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xxiii

[...] To read his memoirs is to receive the impression of a strong and consistent personality, of an approach to life and to politics which is complex but unified, of a heart which, however it may be divided, is so because reality tears it asunder, not because its loyalties are confused. When we list the varying political trends that entered into Victor Serge’s makeup, we are simply recording his continual sensitivity to certain perennial dilemmas of action. Serge hated violence, but he saw it, at times, as constituting the lesser evil. He believed that necessity in politics might sometimes be frightful, but was necessity nonetheless, only he was not inclined to glorify it into a virtue. He mistrusted the State, but he recognized it as an inevitable form in the progress of society. So general a statement of political predicaments is doubtless banal, but it is in fact rather rare to find a public figure (let alone a revolutionary public figure) who plainly registers both extremes of a dilemma with equal sensitivity, even though his ultimate choice may incline very definitely towards one pole or the other.

—p.xxiii Translator’s Introduction (xxiii) by Peter Sedgwick 4 months, 3 weeks ago

[...] To read his memoirs is to receive the impression of a strong and consistent personality, of an approach to life and to politics which is complex but unified, of a heart which, however it may be divided, is so because reality tears it asunder, not because its loyalties are confused. When we list the varying political trends that entered into Victor Serge’s makeup, we are simply recording his continual sensitivity to certain perennial dilemmas of action. Serge hated violence, but he saw it, at times, as constituting the lesser evil. He believed that necessity in politics might sometimes be frightful, but was necessity nonetheless, only he was not inclined to glorify it into a virtue. He mistrusted the State, but he recognized it as an inevitable form in the progress of society. So general a statement of political predicaments is doubtless banal, but it is in fact rather rare to find a public figure (let alone a revolutionary public figure) who plainly registers both extremes of a dilemma with equal sensitivity, even though his ultimate choice may incline very definitely towards one pole or the other.

—p.xxiii Translator’s Introduction (xxiii) by Peter Sedgwick 4 months, 3 weeks ago
xxx

On the other hand, Serge maintained against Ciliga that the socio­political composition of the non-Party masses at the time of Kron­stadt was very far from progressive. “In 1921, everybody who aspires to Socialism is inside the Party ... It is the non-Party workers o f this epoch, joining the Party to the number of two million in 1924, upon the death of Lenin, who assure the victory of its bureaucracy.” The conscious revolutionaries in the leadership of the mutiny “constituted an undeniable elite and, duped by their own passion, they opened in spite of themselves the door to a frightful counterrevolution.” Serge’s comment on the general issue in question, could well be taken as a summing-up of his lifelong attitude to the Revolution: “ It is often said that ‘the germ o f all Stalinism was in Bolshevism at its beginning.’ Well, I have no objection. Only, Bolshevism also contained many other germs— a mass of other germs— and those who lived through the enthusiasm of the first years of the first victorious revolution ought not to forget it. To judge the living man by the death germs which the autopsy reveals in a corpse— and which he may have carried in him since his birth— is this very sensible?”

on the question of whether stalinism was an inevitabe outcome of bolshevism

—p.xxx Translator’s Introduction (xxiii) by Peter Sedgwick 4 months, 3 weeks ago

On the other hand, Serge maintained against Ciliga that the socio­political composition of the non-Party masses at the time of Kron­stadt was very far from progressive. “In 1921, everybody who aspires to Socialism is inside the Party ... It is the non-Party workers o f this epoch, joining the Party to the number of two million in 1924, upon the death of Lenin, who assure the victory of its bureaucracy.” The conscious revolutionaries in the leadership of the mutiny “constituted an undeniable elite and, duped by their own passion, they opened in spite of themselves the door to a frightful counterrevolution.” Serge’s comment on the general issue in question, could well be taken as a summing-up of his lifelong attitude to the Revolution: “ It is often said that ‘the germ o f all Stalinism was in Bolshevism at its beginning.’ Well, I have no objection. Only, Bolshevism also contained many other germs— a mass of other germs— and those who lived through the enthusiasm of the first years of the first victorious revolution ought not to forget it. To judge the living man by the death germs which the autopsy reveals in a corpse— and which he may have carried in him since his birth— is this very sensible?”

on the question of whether stalinism was an inevitabe outcome of bolshevism

—p.xxx Translator’s Introduction (xxiii) by Peter Sedgwick 4 months, 3 weeks ago
3

Even before I emerged from childhood, I seem to have experienced, deeply at heart, that paradoxical feeling which was to dominate me all through the first part of my life: that of living in a world without any possible escape, in which there was nothing for it but to fight for an impossible escape. I felt repugnance, mingled with wrath and indignation, towards people whom I saw settled comfortably in this world. How could they not be conscious of their captivity, of their unrighteousness? All this was a result, as I can see today, of my upbringing as the son of revolutionary exiles, tossed into the great cities of the West by the first political hurricanes blowing over Russia

—p.3 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Even before I emerged from childhood, I seem to have experienced, deeply at heart, that paradoxical feeling which was to dominate me all through the first part of my life: that of living in a world without any possible escape, in which there was nothing for it but to fight for an impossible escape. I felt repugnance, mingled with wrath and indignation, towards people whom I saw settled comfortably in this world. How could they not be conscious of their captivity, of their unrighteousness? All this was a result, as I can see today, of my upbringing as the son of revolutionary exiles, tossed into the great cities of the West by the first political hurricanes blowing over Russia

—p.3 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago
8

[...] My father, believing only in science, had given me no religious instruction. Through books, I came across the word “soul”; it was a revelation to me. That lifeless body that had been bundled away in a coffin could not be everything.

—p.8 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago

[...] My father, believing only in science, had given me no religious instruction. Through books, I came across the word “soul”; it was a revelation to me. That lifeless body that had been bundled away in a coffin could not be everything.

—p.8 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago
11

Meanwhile, a pamphlet by Peter Kropotkin spoke to me at that time in a language of unprecedented clarity. I have not looked at it since, and at least thirty years have elapsed since then, but its message remains close to my heart. “What do you want to be?” the anarchist asked young people in the middle of their studies. “Lawyers, to invoke the law of the rich, which is unjust by definition? Doctors, to tend the rich, and prescribe good food, fresh air, and rest to the consumptives of the slums? Architects, to house the landlords in comfort? Look around you, and then examine your conscience. Do you not understand that your duty is quite different: to ally yourselves with the exploited, and to work for the destruction of an intolerable system?” If I had been the son of a bourgeois university teacher, these arguments would have seemed a trifle abrupt, and over-harsh towards a system which, all the same ... I would probably have been seduced by the theory of Progress that advanced ever so gently as the ages passed ... Personally, I found these arguments so luminous that those who did not agree with them seemed criminal. I informed my father of my decision not to become a student. [...]

—p.11 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Meanwhile, a pamphlet by Peter Kropotkin spoke to me at that time in a language of unprecedented clarity. I have not looked at it since, and at least thirty years have elapsed since then, but its message remains close to my heart. “What do you want to be?” the anarchist asked young people in the middle of their studies. “Lawyers, to invoke the law of the rich, which is unjust by definition? Doctors, to tend the rich, and prescribe good food, fresh air, and rest to the consumptives of the slums? Architects, to house the landlords in comfort? Look around you, and then examine your conscience. Do you not understand that your duty is quite different: to ally yourselves with the exploited, and to work for the destruction of an intolerable system?” If I had been the son of a bourgeois university teacher, these arguments would have seemed a trifle abrupt, and over-harsh towards a system which, all the same ... I would probably have been seduced by the theory of Progress that advanced ever so gently as the ages passed ... Personally, I found these arguments so luminous that those who did not agree with them seemed criminal. I informed my father of my decision not to become a student. [...]

—p.11 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago
12

There was a group of us young people, closer than brothers. Raymond, the short-sighted little tough with a sarcastic bent, went back every evening to his drunken old father, whose neck and face were a mass of fantastically knotted muscles. His sister, young, pretty, and a great reader, passed her timid life in front of a window adorned with geraniums, amid the stench of dirty old shoes, still hoping that, some day, someone would pick her up. Jean, an orphan and a part-time printer, lived at Anderlecht, beyond the stinking waters of the Senne, with a grandmother who had been laundering for half a century without a break. The third of our group of four, Luce, a tall, pale, timorous boy, was blessed with “a good job” in the L’lnnovation department store. He was crushed by it all: discipline, swindling, and futility, futility, futility. Everyone around him in this vast, admirably organized bazaar seemed to be mad, and perhaps, from a certain point of view, he was right to think so. At the end of ten years’ hard work, he could become salesman-in-charge, and die as the head of a department, having catalogued a hundred thousand little indignities like the story of the pretty shop assistant who was sacked for rude behavior because she refused to go to bed with a supervisor.

—p.12 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago

There was a group of us young people, closer than brothers. Raymond, the short-sighted little tough with a sarcastic bent, went back every evening to his drunken old father, whose neck and face were a mass of fantastically knotted muscles. His sister, young, pretty, and a great reader, passed her timid life in front of a window adorned with geraniums, amid the stench of dirty old shoes, still hoping that, some day, someone would pick her up. Jean, an orphan and a part-time printer, lived at Anderlecht, beyond the stinking waters of the Senne, with a grandmother who had been laundering for half a century without a break. The third of our group of four, Luce, a tall, pale, timorous boy, was blessed with “a good job” in the L’lnnovation department store. He was crushed by it all: discipline, swindling, and futility, futility, futility. Everyone around him in this vast, admirably organized bazaar seemed to be mad, and perhaps, from a certain point of view, he was right to think so. At the end of ten years’ hard work, he could become salesman-in-charge, and die as the head of a department, having catalogued a hundred thousand little indignities like the story of the pretty shop assistant who was sacked for rude behavior because she refused to go to bed with a supervisor.

—p.12 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago
13

“What will become of us in twenty years’ time?” we asked ourselves one evening. Thirty years have passed now. Raymond was guillotined: “Anarchist Gangster” (the press). It was he who, walking towards the worthy Dr. Guillotin’s disgusting machine, flung a last sarcasm at the reporters: “Nice to see a man die, isn’t it?” I came across Jean again in Brussels, a worker and trade union organizer, still a fighter for liberty after ten years in jail. Luce has died of tuberculosis, naturally. For my part, I have undergone a little over ten years of various forms of captivity, agitated in seven countries, and written twenty books. I own nothing. On several occasions the mass circulation press has hurled filth at me because I spoke the truth. Behind us lies a victorious revolution gone astray, several abortive attempts at revolution, and massacres in so great a number as to make you dizzy. And to think that it is not over yet. Let me be done with this digression; those were the only roads possible for us. I have more confidence in mankind and in the future than ever before.

new tag: why left? not quite the same as inspo/anti-capitalism

—p.13 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago

“What will become of us in twenty years’ time?” we asked ourselves one evening. Thirty years have passed now. Raymond was guillotined: “Anarchist Gangster” (the press). It was he who, walking towards the worthy Dr. Guillotin’s disgusting machine, flung a last sarcasm at the reporters: “Nice to see a man die, isn’t it?” I came across Jean again in Brussels, a worker and trade union organizer, still a fighter for liberty after ten years in jail. Luce has died of tuberculosis, naturally. For my part, I have undergone a little over ten years of various forms of captivity, agitated in seven countries, and written twenty books. I own nothing. On several occasions the mass circulation press has hurled filth at me because I spoke the truth. Behind us lies a victorious revolution gone astray, several abortive attempts at revolution, and massacres in so great a number as to make you dizzy. And to think that it is not over yet. Let me be done with this digression; those were the only roads possible for us. I have more confidence in mankind and in the future than ever before.

new tag: why left? not quite the same as inspo/anti-capitalism

—p.13 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago
15

[...] Electoral politics revolted us most of all since it concerned the very essence of Socialism. We were at once, it now seems to me, both very just and very unjust, because of our ignorance of life, which is full of complications and compromises. The two percent dividend returned by the cooperatives to their shareholders filled us with bitter laughter because it was impossible for us to grasp the victories behind it. “The presumption of youth!” they said: but in fact we were craving for an absolute. The Racket exists always and everywhere, for it is impossible to escape from one’s time and we are in the time of money. I kept finding the Racket, flourishing and sometimes salutary, in the age of trade and in the midst of revolution. We had yearned for a passionate, pure Socialism. We had satisfied ourselves with a Socialism of battle, and it was the great age of reformism. At a special congress of the Belgian Workers’ Party, Vandervelde,* young still, lean, dark, and full of fire, advocated the annexation of the Congo. We stood up in protest and left the hall, gesturing vehemently. Where could we go, what could become of us with this need for the absolute, this yearning for battle, this blind desire, against all obstacles, to escape from the city and the life from which there was no escape?

We needed a principle. To strive for and to achieve: a way of life. I now understand, in the light of reflection, how easy it is for charlatans to offer vain solutions to the young: “March in rows of four and believe in Me.” For lack of anything better... It is the failures of the others that makes for the strength of the fuhrers. When there’s no worthwhile banner, you start to march behind worthless ones. When you don’t have the genuine article, you live with the counterfeit. [...]

—p.15 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago

[...] Electoral politics revolted us most of all since it concerned the very essence of Socialism. We were at once, it now seems to me, both very just and very unjust, because of our ignorance of life, which is full of complications and compromises. The two percent dividend returned by the cooperatives to their shareholders filled us with bitter laughter because it was impossible for us to grasp the victories behind it. “The presumption of youth!” they said: but in fact we were craving for an absolute. The Racket exists always and everywhere, for it is impossible to escape from one’s time and we are in the time of money. I kept finding the Racket, flourishing and sometimes salutary, in the age of trade and in the midst of revolution. We had yearned for a passionate, pure Socialism. We had satisfied ourselves with a Socialism of battle, and it was the great age of reformism. At a special congress of the Belgian Workers’ Party, Vandervelde,* young still, lean, dark, and full of fire, advocated the annexation of the Congo. We stood up in protest and left the hall, gesturing vehemently. Where could we go, what could become of us with this need for the absolute, this yearning for battle, this blind desire, against all obstacles, to escape from the city and the life from which there was no escape?

We needed a principle. To strive for and to achieve: a way of life. I now understand, in the light of reflection, how easy it is for charlatans to offer vain solutions to the young: “March in rows of four and believe in Me.” For lack of anything better... It is the failures of the others that makes for the strength of the fuhrers. When there’s no worthwhile banner, you start to march behind worthless ones. When you don’t have the genuine article, you live with the counterfeit. [...]

—p.15 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago
25

There are ideas—and behind these ideas, in the recesses of consciousness, where they develop as a product of repression, of denial, of sublimation, of intuition and many other phenomena which have no name, there is a shapeless, vast, often oppressive, profound sense of being. Our thinking had its roots in despair. Nothing was to be done. This world was unacceptable in itself, and unacceptable the lot it offers us. Man is finished, lost. We are beaten in advance, whatever we do. A young anarchist midwife gave up her calling "because it is a crime to inflict life on a human being.” Years later, awakened into hope by the Russian Revolution, I wanted to reach Petrograd, then in flames, and agreed to pass through a sector of the Champagne front, at the risk either of being left there in a common grave or of killing men better than myself in the opposite trench. I wrote: “Life is not such a great benefit that it is wrong to lose it or criminal to take it.” Anatole France gave voice to some of the most characteristic of these intuitions in his work, ending his great satire of the history of France, Penguin Island, with the appraisal that the best thing to do in the circumstances was to invent some devilishly powerful machine to destroy the planet, “so as to gratify the universal conscience which didn’t exist, anyway.” Thus the litterateur of skepticism closed the vicious circle in which we were turning, and he did it out of kindness.

—p.25 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago

There are ideas—and behind these ideas, in the recesses of consciousness, where they develop as a product of repression, of denial, of sublimation, of intuition and many other phenomena which have no name, there is a shapeless, vast, often oppressive, profound sense of being. Our thinking had its roots in despair. Nothing was to be done. This world was unacceptable in itself, and unacceptable the lot it offers us. Man is finished, lost. We are beaten in advance, whatever we do. A young anarchist midwife gave up her calling "because it is a crime to inflict life on a human being.” Years later, awakened into hope by the Russian Revolution, I wanted to reach Petrograd, then in flames, and agreed to pass through a sector of the Champagne front, at the risk either of being left there in a common grave or of killing men better than myself in the opposite trench. I wrote: “Life is not such a great benefit that it is wrong to lose it or criminal to take it.” Anatole France gave voice to some of the most characteristic of these intuitions in his work, ending his great satire of the history of France, Penguin Island, with the appraisal that the best thing to do in the circumstances was to invent some devilishly powerful machine to destroy the planet, “so as to gratify the universal conscience which didn’t exist, anyway.” Thus the litterateur of skepticism closed the vicious circle in which we were turning, and he did it out of kindness.

—p.25 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago
40

[...] I had often met Soudy at public meetings in the Latin Quarter. He was a perfect example of the crushed childhood of the back alleys. He grew up on the pavements: T B at thirteen, V D at eighteen, convicted at twenty (for stealing a bicycle). I had brought him books and oranges in the Tenon Hospital. Pale, sharp-featured, his accent common, his eyes a gentle gray, he would say, “ I’m an unlucky blighter, nothing I can do about it.” He earned his living in grocers’ shops in the Rue Mouffetard, where the assistants rose at six, arranged the display at seven, and went upstairs to sleep in a garret alter 9:00 p.m., dog-tired, having seen their bosses defrauding housewives all day by weighing the beans short, watering the milk, wine, and paraffin, and falsifying the labels ... He was sentimental: the laments of street singers moved him to the verge of tears, he could not approach a woman without making a fool of himself, and half a day in the open air of the meadows gave him a lasting dose of intoxication. He experienced a new lease on life if he heard someone call him “comrade” or explain that one could, one must, “become a new man.” Back in his shop, he began to give double measures of beans to the housewives, who thought him a little mad. The bitterest joking helped him to live, convinced as he was that he was not long for this world, “seeing the price of medicine.”

—p.40 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago

[...] I had often met Soudy at public meetings in the Latin Quarter. He was a perfect example of the crushed childhood of the back alleys. He grew up on the pavements: T B at thirteen, V D at eighteen, convicted at twenty (for stealing a bicycle). I had brought him books and oranges in the Tenon Hospital. Pale, sharp-featured, his accent common, his eyes a gentle gray, he would say, “ I’m an unlucky blighter, nothing I can do about it.” He earned his living in grocers’ shops in the Rue Mouffetard, where the assistants rose at six, arranged the display at seven, and went upstairs to sleep in a garret alter 9:00 p.m., dog-tired, having seen their bosses defrauding housewives all day by weighing the beans short, watering the milk, wine, and paraffin, and falsifying the labels ... He was sentimental: the laments of street singers moved him to the verge of tears, he could not approach a woman without making a fool of himself, and half a day in the open air of the meadows gave him a lasting dose of intoxication. He experienced a new lease on life if he heard someone call him “comrade” or explain that one could, one must, “become a new man.” Back in his shop, he began to give double measures of beans to the housewives, who thought him a little mad. The bitterest joking helped him to live, convinced as he was that he was not long for this world, “seeing the price of medicine.”

—p.40 1. World Without Possible Escape: 1906-1912 (3) by Victor Serge 4 months, 3 weeks ago