Perhaps the most prominent monument in Nizhny Novgorod, the monument to Maxim Gorky on Gorky Square is an essential part of your visit to the city. Aside from being a prolific Soviet author, the importance of visiting this monument is all the more so accentuated by the fact that Nizhny Novgorod, up until 1990, had been named Gorky in his honor. The reason for this prestigious bestowment is that Maxim Gorky was the father of Socialist Realism, the literary style devised under Stalin that promoted the socialist ideals of the Soviet Union in a “realistic” manner by discussing the achievements of the common people.
Maxim Gorky was born Aleksei Peshkov in Nizhny Novgorod in 1868. Almost immediately, his life took a turn for the worst, with his father dying of cholera. This forced his mother to return to her parents’ household, where he was subjected to constant beatings at his grandfather’s hand. When he began his literary career, these experiences influenced him to take up the pen name: Maxim, in honor of his father, and Gorky, which means “sour” in Russian, used to represent his assessment of life in Russia at the time. By this time, near the turn of the century, Gorky was actively involved in Marxist organizations in Russia, namely the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which in 1903 would split into two parties, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The former would ultimately come to rule Russian in 1917 after the October Revolution, and it shortly thereafter changed its named to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Gorky supported this party throughout its development. After the Revolution, a brutal civil war swept across Russia as the Bolsheviks struggled to consolidate control from their numerous enemies. The means they used to achieve this end startled Gorky, who himself was not entirely against the use of violence. This inspired him to pen several essays critical of Lenin and his management of governance. Coupled with health concerns, the reaction to these pieces led to his emigration from Russia in the early 1920s. He spent most of the decade abroad, longing to return to his homeland. By the end of the 1920s, Joseph Stalin, still consolidating power, invited Gorky to return to the Soviet Union and enjoy the prestige he felt Gorky deserved. Stalin realized the literary potential of Gorky, whose works could be used to glorify the processes of forced collectivization and industrialization that were facing stiff resistance across the country. Thus, in 1932, Gorky returned to the Soviet Union, and he was given a large estate and witnessed the name change of his home city from Nizhny Novgorod to Gorky.
Gorky published several pieces in support of several Soviet policies, such as the use of the gulag camp system and forced collectivization. When Stalin decreed that writers should strive to champion the cause of socialism in their writings, Gorky followed suit, arguing that it was necessary for writes to write romantic pieces infused with socialist concepts. Thus, Socialist Realism was born. Gorky was at the height of his prestige. Nevertheless, Stalin remained wary of giving Gorky free rein, given his earlier critical pieces. Eventually, as Stalin unleashed his repressive policies in the early 1930s, Gorky was placed under house arrest. Here spent the last years of his life, witnessing the death of his son in 1934. He eventually died in 1936 under suspicious circumstances. In some of the show trials that followed, several prominent Soviet figures were implicated in his death, though the legitimacy of these charges is questionable, given the common practice of the fabrication of charges during these trials.
Stalin felt that his most celebrated author deserved more honor, and thus in 1939 a contest was announced for the creation of a monument to Maxim Gorky. Vera Mukhina, who had designed the world renowned Peasant and Kholkhoz Woman statue in 1937, was commissioned as a result of this contest. The monument would not be constructed until 1952, as World War II interrupted any plans for its creation. The monument is the impressive centerpiece of the aptly named Gorky Square. It portrays the author as walking against the wind, with his hair and coat billowing behind him. The square itself is conveniently situated just before the city’s main pedestrian street, Pokrovskaya. As mentioned in the previous post about the Minin and Pozharsky monument, this street is known for its many restaurants, shops, and street vendors. The latest metro station added to the Nizhny Novgorod Metro, Gorky Station, which was just opened in late 2012, makes the surrounding area a travel hub connecting to other parts of the city. A visit to this square and its monument is essential to help the visitor understand the history that influenced the development of Nizhny Novgorod in the 20th century.