Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Victor Serge - Revolution in Danger; Writings from Russia 1919-1921
Victor Serge was certainly one of most able writers of 20th Century marxism. His life spanned some of the most important and exciting moments of the last century's revolutionary history, in particular he was actively involved with the Russian Revolution.
Serge travelled to Russia an anarchist. He rapidly became a Bolshevik and his commitement to this form of radical organisation didn't waver throughout the rest of his life.
The book starts with a fantastic account of Serge's life and his basic politics by Ian Birchall, as well as an overview of the Russian Revolution and the role of Anarchist politics within it.
The essays are from his time in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Soviet power, in its genuine sense, rather than some Stalinist distortion, was met by imperialist invasion from (amongst others, Britain, America and Japan). In turn this was met by military opposition from the newly formed Red Army.
In passionate on the spot reporting, Serge describes life in a Petrograd that is perhaps facing its last moments. He describes the wild rumours, the right-wing attempts at sabotage, the distant gunfire. But of more interest, is perhaps his understanding that the fight to defend Petrograd from the counter-revolutionary armies is being fought by men and women who have just overthrown a savage dictatorship and are beginning to create a world "turned upsidedown". So amongst the revolutionary barricades, we hear about the poetry clubs, the song recitals and musical performances.
In one of the later chapters, on the eve of the final battle, he describes one of his acquaintances, whose rifle butt rests on a book in his pocket. Serge asks this "obstinate rebel" what he is reading.... "Poincare..... The Value of Science".
On the eve of a great battle to save the city that was the heart of the revolution, it is entirely appropriate that the men and women who might die the next morning are reading, learning, thinking and dreaming of a different world.
The final essay in this book, is Serge writing about the attitude that Anarchists should take the the revolution, and in particular, the centralised revolutionary terror that the Red's have had to introduce to defend the revolution from the brutal$ities of the Whites.
Serge describes how many of the Russian anarchists, instinctively sided with the Revolution and the Bolsheviks, automatically understanding that to defend the gains of the revolution required organisation and military centralisation. Serge takes this further arguing that the anarchists must be engaged with the revolution, if only to temper some of the instinctive Bolshevik centralisation that he believes is natural for members of that party. Whether or not you agree with that, you cannot fail to understand Serge's basic point. Revolutions are never the perfectly formed events that many sectarian, armchair revolutionaries hope they are. Instead, they are complex, difficult events that have to be defended from the violence of their class enemies. It is a lesson that is still important.