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Ian Birchall

The Evolution of Victor Serge


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).

Dear Editor

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As Richard Greeman points out in his review of Weissman (International Socialism, no. 94), Serge left a large number of unpublished manuscripts, many of them not considered by Weissman.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:

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.

Ian Birchall

Victor Serge: Letter to Lefeuvre (undated)

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Last updated: 21 May 2021