From Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 3, 2003, pp.367–69.
Transcribed by Alun Morgan for Revolutionary History Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
In his review of Susan Weissman’s Victor Serge: The Course is Set on Hope (Revolutionary History, Volume 8, no. 2), Paul Flewers speculates on how Serge’s political thought might have developed had he survived into the Cold War period. It is always difficult to judge what figures from the past might have thought of events after their death, and it is doubly difficult with Serge, a complex and original thinker. As Richard Greeman points out in his review of Weissman (International Socialism, no. 94), Serge left a large number of unpublished manuscripts, many of them not considered by Weissman.
Flewers cites Alan Wald’s article Victor Serge and the New York Anti-Stalinist Left (The Ideas of Victor Serge, Critique, 1997) as suggesting that Serge might have been moving towards the view that Stalinism was the ‘main enemy’. Wald’s article is well-documented and balanced, and must be taken seriously. There is, however, an important text (not to my knowledge ever translated into English) which suggests a rather different direction of development.
It is one of a series of letters sent by Serge to the French socialist René Lefeuvre. Lefeuvre (1902–1988) is best known as the publisher of the Cahiers Spartacus, a series of books by a wide range of authors from the anti-Stalinist left (from Serge to Denis Healey). He also published the magazine Masses intermittently from 1933 onwards; a new series of 14 issues appeared between 1946 and 1948.
Serge’s letter is undated. The first part seems to have been sent for publication in Masses in the summer of 1946, but not to have reached Lefeuvre. Another copy with a postscript was sent, probably in October 1946. The Yugoslav incident mentioned may be a reference to the Trieste dispute. The letter was published in the 1984 reprint by the Cahiers Spartacus of Serge’s Seize Fusillés à Moscou (1936) (pp. 123–5). The letter makes three important points:
- Serge is highly critical of reportage on Russia which is not adequately documented. His reason lies, not in some abstract notion of ‘honesty’, but in a recognition that only a properly supported argument will have any chance of making an impact on those sympathetic to Stalinism. Serge is not interested in mere denunciation; he believes it is desirable and possible to win over Stalinist workers.
- Serge sees the dangers of war as lying rather more on the American side than on the Russian, since Russia is still exhausted from the Second World War. This is in the period before the Truman Doctrine of March 1947 opened the Cold War proper.
- Most crucially, Serge recognises the double nature of the Stalinist parties in countries outside the Russian bloc. Despite their Stalinist politics, they are working-class parties and part of the working-class movement. And while he wisely refrains from recommending detailed tactics to his French comrades, he clearly believes that some sort of united front activity should be proposed to Communist workers.
The 1950s were a testing period for revolutionary socialists, and there were few who wholly escaped making concessions to either Stalinism or Western imperialism. But given the orientation spelt out in this letter, I find it hard to imagine Serge succumbing to Stalinophobia.
Last updated: 21.10.2011