Victor Serge

Russian communist writer and novelist, he was born in Brussels to two anti-czarists in exile. He grew up in poverty, never attending school due to his father's disdain of education under capitalism. Taught by his father, he educated himself to a considerable extent through reading widely. First joining the Belgian Socialist Party in his teens, he found it too reformist and quickly became oriented towards anarchism.  Starting shortly before he was expelled from Belgium in 1909 (for political reasons), he started writing for various anarchist publications. Moving to Paris, he learned the printing trade, which he worked in at various times throughout his later life. Immersing himself in the lively anarchist community in Paris at the time, Serge soon became critical of the reckless "bandit" anarchism of many at the time, as well as their obsession with vegetarianism and other dietary limitations. In 1912 he was arrested and convicted to five years imprisonment for his "involvement" with the anarchist "Bonnot gang." Innocent of involvement with the Bonnot gang, he refused on principle to condemn them although he didn't agree with their tactics.

Upon his release from prison in 1917, he departed for neutral Spain and was briefly involved in the syndicalist movement there, which although viewing as an improvement over the individualist anarchism he had known in Paris, nevertheless was pained to see how naive and unrealistic many of the Spanish syndicalists were at the time. After the February revolution in Russia, Serge headed back to Paris with the hope of travelling to Russia, but was shortly thereafter detained and imprisoned for more than a year in a concentration camp with other foreigners and deserters. Surviving as best he could in the atrocious conditions of the camp, he used the time partly in political discussions and studying Marxism with the other Russians present in the camp. In October 1918 a deal was reached between the Bolsheviks and the French government, and the Russian revolutionaries in the camp were allowed to travel to Russia.

Arriving in the Soviet Union in January 1919, he soon became
a committed Marxist, which he remained till his death.  Deciding to remain in Petrograd the "revolutionary capital," he first took on several odd jobs before becoming the administrator of the Executive Committee of the Third International in March 1919. Joining the communist party in May 1919, he also participated in the popular defense of Petrograd from white general Yudenich in October 1919. Participating in the first three congresses of the Communist International, he took a Comintern position in Berlin in late 1921, continuing in Vienna from November 1923, from where he joined the Left Opposition the same year. He returned to the Soviet Union in 1925 to fight side by side with his comrades in the Left Opposition. Expelled from the party in 1928, he started focusing on writing, both fiction and historical.

Arrested in March 1928, he was released after two months. Spending the next few years in a precarious existence due to opposition to Stalin, with hardship taking a heavy toll on his family, his wife even losing her sanity, he focused his energy on writing and translating when he wasn't searching for food for his family or medicine for his wife. Arrested again in March 1933, he spent three months in solitary confinement in Lubyanka prison. Subsequently he was exiled to Orenberg (in present-day Kazakhstan), where he stayed until 1936 when, due to protests from writers and intellectuals abroad, he was allowed to leave the Soviet Union. Staying the next four years in Belgium and France, Serge was accompained by his children and his wife, most of his relatives later dying in Stalin's prisons. Continuing his writing abroad, he corresponded with Trotsky for a time, and "joined" the Spanish left-oppositionist Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM). Fleeing the German invasion, Serge managed to escape to exile in Mexico, where he stayed, writing and corresponding, until his death.

An independent Marxist whose payed a high price for his principled resistance to Stalinism, Serge was to the left of most of the Bolsheviks, and was a critic of the unnecessary repression of the Kronstadt revolt (on which he had a heated correspondence with Trotsky), as well as the lack of inner-party democracy which began very soon after the October revolution with campaign against "factionalism" which started in 1920 against the Workers Opposition. Ignorned and called an anarchist by Stalinists, he recieved the same treatment from Trotskyists since he was not adverse to pointing out the roots of Stalinism which existed and were nourished during Lenin/Trotsky's time. A deep thinker who lived the events he details, there is much to learn from his writings.

Memoirs of a Revolutionary: 396 pages,

What Every Radical Should Know (1926): 131 pages, was written while Serge was still in the Soviet Union and had access to the very recently discovered archives of the czarist secret police. Written to help revolutionaries abroad deal with reactionary repression, it details mainly with the workings of the Okhrana (czarist secret police): its handling and use of informers, its records and quasi-academic approach to compiling extensive information about revolutionary organizations, etc. Yet it also delves into the issues of revolutionary repression, and other tactical and political issues that face a revolutionary movement. Although this book was written in the 1920's and technology has changed drastically, the majority of the book remains relevant to this day, and the general caution and methods involved in working underground are still relevant.

Birth of Our Power (1931): 221 pages, a heavily autobiographical novel, it starts with Serge's time in neutral Spain during WWII, and with his subsequent involvement with the Spanish syndicalist movement in the tense time leading up to the attempted syndicalist uprising in Barcelona in 1917. Then it moves, as did the author, to Paris where Serge went to try to find a way to travel to revolutionary Russia. Subsequently imprisoned in a French concentration camp, the novel talks of the various interesting characters who were detained there, as well as the poor conditions in which they lived. Then, released from the camp, Serge went to the newly founded Soviet Union, and the novel recounts many of the first impressions of the protagonist, and ends soon after he arrives in the Soviet Union. A novel filled with revolutionary enthusiasm, and faith that the working masses' power will sweep the world, it does not hide the truth either, and shows the naivete of the Spanish syndicalists with compassion for their revolutionary enthusiasm, as well as the hardships in Russia after the revolution.

Midnight in the Century (1939): 199 pages,

The Case of Comrade Tulayev: 309 pages,