Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

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The Victor Serge Centenary Group

The Victor Serge Centenary Group has been set up with the aim of publicising the work of this important revolutionary writer on the occasion of the centenary of his birth.

Victor Serge was born in December 1890 in Brussels, the son of anti-tsarist Russian exiles. He was involved with the French Anarchist movement, the Spanish Syndicalists, the Communist International and the anti-Stalinist Left Opposition, before finally finding refuge in Mexico, where he died in 1947, a committed but independent Socialist. A unique witness to the revolutionary events of the early twentieth century, Serge was also a writer of considerable literary talent who wrote a remarkable series of novels while living the life of a true revolutionary, suffering persecution, prison and exile. The recent publication in the Soviet Union of his novel of the purges, The Case of Comrade Tulayev, coincides with a revival of interest in Serge in the West.

The Victor Serge Association, headed by Richard Greeman (translator of the novels and Serge’s biographer) in the USA, has initiated the celebration of the centenary, and it is in response to a general request for action that the Centenary Group has been formed in Britain.

The Group's primary aim is to bring together all the various strands of interest in Serge, which include the International Serge Centenary Colloquium to be held at the Free University of Brussels in March 1991, publication of Richard Greeman’s biography of Serge, Bill Marshall's book on Serge’s literary writing; a television documentary Victor, publication of the Serge-Trotsky Correspondenceby Pluto Press, and the translation of Serge’s notebooks (the Carnets) into English.

Ultimately, the Group’s objective is to prompt a major publishing house to republish those of Serge’s works now out of print, and to publish those which have not yet appeared in this country. Ideally, this would be a company which could ensure continuity of publication, a feature sadly lacking in Serge’s publishing history. In order to bring Serge to the attention of such companies, the Group will encourage publication of articles in the press pointing out the value of his work at this time.

With the opening up of the debate on the past and present of Socialism, Serge is set to become an important figure both because he was present in person during the rise of Stalinism, and because he never renounced his revolutionary fervour. He believed that the failure of the revolution was not inevitable, and this could be an important message to those in the Soviet Union or other countries who want to save something from the wreckage of Stalinism.

Serge’s writings are distinguishable from those of his contemporaries in that he recorded the contribution and sufferings of the little people, the ordinary workers and unknown activists. His literary characters have depth because they were often real people. One of Serge’s main reasons for turning to fiction as a vehicle for his ideas after 1928 was to protect people who might suffer from being associated with his name. It was a feature of Serge’s life that he never betrayed either his own beliefs or those of his friends, even though he often didn’t agree with them.

Given the rarity of contemporary accounts of the Russian revolution and its aftermath, it is all the more important that the manuscripts which were illegally confiscated when Serge was allowed to leave the Soviet Union in 1936, should be recovered. These include Year Two of the Russian Revolution, and two novels, Les Hommes Perdus, about the French Anarchists, and La Tourments, about the Civil War, in which Serge claimed to have best described “the grandeur of the revolution”.

The Group has helped to sponsor a search for these ‘lost’ works in the KGB archives (organised by friends at Komsomolskaya Pravda), and we welcome any signatures for a petition to the Soviet authorities, written by Richard Greeman, asking for priority access to the archives. We hope that the thought of such treasures will provide a good publicity ‘hook’ for encouraging the media to take a proper interest in this man and will lead to Victor Serge finding his rightful place in twentieth century literature and revolutionary history.

Anyone interested in contacting the Group about the Conference or the petition, or who would like to be put on our mailing list (we hope to produce a newsletter soon) please write to:

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

The Victor Serge Centenary Group
c/o David Cotterill
120 Amhurst Road
London E8 2AG

Bryony Dixon

Updated by ETOL: 18.7.2003