The political backdrop of A Gentleman in Moscow largely focuses on the rise of the Communist Bolshevik Party following the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Count is often at odds with the Bolsheviks because he was a member of the nobility, which the Bolsheviks abolished after the revolution. Although the story focuses on the Count, Towles makes a point of providing different perspectives on Bolshevism and the class struggle. On the one hand, the Bolsheviks try to eliminate economic inequality and some of the Bolsheviks are portrayed sympathetically. At the same time, the Count laments that traditional values like etiquette and tact are no longer valued simply because they are traditional. He also dislikes the fact that some of the Bolsheviks seem bent on destroying old ways of life simply to make their party stronger, even at the expense of poor citizens. Through these varied opinions, Towles makes the argument that while class inequality leads to a privileged elite, communist notions of creating an egalitarian society can also harm people.
A Bolshevik Party member named Osip Ivanovich Glebnikov, who asks the Count to tutor him in French and English, provides the strongest argument for the necessity of the Revolution and the overthrow of the nobility. He says that in 1916, Russia was the most illiterate nation in Europe and most of its population lived in modified serfdom. For the majority of people, society had not progressed for five hundred years. On an individual level, Towles also critiques the Count at the beginning of the novel for his obsession with possessions, as the Count chooses to overcrowd his room and limit his already small living space significantly rather than relinquish any of his furniture. Towles also implies that the Count values his possessions even more than he values his family and friends. Much of the rest of the novel’s criticisms of the elite come from a person whom the Count refers to only as the Bishop (due to his appearance and demeanor). The Bishop is a Bolshevik who begins the novel as a waiter, before rising to the position of hotel manager. He upbraids the Count harshly for his elitism, “How convinced you have always been of the rightness of your actions,” he sneers, “as if God Himself was so impressed with your precious manners and delightful way of putting things that He blessed you to do as you pleased.” Thus, the Bishop highlights a major critique of the nobility: their belief that their wealth and manners alone justify superior treatment.
Yet the Count also makes some worthy points about the hypocrisy of the new ruling class. He not only points out how the comrades are just as drawn to superiority and pomp as the former aristocracy, but also how their notions of “progress” often come at the expense of the people. Towles makes a point of highlighting that the new Soviet constitution drafted in 1922 guarantees freedoms of conscience, expression, and assembly, but also that these rights could be revoked if they are “utilized to the detriment of the socialist revolution.” Thus, Party loyalty is valued more than actual freedom. Though the Bolsheviks put a high premium on technology and progress, sometimes this progress is at the detriment of common people. For example, churches are razed so that the metal in the bells can be reclaimed, but as a result, many people have to go to great lengths in order to find a place to pray. Worse, when the farms are collectivized, many of the peasants are resistant and so they slaughter their livestock rather than join the collectivization efforts. As a result, they are exiled, but the lack of skilled farmers then causes a widespread famine in Russia. Thus, the desire to promote the common good is, in fact, what initiates the starvation of millions of people.
While the idea of eradicating economic inequality is a valiant one, Towles demonstrates that the goals of the Bolsheviks are sometimes at odds with the people they propose to be supporting. In addition, the book also shows that just because something is traditional doesn’t automatically make it classist, and that some traditions (like etiquette, or the Russian tradition of serving bread when one is hosting another person) are worth preserving because they truly improve society.
Bolshevism and Class Struggle ThemeTracker
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Quotes in A Gentleman in Moscow
History has shown charm to be the final ambition of the leisure class. What I do find surprising is that the author of the poem in question could have become a man so obviously without purpose.
Thus did the typewriters clack through the night, until that historic document had been crafted which guaranteed for all Russians freedom of conscience (Article 13), freedom of expression (Article 14), freedom of assembly (Article 15), and freedom to have any of these rights revoked should they be “utilized to the detriment of the socialist revolution” (Article 23)!
Ever since its opening in 1905, the hotel’s suites and restaurants had been a gathering spot for the glamorous, influential, and erudite; but the effortless elegance on display would not have existed without the services of the lower floor.
And when that celestial chime sounds, perhaps a mirror will suddenly serve its truer purpose—revealing to a man not who he imagines himself to be, but who he has become.
Yes, a bottle of wine was the ultimate distillation of time and place; a poetic expression of individuality itself. Yet here it was, cast back into the sea of anonymity, that realm of averages and unknowns.
Because the Bolsheviks, who were so intent upon recasting the future from a mold of their own making, would not rest until every last vestige of his Russia had been uprooted, shattered, or erased.
Our churches, known the world over for their idiosyncratic beauty, for their brightly colored spires and improbable cupolas, we raze one by one. We topple the statues of old heroes and strip their names from the streets, as if they had been figments of our imagination. Our poets we either silence, or wait patiently for them to silence themselves.
“Your sort,” he sneered. “How convinced you have always been of
the rightness of your actions. As if God Himself was so impressed with your precious manners and delightful way of putting things that He blessed you to do as you pleased. What vanity.”