Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 3
VICTOR Serge is probably still most widely known for his literary work, his novels in which he depicts revolutionary Russia and the rise of Stalinism. But he was also the author of a number of works of political commentary and analysis, as well as being one of the great revolutionary journalists of our century. Much of his political writing appeared anonymously or in obscure and ephemeral publications, and some is not yet available even in the original French.
As far as Britain is concerned, it was the late Peter Sedgwick who, in the 1960s, promoted the writings of Serge with his translations of Memoirs of a Revolutionary and Year One of the Russian Revolution. Serge’s From Lenin to Stalin and What Every Revolutionary Should Know About State Repression have also been available for some time. It must be said, however, that the limited amount of Serge’s works in the English language is at least partly due to the major translation work that is required to render them into English, and his French, being lapidary in style and very idiomatic, makes it difficult to produce a satisfactory result in any other language.
The events of recent years have made Serge’s work even more relevant. As Lenin in 1917 shows, Serge’s politics were rooted in a defence of the October Revolution, yet his overall perspective was of a critical and non-dogmatic nature, which makes his testimony invaluable to those who want to preserve the authentic revolutionary tradition in the post-Stalinist period. So it is not surprising that the last few years have seen evidence of a growing interest in Serge. In 1991, the centenary of Serge’s birth, successful conferences were held in London, Glasgow and Brussels. Serge’s writings are being translated into Russian. The following year saw the publication of Bill Marshall’s Victor Serge: The Uses of Dissent (Berg), the first book-length study of Serge’s work.
This year promises to continue that growth of interest in Serge. Dave Cotterill has already made a splendid start by editing and publishing The Serge-Trotsky Papers for Pluto Press, and Susan Weissman is promising another rich collection to be put out by Humanities Press in the United States later in the year. Richard Greeman is hot on the scent of the major works of Serge confiscated and consigned to oblivion by the GPU in Moscow.
Since we are a journal of political history, our contribution to this exciting Victor Serge revival in English is limited of necessity to narrative and political comment, on or by Serge. This and the space at our disposal prevent us from reproducing large numbers of short articles, a form of literature at which Serge excelled. So we have decided instead to concentrate upon detailed description and a few full-length pieces, which have the added advantage of allowing Serge’s ideas to be developed to a greater extent and appreciated as a whole, whilst avoiding the irritation aroused in the reader by introductions that are longer than the individual items that make up the writer’s own texts.
Our debt to other workers in this field is acknowledged in the prefaces to the separate items we include, and must be evident on every page. Even more thanks are due to Vladimir Kibalchich, who generously gave his permission to include his father’s writings here.
Updated by ETOL: 21.9.2011