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Memoirs of a Revolutionary (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – May 1, 2012

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590174518
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590174517
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #304,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“The Memoirs tells a harrowing story — Serge spent most of his adult life in prison and/or exile and saw the Russian Revolution, which for him was the pinnacle of his life in radical activism, lead to one of the most brutal dictatorships in human memory. But it also is a forward-looking book, committed to recording the history of an era in the obvious hope that others will learn from it. It is both realist and idealist, an attitude that is essential to any functional left-wing, or even liberal, movement.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

"Memoirs is a document that is essential, above all, as a denouncement of oppression, an eye-witness account, written in heat and at speed, but with the talent of the true writer, of what it was like to be at the heart of the machine – and to stand up to it. This is the most complete edition yet published in English (Sedgwick's first, abridged translation appeared nearly 50 years ago). How it has taken so long to appear is one of those unfathomable mysteries…. Anyway, here it is at last, and anyone who cares about justice and freedom of speech should have a copy."— Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

“This book is a fiery testament to political conscience and revolutionary hope.” —Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz

“I can’t think of anyone who has written about the revolutionary movement in [the 20th century] with Serge’s combination of moral insight and intellectual richness.” — Dwight Macdonald

“Serge is one of the most compelling of twentieth- century ethical and literary heroes.” — Susan Sontag

"The tight links among Serge's traits—his intellectual seriousness, the drive to literary expression, an intransigent radicalism not quite separable from restiveness in the face of routine corruption and dishonesty—are especially evident in Memoirs of a Revolutionary, now available for the first time in a complete English translation...Serge can recognize the range of experience and responses that make up the texture of life in even the most nightmarishly repressive system." --Scott McLemee, Bookforum

About the Author

Victor Serge (1890–1947) was born Victor Lvovich Kibalchich to Russian anti-Tsarist exiles, impoverished intellectuals living “by chance” in Brussels. A precocious anarchist firebrand, young Victor was sentenced to five years in a French penitentiary in 1912. Expelled to Spain in 1917, he participated in an anarcho-syndicalist uprising before leaving to join the Revolution in Russia. Detained for more than a year in a French concentration camp, Serge arrived in St.
Petersburg early in 1919 and joined the Bolsheviks, serving in the press services of the Communist International. An outspoken critic of Stalin, Serge was expelled from the Party and arrested in 1929. Nonetheless, he managed to complete three novels (Men in Prison, Birth of Our Power, and Conquered City) and a history (Year One of the Russian Revolution), published in Paris. Arrested again in Russia and deported to Central Asia in 1933, he was allowed to leave the
USSR in 1936 after international protests by militants and prominent writers like André Gide and Romain Rolland. Using his insider’s knowledge, Serge published a stream of impassioned, documented exposés of Stalin’s Moscow show trials and of machinations in Spain, which went largely unheeded. Stateless, penniless, hounded by Stalinist agents, Serge lived in precarious exile in Brussels, Paris, Vichy France, and Mexico City, where he died in 1947. His classic Memoirs of a Revolutionary and his great last novels, Unforgiving Years and The Case of Comrade Tulayev (both available as NYRB Classics), were written “for the desk drawer” and published posthumously.

Peter Sedgwick (1934–1983) translated and wrote the introductions for Victor Serge’s Memoirs and Year One of the Russian Revolution. A lifelong activist and a founding member of the New Left in Britain, he wrote seminal essays on Serge. In addition to his journalism and political writings, he is the author of a book, Psycho-Politics.

Adam Hochschild has written for The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, The New York Review of Books, and The Nation. His books include King Leopold’s Ghost and, most recently, To End All Wars. He teaches at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

George Paizis is the author of Marcel Martinet: Poet of the Revolution, Love and the Novel: The Poetics and Politics of Romantic Fiction, and, with Andrew N. Leak, The Holocaust and the Text: Speaking the Unspeakable. He is a longstanding member of the Socialist Workers Party and until recently was Senior Lecturer in the French Department at University College London.

Richard Greeman has translated and written the introductions for five of Serge’s novels (including Unforgiving Years and Conquered City, both available as NYRB Classics). A veteran Socialist and co-founder of the Praxis Center and Victor Serge Library in Moscow, Russia (www.praxiscenter.ru), Greeman is author of Beware Of “Vegetarian” Sharks: Radical Rants And Internationalist Essays.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 10 customer reviews
Truly an awesome work of nonfiction.
It was as if the best and brightest of that generation were afraid, for better or worse, not to take part in the political struggles that would shape the modern world.
Alfred Johnson
Great history of early period of the Russian Revolution by a participant and observer.
Mark Hemenway

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Alfred Johnson on February 1, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As I have noted in my review of Leon Trotsky's memoir My Life (click see all my reviews) today's public tastes dictate that political memoir writers expose the most intimate details of their private personal lives in the so-called public square. Here, as in Trotsky's memoir, Serge will offer up no such tantalizing details. These old time revolutionaries seem organically averse to including personal material that would distract from their political legacies. That is fine by me. After all that is why political people, the natural audience for this form of history narrative, appreciate such works. Contemporary political memoir writers take note.

Serge was a militant from his youth. However the October 1917 Russian Revolution is the real start of his political maturation and wider political influence. I believe the reader will find the most useful information and Serge's most insightful political analysis dates from this period. Serge became a secondary Communist leader after the Bolshevik seizure of power and in various capacities, most notably as a journalist for the Communist international, witnessed many of the important events in and out of Russia in the 1920's and 1930's. Moreover, for a long period of time he was a key member of the Trotsky-led Left Opposition to the rise of Stalinism which formed in the Russian Communist Party and later in the Communist International in the 1920's. Serge eventually broke politically with Trotsky in the late 1930's over the class nature of the Soviet state and organizational differences on the role of the revolutionary party in the struggle and in power. Serge's later politics and activities are murky, somewhat disoriented and the subject of controversy (see the Appendix in Memoirs and my review of Serge's book Kronstadt).
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mary Wilbur on May 19, 2012
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This is a great memoir by a man who was both a participant and an observer, and who also possessed a prodigious intellect and will. He was Russian by parentage and later by citizenship and French by "adoption and literary expression." Altogether he was fluent in five languages. The impression of Victor Serge that I developed while reading this book is that he was a man devoted to the truth as he understood it, yet he was tolerant of the opinions of those with whom he disagreed. He also possessed an acutely analytical mind, and an extraordinary memory. One need not be a leftist to appreciate this book and the man who wrote it. My politics are the opposite of Serge's, but I have developed a deep sympathy for Victor Serge and a much improved understanding of the ground from which European leftism developed.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Charles S. Fisher on March 22, 2013
Format: Paperback
From my beautiful perch in one the wealthiest counties in the US can I look back on the 20th century with other than despair. Despite all its heroism Victor Serge's life was a tragedy, a tragedy partly of his own making. There is no doubt he lived fully, with novels and books that never saw the light of day, with years in prison and a determining role in the elaboration of the Russian Revolution. Were it not that he was imprisoned in France he might have died in the trenches of the Somme. Others must have been released to such a fate. Ten years of his life in prison. Another six or so in exile, another have dozen in internal exile and another maybe 12 as a commissar of some sort.

The memoir is certainly that of a novelist. His descriptions of the physical characteristics of the overwhelming number of actors in the drama he describes read like those of fiction. His smoothly written almost philosophic overview of events are the work of a dramatist. Among historians I wonder how his descriptions are taken. Are they confirmed by other historical evidence, are they the only evidence, or are they taken with more than a grain of salt? I must admit I felt inundated by the sheer number of people mentioned and never used the list in the back of the book to keep track of them.

A committed revolutionary he never succumbed to the authoritarian bitterness of Trotsky. Yet his conclusion that it was the turn to totalitarianism and violence so marked in Kronstadt which undermined the revolution may be self serving. Although he raised eyebrows at the Cheka's early mayhem and tried to save individuals, at the time he seemed to think that the rooting out and murder of opponents may have been what "saved" the revolution. And he certainly made little public issue of it.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Milo Jones on April 1, 2007
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There is not a better record of the Left Opposition to Stalinism available. A moving, sincere, exciting and interesting memoir of a largely forgotten political current of the first half of the twentieth century.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By muxico73 on January 4, 2013
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You can agree or disagree with Serge, but you shouldn't ignore him.

He was in the midst of the biggest revolutions of the 20th century and managed to escape death multiple times. He's by no means a perfect human being, even disconsidering our modern bias toward his points of view, but the idealism is very interesting and frankly, sounds a bit romantically naive. That said, this is a treaty on following your radical ideas to the max and is incredibly well written. It's an autobiography by a master novelist.

I just wish there was a kindle version, it would greatly ease the pain of having to go back and forth to the (excellent) reference material in the end.
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