to prevent change.[10]

    Nicholas' Prime Minister, Count Witte[11], had presented two alternatives to the Tsar: military dictatorship or concessions such as a national parliament. There are indications that Nicholas preferred the former option, and he summoned his cousin, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, to offer him the role of dictator. Only when the Grand Duke violently refused and virtually ordered Nicholas to accept Witte's proposal for a Duma did the Tsar consent. The famous Manifesto of October 17, 1905 finally established a formal legislative Duma, without whose consent no law could be passed (although legislation still had to pass the mostly-appointed State Council and the Tsar's veto).

    The Duma was an unwanted child from its birth. For the Tsar, it was a humiliating symbol of his retreat from centuries of unadulterated autocracy.[12] For the liberals and radicals, it was either the first step in a series of necessary concessions by the government or an entirely too limited response to fundamental problems. However, the Duma was a fact of Russian political life after 1905. Whatever its uneven support by both the Tsarist regime and the more radical sections of the populace, no one could ignore the existence of the Duma as a focal point for debates about the fundamental questions of agrarian reform, local self-government, and responses to ongoing revolutionary and terrorist activities. With the relaxation of censorship, debates in the Duma were well publicized. As Walkin explains, all levels of Russian society followed the discussions of the new parliamentary body.

    The proceedings were not subject to censorship (until the outbreak of World War I), and, because of the widespread interest in public affairs aroused by the Revolution of 1905, the were widely printed and read. It is even claimed by Bernard Pares that there were peasants who learned to read from the Duma debates, a claim that would seem fantastic were the country involved not Russia.[13]

    Nonetheless, it is difficult to assess how successful the Duma was. In the nearly twelve years of its existence, the Duma was dissolved twice by Nicholas, and only one session actually fulfilled its five-year term. The first two Dumas met for less than a year before they were dissolved, and while they served as a forum for debating the pressing issues of the day, their records of legislative accomplishments were spotty.

    The First Duma met from April 27 to July 9, 1906. Despite high hopes for the new legislative body, the Tsar felt compelled to dissolve the Duma after only few months due to its increasingly anti-governmental stand. The leading force in the first Duma was the Constitutional Democratic, or Kadet party, led by men such as Pavel Milyukov. The Kadets generally represented the left wing of Russian liberals, with the more radical Social Democrats and Socialist Revolutionaries to the left and the Octobrist party concentrating around right-leaning liberals.[14] The radical parties boycotted elections to the first Duma, feeling incorrectly that an armed uprising was near. Still, despite its relatively moderate composition, the first Duma almost immediately promulgated an "address to the throne" demanding universal suffrage, extensive land reform, and a political amnesty, among other changes. These demands were rejected by the government, leading eventually to a deadlock broken by the Tsar's decision to dissolve the body. Many of the deputies, fearing violence from the ultra-conservative "Black Hundreds[15]" traveled to Vyborg, Finland (then a part of the Russian empire) to draft an appeal urging the populace to support them by refusing to pay taxes or comply with the draft. The "Vyborg Appeal" failed to generate any sizeable reaction in society, however, and upon their return many of the deputies who signed it were arrested.

    The Second Duma, which met only from February 20 to June 3, 1907, was more radical than the first.[16] Government attacks on the Kadet party, coupled with the participation of Social Democratic, Socialist Revolutionary and nationalist groups uninvolved in elections to the First Duma, produced a body with sharp ideological divisions. The result was a fractious three months, filled with clashes both within the Duma and with the government. Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin[17], who had been appointed immediately following the dissolution of the First Duma, attempted to submit his land reform bill for approval, but it was defeated. The Stolypin government felt it necessary to dissolve the Duma, but in order to provide public justification they found it necessary to provide a more immediate reason. The apartment of one of the Social Democratic deputies was raided, producing certain "incriminating documents," and leading Stolypin to demand that the Duma waive immunity for all Social Democratic delegates. When the Duma refused to accede to this request, it was dissolved, and on the same day a new election law was put into effect.[18]

    In order to curb the excesses of the first two Dumas, the Stolypin government promulgated the electoral law of June 3rd, 1907. As Riazanovsky indicates, this action, sometimes referred to as the "Stolypin Coup d'etat," was designed to shift the balance of power in the Duma.

    ...Nicholas II and his minister arbitrarily and unconstitutionally changed the electoral law. The tsar mentioned as justification his historic power, his right to abrogate what he had granted, and his intention to answer for the destinies of the Russian state only before the altar of god who had given him his authority! The electoral change was, of course, meant to create a Duma that would co-operate with the government.[19]

    More radical as well as liberal parties, who together had dominated the first two Dumas, saw their numbers cut drastically. The number of delegates from Centrist and Rightist groups such as the Octobrists swelled, without any real shift in the political outlook of society at large. The new electoral law put greater power in the hands of nobles, and disenfranchised entire sections of the empire, such as the Polish territories, which had tended to elect radical or nationalist deputies. The Third Duma was the only one to complete its five year term, and the electoral law of June 3rd did serve to create a body willing to cooperate with the government.[20]

    However, the year 1907 was perhaps the high point of reaction to the momentous events of 1905. The new electoral law, in addition to its effects on the Duma itself, served to stifle the direct political impulse of much of the rural populace. More onerous, however, was the implementation of policies announced at the end of 1906 to combat the rise in revolutionary terrorist activity. Stolypin's government created special military field-courts, and empowered these courts in most parts of the country to hear cases of revolutionary activity and carry out the sentence (usually death) immediately. According to Walkin, "[w]ith the coming of the Revolution of 1905, capital punishment, formerly so rare in Russia, became an everyday occurrence."[21] The re-imposition of the death penalty on a wide scale--thousands of people were executed under these new policies before they were partially rescinded after a few years--provoked an outcry in society.[22] No matter how extensive was the social upheaval of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Russia, capital punishment had not been employed for some time, and its use on such a wide scale with such minimal restrictions shocked many people.

    The law was put into effect while the Duma was out of session, and was never formally submitted for approval. As a result, it created distrust by political leaders that the government was willing to support policies of liberalization. While the Tsarist regime had a long history of repressive policies, Stolypin's field-courts struck a nerve of opposition. Despite his efforts to promulgate very significant reform legislation, Stolypin became known more as the originator of the "Stolypin necktie"--the hangman's noose. Decades later, railroad cars transporting prisoners to Soviet labor camps were still known as "Stolypins"[23] as a result of this association. A further measure of the significance of these policies was the reaction they inspired in literature. Lev Tolstoy and Leonid Andreyev, two of the most famous Russian writers during this period, both composed works responding to the executions, as did other, less well-known authors. Though, as Riazanovsky indicates, "the policy of `pacification' succeeded on the whole... [and] a relative quiet settled upon the country," the wounds created by the widespread use of capital punishment ran quite deep.

    Most scholars label 1907 as the turning point to renewed reaction[24], ending the brief period of liberalization surrounding the Revolution of 1905. Indeed, while disturbances and assassinations continued, on the whole revolutionary activity subsided. The demands for more reforms continued, but the revolutionary movement did not seem to threaten the very existence of the Tsarist government to the extent it had in 1905. Stolypin was assassinated by sometime police informant Dmitry Bogrov in 1911, though his programme had begun to fall out of favor with the Tsar before that. The Third Duma served out its full five-year term, and a fourth completed most of it before events overtook both the politicians of Russia and the Tsar himself. The outbreak of World War I in 1914, and the disastrous Russian defeats in the early years of the war, was the most immediate cause of the revolution of 1917 which finally did sweep the Tsar out of power.

    The causes of the second, successful revolution were of course manifold, and it is not my intention to discuss them here. We can never know with certainty whether different choices by the government in the years immediately following 1905 could have averted the conflagration which eventually brought the Bolsheviks to power. Further, merely stating that alternative outcomes were possible is a response to historical determinism but little more. Of course there were other possibilities than the institution of a Leninist state in Russia; only the blindness of hindsight would induce us to believe there was no possibility of different outcomes. Nonetheless, historians often treat the years surrounding 1905 as simply a prelude to the Russian Revolution, a regrettable oversight which glosses over a remarkable period. Like any major historical event, the February and October Revolutions of 1917 were caused in part by human judgements, in part by the building-up of broad based social forces, and in part by chance. The point is that in 1907 these things were not at all clear. Many alternative programs were advanced, and while there may be historical reasons for the collapse of these possibilities, they do provide valuable insights on the pre-revolutionary period. The political debates and literary works produced after the Revolution of 1905 illuminate the conceptual framework under which society was operating at the time.

    Alternative visions for society, whether overtly or implicitly expressed, are important guideposts for understanding the eventual outcome of a historical period as self-contained as Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century: we cannot understand what did happen if we do not have a firm grasp on what did not but could have happened. Furthermore, an analysis of the range of political and literary possibility for previous periods is necessary to shed light on later, parallel situations. While historical and literary analysis are fundamentally descriptive disciplines, they can become purely intellectual exercises if their prescriptive character is not recognized. Russian society in the years prior to the Revolution of 1917 provides a particular interest for evaluating the possibilities of our present day. Like 1907, we are now witnessing an attempt to substantially reform Russian society after a long period of absolutist conservatism. While events eighty years ago may not completely reflect the pressures building in the modern Soviet Union, the broad outlines reflect significant parallels. The key factor is thus not whether an alternative was theoretically possible, but how alternatives could be articulated, in particular through the broad-based medium of literature.

    In the period after 1905, there was a unique opportunity to propound alternative visions for Russia. While the political system put into effect by the October Manifesto did not prevent a full-fledged revolution from taking place in 1917, it did provide opportunities to confront the fundamental problems facing Russian society. As Harcave put it, "historians... would agree that the settlement following the Revolution of 1905 proved unsuccessful, but they would not agree that it was predestined to fail."[25] For a few short years, there was indeed a legislative body capable of both aiding the state and criticizing it. With Stolypin, the government was led by a man who, despite his faults, unquestionably possessed talent and vision. And with the dissipation of revolutionary euphoria after 1907, the peasantry and proletariat seemed willing to explore at least some peaceful options for necessary change.

    In short, this brief period was one of possibility. The autocracy had been desacralized to the point at which all levels of society felt comfortable in criticizing its weaknesses, but retained enough power and moral authority to continue leading the country and drawing some supporters. And perhaps most significantly, political figures and writers arose to champion the various ideological positions vying for power with eloquence and skill. Unfortunately, most of these rhetoricians and orators were not members of the Duma. As a result of many factors, those who had the power to make the difficult political decisions needed to salvage the nascent constitutional system were limited in in the scope of their conceptions. The challenging social and political situation of Russia at the dawn of the twentieth century called for strong and visible leadership, and all too often this leadership fell to revolutionary leaders such as Lenin and Trotsky, as well as writers who were not directly involved with the government. Nonetheless, statements and texts by such extra-governmental figures did have a significant effect on the actions of the Duma and the Tsarist regime. Because of their implications for the social and rhetorical possibilities in the pre-revolutionary period, such pronouncements are valuable tools to increase our understanding.

    The revolutions of 1905 and 1917 in Russia can be attributed, at the most basic level, to elemental, unchecked discontent with the autocracy. Revolutionary activity of this sort is fundamentally destructive in nature; it is majestically effective in knocking down seemingly unshakeable state structures, but gives not guidance for the future system which must eventually be constructed. Those who can best make use of the resulting chaos, which in 1917 turned out to be the Bolsheviks, emerge the victors, even though they may lack truly broad-based support within society. On the other hand, a successful revolutionary movement must have a constructive vision, and be able to articulate its ultimate goals along with the evils it seeks to eradicate. There must be some light at the end of the tunnel, and any revolutionary movement which cannot express and implements its goals for society will not long stay in power. While all shades of the opposition in 1905 agreed that unlimited autocracy must end, they differed in their visions for what sort of new society should be erected in its place. While these differences are evident in their party platforms and propaganda, they can also be inferred from their responses to specific events. In fact, and examination of literary works in this period gives a clear indication of what the various movements were indicating to society, as these works were far more broadly distributed and digested that the more overtly political tracts.

    While many visions and paradigms for a post-autocratic Russian society were eloquently advanced, none gained a true victory. The continued division in goals among the opposition, combined with the ongoing refusal of the government to grant more far-reaching reforms, kept the deep-seated social tensions which had given rise to the first revolution at a fever pitch. This contributed to the final outcome which actually took place; the eventual victory of the Bolsheviks and the radical transformation of Russian society.


    In the period following the Revolution of 1905, several important writers responded to the events taking place in Russia. Their works were influenced by various literary and historical trends, which converged to establish unique concepts of the function of literature and the future of Russian society. Several of the works produced in this period contained implied models for social development, amidst the heightened sense of possibility engendered by the Revolution of 1905. In particular, Lev Tolstoy's article, "I Cannot Be Silent," (1908), Leonid Andreyev's short story, "The Seven Who Were Hanged," (1908), and Maxim Gorky's novel, Mother, (1906-7) can be read to encompass implicit social visions. But these works cannot be analyzed in a vacuum. Historical and contemporary debates about the nature of art and the artist affected both the content and reception of the works of Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky. The dictates of Russian realism and, later, the influence of modernism greatly influenced expectations placed upon literature in Russia, and the implied social models promulgated by these three writers cannot be fully understood without an awareness of these literary trends.

    For much of Russian history, art, and literature in particular, has frequently been a vehicle for the expression of answers to political, social and moral questions. The tension between aesthetic and utilitarian functions of art has long been a fundamental issue. Many great writers did not make social issues central to their works[26], but in most periods such figures were a distinct minority. This tradition of viewing literature as more than simply aesthetic, and writers as more than simply artists can be traced at least to the beginnings of modern Russian literature in the 18th century. Hugh McLean notes in his overview of modern Russian literature,

    [P]robably in the minds of eighteenth-century readers and writers too the external "uses" of literature loomed even larger than its formal organization. One might say that the historic "task" of the eighteenth century, as far as culture was concerned, was to accomplish the westernization of the Russian court and the Russian gentry. Literature was one of the principal tools for carrying out this task. It was an agent of civilization and enlightenment.[27]

    As Russian writers developed their own literary voice in the nineteenth century, extra-aesthetic considerations continued to be of great importance. But an important shift occurred. Instead of participating in harmony with the state as a Westernizing influence, literature came to function as a counterweight to the power of the government. The imperial structure erected by Peter the Great consolidated Russia as a major world power, but left a vacuum in Russian political discourse. Without a tradition to parallel the parliamentary debates of the West, Russia continued to look to its writers to act not only as craftsmen, but also as political figures and philosophers. Radicals and liberals who opposed the all-powerful autocracy often seized upon literature as a surrogate for direct political discourse.

    The widespread use of censorship by the Tsarist regime paradoxically enhanced the extra-aesthetic functions of Russian literature. Restrictions on publication and speech made it difficult to disseminate explicitly political tracts, and intellectuals who advocated radical ideas were generally unable to express them directly. But overtly non-political works which fulfilled extra-literary functions could often pass the censor's restrictions. Political ideas which could not be expressed elsewhere became absorbed into the literary form, resulting in works such as Ivan Turgenev's Sportsman's Sketches (1852). While Sportsman's Sketches was a naturalistic collection of stories about rural Russia and its inhabitants, it also included elements of a social message. Turgenev's treatment of peasants--hitherto largely ignored in high literature--as complex, vibrant characters provided an implied criticism of their subjugation under the existing class relationships in Russian society[28]. Conceptions of literature and the aesthetic were redefined to include elements of political discourse, which helped define the contours of a new artistic style. As McLean comments on Sportsman's Sketches and similar works,

    ...the moral could never be stated in so many words. Externally, this arose from the curious game Russian writers were obliged to play with the censors; according to its rules you could imply many things you could not state openly. But in this instance the censorship may have rendered an artistic service to Russian literature (I suspect there are others as well). In literature implied cries often sound louder than uttered ones. The power of the censor thus helped impose the logic of a new style.[29]

    Thus, by the middle of the nineteenth century, traditions for implied social and political messages had been established in Russian literature. However, political factors alone were certainly not the only considerations defining the character of literature in Russia. Religious and spiritual traditions, which reinforced the extra-aesthetic importance placed on the writer, were highly significant as well. The Russian Orthodox Church played a central role in Russian history in the centuries prior to the westernizing reforms of Peter the Great, and continued to command widespread allegiance and devotion into the twentieth century. Elements of Orthodox theology and Christian symbolism would become especially important to the symbolist movement, but throughout the entire span of Russian history Christianity served as a major paradigm for literature. Hagiographic works, for example, were important even at the end of the nineteenth century, as many Russians were still taught to read from the Lives of Saints. Essentially, the motifs and techniques of characterization used in these traditional religious texts formed a common tradition which could be projected in secular works, adding an additional dimension to conceptions of the function of literature. Such religious devices influenced Russian literature all the way into the Soviet period, when they contributed to the development of Socialist Realism.[30]

    The development of utilitarian criticism in the middle of the nineteenth century greatly influenced the development of Russian literature. On one level, the works of such critics as V.G. Belinsky (1840s), N.A. Dobroliubov (1850s), N.G. Chernyshevsky (1860s), D.I. Pisarev (1860s), and N.K. Mikhailovsky (1870s-80s) followed in the tradition of responding to social and political questions through literature. Just as writers expanded their concept of the aesthetic to include social messages, some members of the intelligentsia used book reviews as a springboard to make sweeping comments on the state of Russian society. But the utilitarian critics were not simply politicians under a different guise; they also promulgated a philosophical approach to art and society which had a profound impact on Russian literature. They argued with increasing firmness that art was inferior to life, and that the cognitive or didactic value of a work should be of primary importance.[31] This philosophy dovetailed with the radical political orientation of the intelligentsia, which sought to focus energy directly on material problems. Their concept of reality itself was fundamentally integrated with social progress; as a result, questions of art or aesthetics invariably became linked to the political and social issues facing the Russian state.

    The utilitarian critics, who exerted a powerful influence on the reception of writers through their reviews, attacked works they felt were not ideologically "useful." Thus, Dostoevsky was celebrated for the social significance of his initial novel, Poor Folk, but fell from favor when his second work, The Double, did not sufficiently address social issues.[32] Dostoevsky did not capitulate to this reaction, and by developing his own unique viewpoint became one of Russia's greatest writers. Nonetheless, the utilitarian critics, by exerting this type of pressure, had a widespread effect on the literary scene in Russia. By serving as guideposts to enlightened opinion, they contributed to a climate in which extra-aesthetic elements were increasingly seen as necessary for a successful work of literature. Furthermore, by using literary works as jumping-off points for their social and philosophical pronouncements, these critics helped define the discursive framework for many of the major works in this period. Although many Russian writers in the latter half of the nineteenth century were achieving stunning artistic successes, discussions of the formal structure and aesthetic content of literature became virtually taboo[33]. The fundamental test of a work of literature was not its aesthetic achievement, but the degree to which it appeared to mimic reality.

    Thus, the style of literature in this period has become known by the name of "realism." At its height, the realist school dominated Russian literature and criticism, and it was during this period that some of the finest works of world literature were written, including Tolstoy's War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), and Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1868), The Possessed (1871-2), and The Brothers Karamazov (1880). Essentially, the realist credo dictated that the author's craft be as transparent as possible, and that literature appear to the reader as a clear representation of reality.[34] In order to serve the social functions expounded by the intelligentsia, literature had to focus on portraying Russian life accurately, and the great realist writers chose their themes and techniques in order to satisfy these demands. As Prince D. S. Mirsky explains,

    [An] obligation generally recognized by the realists was the duty of choosing their subjects exclusively from contemporary or almost contemporary Russian life. This was owing not only to their honest desire to speak of nothing but what they actually known, but also the social position of fiction in mid- and late-nineteenth-century Russia. The novelists were expected to react, sensitively and significantly, to the current life of the nation.... As a rule, the novelists took the obligation very seriously and never ignored it, at least in their more ambitious work.[35]

    In this way, realism emphasized the cognitive function of literature; namely, that literature can strip away conventions which inhibit perception, and allow the reader to see the world as it truly is. Because the intelligentsia since Belinsky's time saw the "real world" primarily as a social phenomenon, the perceptual shift literature could evoke had an implicitly didactic purpose. To allow the reader to see the truth about Russian life was to demonstrate its faults, and inspire support for radical changes.

    In addition, the tacit assumption that literature could perfectly mirror reality fed an underlying belief that the value of a work could be measured in its "truthfulness." Despite the enormous difficulties in deciding such a thing as the "truth" of a work of literature, realism implied that successful art was by definition an accurate and truthful rendition of the real world. This view caused a number of problems, but also provided unique opportunities for writers. No matter how closely authors sought to imitate reality, literature still possessed an elasticity not present in life itself. A realist work could manipulate the modalities of indicative and subjunctive reality, creating the illusion that a fictional creation was actually real. After all, a major premise of realism was that the deepest level of "truth" could be found not in observation of the physical world, but in the "higher" understanding gained from a realist work of art.[36] Thus, a writer could present a non-real or future world and lead the reader to believe it was present-day reality. Chernyshevsky used this technique in What is To Be Done? (1864), and many other writers used the assumptions of realism to lend greater corporeality to invented worlds. The idea that literature could be judged on its truthfulness continued to have resonance into the early twentieth century, extending beyond the classical Russian realist school. As a result, works written after the Revolution of 1905 were able to take advantage of this complex play on modal realities. Visions for the future of Russian society could be articulated not only in the genre of utopian literature,[37] but implied within outwardly realistic works. Because of the realist heritage, these implied visions, such as those which can be discerned in the works of Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky, gained greater credence than would otherwise have been possible.

    However, realism placed a tremendous burden on the writer. Literature and art were seen not simply as means towards aesthetic expression, but crucial tools for understanding and altering the state of Russian society. As McLean puts it, "Russian literature was required to serve as the sociology, the psychology, the ethics, and the metaphysics of Russian man."[38] From an artistic standpoint, a work had to seem "true," yet not display any of the techniques used to create this illusion. Finally, the utilitarian critics attacked literature with increasing severity as a poor surrogate for reality itself, and denounced works which did not follow their dogma. The writer who could satisfy all these extra-aesthetic demands and still achieve artistic success was talented indeed. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and others were up to the task, and their great novels transcended the immediate historical context to stand as masterpieces of world literature. Yet despite these successes, the reign of Russian realism was relatively short.

    A new generation of intellectuals, beginning around the 1890s, rejected some of the central themes of realism, and advanced alternative philosophical models of art. This movement which eventually coalesced to challenge realism for supremacy can be broadly termed modernism. It encompassed everything from poetry to painting to architecture, and represented a true departure from the artistic constructions of the past. George Gibian characterizes the common features of modernism in broad terms:

    The attitude is usually one of antagonism to authority and convention, and of nihilism in relation to established culture. The artistic manner is marked by the dissociation of objects from their contexts, displacement, the juxtaposition of events unconnected in time and space--without attention to logic except for the "logic" of association. The subjects frequently are urban or connected to the machine.[39]

    The modernists rejected the materialist ethics of the realist school, focusing instead on the unique possibilities of the artistic medium. Consequently, they shifted the emphasis of Russian art from social utility towards aesthetics, mystical spiritualism, and individualism. The modernists frequently sought to elevate the complexity of Russian culture, introducing philosophy and literature from Western Europe, such as Nietzsche, into Russia[40]. I shall focus only on the effects of modernism on Russian literature, and in particular on the philosophical and literature movement known as symbolism.[41] The symbolists are important to the study of literary models for social development for two primary reasons: their philosophical approach to literature and the fact that shortly after the turn of the century in Russia, "the commanding heights of literature were almost all in symbolist hands, and the whole atmosphere of Russian literature had been transformed."[42]

    On the question of the social value of literature, the symbolists differed in fundamental ways from the realists. Where realists strove to make literature seem to reflect life as clearly as possible, symbolists explored the unique possibilities of the artistic medium. The symbolist school (and the larger modernist movement) moved away from the direct social obligations which critics and others had placed on realist literature, and defended the artistic freedom of the individual. By no means, however, did they abandon the belief that art had extra-aesthetic functions. Rather, they championed different approaches to the relationship of art and society. As James West indicates in describing the conflict between the symbolists and realists,

    ...although the Russian symbolists, inspired by the example of symbolism and modernism in Europe, championed the independence of the artistic imagination, they did not advocate "art for art's sake...." In asserting the independence of the artist's imagination, they emphasized its equal validity, alongside the reasoning mind, not only as a means of extending and communicating man's highest awareness of life, but as a weapon in the struggle for the betterment of the human condition.[43]

    This fusion of aesthetic and didactic goals was most fully developed in the mature phase of symbolism, after the turn of the century. It rested on an application of mysticism and spirituality to art: where the realists had stressed the "truthfulness" of literature, the symbolists emphasized the transfigurative power of the word. Art could not only recreate reality to provide an impetus for social change, it could transform reality by the very power of its message. A significant component of this conception was the belief in the mystical power of the poet. Since Pushkin (if not before), many Russian poets and other authors had addressed the question of whether to be a prophet or an aesthetic stylist. Pushkin himself vacillated[44]. A century later, however, symbolist writers, under the influence of Orthodox mysticism, developed an image of the poet as "theurgist," the recipient of divine revelation. In this concept, the artist actually has a heightened sense of perception, which imbues his or her work with a mystical power to transform reality. As McLean summarizes,

    With Blok, Belyi, and Viacheslav Ivanov the poet assumes a new responsibility. His poetic gift, they maintained, endows him with special cognitive powers not possessed by ordinary men. Through them he is able to perceive a higher, truer reality than the one accessible to our senses. To convey this reality he must resort to symbols. This was the true, the "Russian" meaning of "symbolism." Aesthetics, of course, was still of overwhelming importance for these poets, but the "poet as theurgist" was the ideal.[45]

    To lend strength to their arguments, symbolists reinterpreted acknowledged masters such as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy to fit their conception of the mystical value of literature. Their application of spiritual and didactic principles to art had strong antecedents in Russian literary history. While the poetics of their works differed from the poetics of classical realist novels, many leading symbolists shared with their predecessors a desire for the social and spiritual transformation of Russia.

    At the same time, the symbolist movement did indeed represent a turning away from the basic goals of realism. The early symbolist works of Bryussov, Balmont and others were a deliberate attempt to shock the Russian public into seeing a new perspective, and later symbolists such as Andrei Belyi, Alexander Blok, Fyodor Sologub, and Vyacheslav Ivanov developed original philosophical systems in conjunction with their works. Symbolism was a diverse and complex school, in keeping with the ambiguous nature of the decades leading up to the Revolution of 1917. While the iconoclastic rejection of traditional values was an important component of the movement, symbolism drew upon existing artistic and religious traditions in both Russia and Western Europe. On the other hand, younger contemporaries such as Nadezhda Mandelstam would later accuse the symbolists of culpability for the cultural victory of the Bolsheviks. The utopian elements of symbolism, she argued, would later be adopted by the Soviet government to justify its brutal policies. She railed against those

    ...who demolished the old values and invented the formulas which even now come in so handy to justify the unprecedented experiment undertaken by our young State: you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. Every new killing was excused on the grounds that we were building a remarkable "new" world in which there would be no more violence, and that no sacrifice was too great for it.[46]

    This argument demonstrates the significance of symbolism as a link between the older, realist school and the new ideology of the Bolsheviks. Thanks in part to the emphasis modernism placed on the individual artistic conception, the symbolist movement embodied a range of divergent and even conflicting tendencies.

    This coexistence of the religious and secular, traditional and avant-garde was only appropriate for a era of tremendous social change. It provided a degree of tension which no doubt contributed to the effectiveness of many works in this period. In fact, symbolism and the other new schools which developed before and after the Revolution of 1905 are deserving of attention for their literary achievements alone. While others paid equal attention to form, the symbolists did emphasize and discuss aesthetics to a much greater degree than the realists. Rebelling against the idea that literature should be judged on its message alone, many of them paid great attention to the formal aspects of poetry and prose. This period was particularly rich in poetry, so much so that it has become known as the "Silver age" of Russian verse.[47] In Mirsky's words, "in spite of their limitations and mannerisms, the symbolists combined great talent with conscious craftsmanship, and this makes their place so big in Russian literary history."[48]

    Thus, a number of literary trends intersected in the period immediately following the 1905 Revolution. Most representatives of the realist and modernist schools agreed that art should serve the fight for changes in Russian society, and historical events made the social implications of Russian literature even more direct. With the freedoms granted by the Tsar in the Manifesto of October 17 came a relaxation in censorship. While the state still maintained a policy of censoring literary works, the censors were increasingly ignored. The St. Petersburg Soviet ordered a boycott against publishing houses which submitted their works for censorship, and there is every indication that literature in this period experienced greater freedom than it had in previous years. The Revolution of 1905 was, of course, a defining event. According to Mirsky,

    The First Revolution was a deep-reaching and infectious movement. For a moment it dominated the whole of Russian intellectual life, and even the symbolists, who had made a point of being non-political, became revolutionaries and "mystical anarchists."[49]

    Literature continued to play a significant role in the political struggles after the Revolution of 1905. The Tsar's concessions had raised popular expectations, and the long struggle for reforms charged both the urban elite and the peasantry with a political consciousness previously unknown in Russia. Unlike previous periods where the agitation came from a relatively small group of intelligentsia, by 1905 all levels of society had joined in the revolt. Thus, writers who opposed the government to any extent could find a receptive readership. Rejection of the current social order was no longer solely the province of extreme radicals: the short-term aims of liberals and revolutionaries became conflated due to the radicalization of society. But since popular discontent was still stifled by the autocratic regime, literature remained a powerful tool for political action. It was against this backdrop that "I Cannot Be Silent," "The Seven Who Were Hanged," and Mother were written. While Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky used their literary talents in support of different social goals, all of them were influenced by the common Russian literary tradition. As a result ,the implied social models in their works reflected the fundamental belief that literature could contribute to the transformation of society.


    A number of specific factors influenced the content and the reactions to "I Cannot Be Silent," "The Seven Who Were Hanged," and Mother. While Tolstoy, Andreyev, and Gorky were highly influential writers, they differed greatly in position, politics and poetics. Tolstoy was nearing the end of his life as a world-renowned figure, Andreyev was reaching the height of his popularity, and Gorky was in exile, destined not to return until well after the Bolshevik revolution. However, a number of interesting parallels can be discerned in their works and lives. The three texts I have chosen focused on specific contemporary situations, and differed in genre as well as intended audience. Yet all of them can be read to contain visions for alternative development of Russian society, which transcended the immediate conflicts facing the country.

    In order to comprehend the potential significance of implied social models in these works, it is necessary to examine the social context which influenced both their conception and reception. In particular, since literature is designed to be read, patterns of literacy in pre-revolutionary Russia are of great importance. Though the country remained predominantly rural, widespread literacy was being achieved by the end of the nineteenth century. Jeffrey Brooks summarizes the statistical growth of literacy in this period.

    Literacy rates rose from 21 percent of the population of the Russian Empire in 1897, according to the census of that year, to an estimated 40 percent on the eve of World War I. Literacy among new recruits in the army rose from 21 percent in 1874, the first year of the new national service army, to 68 percent in 1913. Although literacy among the rural population was low--no more than perhaps 6 percent in the 1860s and 25 percent in the 1910s--male literacy was high throughout the industrialized provinces of central Russia. According to the 1897 census, male literacy outside the cities was over 70 percent in Moscow Province and nearly 68 percent in nearby Vladimir.[50]

    Despite these gains, there were important gaps in readership. Most of the peasantry read cheap booklets designed specifically for mass consumption, or popular religious works[51], fed by the explosive growth of the commercial publishing industry. Such "literature for the people" was generally unrelated to the conflicts raging among intellectuals between the realist and modernist schools, with their complex philosophies of life and art. As Brooks points out, gains in literacy reflected an increased valuation of reading by the peasantry, though generally the worth of literacy was assessed in the degree it could provide some tangible benefit.[52] Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky, all of whom made considerable efforts to develop an affinity for the Russian folk or narod, were still intellectuals, and their literary works appealed more to the close-knit and variegated intelligentsia circles of St. Petersburg, Moscow and elsewhere than the mass of the peasantry.[53]

    Nonetheless, it would be wrong to label the intellectuals of this period as totally cut off from society at large. The industrial policies of Witte had made a mark on the complexion of the Russian state, and large numbers of peasants migrated to the factories or had family members who did, creating a link between the urban proletariat and the rural masses. Growing peasant and worker discontent, initially directed at local economic difficulties, contributed to a greater desire for information on the state of the country. As problems deepened, beginning with the disastrous famine of 1891, peasants became more willing to connect their personal travails with broader national problems, and to associate with the growing opposition movement. The Revolution of 1905 and resulting administrative changes reinforced these social tendencies, as one study of the growth of democratic institutions in pre-revolutionary Russia explains:

    The changes in the censorship after 1905 should be viewed against the perspective of the unprecedented growth of literacy and education. The Revolution of 1905, like the Revolution of 1917, provided an enormous stimulus to the growth of public awareness and to the thirst for education.... It is apparent that the face of Russian society was changing and that an elemental social movement was under way that Czarist methods of control could not check.[54]

    The continued willingness of radical groups such as the Social Democratic and Socialist Revolutionary parties to spread propaganda and other literature in the countryside further increased the scope of awareness. Finally, men such as Tolstoy sought to spread their moral and ideological views among the peasantry and proletariat. The formation of literary entities such as the Posrednik publishing house, which disseminated "educational" literature to the peasantry, provided a literary bond between the two worlds.[55]

    During the period around 1905, Tolstoy, Andreyev, and Gorky were among the most heavily read authors in Russia. Tolstoy's moral force and influence were tremendous: his literary reputation, built on the twin pillars of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, had already been secured for history. By the end of his life more than 200,000 copies of his works were being distributed yearly in "quality" editions costing more than 30 kopeks, and over 500,000 per year priced less than 30 kopeks.[56] Gorky was celebrated for his vignettes of the "lower depths" of society, and regarded as an important figure in the radical movement; it is estimated that by 1903, over 100,000 copies of his prose works had been sold.[57] Andreyev initially gained fame as a protegé of Gorky, but by 1907 his short stories exploring social and psychological themes made him even more popular than his mentor.[58] All of them would experience a wane in popularity or exposure not long after the Revolution of 1905: Tolstoy died in 1910, and Gorky and Andreyev gradually fell from favor with the reading public. In 1914, the outbreak of World War I began the upheaval which did not end until the Bolsheviks had consolidated power in the early 1920s, and transformed the face of Russian literature. The freedom and diversity of the period after 1905 was, in retrospect, quite short-lived.

    While there are similarities and connections between the works I have chosen, they are not always evident, and none of them was unambiguously the most artistically or commercially successful for its author. Yet these works represent some of the central literary and social themes of the immediate pre-revolutionary period. Their influence on contemporary readers was very significant, ranging from the immediate uproar created by "I Cannot Be Silent" to the artistic importance of Mother as a prototype for the Soviet novel. Because of such factors, these three works serve as excellent material for demonstrating the potential social significance of a literary text.

    One a broader level, there are several interesting parallels and connections between Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky. Tolstoy cast a long shadow over both literature and society in this period, due not only to the brilliance of his earlier "aesthetic" works, but also to his reputation as a spiritual and moral leader. Along with other major writers of the 1860s-70s such as Dostoevsky and Turgenev, Tolstoy was a principle figure in the development of Russian realism, and because of his stature served as a kind of reference point against which new literature was measured. Tolstoy was renowned for showing the low, physical, even distasteful aspects of life along with the "high." His willingness to describe the process of dying in "The Death of Ivan Ilych" as well as the physical aspect of love in "The Kreutzer Sonata," to name but a few examples, moved literature away from its more sanitized manifestations. In describing this phenomenon, Mirsky goes on to explain that, "[t]he taboo-lifting work begun by Tolstoy was continued by Gorky, Andreyev, and Artsybashev."[59] Gorky and Andreyev often focused on the outer reaches of human experience: Gorky described the lowest levels of humanity in many of his stories, while Andreyev frequently examined madness and the psychology of those facing death. This willingness to intrude into such tabooed areas is important when evaluating the political and social implications of their work. By focusing on poverty and despair in concrete physical detail, Gorky and Andreyev brought literature closer to the reality of most of the population of Russia, just as Tolstoy's emphasis on basic values forged an affinity with the mass of the peasantry.

    Mirsky goes so far as to postulate a "Gorky-Andreyev school[60]" of fiction developing in the generation which came to the fore around the turn of the century. This school, he argues, stood in opposition to the Symbolists, and drew directly from Tolstoy in its desire to "free Russian realism from its former `genteel' and `puritan' characteristics."[61] In Mirsky's analysis, Tolstoy, Gorky, Andreyev and like-minded contemporaries were the last expression of nineteenth century realism, soon to be replaced by consciously innovative and original forms and genres of modernism. Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky, along with others such as Korolenko, were three writers who in the early years of the twentieth century still adhered to the realist credo of using literature, as a reflection of reality, to serve social purposes. They could not help but notice and respond to the growing influence of the modernists: Tolstoy with his reliance symbolic and mystical devices, Gorky with his Nietzschian ideals, and Andreyev with his individualized, modernist descriptions. Nonetheless, all three maintained distinct aesthetics and assumptions about the role of literature.

    There were also personal connections between the three men. Andreyev was initially identified as a protegé of Gorky, and the two maintained a correspondence for several years.[62] In fact, upon hearing of Andreyev's death, Gorky is reputed to have remarked "he was my only friend. Yes, the only one."[63] Both men came into contact with Tolstoy. Andreyev's stories "The Abyss" and "In the Fog" were publicly attacked by Tolstoy's wife for their supposed immorality, which gave him a great deal of notoriety. Years later, once his reputation had been established, Andreyev would visit Tolstoy and be warmly received.[64] "The Seven Who Were Hanged" was dedicated to Tolstoy, who expressed his approval with Andreyev's attempt to unmask the horror of capital punishment. Gorky and Tolstoy also came into contact with one another, although they did have fundamental philosophical differences. Gorky expressed his disappointment that Tolstoy would use his formidable talents to advocate pacifistic solutions to the current social problems, stating that "there is something overwhelmingly deformed and shameful, something not far removed from mockery in this advocacy of endurance and non-resistance to evil."[65] Though distinctively different, the three writers were well aware of each other's work and ideas.

    These three works: "I Cannot Be Silent, "The Seven Who Were Hanged," and Mother, do have interesting parallels in message and direction. Tolstoy and Andreyev were directly responding to the reintroduction of capital punishment under Stolypin, and while they took different structural approaches to the problem, they had similar goals in revealing the "true" implications of the widespread executions. Gorky's Mother was less direct in its focus, and was structurally quite different, taking the form of a novel rather than a short story or article. Yet Gorky, like Tolstoy and Andreyev, was writing largely for political reasons; he wished to provide a positive model for revolutionary action.[66] All three works were attacks on the policies of the Tsarist regime, and while their direct influence is difficult to assess, they all had a broad effect. Within the growing intelligentsia and educated circles these works enjoyed considerable popularity, and it seems reasonable to suppose that their views contributed significantly to the vibrant political debates of the day. Andreyev's story was perhaps the most widely distributed in Russia. "I Cannot Be Silent," despite restrictions on its publication, created a sensation both in Russia and abroad[67], and Mother was distributed by radical groups to their members to use as training and inspiration in revolutionary action.[68]

    These works appeared in a unique period, after the Revolution of 1905, when a broad spectrum of social and political developments seemed possible, and Russian literature was developing in new and innovative directions. At the same time, advances in literacy and increased political awareness broadened the scope of influence available for literature. By virtue of the popularity of their authors and other factors, "I Cannot Be Silent," "The Seven Who Were Hanged," and Mother had a substantial effect on pre-revolutionary Russian society. In addition to being direct reactions to contemporary political events, all of them can be read to contain implied models for Russian social development. The very fact that the three texts appear so different makes the connection between these visions worth investigating.


    One of the foremost example of a work designed to influence the political situation in this period was Tolstoy's famous pamphlet, "I Cannot Be Silent."[69] Published in 1908, in direct response to Stolypin's widespread executions, it demonstrated how a great author could apply his artistic talents to a work with a clear social message. Ever since his celebrated "conversion" in the early 1880s, Tolstoy had vowed to focus his energies on moral questions, and to use his skill as a writer to promote spiritual advancement rather than aesthetic gratification. Yet he remained an internationally-renowned literary figure. With his great novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina Tolstoy had firmly established himself as one of the world's greatest writers, and while he claimed to have abandoned aesthetic fiction, he did not stop writing. In addition to articles and pamphlets, he authored numerous short stories designed to demonstrate moral points, such as "The Death of Ivan Ilych" and "Master and Man," as well as the novel, Resurrection. In a country where government repression made outspoken opposition dangerous, Tolstoy was able to speak against the government without being silenced. While the Tsarist regime did everything it could to check the spread of Tolstoy's ideas, the writer himself had a unique ability to openly challenge the actions of the government. "I Cannot Be Silent" is but one example of his continued involvement in contemporary affairs through his writings.

    Tolstoy possessed the broad conception of the writer's role in society which was common throughout Russian literature. He was ever an activist, a crusader, who, despite his attention to aesthetics, could not conceive of his works outside the context of broader social and moral questions. In fact, by his later years, Tolstoy had conflated the very ideas of art and social utility. As he elaborated in his treatise on this subject, What is Art? (1898),

    In order to define art correctly it is necessary first of all to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure, and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life. Viewing it in this way we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man. Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced or is producing the art and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression.[70]

    Thus, Tolstoy refuted the idea of art as independent from other human values and everyday events. While in his younger days he may have allowed his creative spirit to overwhelm his moral righteousness, by the time of the 1905 Revolution Tolstoy was firmly committed to a form of art which was fairly close to the political argumentation of the Duma and intelligentsia.

    Tolstoy's reputation as a writer of genius was unshakable, and he was used as a model by both the realist and modernist literary schools. Yet highly charged debates about the validity of Tolstoy's ideas and the value of his non-literary works raged up to and well beyond his death in 1910. This was due in large part to Tolstoy's increasing emphasis on religious and philosophical teachings in the latter part of his life, and his expressed refusal (despite a few lapses) to return to the epic novels and aesthetic works which had made him famous. Tolstoy occupied a unique place in the opposition to the Tsarist regime; his views corresponded neither to those of the liberals nor the radical revolutionaries, but were based instead on his own moral and religious ideas. Tolstoy took literally the New Testament commandment to turn the other cheek in response to evil as a central tenet of his moral system, emphasizing that love should be the foundation of human relations. As Ernest Simmons explains, Tolstoy argued that Jesus' statement, "`resist not him that is evil' means never to resist him that is evil, that is, never to do an act of violence, an act contrary to love, whatever the insult or harm you may bear."[71] The summary executions of 1907-8 were a violent response, sanctioned by the state and Church, to the violence of the revolutionaries, and thus it is not surprising Tolstoy would find them particularly repugnant. Tolstoy was appalled at the destructive tactics of the revolutionaries,[72] but he could not accept the taking of human life in any form, and thus found the government's response unjustified and morally reprehensible. The immediate motivation for "I Cannot Be Silent" was an article Tolstoy read about the execution of twenty peasants for attacking a landlord's property in Elizavetgrad[73]. As the title indicates, he felt compelled to respond to this abomination.

    As with much of Tolstoy's later work, "I Cannot Be Silent" combines flashes of the author's transcendent literary genius with an almost overbearing didacticism. Tolstoy's great stature in the eyes of the world, combined with the moral force of his philosophy of nonviolent resistance, made him a virtual saint in the eyes of many. As Ernest Simmons put it,

    ...there was something magnificent in this old bearded figure standing almost alone against the organized forces of a reactionary Church and State. At this time his was the only powerful voice that dared to speak aloud and fearlessly for the cause of justice in a vast country controlled by an autocratic despotism. Causes to fight were now being laid at his door in abundance by persecuted individuals and organization, and if he could see the justice of them in terms of his religious convictions, he rarely refused aid. It was being widely repeated that Russia now had two tsars, Nicholas II and Leo Tolstoy.[74]

    The Tsarist government, no matter how much it might differ with his politics, could not even think of arresting him, for fear of the immense outrage such an act would generate among the reading public of all of Europe. Thus, Tolstoy was able to get away with a great deal more direct criticism of the state than most of his contemporaries in Russia. "I Cannot Be Silent" made the most of Tolstoy's moral authority. Its clear anti-government stance certainly exceeded the limits of the censorship, even in its reduced form after the Revolution of 1905. As a result, for some time the text did not appear in full in Russian, and editors of most of the papers which printed excerpts were reprimanded or imprisoned. Nonetheless, Tolstoy himself was not threatened, and the article achieved tremendous popularity. According to Simmons, "[t]he immediacy of the theme and the emotional intensity and high seriousness" of the work "created an uproar,"[75] and the full article was quickly printed illegally and widely distributed. Not long after its release, according to Viktor Shklovsky, it was published in two hundred German newspapers, and was pasted on walls throughout the city of Sevastopol.[76]

    Throughout "I Cannot Be Silent," Tolstoy uses his artistic skills to convey a social message. This was not a dispassionate account designed to prove, with statistics and logic, the futility of capital punishment; it was a direct emotional attack on the moral precepts behind the government's actions. Tolstoy begins by describing his own reaction to reading about several executions in a newspaper, and then elaborates, in minute detail, the process of an execution, personalizing the act for his readers and moving the hangings from the abstract of statistics to the horror of reality:

    And then, one after another, living men are pushed off the benches which are drawn from under their feet, and by their own weight suddenly tighten the nooses round their necks and are painfully strangled. Men, alive a minute before, become corpses dangling from a rope, at first swinging slowly and then resting motionless.[77]

    This chilling description, starkly contrasting the living men and dangling corpses, was intended to do far more than provoke an emotional response. Using what Viktor Shklovsky called the device of ostranenie or "estrangement," Tolstoy sought to alter his readers' patterns of perception: one of his goals in "I Cannot Be Silent" was to strip away the conventions which mask our awareness of reality. According to Shklovsky, by employing unconventional means to describe objects and events, an author could startle the reader into noticing them more clearly, and break through the ossified wall of habit and convention that inhibits perception. As Shklovsky explained this concept,

    In Leo Tolstoy's works, which are as formal as muscial compositions, he employed the device of "making it strange," (not calling things by their usual names).... [T]he most common strategy in Tolstoy is one of refusing to recognize an object, of describing it as if it were seen for the first time. Thus as stage setting is called a "piece of painted cardboard" (War and Peace), the sacramental wafer a "bun." An assertion is therefore made that Christians eat their God.[78]

    Tolstoy utilized the technique of ostranenie in "I Cannot Be Silent" to bring home to the reader the true reality of capital punishment. For Tolstoy, the singular essence of executions was the taking of lives, rather than retribution or the maintenance of public order. His detailed description of the conduct of an execution served to jar the reader out of the complacency of reading anonymous numbers in newspapers, into a fuller understanding of the reality and the implications of capital punishment.

    The technique of ostranenie is most evident in Tolstoy's description of a priest attending the execution as simply "a long-haired man, wearing a stole and vestments of gold or silver cloth and bearing a cross," who, "addressing those whom other people are about to strange with cords, says something about God and Christ."[79] Tolstoy's refusal to acknowledge that this is in fact a priest forces the reader to examine the scene more closely. The juxtaposition of prayer with the immediacy of impending strangulation brings out the reality of the execution and the absurdity of the priest's presence. From Tolstoy's perspective, this symbol of Christian morality is totally incompatible with executions, which are, after all, the willful killing of other human beings. Tolstoy stays true to the tenets of realism by employing an accurate, detailed description, and in a sense his portrayal is more real than reality itself. He forces the reader to see the world for what it truly is, which to him means viewing the execution as a cruel charade and not an established social act. By introducing this dissonance, Tolstoy demonstrates the faults which are easily overlooked in the system of capital punishment, in order to prove how the world must be changed. While formalists such as Shklovsky focused on describing such elements of the literary craft, they were generally not concerned with its ideological implications.[80] But Tolstoy was. His use of ostranenie to represent the priest demonstrates his belief in the hypocrisy of the Russian government. By juxtaposing the priest with the actual hanging, he sought to expose the incompatibility of a regime which proclaimed itself to be founded on Christian ideals committing totally immoral acts.

    In this way, while "I Cannot Be Silent" was written in response to a specific policy and specific events, it can be read to reflect the more general elements of Tolstoy's philosophy. Tolstoy's opposition to the policies of Stolypin and the Tsar rested not on superficial political factors, but on a fundamentally different conception of society. He rejected the paternalistic framework of the autocracy[81], with its emphasis on maintaining law and order, and in fact all organized authority relations. In particular, Tolstoy's opposition to capital punishment was not founded on rationalistic explanations but stemmed from his moral convictions based on a religious belief that all killing was wrong. Thus, while Tolstoy was not alone in condemning the military field courts of 1907-8 and the government that instituted them, he did not agree with the leaders of the Duma or the radical movement. He did not wish to move beyond the outmoded system of autocracy to either a democratic or a socialist government; rather, he opposed all government and sought to return to a period where "true" Christianity was the foundation of society. Taken together, these scattered views do represent a vision for Russia which differed significantly from that advanced by other leading figures and groups. Though Tolstoy's primary purpose in "I Cannot Be Silent" was not to advance a coherent political programme, elements of a model for social development are contained in the text. Tolstoy constructed an ethical system underlying both political structures and individual morality; elements of this system can be adduced in "I Cannot Be Silent."

    Firstly, though Tolstoy was himself a landowner and intellectual, his message was not only anti-authoritarian, but specifically opposed to the existing class relations in Russia. In "I Cannot Be Silent" he places responsibility for the executions he hates squarely on members of the upper classes in Russia:

    All this is carefully arranged and planned by learned and enlightened people of the upper class. They arrange to do these things secretly at daybreak so that no one shall see them done, and they arrange that the responsibility for these iniquities shall be so subdivided among those who commit them that each may think and say that it is not he who is responsible for them. They arrange to seek out the most depraved and unfortunate of men and, while obliging them to do this business planned and approved by themselves, still keep up an appearance of abhorring those who do it.[82]

    In this sense, Tolstoy's argument can be seen as both moral and political. He indicated that capital punishment, or violence of any sort, was fundamentally wrong, but he felt compelled to make a distinction in assigning blame for such actions. The conflict, in his mind, was not society against radical terrorists, but the "true" Russian people against the upper classes. While Tolstoy does not give any specific guidance on what forms of organization would replace this hierarchy, his attack on the upper class does present an implied critique of the Russian social structure. Clearly, in Tolstoy's ideal world, the "learned and enlightened people" would not be able to make use of their position to declaim responsibility for acts against humanity.

    A related element of Tolstoy's implied social vision is personal acceptance of moral responsibility: in "I Cannot Be Silent," he argues that individuals have an obligation not only to be moral but to take responsibility for the actions of every member of society. Tolstoy himself felt a sense of guilt and responsibility for the executions he saw taking place. As a member of the Russia gentry, he knew that Stolypin's field courts were set up and justified to protect people such as himself from the revolutionary threat. Tolstoy constantly sought shift the focus from abstract policies to personal emotions, addressing the government constantly as "you." Though Tolstoy himself was violently opposed to capital punishment and directly refuted the argument that executions were done for the good of society, he could not help but feel culpability for these actions taken ostensibly on his behalf. In fact, he suggested that every member of the society--every reader--shared the responsibility for these painful murders.

    Everything now being done in Russia is done in the name of the general welfare, in the name of the protection and tranquility of the people in Russia. And if this be so, then it is also done for me who live in Russia. For me, therefore, exists the destitution of the people... for me exist these gallows with well-soaped cords from which hang women, children, and peasants; and for me exists this terrible embitterment of man against his fellow man.[83]

    For Tolstoy the establishment of his own personal guilt for the numerous executions was of tremendous importance. "I Cannot Be Silent," as its title indicates, is possessed of a tremendous righteous indignation which strengthens Tolstoy's argument. Yet Tolstoy's concept of personal moral responsibility extended beyond his own life to include virtually the entire Russian people. He developed a concept of personal non-involvement, by which individuals have an obligation to avoid any association with immoral acts. Since the executions were conducted on behalf of society, simply acknowledging their immorality was not sufficient. To the degree which everyone was somewhat responsible, in Tolstoy's eyes, everyone was compelled to actively dissociate themselves from the executions. This personal responsibility was a major purpose for writing "I Cannot Be Silent:" Tolstoy felt obligated to speak out in opposition by virtue of his own moral culpability. Furthermore, he sought to break the connection between himself and the government which was taking such hideous actions. As he stated in a famous passage,

    That is why I write this and will circulate it by all means in my power both in Russia and abroad--that one of two things may happen: either that these inhuman deeds may be stopped, or that my connexion with them may be snapped and I put in prison, where I may be clearly conscious that these horrors are not committed on my behalf; or still better (so good that I dare not even dream of such happiness) that they may but on me, as on those twelve or twenty peasants, a shroud and a cap and may push me also off a bench, so that by my own weight I may tighten the well-soaped nose round my old throat.[84]

    On one level, this statement was a rhetorical device destined to provoke horror in many readers. Tolstoy, as a prophet of Christian love, could effectively assume the role of martyr, dramatizing the evil he saw in capital punishment. However, the passage also represents the fullest expression of Tolstoy's notion of moral non-involvement. As he indicates, he would rather leave the world through imprisonment or death than bear the guilt for such repugnant acts. By asking that he himself be killed, Tolstoy seeks to break the connection between himself and those responsible for the executions, preserving intact his own sense of moral integrity. One goal of writing "I Cannot Be Silent" was to encourage the rest of Russian society to do the same.

    Consequently, Tolstoy rails against the government officials who declaim all guilt or involvement in the hangings. For Tolstoy, this failure to recognize their own evil not only compounds but even exceeds the evil of their initial actions. To make his point, Tolstoy relates the story of a watchman who also served as a hangman to earn additional money. A painter, needing a model of an executioner for a work depicting an execution, comes to his house to ask him to be a model for his painting, telling his wife only that "his face suited the picture he had planned"[85]. However, the watchman hides from him, feeling terrible fear and shame that his role as a hangman is recognized. Tolstoy drives home the point of this anecdote quite directly.

    Yes, this executioner at first-hand knows that he is an executioner, he knows that he does wrong and is therefore hated, and he is afraid of men: and I think that this consciousness and this fear before men atone for at least a part of his guilt. But none of you--from the Secretary of the Court to the Premier and the Tsar--who are indirect participators in the iniquities perpetrated every day seem to feel you guilt or the shame that you participation in these horrors ought to evoke.... As low as that watchman has fallen, he is morally immeasurably higher than your participators and part authors of these awful crimes: you who condemn others instead of yourselves and carry your heads so high.[86]

    This awareness of direct personal responsibility by every member of society for society's actions can be seen as an important component of Tolstoy's vision for Russia. As Tolstoy himself points out, social relations were organized so as to systematically divide and dissipate responsibilities for important decisions, and prevent the powerful from facing the negative consequences of their acts. In Tolstoy's ideal world, those who did good would be directly rewarded, and those who did evil punished. He clearly had in mind a society bound together more on implicitly equal reciprocal responsibilities at all levels than the feudal Russian state, which was based on sets of theoretically mutual obligations (between Tsar and Nobles, landowners and peasants, etc.) that turned out to simply reinforce existing class hierarchies.

    As the text demonstrates, this sense of personal responsibility was intended to encompass more than the issue of capital punishment. Tolstoy himself makes the connection between this specific question and the larger issue of Russian society and government. He states that, "these acts--committed by men who, from the judge to the hangman, do not wish to do them--prove more vividly than anything else how pernicious to human souls is despotism; the power of man over man."[87] Thus, the issue is not simply the immorality of summary executions, but the inevitable evil of authority structures. By identifying these deeper sources of the conflict between state and society than Stolypin's specific policies, Tolstoy implicitly advocates a fundamental restructuring of social relations.

    Tolstoy provides other clues to the nature of this restructuring in "I Cannot Be Silent." In addition to a personal acceptance of moral responsibility, he argues for the primacy of spiritual values in all aspects of life. Simply to argue that capital punishment was morally wrong, or in conflict with Christian teachings, was an easy point for an opponent of Stolypin's executions to make. But Tolstoy went far beyond this position. He explicitly set forth Christian morality as the ideal building block for all social relations, in effect constructing an alternative path of social development. As he put it, "the power of events does not lie in the material conditions of life at all, but in the spiritual condition of the people."[88] This religious focus shapes the terms of his arguments in "I Cannot Be Silent," and Tolstoy keeps returning to issues of good and evil in analyzing the country's problems. Yet Tolstoy's views should not be be construed as ignorance of social factors; he interpreted religious doctrines in a broad fashion which included all aspects of human relations. In Tolstoy's words,

    Social irritation or tranquility cannot depend on whether Pyotr is hanged or allowed to live, or on whether Ivan lives in Tambov or in penal servitude at Nerchinsk. Social irritation or tranquility must not depend not on Pyotr or Ivan alone but on how the great majority of the nation regard their position, and on the attitude of this majority to the government, to landed property, to the religion taught them, and on what this majority consider to be good or bad.[89]

    Thus, for Tolstoy, social and spiritual issues could not be viewed in isolation. His implied model for responding to the revolutionary unrest and popular discontent in Russia began with a restructuring of the spiritual values of the nation.
    Significantly, Tolstoy's values were not those of the government or the Orthodox Church. Tolstoy attacked organized religion and those who preached it as virulently as representatives of the autocracy, for he felt that those who called themselves priests were nothing more than hypocrites who had perverted Jesus' true doctrines. According to Simmons, "[p]erhaps nothing so disturbed Tolstoy as what he regarded as the Church's apostasy as the legatee of Christ's teachings and as the perpetrator of a religious fraud on the people in his name."[90] In "I Cannot Be Silent," he is always careful to include priests with the government servants and other functionaries present at and responsible for executions. His use of ostranenie in describing the priest present at the execution is a good example. At the same time, Tolstoy was only attacking the outward forms which Christianity took, and seeking to return to what he saw as its core doctrines, especially that of non-resistance to evil. The conflict of this doctrine with Stolypin's policies, which were founded on the notion of responding to the "evil" of peasant unrest with greater force, is quite obvious. Tolstoy makes this point broadly by comparing the Tsarist regime to the supposedly terrible revolutionaries.

    So you certainly cannot blame the revolutionaries while you employ the same immoral means as they do for the attainment of your aim. All that you can adduce for your own justification, they can equally adduce for theirs; not to mention that you do much evil that they do not commit, such as squandering the wealth of the nation, preparing for war, making war, subduing and oppressing foreign nationalities, and much else.[91]

    Despite Tolstoy's involvement with political issues, he held that spiritual questions were always primary. In this regard, Tolstoy disagreed sharply not only with the government, but with the leading opposition groups as well, who agreed that "objective" economic concerns were of greatest importance but disagreed on the best means of improving them. While Tolstoy was admired by representatives of all shades of political opinion, his focus on spiritual resurrection rather than revolutionary or political action cost him a great deal of support. As Simmons explains, after the revolution of 1905, "his message of peace was lost in a time of pervasive violence."[92]

    Yet Tolstoy did address material questions. A further element of his critique of capital punishment was the belief that it failed to address fundamental social issues, especially the corrupting effects of private property. Thus, while "I Cannot Be Silent" was an attack on particular policies, it can be read to provide arguments for positive changes in the structure of society. Specifically, Tolstoy linked the executions to the agrarian question:

    you say that [these executions are] the only means of pacifying the people and quelling the revolution; but that is evidently false! It is plain that you cannot pacify the people unless you satisfy the demand of most elementary justice advanced by Russia's whole agricultural population (that is, the demand for the abolition of private property in land)...[93]

    Tolstoy, of course, was no Marxist, and his call for the elimination of private property in land was based on a radically different model than the one Marx and Lenin based their theories on. However, this passage demonstrates that Tolstoy was able, even within a narrowly-focused work, to conceive and advocate radical change in the nature of Russian society. Throughout "I Cannot Be Silent" Tolstoy casts the struggle against the revolutionaries and the executions which took place as battles in a war of peasantry versus aristocracy. Despite the great upheavals which had been taking place in urban, proletarian society, Tolstoy cared most strongly for the rural segment of the population, and the condemned criminals he mourned all appear to be poor, uneducated peasants. In some sense, this brought Tolstoy closer to the Tsar than to the revolutionary movement. Following Marxist doctrine, the Bolsheviks relied on the urban proletariat for support, as will be evident in Gorky's Mother. The Tsar, on the other hand, thought of the peasantry as his loyal children, the conservative bedrock of support for the autocratic regime. Furthermore, both Tolstoy and Nicholas II agreed that spiritual connections were the essential building blocks of society. Tolstoy stated quite explicitly in "I Cannot Be Silent" that moral and religious questions deserved primary attention, and the Tsar believed that his power and authority was a direct gift from God. This spiritual foundation was reflected in a catechism prepared by the Holy Synod, which began,

    Q: What says the Fifth Commandment?

    A: Honor thy father and thy mother....

    Q: Should we honor only our parents?

    A: Beside our parents, we should respect all those who in any way fill their places for us.

    Q: Whom, then, should we honor?

    A: 1. First and most of all, the Tsar.

    2. Pastors and spiritual teachers

    3. kindly persons, our superiors, and teachers.

    4. our elders.

    Q: Why should we especially respect the Tsar above all others?

    A: Because he is the father of the whole people and the anointed of God.[94]

    Nicholas accepted this view, and felt he had a religious obligation to serve as the father of his people. As with Tolstoy, the Tsar's emphasis on spiritual connections distanced him from the leading factions of the intelligentsia and opposition groups, who sought to direct attention to social and political problems. Yet while Tolstoy had his reputation and moral vision to stand upon, Nicholas was not so fortunate. As one study of the autocracy in the period after 1905 summarizes, "Nicholas' ideas and attitudes were completely out of touch with his twentieth-century country. He sincerely believed that the Almighty had entrusted him with the throne...."[95] This, of course, was the point of divergence between the Tsar and Tolstoy. Where Nicholas took his spiritual authority as a justification for autocracy, Tolstoy interpreted the law of God to preclude any such power. Nonetheless, Tolstoy's acceptance of some of the major precepts of the autocracy provides an interesting undercurrent in a work which bitterly condemns the policies of the Russian State.

    Tolstoy explained in the text that he wrote "I Cannot Be Silent" in a state of momentary outrage, unable to contain his fury at the executions he read about in the newspapers. Yet despite his focus on one specific policy, Tolstoy included numerous elements of his broader vision, taking full advantage of the possibilities available in a polemical work. His levels of argument, from the direct attack on capital punishment to the implied model for a new society, were confined to a scant thirteen or so pages. While Tolstoy never directly used "I Cannot Be Silent" to call for a revolution or a specific restructuring of social relations, he made it clear that the issue was much more than which method should be employed to quell dissent in the countryside. By the time "I Cannot Be Silent" was written, the pendulum in Russian society had shifted back in a reactionary direction, and in hindsight the policies which Tolstoy railed against presaged the ending of the liberalizing trends unleashed in 1905. Stolypin's field-courts were eventually curtailed, but the spiritual and political restructuring Tolstoy sought never came to pass, at least not in the way he envisioned it. Perhaps he was right in declaring that the problems facing Russia were ones involving the spiritual health of the nation. The upheavals begun in 1917 caused transformations so dramatic that they can be seen as a resolution of underlying spiritual tensions, but the revolution did not move in the direction Tolstoy had hoped. Yet in the fleeting years following 1905, it was possible to argue, as Tolstoy did, that non-resistance to evil should be made a central aspect of Russian society. "I Cannot Be Silent" was a work of great notoriety and importance for the movement opposed the government's reactionary practices, but it can be examined and valued independently of this context. In a general sense, "I Cannot Be Silent" contributed a great deal to the literary and political debate about the future of Russian society.


    The repressive policies of the Stolypin regime sparked many other responses by literary figures. Tolstoy had focused tremendous attention on the validity of capital punishment, and while other writers were not always so direct in their challenge to the Tsarist regime, many addressed the same issues. One work of this type was "The Seven Who Were Hanged" by Leonid Andreyev. Andreyev is difficult to characterize as a political writer. Whereas Tolstoy and Gorky by this time had relatively well-developed social perspectives which they consistently articulated, Andreyev's work was often ambiguous. His short stories often seemed to focus exclusively on personal, psychological themes, rather than overtly confronting the issues of the day. Andreyev was at times linked to the opposition movement,[96] but he angered the radicals with works such as "Darkness," which was seen as demeaning to the revolutionary cause.[97] Though Andreyev entered into the Russian literary scene as a protegé of Gorky, he grew increasingly estranged from the radical political parties. These shifts and uncertainties were aptly reflected in his works. Andreyev did write stories which included evident political messages, but they also had larger goals. In "The Red Laugh," for example, by showing the horrors of the Russo-Japanese War, Andreyev seeks to force his readers to unlearn the very concept of war. Indeed, "The Seven Who Were Hanged" was taken as an indictment of Stolypin's policies, but focused primarily on the broader moral questions raised by capital punishment. For the most part, Andreyev's works delved into the alienation and madness of his characters: a terrified petty criminal in "The Thief," a remorseful official guilty of the death of forty-seven demonstrators in "The Governor," and a young boy facing horror and his sexual desires in "The Abyss," to name but a few. Thus, while Andreyev's works can be read to include social or political themes, he was generally less clear in his messages than either Tolstoy or Gorky.

    Andreyev, of the three writers, was closest to the modernists, though he followed in the realist tradition as "an epigone of Tolstoy in his moral polemics."[98] The surreal textures of Andreyev's writings and his willingness to challenge accepted aesthetic standards caused him to be associated with the modernist schools. According to Mirsky, "[o]ld fashioned critics and readers of the older generation of the orthodox radical (and, still more, of the conservative) school were scarcely able to distinguish between Andreyev and the symbolists. Both were to them equally detestable malformations."[99] However, despite his wanderings, Andreyev shared more with Tolstoy and Gorky than with the self-conscious artistes of the symbolist movement. Andreyev did seek to "strip away the masks" through realistic descriptions, and to respond to the social contract which bound realist writers to serve unique social functions. While his works may have resembled those of the modernists in their "tendency away from accepted standards and a decided inclination towards the grandiose and the ultimate,"[100] Andreyev did not possess the mystical faith of the symbolists. He was fundamentally pessimistic, disposed "to put all of life on trial, to expose the reality of man as a senseless labyrinth or as a dismal torture chamber."[101] Whereas Tolstoy had Christianity and Gorky had Marxist optimism to turn to for support, Andreyev was often led to a deep emptiness.

    "The Seven Who Were Hanged,"[102] one of Andreyev's most popular stories, was published in 1908. Like Tolstoy's "I Cannot Be Silent," it was a response to the mass executions of suspected revolutionaries during the years following the 1905 revolution.[103] Also like Tolstoy's pamphlet, "The Seven Who Were Hanged" achieved tremendous popular success. As one study of Andreyev reports,

    The story was enormously successful; 23,000 copies of the Shipovnik anthology sold out in a few days. Between 1909 and 1911 the story was printed more than fifteen times and in about 100,000 copies, and it was translated into several languages and sold well abroad.[104]

    However, while Tolstoy's work directly argued the merits of capital punishment and the social structure that supported it, Andreyev chose to respond through a fictionalized account of seven condemned individuals. His story seems to be grounded more in abstract metaphysics than Christian morality, and Andreyev appears content to let his characters in "The Seven Who Were Hanged" speak for themselves to develop social messages. And it is these characters who can be seen to form the bases of implied models for Russian social development. "The Seven Who Were Hanged," like "I Cannot Be Silent," was primarily directed at particular policies and events, but Andreyev's story can be read to contain allegories for responding to the broader challenges facing Russia. Whereas Tolstoy set forth a set of principles which could form the basis of a future society, Andreyev used a series of differing viewpoints to imply a certain vision for Russian society.

    In "The Seven Who Were Hanged," Andreyev focuses on seven individuals condemned to death; five convicted terrorists and two common criminals. He describes their reactions to their trials, their confinement in prison prior to execution, and even the trip to the place of their hanging. In directing his attention to the inner workings of these seven convicts' minds, Andreyev humanizes the victims of executions just as Tolstoy sought to do. However, Andreyev's perspective was not that of an observer witnessing an execution, but rather a description of the internal experiences of the convicts. While this technique clearly has artistic roots, it also represents a political decision. As Tolstoy pointed out "I Cannot Be Silent," the government sought to cast the executions as measures to maintain peace and order. By lodging the debate over capital punishment at the societal level, the Tsarist regime implicitly dehumanized those it executed. Andreyev gives his five revolutionaries back their individual personalities, and throws in two common criminals as a frame of comparison. By devoting the bulk of the text to the personal struggles of the seven convicts after being placed in separate jail cells, Andreyev de-emphasizes the question of terrorism or the necessity to preserve order. He refuses to allow his revolutionaries to be perceived based on their actions, since in any case they fail to commit their planned assassination and the minister they seek to kill is portrayed as an obese, pathetic fool. What is shocking in "The Seven Who Were Hanged" is thus the effects of a death sentence on seven human beings, and not the effects of revolutionary terrorists on the Russian government.

    Furthermore, Andreyev brings his skill at drawing lively characters to bear in humanizing the victims of Stolypin's policy. Each of the seven has a distinct, well-developed reaction to the concept of their approaching death. While Andreyev provides snippets of what all his characters are thinking, he spares little in delving into the evolving psychological reaction of the convicts. Moreover, the five revolutionaries behave admirably when confronted with the knowledge of their approaching death. Werner, the de facto leader of the terrorists, goes through great anguish before eventually accepting death with calmness and even joy. Musya and Tanya Kovalchuk, the two women in the group, react with fearless pride and selfless love, forcing the reader not only to accept them as human beings but even to admire them.

    Just as throughout her life Tanya Kovalchuk had thought only of others and never of herself; so, even now, she worried only about the rest and felt profound anguish for them. She imagined death insofar as it was something agonizing that was imminent for Sergei, Musya, and the others, but as for herself, it seemed not to concern her in the slightest.[105]

    This selfless altruism causes one to forget that this woman participated in a plot to murder a government official, and when police arrived to search her apartment, "it was she who had greeted the police with gunfire and wounded one detective in the head."[106] Andreyev goes out of his way to inspire respect for the five revolutionaries as human beings, and even to imbue them with a degree of moral superiority. Describing this attitude, Mirsky claimed that, "`The Seven That Were Hanged' is as devout as anything in the Acts of the Martyrs."[107] Like Tolstoy, Andreyev seeks to prove that the terrorists are at least morally equal, and even superior to their captors and the leaders of the government. When, at the conclusion of the story, the seven convicts are taken out and hanged, they are living human beings, transmuted in a few minutes to lifeless corpses, mirroring Tolstoy's description in "I Cannot Be Silent."

    The connections and similarities between Andreyev and Tolstoy were far more than cosmetic. Many of Andreyev's most successful stories, including "The Seven Who Were Hanged," can be seen as following the moral paradigms and artistic devices of Tolstoy.[108] As Mirsky summarizes,

    [i]t may be said, in short (with a degree of simplification), that while the symbolists proceed from Dostoevsky, Andreyev proceeds from Tolstoy. The negation of culture and the intense consciousness of the elemental realities of life--death and sex--are the essence of Tolstoyanism, and they reappear in the philosophy of Andreyev....[109]

    This relationship was evident on many levels between "I Cannot Be Silent" and "The Seven Who Were Hanged." Like Tolstoy, Andreyev makes no attempt to analyze the ideology of the revolutionaries.[110] The simple fact that he throws together five ideologically-minded terrorists with a thief and a peasant who killed his master serves to denigrate the importance of theoretical political views. Andreyev seems to direct his greatest attention to basic, ontological questions, rather than specific social or political issues, and thus it is less evident how "The Seven Who Were Hanged" reflects an underlying ideology. Yet Andreyev does not operate from an ideological vacuum, nor does he simply present ideas with no sense of their relative merits. His focus on the spiritual alienation and epiphanies of the seven convicts resembles Tolstoy's emphasis on the "spiritual health of the nation" in responding to the problems in Russian society. As with Tolstoy, Andreyev's specific reflections can be read to contain convictions about the nature and future of the Russian state.

    The Christian motifs so prevalent in Tolstoy's later works are also present in "The Seven Who Were Hanged." Though Andreyev may not have shared Tolstoy's overwhelming faith in the primacy of Christian values, he was not averse to using Christian symbolism in his works. In particular, his portrayal of the five terrorists strongly alludes to the Crucifixion of Christ, as they are arrested, tried, and then slowly transported to the place of their execution. More clearly, Andreyev projects the biblical story of the Crucifixion by placing the terrorists with two common criminals. This allusion to Jesus being crucified between two robbers further elevates the moral stature of Andreyev's characters. While Andreyev himself was agnostic,[111] he was aware of the power of religious symbolism; while he does not cast the entire story in terms of Christian morality, as does Tolstoy, he uses the subtext of the Crucifixion story to reinforce the image of the five terrorists as martyrs. Even though they are atheists who sought to murder a government official, the convicts thus attain a degree of moral superiority over their captors.

    In many of his stories, including "The Seven Who Were Hanged," Andreyev focused on the limits of human consciousness and sanity. Like Tolstoy, Andreyev emphasized not order, but disorder by focusing on death and madness rather than concrete structures for organizing society. His stories emphasized the mysteries of the human mind and broad, metaphysical questions, not the specific policies and events which brought about these conflicts. Consequently, it seems Andreyev wished to avoid the ordered, legalistic paradigms advanced by both the Tsarist regime and the Duma. Despite his occasional allegiance to Gorky and Marxist groups such as the Social Democrats, Andreyev emphasized the individual will rather than the unifying importance of broad social forces. In "The Seven Who Were Hanged," his willingness to place intellectual revolutionaries in the same setting as illiterate peasants and examine their mental anguish in the same light demonstrates a viewpoint based more on human than social characteristics. Yet herein lies an implied social critique. Just as Tolstoy demonstrated how Russian society lead people to commit horrible acts, Andreyev showed how society could push rational human beings to madness.

    In particular, Andreyev uses the five convicted terrorists to lay out several divergent responses to the certainty of impending death. These five viewpoints can be read as allegories for actual groups within Russian society, seeking to react to the impending catastrophe which faced them. The recurrent images of death and madness in Andreyev's works reveal a sense of catastrophe, which foretold the coming upheavals in Russian society. As Olga Carlisle writes, "Andreyev's gift of prophesy, in particular of the imminence of universal cataclysm, was extraordinary."[112] The examples he provided in "The Seven Who Were Hanged," while not generalized models for the future, can be read as differing prescriptions for coming to terms with this approaching catastrophe. Although these portrayals are, on an individual level, examples of "slow self-alienation,"[113] they can also be seen as prescriptive models. Just as Tolstoy's arguments for emphasizing religious values could be extended to serve as the foundation of a new social order, Andreyev's allegorical models revealed a set of principles to define the future of Russian society.

    The first of the terrorists, Sergei Golovin, "was a strong, healthy, cheerful young man, endowed with that calm, serene joie de vivre that makes any evil thought or feeling injurious to life rapidly disappear without trace in the organism."[114] Andreyev reports the judges at his trial felt sorry for him. He initially spends most of his time in his cell practicing a series of gymnastic exercises known as the Müller system, but eventually loses interest, knowing that his physical condition in this life will soon be of no importance. Sergei's stubborn adherence to the Müller system, and his eventual disillusionment, demonstrates the depths to which habit and tradition can become ingrained. Sergei needs a reference point to grab onto, since the future is too terrible to comprehend; so he conceives of himself as a propagandist of the value of the Müller system to his jailors. Eventually, however, Sergei is forced to face the fact of death, which is all the more incomprehensible since he has never had to face this kind of fear.

    There were no concepts in his human brain, no words in his human tongue capable of encompassing what he saw. And the words "I am afraid" sounded within him only because there were no other words and because there neither was nor could be any concept in keeping with this new, superhuman condition.[115]

    For Sergei there truly is nothing to fear but fear itself. His whole being becomes caught up not with the thought of his coming execution, but with the struggle to recognize the meaning of that fact. His recourse to the Müller system is his way of escaping, but it is doomed from the start. Acknowledging this failure, Sergei's final words of the chapter are, "it has to be done, Müller my friend."[116]

    Sergei's stubborn refusal to face the concept of death can be read as one model for responding to the crisis Andreyev and others saw in Russian society. The appeal to tradition and traditional structures was extremely strong in Russia, and many people turned away from the upheavals of the 1905 period to institutions such as the Church and the Tsar. The Tsar refused to admit that the crisis existed, and appealed to the Russian people as their paternalistic leader. Many people came to believe that the problems they were facing were caused by evil advisors to the Tsar, and if he could only be told of what his people were facing, he would make everything well again. This was, after all, one rationale behind the march on Bloody Sunday. Those who focused on habitual allegiances were ill-prepared for the conflicts to come, and the social equivalents of the Müller system provided little succor in the end. As in Sergei's case, refusal to confront the impending cataclysm head-on did not lead to a successful resolution for Russian society: the events of 1917 dwarfed the Revolution of 1905 as a catastrophic upheaval.

    The second of the terrorists, Tanya Kovalchuk, faces death without fear, so transcendent is her concern for others. In a sense, her views parallel Tolstoy's ideal of a person who responds to every challenge with selfless love. "The Seven Who Were Hanged" was dedicated to Tolstoy, and while Andreyev did not always share his philosophical beliefs, he did look to Tolstoy as a moral leader in the fight against capital punishment. At a more basic level, Tanya's fulfillment of religious ideals epitomizes Andreyev's symbolic projection of Christian values onto the terrorists. Tanya is perhaps the most Christlike of the five, and she is the last to be hung at the end of the story. Whether or not she was intended to represent Tolstoy's views, Tanya shares his refusal to react violently in the face of evil, and to focus on responding to the needs of others when seeing injustice. Her saintlike qualities cause her to have the least difficulty accepting her coming execution--the chapter describing her reactions is in fact titled "There is No Death." This concept, in addition to calling to mind the Christian notion of resurrection and the afterlife, was very prominent in the philosophy of Andreyev's day. The notion of transcending death was central to the utopian philosophy of Nikolai Fedorov, a leading intellectual figure in the late nineteenth century.[117] Andreyev's inclusion of the theme of immortality, combined with the joy that some of the terrorists experience as they confront death, provides a symbolic projection of this philosophical belief system. By combining traditional and specific contemporary Christian models of immortality, Andreyev elevates the symbolic significance of the episode, as well as the spiritual value of the revolutionaries and their cause.

    Tanya thus represents the best elements of the revolutionary movement, for she is fundamentally committed to others rather than herself. Despite their violent tactics, Andreyev sympathized with the revolutionaries. Tanya is an example of someone willing to give up his or her life to create a better society, and her selflessness a model for action far removed from the stubborn traditionalism of Sergei. Such people were greatly needed in Russia after 1905, as the various groups in society were generally unwilling to look beyond their own needs and act for the good of the nation as a whole. Andreyev's use of mythic projections to augment Tanya's status as a martyr reinforces the importance of her beliefs as an allegory for society. With her, Andreyev creates a social model which, like the one Tolstoy implies in "I Cannot Be Silent," is founded on love and Christian virtues.

    The third of the convicts, the young woman Musya, takes her situation as a source of pride. She is convinced that death does not exist, and that her situation is one of selfless heroism. Unlike Tanya, she is concerned primarily with herself, but like her she is able to spend her last days without terror. Musya is the youngest of the group, and Andreyev paints her responses as essentially those of a child. At the trial Andreyev identifies her as an epitome of youthful purity.

    Only her gentle, slender neck and slim, girlish arms told of her age, together with that indefinable quality that is youthfulness itself. That quality sounded clearly with the flawless tone of an expensive instrument in her pure, melodious voice and in every simple word or exclamation that revealed its musical essence.[118]

    Childlike Musya can be viewed as representing the latent possibilities of the Russian people. Her strength lies in her virgin beauty and in the wealth of possibility for the future. As she herself imagines, "if a person were valuable not only for what he had done but also for what he had wanted to do, then--she was worthy of a martyr's crown."[119] Similarly, Russia at this period had within it a multitude of possibilities, and despite the turmoil which existed, many dreamed of a better future. Once again, Andreyev returns to the Christian concept of martyrdom to emphasize the saintliness of the revolutionaries. The aim of the revolutionary struggle was not simply to topple the Tsar, but to build a better world society, and Musya demonstrates the power of this idealistic image. For her, as for some in Russian society, the though of creating a new and better world overpowered the difficulties of reality.

    In contrast, Vasily Kashirin becomes so overwhelmed by the fact of his upcoming death that he loses sight of all else. Whereas Tanya focuses on her comrades and Musya on her status as a martyr, Vasily cannot divert his attention from the horror of his own plight. As Andreyev describes him in his cell awaiting the execution,

    the wretched Vasily Kashirin was living out his life in anguish and terror.... The fear of death had manifested itself in him straightaway and taken complete possession of him. On that fateful morning, heading for certain death, he had trifled with it, but by evening, when he was imprisoned in his solitary cell, he was whirled away and overwhelmed by a wave of mad terror.... Having been for an instant the embodiment of will, life, and strength, he had become a pitiful example of unique impotence--a man transformed into a beast waiting for the slaughter....[120]

    Vasily's terror and madness follow from his unswerving focus on his own life and free will. Though he is a revolutionary, he can be seen to represent those in Russian society who rejected the revolutionary movement, trusting in their own abilities to see them through the difficulties facing the country. In some sense, this described the Tsar himself, who was so caught up in his conviction that his power was fundamentally sound that he ignored the growing conflicts which would eventually explode in 1905 and 1917. Vasily is paralyzed with terror by the knowledge of his impending death, just as many in Russia were unable to come to terms with the basic and widespread problems which led to the Revolution of 1905. As with Sergei, this path was empty; Vasily finds no solace in his convictions once the fact of his death becomes certain.

    Werner, the final terrorist, represents perhaps the most complex psyche of the five. He is looked upon as the leader of the group, but as it turns out he is "weary of life and the revolutionary struggle"[121] Though he goes through a period of great pain and self-doubt, eventually he achieves a revelation which removes his fear of death. Werner loses touch with the significance of physical reality, and throws himself into a metaphysical joy. His response diverges from that of Sergei specifically in his vision of life and death. Werner sees the ambiguity of such ontological questions as magnificent, rather than incomprehensible and frightening. While Tanya is perhaps the most saintly of the revolutionaries, Werner is the most admirable, for he alone confronts the reality of death and transcends it.

    With the amazing lucidity of mind that comes to man at rare moments and raises him to the heights of contemplation, Werner suddenly saw both life and death and was astounded by the magnificence of this unprecedented spectacle. It was as if he were walking along a very high mountain range,narrow as the edge of a knife blade: on the one side he could see life, and on the other death, life two deep, beautiful, glittering seas that merged on the horizon into a single, infinitely wide expanse.[122]

    In this symbolic image, Werner is able to find happiness at the same time as he accepts his own mortality. Werner's conversion reveals most clearly Andreyev's symbolist leanings, but at the same time can be viewed as providing a model for the development of Russian society. Only Werner is firmly grounded on both sides of the axis of death. His skill and bravery as a revolutionary leader allow him to fight the injustices of Russian society. At the same time, he comes to adopt the selfless love of Tanya and Musya's idealized belief in the beauty of the future.

    Werner reinforces the spiritual elements of Tanya and Musya's portrayals. By focusing attention on the basic question of life and death, Andreyev seems to be in agreement with Tolstoy that the problems facing Russian society were, at some fundamental level, spiritual rather than purely material. However, Christian love alone was insufficient to fully answer the needs of the Russian people. Werner's triumph is not one of learning goodness, but of mastery. As Andreyev puts it, "he had never been so free and so commanding as here in prison, only a few hours away from execution and death."[123] In contrast to Vasily, who is rendered impotent by confronting the horror of death, Werner gains a deep personal strength. The inference which can be drawn is that those who wish to tackle social and political problems must first come to grips with the underlying issue of mortality. According to Carlisle, "Werner... clearly embodies Andreyev's own search for transcendence over both death and self-absorption."[124] The revolutionary struggle and attempts to combat repression were admirable, but left to their own devices they could become simply an exercise in violence. Andreyev's allegory can be read as a prescription for the revolutionary movement to succeed not only in toppling the Tsar, but in building a new society. Only when the political struggle was grounded in an understanding of the nature of humankind could people solve both their own problems and those of society.

    "The Seven Who Were Hanged" is of particular interest as a palette of allegorical models for social development because it does have one underlying political message. Andreyev was seeking to attack the institution of capital punishment, and independent of the implications for Russian society in general the story argues the futility of using executions to combat revolutionary activity. Tolstoy himself congratulated Andreyev for writing such a work. Yet unlike Tolstoy, Andreyev attacks the institution of capital punishment with a portrayal of characters and their inner states, rather than direct arguments. In so doing, he sets up models which resonate on a different level. Tolstoy's response to executions is that of an outsider, arguing for the moral repugnance of such policies. While he involves himself personally by asking to be hanged himself, Tolstoy makes most of his points from the standpoint of a moral teacher. He contests the rationale behind the actions of the state, and strives to exclude himself from the evil acts perpetrated on his behalf. Andreyev, on the other hand, takes the reader inside the process of execution itself. He uses the horror of impending death as his argument against capital punishment, as reflected in the seven characters he develops. One result of this technique, however, is the articulation of divergent perspectives on fundamental questions. Reading these differing responses as allegories for Russian social development provides further insight into the potential social visions in this period.


    By 1907, Maxim Gorky was living on the island of Capri in Italy, the result of a self-imposed exile. His uncompromising radical stance, and his assistance to revolutionary groups, had made life in Russia too dangerous for him, and he was not to return permanently until 1931. He traveled to several other countries to raise money for his revolutionary causes, including a celebrated (and not entirely successful) trip to the United States during 1907. Yet Gorky remained one of the most popular writers in Russia, and a symbol of the socialist movement. Despite the efforts of the censors, his works were widely distributed, both among the intellectual community and the working class. And his influence extended beyond his works. Prior to his exile, Gorky had been an important figure in Russian intelligentsia circles, maintaining contacts with other writers as well as leaders of the radical movement. Contemporary and later critics have argued over the artistic merits of Gorky's work, but there can be no doubt that he was an extremely significant literary and public figure in the period following the Revolution of 1905.

    Gorky made his reputation in the last decade of the nineteenth century as a teller of "down-and-out" tales, describing the dregs of society in works such as "Twenty Six Men and a Girl," "Chelkash," and the celebrated play, "The Lower Depths." In the space of a few years he went from a provincial journalist to the literary sensation of all of Russia. Yet when Gorky wrote about the travails of the lower classes, he spoke from experience. He himself had worked in a series of menial jobs earlier in life, ranging from bootmaker's assistant to pantry boy on a steamship to law clerk, which served as the models for several of his stories. Born as Alexei Maximovich Peshkov into a petit bourgeois family in the town of Nizhni Novgorod,[125] he had been forced to earn his own living early in life by a stern grandfather. His first story was published while he was working at a railway depot; only a few years later he would become "next to Tolstoy, the figure in Russia that aroused the greatest public interest."[126] Gorky's stories found a great resonance in Russian society. According to Johannes Holsthussen, "[a]t a time that longed for contact with unvarnished reality, Gorky, the spokesman for the lawless and the outlawed, the bosyaks[127] and rogues at odds with society, the honorable thieves and harlots, definitely received much attention."[128]

    After he had achieved fame and success, Gorky became associated with the Social Democrats, and a leading supporter of the radical cause. He contributed to Marxist journals, and many of his works were seen as advocating a socialist revolution. For example, the poem, "The Song of the Petrel," for which the Marxist review Zhizn was suppressed by the censors, was read as "a very transparent allegory for the coming revolutionary storm."[129] Gorky also provided a great deal of financial support to the movement, drawing on his substantial literary income. In addition to his association with the Bolsheviks, Gorky was led increasingly to an anti-intellectual position. In 1905 he published an article entitled, "Notes on the Bourgeois Mentality," which castigated the entire intelligentsia as victims of meshchanstvo, the bourgeois mentality, by the circumstances of their social origins. "[I]ncensed at the ineffectuality of the intelligentsia during 1905," Gorky denied Russian intellectuals "any identity separate from the exploiting classes, and classified the greatest philosophers and artists as merely the articulators and rationalisers of the prejudices of these classes."[130] These positions brought Gorky a great deal of controversy, and contributed to his perspective on the future of Russia. Since Gorky was not afraid of using literature to illustrate social or political arguments, his views were often deliberately reflected in his works.

    Mother, first published in 1906, was clearly written with such propagandistic goals in mind. It was first released in English translation, while Gorky was visiting the United States, at a time when his stature as a writer was beginning to decline. As Jeffrey Brooks explains "though Gorky remained a glamorous figure, the commercial success of his works among the educated audience was short-lived, and after the Revolution of 1905 his books appeared only in small editions."[131] Mother was eventually revised repeatedly to compensate for censorship or perceived artistic flaws, so that its initial impact "was undoubtedly far greater abroad than in Russia."[132] Nonetheless, Mother was destined to become a central model for the "proletarian literature" espoused by the Bolsheviks. While it may be extreme to call the novel "the Uncle Tom's Cabin of the twentieth century,"[133] as does one biography of Gorky, there can be no doubt that Mother had widespread influence as a propagandistic work. Like "I Cannot Be Silent" and "The Seven Who Were Hanged" it was conceived as a response to the actions of the government; but Gorky's canvas was much broader. The different genres of the three texts precludes any generalized comparison, and Gorky's work focused on the revolutionary movement rather than a specific policy such as Stolypin's use of capital punishment. Regardless, Mother can also be read to imply a model for social development.

    Mother was based on actual events: a demonstration by factory workers near Nizhni Novgorod in 1902. Gorky had met with Pyotr Zalomov, the leader of the demonstration, and reportedly edited the defiant speech which Zalomov delivered at his trial.[134] However, Gorky's account is fictionalized, and his narrative focuses on the characters and their evolving social consciousness rather than the details of events. The "mother" is Pelageya Nilovna, widow of a boorish factory worker, and the action in the novel is generally seen through her eyes. Her son, Pavel Vlassov, is the leader of a Social Democratic circle among the workers. The first part of the book describes the mother's increasing affinity with the ideology of her son and the radical group which gathers at their house. Initially, she is fearful, as when one of Pavel's friends first declares,

    "We are socialists."

    When the mother heard this, she stared at the girl in silent awe. Pelageya had heard that socialists had killed the tsar. That had been in the days of her youth.... Now Pelageya was at a loss to understand why her son and his friends called themselves socialists.

    When everyone had gone home, she went up to Pavel.

    "Are you a socialist, Pasha?" she asked.

    "Yes," he said, standing before her, as strong and straight as ever. "Why?"

    His mother gave a deep sigh and dropped her eyes.

    "Really, Pavel? But they are against the Tsar. They even killed one tsar."

    Pavel crossed the room, rubbing his cheek with his hand.

    "We don't need to do things like that," he said with a short laugh.

    Then he spoke to her for a long time in a grave and quiet voice. As she looked into his face she thought:

    "He'll never do anything wrong. He couldn't!"[135]

    Through a series of such turning points, Nilovna's love for her son and the force of his ideas convinces her to support the revolutionary cause. The second part of the book takes place after Pavel is arrested for leading a May Day demonstration, and the mother goes to live with a fellow revolutionary. She volunteers to smuggle radical booklets into the factory and to peasants in the countryside, becoming a full-fledged member of the radical group. In the end, Pavel is tried and sentenced to exile in Siberia for his actions. The novel closes with Nilovna being beaten to death by police while attempting to smuggle copies of her son's defense speech.

    Gorky himself stated that he wrote Mother "for agitational purposes,"[136] and the idealized portrayal of Pavel and his fellow workers reflects Gorky's propagandistic aims. Lenin complimented Gorky for writing "a very timely book,"[137] which he felt would improve the social consciousness of workers. Although Mother was largely ignored or denigrated by the intelligentsia at the time it was written,[138] it would later become a model for literature in the Soviet period. Specifically, the novel served as an important transition between earlier forms and the Soviet genre of Socialist Realism. As Katerina Clark explains in her study of the Soviet novel,

    Most Soviet historians describe Mother as the novel that spawned the numberless Socialist Realist progeny. This metaphor, though appropriate to the book's title, does not take into account Mother's relationship to earlier revolutionary fiction. I prefer to use another, borrowed from Pushkin, who once described translators as the "post-horses of civilization." Mother was that post, or station, where Bolsheviks coming out of the old intelligentsia tradition were able to stop and take on fresh horses to bear them on into Socialist Realism itself. Mother provided a system for translating the clichés of tsarist radicals into the determining formulas of Bolshevism.[139]

    In the years following the Bolshevik revolution, literature was subjected to state control and forced to follow certain conventions. Socialist Realism, which incorporated elements of traditional Russian culture as well as Bolshevik doctrine, became the only acceptable style for literature. Mother utilized and systematized many of these elements, and from a pre-revolutionary perspective served as a model for both literary and social development.

    The first of these techniques was an extreme depersonalization of the characters in the novel. By using sparse descriptive details, with formulaic characteristics to represent traits important to the revolutionary worldview, Gorky shifted the focus from extraordinary individuals to broader social forces. According to Clark, "the revolutionaries' portraits are so depersonalized that they are reduced almost completely to functions of their roles, which are themselves ideologically determined."[140] While this depersonalization served a literary purpose, it also explicated and reinforced an important political message of the revolutionaries. Pavel Vlassov and his comrades also sought to de-emphasize the individual, in order to focus attention on the common problems of the working class. As Pavel's friend Andrei exclaims at one point,

    All workingmen are our comrades; all rich men, all governments, are out enemies. When you cast your eye over the earth and see how many of us workers there are, and how strong we are, then there is no end to your joy and the holiday in your heart! The Frenchman and the German feels just the same when he looks at things... and so does the Italian. We are all children of one mother, all fired with invincible father in the brotherhood of the workingmen of the whole world.[141]

    Gorky's depersonalized descriptions reinforced this universalistic message. Gorky directed attention to social and class-based problems, providing an implied model for a new society based on the community of workers.

    In particular, while Gorky's characters are depersonalized, they symbolically represent a wide spectrum of Russian society. Although the leaders of the revolutionary circle are all young, members of the older generation also play major roles, including Nilovna, the intellectual Nikolai Ivanovich who takes her in after Pavel is arrested, and the old Yegor, who dies during the course of the novel. The revolutionaries are integrated by gender, as women such as Nilovna, the dashing Sophia, and Pavel's friends Tanya and Natasha act on equal footing with the men. Peasants are represented by Rybin and his small band of supporters, and Andrei the Ukrainian provides some representation of non-Russian nationalities. All of these characters are united by their common goal to liberate society from the oppressive bourgeoisie, and while their differences are not ignored, they are subsumed in the larger revolutionary cause.

    While the Marxists emphasized the fundamental nature of class conflict. divisions along different lines, especially rural-urban and ethnic divisions, were quite evident in Russia at this time. Simply winning the support of the Pavel Vlassovs of the world would not be sufficient to achieve revolutionary change, as a large part of society, like Nilovna, remained moored to traditional values. In some sense, therefore, Gorky's generalized use of a representative sampling of Russian society can be read as a prescription for building a successful revolutionary movement. As Andrei puts it, "we must build a bridge across the body of this beastly life to the future kingdom of human brotherhood. That's the task facing us, comrades!"[142] Along these lines, while Pavel is the idealized revolutionary hero, the focal point of the novel is not him, but rather his mother and her acceptance of the revolutionary cause. Gorky, the chronicler of the downtrodden in all walks of life, directs his attention to the redemption of the miserable Pelageya Nilovna. This emphasis can be viewed as a rejection of both the Tsarist concept of autocracy and social hierarchy, and the Bolshevik theory of a revolutionary vanguard. While Gorky supported the Bolsheviks, his focus on Nilovna instead of Pavel as his central character emphasizes not the most outstanding of the revolutionaries, but the lowest of the low. While it would be inaccurate to associate such a model with the Western concept of egalitarianism, the organization of Gorky's revolutionaries does have unique implications for building a new society.

    The descriptive models in Mother were not limited to a depersonalized social structure. As Clark points out, the techniques used in the novel (and in later Socialist Realist works) paralleled those used in old Russian texts. Gorky's characterization of Pavel typifies the "positive hero," which would become a staple of Soviet fiction, and which traces its origins to medieval Russian saints and princes. Clark explains that,

    asceticism and the revolutionary's lust for martyrdom are in fact reminiscent of medieval saintly conventions, but medieval texts did not distinguish absolutely between civic and religious virtue.... Thus the revolutionary hero and Pavel could best be compared with a saintlike version of the medieval prince.[143]

    In this way, Gorky makes his radical revolutionaries more palatable to tradition-bound Russians such as Nilovna, and draws religious imagery into the secular Bolshevik ideology. Like Tolstoy, Gorky's characters in Mother distinguish between the official religion of the Church and the "true" God. Whereas Tolstoy points out the incompatibility of Christianity and capital punishment, Pavel Vlassov condemns the God "the priests threaten us with, as if he were a club; the one in whose name they try to make all people bow down to the evil will of the few."[144] At the same time, just as Tolstoy makes "the spiritual condition of the people" a building block for social development, Gorky's use of religious epithets as well as a devout heroine in Nilovna can be read as an acceptance of the role of religion in a new society. While Pavel rejects organized religion, he accepts "the kind and merciful God" his mother believes in, and the religious fervor he brings to the revolutionary cause fuses traditional and Marxist attitudes.

    At the time he wrote, Mother, Gorky was a believer in the idea of bogostroitelstvo, or "God-building." This philosophy, condemned by Lenin as a heresy, was derived in part from Nietzsche's ideas, as they were interpreted by the Russian intelligentsia. In essence, God-building meant that God was to be created by the people, rather than found after searching and reflection.[145] Gorky came to espouse such views in the early years of the twentieth century, and to identify Bolshevism as a direct path to constructing God. As Clark explains, this viewpoint was evident in Mother.

    Mother's heroes seem to share Gorky's views, for when Pavel and a revolutionary friend explain their new beliefs to Pavel's mother, they say, "We have changed our god," for in truth man is like god. And throughout the novel Gorky has used his ingenuity to provide secular substitutes for most of the major symbols and institutions of Christianity.[146]

    While Gorky, in good Marxist fashion, identifies the central problems of the workers in purely material terms, he defines a new society based partly on spiritual values. Pavel and his comrades are not only liberating themselves from oppression; they are creating a replacement for Orthodox Christianity and for the very concept of God.

    A final element of the "positive hero" model in Mother involves the nature of authority figures. As Clark explains, by drawing on medieval archetypes, Pavel epitomizes traditional Russian characteristics of a leader.

    The epithets used in characterizing medieval stereotypes probably cast their semantic shadows over Pavel's portrait, enhancing his role as a quasi-religious figure who stands firm in the faith. This possibility is particularly present in that characteristic dichotomy in Pavel's portrait, the stern/loving opposition. This dichotomy corresponds to the old dual image of the prince (and later the tsar) as a figure both stern (or statesmanlike) and loving (or paternal), which is now virtually a commonplace in Western conceptions of traditional Russian popular attitudes to their heads of state.[147]

    Pavel thus serves as a model for a Russian leader. His stern and loving tendencies associate him with the traditional conception of the Tsar, but his selfless devotion to the revolutionary cause distinguishes him from the hated authority figures of the Russian state. As a depersonalized "positive hero," he serves as a model of both traditional conceptions of authority figures and the "new man" the Bolsheviks sought to create.

    The circle of workers and peasants which coalesces around Pavel is both ideologically sophisticated and practical in its closeness to the reality of working class life. They can be seen as a reasonably complete blueprint for what Gorky would like Russian society to become. In these terms, Gorky's future society is dominated by workers and peasants; he paints a picture of a society dominated by the proletariat rather than the exploiting bourgeoisie classes. Not only are his heroes, such as Pavel Vlassov, Pelagea Nilovna, Andrei Nakhodka and Rybin, members of the lower classes, but the novel is practically empty of any representatives of the bourgeoisie or landowning class. The director of the factory where Vlassov and the others work puts in a brief, anonymous appearance during a protest, but Gorky makes no effort whatsoever to develop him as a character, even as a villain. Beyond this, individual gendermes and police officers appear throughout the narrative, but are never named or involved in the story. While Gorky advocates equality within the community of revolutionaries, he excludes the upper classes from any consideration in developing an implied social model.

    Despite Gorky's attacks on intellectuals, there is a strong undercurrent of the importance of education in Mother. The revolutionary heroes, while not wealthy, are for the most part well-educated in revolutionary and other literature, and Pavel himself constantly reads books on all sorts of topics. In fact, this reading leads to his first confrontation with his mother over his revolutionary activity. When queried, Pavel explains to her,

    "I am reading forbidden books. The are forbidden because they tell the truth about us workingmen. They are printed on the sly, in secret, and if they find me with them they'll put me in jail--in jail because I want to know the truth, do you understand?"...

    "Why do you do that, Pasha?" she asked.

    He raised his head and looked at her.

    "Because I want to know the truth," he answered calmly and quietly.[148]

    One of the important steps in Nilovna's conversion to the revolutionary cause is her learning to read. And this emphasis on education extends to most of the positive characters in the novel. The discussions among the revolutionary cell which meets at the Vlassov household are quite erudite at times, and they focus their activity on bringing revolutionary pamphlets into the factory. Even Rybin, a quintessential peasant, who abandons his activities in the factory town to spread revolutionary consciousness to the villages, does so by means of books and other written materials. Pavel, summarizing the attitude of his comrades, exclaims, "[w]e must prove to our enemies that the life of drudgery they have saddled us with doesn't keep us from being their intellectual equals and even superiors!"[149]

    Gorky realized that a true understanding of socialist ideology required more than eloquent speeches, and that leaders of the new movement, even from impoverished backgrounds, would need to be familiar with ideological tracts and the works of others who had come before them. In the historical context he was describing, Gorky's assumption of near-universal literacy among workers and peasants is not entirely accurate. But in the period after 1905, great advances in national literacy combined with intense interest in the events of the day allowed people at all levels of society to become aware of the platforms of the opposition parties. After all, Mother itself, serialized in 30,000 copies,[150] was intended to enlighten and educate the workers. It was thus fully consistent for Gorky to include literature and literacy as elements of his idealized revolutionaries.

    Even though Mother has been criticized for lacking artistic merit,[151] it was a highly important work in the development of socialist literature. The contours of Gorky's implied social model became all the more important when the Bolsheviks, whom he supported, gained control of the country in October, 1917. While not all of Gorky's views paralleled those of Lenin and Stalin, many of his basic ideas for the structure of society were implemented. After his return to Russia, Gorky became the revered leader of Soviet literature, and texts such as Mother influenced the development of Socialist Realism, which was to be the official model of Soviet fiction for decades. Even though Gorky himself complained that he wrote the novel, "with no sources, off the cuff, with the result that it turned out badly,"[152] Mother did provide well-actualized models for both literature and social organization.


    This is not the place to review recent events in Russia [after the Revolution of 1905]. In literature they seem to have produced complete confusion.... In this bursting out of elements which had been repressed it is impossible to see any permanent tendency--we must wait awhile for the mixture to ferment and then to clear; not till then will Russian Literature give us successors to its glorious names.[153]

    This passage, written in 1908, indicates the mood prevalent in Russian literature during the early years of the twentieth century. It remains unclear whether this period produced writers worthy of the "glorious names" of the nineteenth century, although Gorky, Andreyev and the later Tolstoy did create highly successful and influential works. All of them responded to the turbulent events following the Revolution of 1905, but they approached similar problems from divergent perspectives. "I Cannot Be Silent," "The Seven Who Were Hanged," and Mother reflect these differences, but they can also be seen in a similar context. All three contained the seeds of alternative visions for Russian society, which were implied within narratives which focused on specific events and policies. Though each author approached the problem of how to organize Russia from a unique direction, all of them concurred that some fundamental restructuring was necessary.

    While this period in Russia saw the proliferation of ideas of "art for art's sake" and individual aesthetic freedom, literature also maintained a place among the forces struggling for influence on both the leaders and the masses of Russian society. Of course, political pamphlets as well as the debate among the leaders of the Duma represented the most visible advocacy of different social platforms. But the social models which can be read in "I Cannot Be Silent," "The Seven Who Were Hanged," and Mother made unique contributions to the political discourse of the time. Tolstoy and Andreyev responded specifically to Stolypin's widespread executions, but their arguments were enhanced by the underlying social and ethical principles which guided their analysis. While Gorky did not direct his attention to a specific policy, his narrative was also colored by an implicit social structure manifested in the circle of revolutionary workers. All three writers operated under the realist conception that literature could promote a truer understanding of the world. At the same time, all of them utilized symbolic or mythic projections, brought to prominence by the modernists, to augment the depth of their presentations. This combination of factors produced a unique set of social models which can be culled from the three texts.

    Despite the differences between these works, several interesting parallels can be discerned in their implied social visions. All three authors emphasized the obligations on the individual to respond to social needs, though they approached this problem from different directions. Tolstoy advocated absolute personal responsibility for immoral acts done on behalf of society, and consequently his prescriptive social model began with individual actions to build a moral life. Andreyev also focused on the individual, this time in response to the surety of impending death, but his canonization of the convicted terrorists, especially Tanya, belies support for their attempts to challenge and overwhelm the state. Andreyev's focus on the ability of Werner to conquer death through his own will and intellect reinforces this emphasis on the power and responsibility of the individual to overcome challenges. Gorky, through his sympathetic portrayal of Pavel and his comrades, lends his support to revolutionary action in the form of strikes and demonstrations. In addition, his use of Nilovna as the novel's protagonist implies that all people, no matter how humble, are responsible for confronting the evil of the Tsarist regime.

    The three works all employed religious or spiritual motifs to support their arguments. Tolstoy built his opposition to capital punishment on Christian principles of absolute love: he sought to demonstrate the fundamental incompatibility of Stolypin's repressive policies with the religious foundations of the Russian state. In contrast, Andreyev did not explicitly use Christian morality as a paradigm for attacking the government's policies. But he repeatedly employed religious projections, ranging from the saintliness of Tanya to the symbolic re-enactment of the Crucifixion, to strengthen his argument. Furthermore, he offers Werner as his most fully-realized and successful character, based on his ability to apply spiritual paradigms to the secular aspects of his experience. Gorky's vision, corresponding to the scientific agnosticism of the Bolsheviks, was least influenced by religion, but his division of the "true" God from the state-dominated Church reflects ideas similar to Tolstoy's. Nilovna does not abandon her religion; she sees instead the holiness in the actions of her son and his compatriots. Gorky's belief in "God-building" added a final level of religious significance to his vision: the workers in his novel were struggling not only to overthrow the government but to actually create God. While Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky all reject the Orthodox Church and the spiritual authority of the Tsar, they maintain significant religious and spiritual elements in their visions.

    In addition to these thematic parallels, the three works demonstrated the scope of rhetorical possibility available in Russian literature in this period. Thanks in part to the long tradition of Russian artists addressing social issues, writers such as Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky could utilize their literary talents for cognitive and didactic purposes, without compromising the integrity of their texts. Despite the heightened political awareness of Russian society after the Revolution of 1905, institutions such as the Duma could not match the sophistication of these literary artists. As Mirsky explains, "there is little to be said of the Duma orators from the literary point of view.... [A]ccording to many who attended the Duma sittings, the best orator there was not a member, but the Prime Minister, P.A. Stolypin."[154] In a turbulent environment which cried out for strong leaders, the traditions of political advocacy were simply not well enough advanced in Russia to sustain a Western-style constitutional monarchy.[155] But while Stolypin outshone the leaders of the Duma, his government could not overwhelm the writers who directly or implicitly attacked his policies.

    Furthermore, politicians of this time were ill-equipped to deal with the broad social conflicts facing the country. Due to the wild circumstances of the Revolution of 1905, the creation of the Duma gave rise to excessively high expectations among many political figures. With no tradition of parliamentary government to draw from, the members of the Duma made grandiose, idealistic proposals with little chance of successful implementation. A good example was their treatment of capital punishment: the first Duma passed to outlaw the death penalty, with full knowledge that it would never be accepted by the Tsar. Healy summarizes the situation:

    Like so many proposals introduced into the First Duma, the statute outlawing capital punishment was a ringing declaration of principle, announced largely for public consumption, rather than a serious piece of legislation. Before it could become law it had to be approved by the State Council and signed by the Tsar. His administration's position on the issue was a matter of public record, and the Duma leaders knew full well that the likelihood of obtaining his signature was very remote.[156]

    The Duma, which had some power to put its policies into effect, could only muster such empty symbolic challenges to the Tsarist regime. Forced to address a host of specific, technical questions, they were unable to address the broad underlying questions which confronted Russian society. After failing to win approval of statutes such as the abolition of capital punishment, the Duma essentially ceded control of the scope of discussion to Stolypin. The Duma became essentially a reactive body, responding to the legislative proposals of the government, rather than a constructive force initiating real proposals for substantial change.

    In contrast, writers such as Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky had the freedom to explore not only specific policies such as the military field-courts, but also the outlines for a new and superior social order. Free of the responsibility to solve specific political problems, and able to draw on a developed rhetorical tradition, these writers succeeded where the Duma had failed. Unfortunately, neither Duma nor literature could develop a unified programme to resolve the social tensions which led to the Russian Revolution. The literary form did not provide the same direct influence on governmental structures which the Duma afforded--while writers could propound visions for society, they could not themselves implement them. Moreover, the social models presented in "I Cannot Be Silent," "The Seven Who Were Hanged," and Mother were imbedded in polemical or fictional works, diffusing their prescriptive impact. Literature, without the structured political framework of the Duma, lent itself to conflicting interpretations and social models. Different writers espoused different principles, and no coherent vision for Russian society achieved the requisite support to be successfully put into effect.

    The massive social unrest galvanized in the Revolution of 1905 confirmed to all the extent of the grave problems facing Russian society. The range of solutions proposed ranged from reactionary to radical, from military dictatorship to socialist revolution. Political figures, whether in the Tsarist government or in opposition to it, were constrained by the necessity of dealing with immediate problems such as the agrarian question and the structure of the new constitution and parliamentary bodies. Further, the remaining censorship and threat of arrest limited the freedom of most people were to openly advocate truly radical ideas. While these limitations applied to literary figures as well, they did not have the quite the same effect. Tolstoy, for example, was protected by his immense reputation and could openly say what many others could only whisper about. Andreyev's use of mystical images and fictionalized descriptions allowed him to include subtle political or social messages in seemingly "harmless" works. And Gorky, though forced into exile, walked the line between propagandist and author with great success.

    The question of whether alternative outcomes were possible for Russia after the Revolution of 1905 rests on several key points. First, were there viable alternatives articulated? Secondly, did those alternatives have sufficient visibility and support in society for them to be considered? Examining the possibilities for alternative historical outcomes can become an exercise in empty hypotheticals. Non-realized prescriptive views, especially when hidden and scattered within works of literature, must be grounded in specific potentialities in order to be useful tools for understanding history and its implications for similar situations in the present. The issue of whether the implied social models articulated by Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky were truly viable lies beyond the scope of this study. Clearly, however, their visions were supported by spiritual and philosophical constructions and informed by the political events of the day.

    As with any historical event, we can never explain with certainty why Russia failed to resolve its conflicts in the early years of this century and eventually was swept into the radical transformation to Bolshevism. In hindsight, it is easy to assume that the actual outcome was the only one possible, or that the sole alternative was the development of the Duma into a strong parliament modeled on Western Europe. While political proposals must be considered in determining the scope of developmental possibilities for Russia following the Revolution of 1905, it is instructive to consider alternative models such as those alluded to through literature. "I Cannot Be Silent," "The Seven Who Were Hanged," and Mother were important works and had significant effects on contemporary and later readers. While none of them were designed solely as prescriptive treatises, the motifs and concepts which they and similar works contained undoubtedly had some effect in shaping the cognitive framework of Russian society.

    As Russia once again confronts tremendous social turbulence, the lessons of the early part of this century are particularly informative. Literature has continued to play a social function in Soviet period, through the official genre of socialist realism and dissident literature both within Russia and abroad. As before, the outcome to the current conflicts in the Soviet Union seems highly uncertain: it is impossible to say confidently whether extreme reaction or radical liberalization will result from this era of Glasnost and Perestroika. Yet in an era when an absurdist playwright can become the President of a newly-democratized Eastern European nation, we cannot afford to overlook the value of literature in influencing perceptual patterns and official policies. Some day the current situation in the Soviet Union may be viewed as the muddled prelude to some inevitable outcome. But as with the period following the Revolution of 1905 demonstrates, we must always be cognizant that theoretical alternatives existed. Tolstoy, Andreyev and Gorky all responded to perceived injustices in their society, and yet their works can be interpreted as prescriptive rather than purely reactive. In their time, as in our own, such implicit prescriptions provide an instructive model for evaluating and understanding historical events.


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