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Memoirs of a Revolutionary (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – May 1, 2012
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“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.
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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). However, Serge's analysis and insights as a witness to this period of history retain their value, especially his analysis of the, for leftists, very troublesome Stalinist purges and terror campaigns of the 1930's.
Thus, as with Trotsky's memoir, you will find a thoughtful political self-examination by a man trying to draw the lessons of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, the subsequent defeats of the international working class movement, the devastating destruction of the fellow revolutionary cadre who made and administered the early Soviet state while still defending the gains of that revolution. Overshadowing these concerns is a constant personal struggle to maintain one's revolutionary integrity at all costs. That is, not to wind up like Bukharin or Zinoviev and the like, compromised and lost to the struggle for socialism. All this, moreover, and perhaps hardest of all still maintain a sense of revolutionary optimism for the future organization of human society.
Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin once commented that in the run-up to the October Revolution the political whirlwind stirred up by that revolution inevitably brought those individuals and organizations looking for the resolution of the revolutionary dilemma into the Bolshevik orbit. This was most famously the case with Trotsky's Petersburg Inter-District organization that fused with the Bolsheviks in the fateful summer of 1917. That same whirlwind later drew in the best elements of the Western labor movement as word of the revolution reached the outside world. Previously, Serge had been close to the French anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movement but as happens in great revolutions he, like other militant anarchists, was drawn to the reality of the Soviet experiment despite political differences over the question of the state. Despite this he, generally, like the non-Bolshevik militants served the revolution with distinction. Thus, this fateful political decision to cast his personal fate with the Russian Revolution led him to the series of political adventures and misadventures that enliven his memoir.
At the beginning of the 21st century when socialist political programs are in decline it is hard to imagine the spirit that drove Serge to dedicate the better part of his life to the fight for a socialist society. However, at the beginning of the 20th century he represented only a slightly younger version of that revolutionary generation of Eastern Europeans and Russians exemplified by Lenin, Trotsky, Martov and Luxemburg who set out to change the history of the 20th century. 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. Those same questions posed at the beginning of that century are still on the agenda for today's generation of militants to help resolve. This is one of your political textbooks. Read it.
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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