On the Music of the Gross

Maksim Gorky, On the Music of the Degenerate. April 18, 1928


Original Source: Pravda, 18 April 1928, p. 2.

Night. Yet night is hardly the word for this marvelous sky of Southern Italy, for this air, transfused with a bluish luminance and the fragrant warmth of a kindly soil. The light seems to emanate, not from the sun reflected by the gold of the moon, but from this indefatigably fertile soil, industriously and skillfully tilled by the hand of man. Light streams silently from the silver-chased leaves of the olive trees, and from the stone walls on the hill slopes. These walls are there to prevent landslides; they shape the hillsides into flat terraces, on which grain, beans, potatoes and cabbages are grown, and vineyards and orange and lemon groves have been laid out. How much persistent and intelligent labor has been expended here! The orange and yellow fruits also gleam through the transparent silvery haze, lending the earth a strange resemblance to the star-blossomed sky. One might think that the earth had been lovingly decorated by its cultivators for a great holiday, that having spent this night in rest, they will tomorrow rise with the sun to “rejoice and be glad.

The silence is absolute. So motionless is everything on earth that it seems to have been engraved on it by the hand of a superb artist, or cast in bronze and bluish silver. The perfection of calm and beauty sets one jubilantly thinking of the inexhaustible power of labor, the creator of all the marvels of our world; it inspires one with confidence that in time this invincible power will compel the soil of the Far North, too, to work for man twelve months in the year, will tame it, as animals are tamed. One thinks joyfully and-“permit me the word,” as the French say-prayerfully of man, the great wonderworker, of the splendid future he is preparing for his children.

In one’s memory rise the figures and faces of men of science: … one recalls what D. N. Prianishnikov said of the potassium deposits in the upper reaches of the Kama; before one’s eyes rise those whom one has oneself seen: that great man, I. P. Pavlov; Rutherford in his laboratory in Montreal, in 1906; one after another rise scores of Russian science-makers, and one recalls their books. And there unfolds a picture of the amazing fertility, the ever-increasing activity of the scientific workers of the world. We are living in an era when the gap between the wildest fantasies and absolutely practical realities is diminishing with incredible speed.

Not so long ago one of our regional natural historians, Comrade Andrei Bakharev, of Kozlov, reminded me in a letter of two miracle workers-Luther Burbank, the American self-taught horticulturist, and our genius, Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin. I will take the liberty of publishing a part of Comrade Bakharev’s letter, and hope lie will not be annoyed with me for doing so.

“Luther Burbank, as we know, discovered a number of secrets of interspecific hybridization of fruit plants, thanks to which he produced varieties of plants which, for their fecundity, adaptability, flavor, and immunity to pest and disease, are not only amazing but simply prodigious, thereby enriching the whole continent of North America. One need only recall his edible ‘cactuses’ which have lost their prickles, and the nuts whose stony shell Burbank has transformed into au envelope as thin as a leaf, to get an idea of the caliber of this horticultural giant.

“Here, in the USSR, near the town of Kozlov, Tambov Province, where the soil is ancient alluvium and overgrown with wild willow, poplar and maple, you will find the tiny but even more amazing nursery of Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin, hybridizer and plant originator.

“Luther Burbank produced for the beneficent climate of subtropical California; Michurin for the stern climate of the central belt of Russia.

“Luther Burbank created many varieties of fruit plants whose products go to satisfy the demand of the rich. Michurin has created over one hundred varieties of fruits, among them pears that do not ripen until Christmastide (in boxes, in cellars) and that keep under the most primitive conditions until April.

“In Michurin’s orchard in the stern Tambov Province, apricot, grape (four varieties), almond, walnut, mulberry, Damask rose, quince, rice, hemp, etc., etc., grow and bear profusely. And all this for the benefit of the working folk, for our rural population, for the peasant horticulturist, whose experience is small and whose knowledge limited.

“Luther Burbank tenderly nursed his fosterlings, Michurin trained his in spartan conditions, in order that his varieties might be. thrown into any environment and yet produce the needed economic effect.

“Luther Burbank was a poor man when lie began his work, but from the time lie became Lin innovator lie enjoyed all the bounties of American culture. Michurin (bear in mind the deplorable conditions of old Russia) lived in poverty bordering on penury. Yet, in his long life, full of struggle and disquietude, failures and disappointments, defeats and victories, Michurin has created that which may enrich not only the central belt of’ Russia, but the temperate zone of the whole world. In other words, Michurin is transplanting the South to the North.

“Luther Burbank and Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin are the opposite poles of’ horticulture, but they have much in common.

“Both began their work in early youth, both were poor, both were great thinkers, artists and inventors. Both have made magnificent discoveries in the realm of plant breeding.

“To Michurin, in particular, belongs the preeminent discovery of methods of’ horticulture, with the hell) of which it is very probable that in the near future man will be able to create not only new varieties, but even new species of fruit plants which will more fully answer to his life requirements, and which will be better adapted to the unavoidable vagaries of climate.

“Michurin is an honorary member of the Naturalists’ Association of the Scientific Board of the People’s Commissariat of Education, etc., etc.

“Michurin is now an old man. He is 72, but lie is still creating, he still continues to tear veil after veil from the secrets of the plant world.”

The silence of this night, which helps the mind to rest from the manifold, albeit petty vexations of the working day, seems to whisper to the heart the solemn music of the universal toil of humans, great and small, the splendid song of the new era in history, the song which has been so boldly begun by the laboring folk of my country.

But, suddenly, in the brooding silence of the night, some idiotic hammer begins to beat starkly. One, two, three, ten, twenty strokes-and then there descends, like a lump of mud falling into crystal, translucent water, a savage howling, whistling, roaring, rattl61g, shrieking and grinding; inhuman voices rend the air, resembling the neighing of horses; one’s ear is assaulted by the grunting of brass pigs, the blare of asses, the amorous quacking of gigantic frogs. All this insulting and insane cacophony is subordinated to a scarcely perceptible rhythm and, listening to this pandemonium for a minute or two, one involuntarily begins to imagine that it is the performance of an orchestra of lunatics, driven mad by sex, and conducted by a human stallion wielding an enormous phallus.

This is radio-one of the greatest discoveries of science, one of the secrets it has wrenched from ostensibly mute nature. The radio in the neighboring hotel is entertaining the world of the fat men, the world of the marauders, conveying to them over the air a new foxtrot performed by a Negro orchestra. This is music for the fat men. In all the luxuriant cabarets of the “cultured” countries, fat men and women are lewdly wriggling their thighs to its rhythm, wallowing in obscenity, simulating the procreative act.

From time immemorial, the great poets of’ all nations and all eras devoted their creative powers to the inspired task of ennobling this act, of adorning it in keeping with man’s dignity, so that he might not degrade himself to the level of the goat, the ox and the boar. Hundreds and thousands of magnificent poems have been written in praise of love. Love has been a stimulus to the creative powers of men and women. Love has made man a being immeasurably more social than the most intelligent of animals. The poesy of active, healthy, mundane romanticism in the relation of the sexes has been a factor of immense value in social education.

“Hunger and love make the world go round,” Schiller said. Love is the basis of culture, hunger is the basis of civilization.

But along comes the obese marauder., the parasite who lives on the labor of others, the semi-human whose motto is, “After me, the deluge,” and tramples with his fat feet on all that has been spun from the finest nerve tissue of the great poets, the enlighteners of laboring humanity.

He, the fat man, doesn’t need woman as a friend and companion; to him she is a mere pastime, provided she is not a marauder like himself. Nor does he need woman as a mother, because to him, although he loves power, children are a nuisance. Ay, and even power he needs only, as it were, for foxtrots. And foxtrots have become indispensable to him, for your fat man is a poor male. For him, love is dissipation; it is increasingly becoming a perversion of the imagination rather than the passionate urge of the licentious flesh it once was. In the world of the fat men, homosexual love is spreading epidemically. The “evolution” of the fat men is degeneration.

It is an evolution from the beauty of the minuet and the animated passion of the waltz to the lewdness of the foxtrot and the convulsions of the Charleston, from Mozart and Beethoven to the jazz music of the Negroes, who no doubt laugh up their sleeves as they see their masters, the whites, evolving to that savage state from which the American Negroes have risen and which they are leaving farther and farther behind.

Culture is perishing!-howl the advocates of the power of the fat men over the laboring world. The proletariat is threatening to destroy culture!-they shriek. But they lie, because they cannot help seeing that it is the worldwide herd of fat men that are trampling upon culture, and they cannot help realizing that the proletariat is the only power capable of’ saving culture and of deepening and widening it.

An inhuman bass voice roars English words, one is deafened by a prodigious horn that is reminiscent of the shriek of a maltreated camel, a drum thunders, a pestilential pipe squeals, and one’s ears are refit by the croaking and snuffling of a saxophone. Fat thighs sway, and thousands and tens of thousands of fat feet shuffle and stamp.

At last, the Music of the fat men terminates in a deafening crescendo, in a thunderous clatter, as if’ a case of hardware had tumbled from the sky. And again the blessed silence, and one’s thoughts return to home, from where Vasilii Kucheriavenko, a rural correspondent, writes:

“In our hamlet of Rossoshinsk, with its three hundred households, there was formerly only one school; now there are three. We have a cooperative store, three clubrooms, a clubhouse, reading room and library, Party and Young Communist organizations, a Young Pioneer group, agricultural and rural correspondents’ courses, a wall newspaper. Our villagers order books and subscribe to many newspapers and magazines. In the evening the clubhouse is always full, there you may see hoary graybeards and red-scarved Pioneers. The peasants readily subscribe to the government loan, even young schoolchildren. We had an old lady, 72 years old, who has just died. She used to say: ‘I would join the Young Communists, but, alas, I am too old. Why did it all begin so late!’ Before she died she gave orders to be buried in the soviet way, with banners. This grandma used to walk regularly several versts to the club and reading room and to meetings of the rural soviet. She was like a young girl. Asia, the American magazine, recently told of all this in an article about our village, illustrated by photographs.

This funny old grandma is remarkably significant. Of course, one old peasant woman doesn’t make culture, but I know so many instances of’ such–how shall I say it?–amusing, rejuvenations” of village ancients, and they all point to one thing: the Russian people are growing younger. It is really wonderful to be living and working in our times.

Source: Maxim Gorky, Articles and Pamphlets (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1950), pp. 151-158.

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