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Maxim Gorky: The true motives of war

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Russian writers on war

Maxim Gorky: Selections on war

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Maxim Gorky
From The Specter (1938)
Volume four of The Life of Klim Samgin
Translated by Alexander Bakshy

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“We simple folk don’t always understand government policy. What does it mean? The war increases expenditures, but the income has been cut. And of course, as you know,  without vodka the work is not the same. Formerly, when the men got tired, you had only to promise them a bucket full of vodka and they came alive again. So why this economy? When we win the war, we’ll get compensation  for our losses anyway. But let’s finish up the Germans quickly. One blow, one more, and then demand: Pay damages, or we’ll strike again.”

Samgin reminded him of the disaster suffered by the Samsonov army.

“Y-yes – we missed that time. But that’s all right. We have more than enough men.” He paused and winked at Samgin. “We must not be in too much of a rush, either. War has its points. That’s the way things are – harm on one side, benefit on the other.”

“In what consists the benefit?” Samgin asked.

“Well, it’s hard to put into words. But how can you help saying this? We have too many people and the land is scarce. There isn’t enough acreage to feed everybody. The peasants will not go voluntarily to Siberia. To force them to emigrate there is beyond the government’s – courage, shall we say? – pardon me. I speak as I think.”

“Certainly,” said Samgin, with animation, encouragingly. “The more sincerity, the better.”

“Besides, we are alone here,” Frolenkov continued, smiling broadly. “What we say goes no further. Is that right?”

“Of course,” agreed Samgin, thinking: “A very clever man.”

***

“So we are at war? Nightmare! In 1912, the minister Vannovsky stated that our army was in very poor condition – clothing bad and insufficient, rifles outdated, a paucity of guns, and no machine-guns at all. The soldiers’ food was supplied by contractors and was not much good; there was no money for better. Appropriations were delayed, the regiments were in debt. And with all that, we got dragged into the scrap to defend France from being routed by the Germans for the second time.”

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  1. Anne von Essen
    October 29, 2013 at 6:07 am

    In 1912, the minister Vannovsky stated that our army was in very poor condition….
    The minister Vannovsky died 1904…

    • richardrozoff
      October 29, 2013 at 1:10 pm

      You’re correct. The Russian war minister in question died in 1904.
      The fourth (and final) volume of Klim Samgin was published posthumously, but an editor should have caught this error.

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