Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Victor Serge (1951)

11330360Victor Serge just earned a place with just a few others on my hypothetical list of answers to “If you could have lunch (or go drinking) with any historical figure who would it be?” His memoir is a guide through the Russian Revolution like no other. Up close and personal Serge gives us the good and the bad that he experienced with Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. Even closer and more complex are his relations with another big three—Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Bukharin. Krupskaya and Kollontai and Luxemburg a trio of revolutionary women circulate in his world as well. Americans John Reed, Emma Goldman, and Big Bill Haywood are on his list of people to visit with in his role with the Comintern in Paris and in Moscow. The treasure that the memoir represents has little to do with his sketches and analysis of these extremely well known figures. Instead it is his many more sketches of the dozens of men and women revolutionaries he worked so closely with all around Europe, in prison, in war, in hunger, in glory, in dreams from 1905 to the show trials and purges of Stalin’s Soviet Union of the early 1930s. Nearly all the people he brings to life in the memoir are eventually lost to him, presumed executed or exiled. He also presumes all of them to be without a single regret, like himself, the revolution was to be lived to be criticized but not to be defeated. Political theory and the differences between anarchists, the Social Revolutionaries, and Mensheviks are handled very generously.. they are all revolutionaries to anarchist oriented Serge. And he declares all understood the necessity for Lenin’s Bolshevik’s to take and hold power in ruthless fashion toward all opposition during the time of the Civil War until stable 1920s and NEP. The smashing of the Krondstadt Rising of unpaid striking sailors by Trotsky is a common discussion debate point among contemporary history nerds and between the various left sects. Serge was on the scene and saw no choice but to take decisive action against the strikers. Like Trotsky his life ends in Mexico where he wrote many novels, history, and the memoir. What a life! What a view into a history!

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