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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

And who is most to blame, the Czar? "The one to blame is he who first said: 'This is mine.' That man has now been dead some several thousand years, and it is not worth the while to bear him a grudge," Said the Little Russian, jesting. His eyes, however, had a perturbed expression. "And how about the rich, and those who stand up for them? Are they right?" The Little Russian clapped his hands to his head; then pulled his mustache, then spoke for a long time about life and about the people. But from his talk it always appeared as if all the people were to blame, and this did not satisfy Nicolay . . . He left dissatisfied and gloomy. Once he said: "No, there must be people to blame! I'm sure there are! I tell you, we must plow over the whole of life like a weedy field, showing no mercy!"

In this discussion of responsibility and fault, it appears that no one seems to know quite where to place blame. To resolve this quandary, Nicolay suggests plowing over life “like a weedy field,” which suggests that he wishes to erase all pre-existing structures and start anew. His desires align with a growing milieu, in which Russian factory workers who were inspired by Socialist doctrine and literature grew zealous in their desire to remake society. This desire was exacerbated during the early twentieth century, particularly in the years preceding the Russian Revolution of 1905. Some of these philosophers of the proletariat argue that they must educate those around them about socialism to win them over to their side. Others argue that this will take too long and that they must "plow over" anyone that stands in their way "showing no mercy." The author is showing us the debate on the left between the socialists (who wanted gradual and uncoerced adoption of socialism) and the communists (who wanted the revolutionary and violent imposition of socialism).

"That's what I say, the record clerk [at the local factory] once said about us!" the mother said. For a while the two were silent.

Here, the author uses the namesake of the book to point out how the guardians of the current social order viewed the socialists as a pernicious threat to be combatted at all costs. The factory’s record clerk holds the socialists with the same contempt they have for him. Both sides see the other as standing in the way of the society that they want. A society that upholds private property as sacrosanct must inevitably view socialists as a gang of robbers who have come to loot their property. For socialists, private property itself is the root of evil, and all goods must be shared by the community to achieve a just and fair society. These two views may be philosophically incompatible, but in practice, they often coexist to some degree in mixed government systems around the world.

Yes, he's a bad man. He spies after everybody. Fishes about everywhere for information. He has begun to frequent this street, and peers into our windows.

Gorki is careful to indicate that the socialists view the defenders of the status quo as "bad" for trying to defend the current social order. In their minds, their seditious actions—such as sneaking socialist literature into the factory against the will of the factory owners—are “good,” as they feel that the strength of their private convictions justifies their willingness to override the conventions and laws of a society they see as “unjust.” In their view, they are right and can do no wrong. Thus, they have transformed into righteous outlaws whose actions are both necessary and correct. By establishing this ever-widening rift between Socialists as “good” and Capitalists as “bad,” Gorki creates a black-and-white opposition between the factions, allowing Pavel and his group to see their actions as moral and lawful, even when they are the exact opposite. The political tensions that resulted soon erupted into violence in the failed revolution of 1905 and, eventually, the successful 1917 revolution responsible for toppling the Czar and his government.

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