Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 3

Work in Progress

Victor Serge Colloquium In Moscow

The following has been extracted from a report by Richard Greeman on the Victor Serge Colloquium which took place in Moscow this spring.

THE Victor Serge Colloquium was a great success. Alexander Buzgalin (of Moscow University and the Party of Labour) who had organised and chaired it, was greatly impressed. He thanked the contributors for revealing Serge to him, and at the end he and his colleagues from Moscow proposed that a day’s discussion of Serge should be organised in the framework of the International Trotsky Colloquium that they are planning for 11–13 November.

Those participating were about 30 people from six institutions in the Confederation and seven foreign countries. Vladimir Babintzev, the translator of Midnight in the Century, came, as well as Rosa Chubareva from the Historical Museum at Orenburg, and Yaroslav Leontiev from Memorial. The foreign delegates were Hillel Ticktin and Bob Arnot (Scotland), Bill Marshall (England), David Mandel (Quebec), Savas Michael-Matsas (Greece), Dr Ulla Plener (Germany) and Chantal de Romance (France), who is writing the first maitrise thesis on Serge in France.

I gave the first paper, a very general introduction to Serge’s biography, with the stress on his Russian character and the research issues I wanted to pursue later. All the Russians present had already read my pamphlet in Russian entitled Serge and Socialism.

Bill Marshall spoke about Serge’s idea of ‘double duty’, and the relevance of his ideas in the present conjuncture. Bob Arnot gave a summary of an excellent paper by Suzy Weissman on Serge and Stalinism. Babintzev, quoting Voltaire’s remark about Dante, stressed that we should read Serge and get to know his political ideas. Up to now, the only things known in Russian are the literary works and Chapter Eight of the Memoirs, which will appear in the review Ural. Babintzev is proposing to translate The Strengths and Limits of Marxism of 1938, and Buzgalin has promised to publish it in Alternatives.

There was a very good and lively discussion. Mikhail Tsovma spoke of the contact of Serge with the Russian Anarchists such as Alexei Barovna and Daniel Novomirsky. Savas, from a Trotskyist point of view, criticised Serge for not having elaborated a political economy, and for his support for the Popular Front in Spain, whilst paying tribute to the artist and the militant. Babintzev and others took up the question of Serge’s analysis of Stalinism, comparing him not only to Trotsky but also to Koestler, Orwell, Silone, Bruno Rizzi, etc. The tradition of the anti-totalitarian left is less well known here than that of the right, according to Babintzev, who quoted Jacques Divineau’s comment about Serge, ‘a heretic in an age of orthodoxies’ (with the emphasis on the plural). My pamphlets had been read so carefully that questions – Serge and state capitalism, Serge the ‘accidental novelist’ – were asked with a rather disconcerting accuracy and relevance, for we came to see that Serge is many-sided (Marshall’s thesis), and that everyone (Anarcho-Syndicalist, Trotskyist, Social Democrat, Marxist Humanist) tends to insist somewhat on their ‘own’ Serge (Greeman’s observation), and that above all he must be read, and therefore translated (Babintzev again).

Finally, everyone was deeply moved by the contribution from Rosa Chubareva, who spoke about Orenburg, which is commemorating 250 years of history, and about its persisting traditions of authority (the town was designed by the Tsar’s architects) and heresy. She spoke of the coming of exiles from the time of Ivan the Terrible up to the 1960s. People thought they knew Orenburg; but then they read Midnight in the Century. She said that for her Victor Serge is a living presence. She spoke of his house and of some furniture which one of Vlady’s schoolfriends had identified as belonging to the period.

Buzgalin gave the closing speech on the importance of Serge in the current debate about the alternatives to liberalism and the updating of Marxism. He stressed the example given by Serge the man: a theoretician, who should be neither underestimated nor overestimated, but above all the Writer with a capital W, who lived the multiple life of a worker, an intellectual, a revolutionary, an exile, who was able to link abstract knowledge to the practical movement, who gave the example of all-round development, who never had the title of ‘professor’ (a very revealing remark), and who teaches us that if we Socialists are not artistically and intellectually developed, we shall be poor Socialists.

In the afternoon there was a practical session. The seminar room chosen was too small, because more than half of those who had attended the public session wanted to take part. Items on the agenda were research in the archives in Moscow (and also at Kiev, St Petersburg and Nizhni-Novgorod for biographical material), translation, publication and the Orenburg Museum. On Buzgalin’s proposal, a Scientific Committee was established.

Trotsky and Others in Russian

READERS who can read Russian will be interested in two books that have recently been published in Russia by the IPL publishing house.

The first book is Silhouettes: Political Portraits by Lunacharsky, Radek and Trotsky. The first part of this book is comprised of much of Trotsky’s On Lenin, but without either his criticism of Gorky’s writings on Lenin, or his look at children’s writings on Lenin. It also includes the chapters on Lenin from Lunacharsky’s Revolutionary Silhouettes and Radek’s Portraits and Pamphlets. The second part consists of Lunacharsky’s essays on Belinsky, Chernyshevsky, Herzen, Tolstoy, Nekrasov and other literary figures, and Trotsky’s Herzen and the West from 1912. The third part is entitled Political Opponents and Enemies, and includes Trotsky’s articles on Plekhanov, Struve, Azev, Milyukov, Martov, etc., the chapters from Revolutionary Silhouettes on Martov and Plekhanov, and the chapters on Savinkov and Parvus from Portraits and Pamphlets. The fourth part is entitled Party Comrades, and includes essays from Revolutionary Silhouettes and Portraits and Pamphlets on, amongst others, Dzerzhinsky, Lutovinov, Reisner and Sverdlov, and articles by Trotsky on Zinoviev, Sverdlov, Dzerzhinsky, Markin, Nogin, Rakovsky, Frunze, etc. There is a gap, however, in that none of Trotsky’s articles on Stalin is reproduced.

The second book is The Revolutionary War Council of the Republic. It is mainly comprised of studies by a variety of writers of the members of the War Council, including Trotsky, Sklyansky, Vatsetis, Kamenev, Antonov-Ovseyenko, Raskolnikov, Serebriakov, Smilga, Smirnov, Stalin, etc., plus an article on the work of the council, and a chronicle of events.

John Plant

Trotsky Conference in Moscow

A CONFERENCE entitled The Legacy of Leon Trotsky: Its Historical and Contemporary Significance is being held by the Scholars for Democracy and Socialism in Moscow on 10–12 November 1994. The topics hopefully being discussed are Trotsky on the Nature of the Soviet System and Alternative Paths of Evolution, which will look at the issues of planning and the market; Trotsky on the Problems of Democracy and the Self-Organisation of the Toilers, which will look at the Fourth International, the labour movement, democracy and Trotsky’s analysis of Fascism; and Trotsky as a Political Figure and Historian, which will look at ‘blank spots’ in Soviet history, and Trotsky’s historical writings. For more details, write to Professor M.I. Voeykov, Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Economics, Krasikova 27, Moscow, 117218, Russia, or fax (095) 310 7001.

Hungarian Researches

THE English edition of the Budapest Review of Books, 1994 has a long interview with György Litván, the Director of the Institute for Research of the 1956 Revolution. Points that readers might like to note are that it seems that much of the money available for the Institute is provided by George Soros, and not by the Hungarian government, and that the interviewer, who is something of a smart know-all, is somewhat hostile, and seems to accuse the Institute of reflecting the views of ‘reform Communists’, rather than the more nationalist attitudes now more popular in Hungary. Bill Lomax’s book is mentioned, only to be attacked as somewhat distorted. Litván also notes that the ‘Moscow archives are growing secretive again’. A great number of sources are mentioned, and a very great deal of work is, it seems, being done, much of it on events in the provinces rather than Budapest, and on the international aspects of the 1956 crisis in the Eastern Bloc states and the Communist parties.

Socialist Scholars Conference in New York

Readers might be amused to hear of the somewhat dramatic events surrounding the launch of Tim Wohlforth’s memoirs at the Socialist Scholars Conference held in New York over Easter, which we have been told about in a letter from Tim, who says:

I arrived on Sunday to participate in a panel on memoirs. We had a good turn out, about 100 people, and it became quite explosive. The affair was chaired by Annette Rubinstein, an old lady from the Stalinist milieu who is an expert on Shakespeare and literature. I knew her during the regroupment period around 1958. Carl Marzani, a 90-year-old Italian veteran of the Spanish Civil War (I believe he was an Anarchist at the time, but later joined the Communist Party) was a fellow panellist. Right in the centre of the audience, glaring at me throughout the whole proceedings, were Dave North and Fred Mazelis from the old Workers League.

In the question period, up goes North’s hand, and hard as it is to believe [no, it’s not at all hard – Ed.], he starts going on about Nancy Fields and the CIA, etc.! Annette Rubinstein, this frail old grey-haired, soft-spoken lady, tried to get him to sum up, but he started attacking her. This was too much for old Marzani. Gaunt, quite bald and looking like a cadaver, he picked up his cane which was lying on the desk in front of him, and pounded the table until North shut up!

Joyce’s youngest daughter Cassie, who is now living in New York, arrived late and just made the discussion. She was appalled by this madman attacking her stepfather! Later, we went down to the main floor by the publisher’s table, and North, accompanied by a couple of followers, started walking towards me, shouting. The startled assorted left academics milling around turned and gawked. Then Cassie ran up to him, stared him in the face, and shouted, ‘Is this what you have to do to get your dick hard?’, while Joyce intervened to protect Cassie, and the assorted academics separated everybody. Anyway, the net effect was that my book was the talk of the conference, and the publisher was very pleased.

A review of Tim Wohlforth’s The Prophet’s Children: Travels on the American Left (Humanities Press) will appear in a future issue of Revolutionary History.

Updated by ETOL: 21.9.2011