February 3 2021
The 1930s in Soviet Russia were a time of major infrastructure works. The USSR, backward under centuries of tsarist rule, then ruined by civil war, the failure of the New Economic Policy and the ensuing famines, engages, under the yoke of Joseph Stalin, the not very benevolent "Father of Nations", in fantastic and gigantic infrastructure works. This was the time of the forced industrialisation of the USSR, during which the dictator wanted to make up, at all costs, for the economic backwardness between the old Tsarist agricultural Russia and the Western economies.
In order to make up for this backwardness and develop the country, the Father of Nations, who was very busy liquidating all the social classes that represented, or had represented, or even could represent a political risk for him in the future, had a brilliant idea: Forced labour, to carry out the infrastructure work sorely lacking in the young USSR, and then exterminate, through deprivation that can go as far as famine, the troublesome populations.
This is how the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union decided to build large canals.
The Krasny Bogatyr, 68 m long and 13 m wide, was an exceptional yacht in its time, 1934. The ship was renamed "Maxim Gorky", Lenin's famous companion and a prominent member of the nomenklatura, after the writer's death in 1936. Powered by two 1,100 HP diesel generators, the same as those installed on the "Decembrist" class submarines, the flagship of the Soviet fleet at the time, it reached a record speed of 20 knots. At this speed, the dictator could soon criss-cross the USSR via its nascent network of canals, to spur the revolutionary ardour of his comrades.
The best craftsmen (or at least those who escaped liquidation because this social class was considered kulak -NDR. : petty bourgeoisie-) were attached to the building site. The cabinetmakers used no less than 17 species of precious wood. The cabins had a bathroom with hot water, and the one intended for the dictator had deliberately no windows. Grim but sure, Stalin feared numerous revenge attacks. All the furniture and fittings (coffered ceilings, stairs, parquet flooring) were made in a Stalinist Imperial style, a mixture of Art Deco and Classicism.
Throughout the USSR, vast levelling and canal-drilling projects were undertaken. Strongly highlighted by Soviet political advertising, these achievements were also intended to impress the West. They had to be done quickly, at any price. The BBK, for example, (Russian abbreviation for the canal from the Baltic to the White Sea), 228 km long, was dug in 20 months, in Dantean conditions with temperatures of -40°C and at the cost of 25,000 (Russian state figure) to 250,000 deaths (estimate by the dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn) among the forced labourers deported to the site. But the prowess of speed of execution hid badly a botched job. This large canal, intended to enable cargo ships to reach the White Sea from the Baltic, was only 3.5 m deep at the end of the works, making it unsuitable for maritime freight... This was the case for many major works.
The Moscow-Volga canal, inaugurated in 1937, allowed the Maxim Gorky to set sail. It was on this waterway that the boat spent most of its career.
Although Stalin's presence remains difficult to prove over time, as the figure was surrounded by secrecy, many dignitaries boarded the ship to take advantage of its facilities, during diplomatic or leisurely cruises. Thus Leonid Brezhnev, future number 1 of the USSR, developed such a taste for water sports that he had Soviet yachts built there (the formula makes you smile), Nikita Khroutchev was received there, all smiles, several times by Stalin before strongly criticising the Father of Nations once he was gone…
The top of the Soviet Union's satellite republics was crowded aboard the ship, all the parts of which were bugged.
Did this ship allow the democratically elected rulers to enjoy the level of the common people?
Security was paranoid with Stalin, who liquidated his friends from one day to the next and then made them disappear from Soviet iconography.
Thus the corridors all had right angles, where his armed guards stood, and the narrow doors were easy to defend. In the same vein, the roof of the engine room had a canopy overlooking the cockpit, allowing the bridge to observe what was going on in this strategic place .
Looking back in the context of the time, and remembering that the entire crew belonged to the special services (NKVD KGB), one can easily imagine the atmosphere on board...
More or less decommissioned from diplomatic missions in 1957, the Maxim Gorki was left at quay. Renovated in the early 2000s, it hosted weddings and other private festive events.
It became a quayside restaurant in 2014 and was sold in 2018 for USD 300,000 to the city of Nizhny Novgorod, where it was born in 1934 and where it is hoped to make it a place of remembrance.