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Victor Serge

Taxamo Welf

kebagels pls
He's not really an anrchist is he...?

Serge said:
The anarchist `party' was rendered incapable of any practical initiative through its divisions, its Utopian spirit, its contempt for reality, its thunderous phrasemongering and its lack of organization and discipline. Whatever it enjoyed in the way of real capacities and energies were wasted in small and chaotic struggles. It was, for all that, a distinctive and armed party which, as we have seen, tried to organize itself along with its own General Staff. But it was an amorphous party without definite contours or directing organs - that is to say, without a brain or nervous system - a strange sort of party which was at the mercy of the most contradictory aims and was unable to exert any control over itself. It was an irresponsible party in which individual intelligences dominated by cliques, by alien pressures of a highly suspect kind and by group instincts, dissipated themselves to no effect. It was an unworkable party for a time of social war: for any war in modern conditions demands of its combatant units the centralization of information, thinking and will. It demands levers which are smoothly obedient to the decisions of leadership, and a clear view of facts and possibilities, which can come only through a clear-cut theory.


Not quite getting my head round this guy, anyone have any strong opinions?

Do trotskyists claim him as one of their own?
 

Taxamo Welf

kebagels pls
the first half of that i had read elsewhere

but i hadn't read the second bit with quotes, thank you Pickmans.

what do you think of this statement:

Memoirs of a Revolutionary (1945)

''I met the Menshevik leaders, and certain anarchists. Both sets denounced Bolshevik intolerance, the stubborn refusal to revolutionary dissenters of any right to exist, and the excesses of the Terror. The Mensheviks seemed to me to be admirably intelligent, honest and devoted to Socialism, but completely overtaken by events. They stood for a sound principle, that of working-class democracy, but in a situation fraught with such mortal danger that the stage of siege did not permit any functioning of democratic institutions. ''
 

Udo Erasmus

Well-Known Member
Read his "Memoirs of a Revolutionary" whether you agree or disagree with him, it is a good read with poetic, literary qualities.

It is also a moving document of brutal honesty, about a revolution disintergrating and transforming into it's opposite.

Good article by Peter Sedgwick on Serge - "The Unhappy Elitist"
http://www.geocities.com/cordobakaf/serge.html
 

Squatticus

for an armed populace
Taxamo Welf said:
Do trotskyists claim him as one of their own?
Yes, and he's often used as evidence that the 'best' anarchists will become trots in the light of real experience of a revolution.

(I wonder how long this thread will take to get on to Kronstadt? For what its worth, my view is that the episode should be viewed as regrettable by the (self-proclaimed) heirs of both sides involved)
 

Pickman's model

every man and every woman is a star
Taxamo Welf said:
but i hadn't read the second bit with quotes, thank you Pickmans.

what do you think of this statement:

Memoirs of a Revolutionary (1945)

''I met the Menshevik leaders, and certain anarchists. Both sets denounced Bolshevik intolerance, the stubborn refusal to revolutionary dissenters of any right to exist, and the excesses of the Terror. The Mensheviks seemed to me to be admirably intelligent, honest and devoted to Socialism, but completely overtaken by events. They stood for a sound principle, that of working-class democracy, but in a situation fraught with such mortal danger that the stage of siege did not permit any functioning of democratic institutions. ''
seems fair enough - i always thought the mensheviks were a bunch of losers.

but whilst he has a point that sometimes things move so fast it is hard to get things sorted democractically, that's no reason not to try to do so.
 

butchersapron

blood on the walls
Well, the anarchism that he was associated with early in his and later abandoned was of the individualist type, firmly against class politics, despising workers and syndicalism or any form oif collective struggle - and it was very clearly a minority current within anarchism. He then moved onto ultra-bolshevism, going fuether than even the orthodox leninsts in his defence of and support for centralisation and the adoption of authoritarian and hierachical methods.

I don't think that the two positions are as far apart as they seem on first glance - there's certain common themes that run through both, distrust of the masses and their capabilities in practics, despite reams of words emphasising the opposisite, being most obvious.

Of course Serge also later rejected Trotskyism as being based on the same faulty basis as the above two.
 

Taxamo Welf

kebagels pls
butchersapron said:
Well, the anarchism that he was associated with early in his and later abandoned was of the individualist type, firmly against class politics, despising workers and syndicalism or any form oif collective struggle - and it was very clearly a minority current within anarchism. He then moved onto ultra-bolshevism, going fuether than even the orthodox leninsts in his defence of and support for centralisation and the adoption of authoritarian and hierachical methods.

I don't think that the two positions are as far apart as they seem on first glance - there's certain common themes that run through both, distrust of the masses and their capabilities in practics, despite reams of words emphasising the opposisite, being most obvious.

Of course Serge also later rejected Trotskyism as being based on the same faulty basis as the above two.
so his objections to stalin were circumstantial rather than deep seated or ideological?
 

Taxamo Welf

kebagels pls
Pickman's model said:
seems fair enough - i always thought the mensheviks were a bunch of losers.
'bunch of lsers' lol :D

I see them exactly as he puts it.

The failure of the mensheviks and the the success of the bolshevikshas given character to the organisations of the left to present day; no group is too small when your militant; no split issue is not worth splitting over; the revolution is around the corner and can be engineered.
 

butchersapron

blood on the walls
Taxamo Welf said:
so his objections to stalin were circumstantial rather than deep seated or ideological?
No, his objections to Stalin were based on his (Stalin's) role in helping to crush the revolution. They were deeply ideological, and they grew in part out of his own recognition of the mistakes he had made and then later defended when he was an ulta-bolshevik, and which he recognised as running through later trotskyism as well ass bolshevism (without being the entirety of either though).
 

butchersapron

blood on the walls
Taxamo Welf said:
'bunch of lsers' lol :D

I see them exactly as he puts it.

The failure of the mensheviks and the the success of the bolshevikshas given character to the organisations of the left to present day; no group is too small when your militant; no split issue is not worth splitting over; the revolution is around the corner and can be engineered.
The thing is though, the splits Lenin engineered in the RSDLP were needed and were correct in those cicrumstances. The probalem is that the groups that have follwed have often mechanically applied those tatcics to each and every situation. Saying that, false unity is no good either.
 

Divisive Cotton

Now I just have my toy soldiers
butchersapron said:
No, his objections to Stalin were based on his (Stalin's) role in helping to crush the revolution. They were deeply ideological, and they grew in part out of his own recognition of the mistakes he had made and then later defended when he was an ulta-bolshevik, and which he recognised as running through later trotskyism as well ass bolshevism (without being the entirety of either though).
I was told once, although I've never read them, that he had a furious exchange of letters with Trosky over Krondstat when they were both in exile, with Trosky defending it, and Serge saying it was a mistake.
 

butchersapron

blood on the walls
Divisive Cotton said:
I was told once, although I've never read them, that he had a furious exchange of letters with Trosky over Krondstat when they were both in exile, with Trosky defending it, and Serge saying it was a mistake.
Yes, it was the laast in a long line of escalating disagreements that culminated in Trotsky accusing Serge of being either GPU or a western state agent - a very serious accusation that couldeasily have ended with Serge's death. It's all in The Serge-Trotsky Papers, edited by Dave Cotteril.

As for the awful Haberkern article linked to above, there's a pretty good reply by Ian Birchall of all people here. Haberkern is a schatmmanite though, not a social democrat and is *usually* an interesting writer (And Ian Birchall's normally shit).
 

rebel warrior

Soca Warrior
butchersapron said:
Yes, it was the laast in a long line of escalating disagreements that culminated in Trotsky accusing Serge of being either GPU or a western state agent - a very serious accusation that couldeasily have ended with Serge's death. It's all in The Serge-Trotsky Papers, edited by Dave Cotteril..
What has to be remembered though is the role of GPU agents among Trotsky's staff at the time who may well have fed him false information about Serge at the time...

Of course, it was GPU agents among Trotsky's staff that eventually did lead to Trotsky's death.
 

butchersapron

blood on the walls
But Trotsky was wrong, dangerously and carelessly so - and it's clear from the correspondence that his slur was motivated by anger at Serge's political disagreements with him and very little else.
 

rebel warrior

Soca Warrior
butchersapron said:
But Trotsky was wrong, dangerously and carelessly so - and it's clear from the correspondence that his slur was motivated by anger at Serge's political disagreements with him and very little else.
He was still being fed very dodgy shit by others about Serge though at the time...

Also, Trotsky was not wrong in general in 1938 to defend himself over Kronstadt against liberals...
 

butchersapron

blood on the walls
A liberal that Trotsky was desperate to make a central part of the building of the 4th International. And yes, and the people feeding him shit were the bloody GPU agents. What does that say about Trotsky? He was the one took in and manipulated like a teenage cadre.

I'm interested in what reasons you have for calling Serge a liberal though.
 

rebel warrior

Soca Warrior
butchersapron said:
A liberal that Trotsky was desperate to make a central part of the building of the 4th International. And yes, and the people feeding him shit were the bloody GPU agents. What does that say about Trotsky? He was the one took in and manipulated like a teenage cadre.

I'm interested in what reasons you have for calling Serge a liberal though.
I didn't call Serge a liberal. I was just noting that Serge was not alone in bringing up Kronstadt in 1938 - a lot of liberals did as well, in order to justify condemning Marxism because of Stalin's Purges.
 

butchersapron

blood on the walls
What on earth are you on about? Most people not actively involved in oppositional politics (either in the USSR, wstern Europe or the US) had no idea in 1938 of what was going on, if anything the western liberal intellectuals were flocking to the popular front and covering up the purges or justifying them on without any real knowledge of what was taking place. No one was doing what you're saying. Un'ess of course you'd like to list some of those 'liberals' bringing Kronsdadt up in 1938? You're floating dangerously here RW. Be careful.
 
butchersapron said:
Yes, it was the laast in a long line of escalating disagreements that culminated in Trotsky accusing Serge of being either GPU or a western state agent - a very serious accusation that couldeasily have ended with Serge's death. It's all in The Serge-Trotsky Papers, edited by Dave Cotteril.

As for the awful Haberkern article linked to above, there's a pretty good reply by Ian Birchall of all people here. Haberkern is a schatmmanite though, not a social democrat and is *usually* an interesting writer (And Ian Birchall's normally shit).
I think Birchall misses the point in his reply to Haberkern’s article.

The purpose of Haberkern’s piece, written in 1990, was to challenge what was a commonly held view at the time: that Serge’s later opposition to the excesses of Bolshevism stemmed from his pre-Bolshevik “libertarian” politics.

It should be noted that at the time the article was written Serge’s anarchist writings were only published in French and not widely available and as such this article played a valuable role in de-bunking the myth in the English speaking world. The fact that What Next had re-printed Haberkern’s article 8 years later appears to have been missed by Birchall.

Fundamentally Haberkern’s polemic is an attack on Serge’s ideology, principally his pre-Bolshevik politics and his politics during the years of siege Bolshevism. Whilst it may seem harsh, the point of the piece seems to have been to “bend the stick” against what was at the time a prevailing orthodoxy. And Haberkern does stress that the point of his polemic against Serge should not be seen as an attempt to “take anything away from the enormous courage and integrity he displayed in his subsequent career as an oppositionist.”

And he also notes:

“Serge’s description of the Communist Party in the period of War Communism is brilliantly done. In his account of the siege of Petrograd, his account of Year One of the Revolution and his Memoirs of a Revolutionary, he not only describes the process of decay but, as a necessary part of that, what the Communist Party had really been like at the height of the civil war. This portrait not only condemns by contrast the Stalinism that followed but also shames the bourgeois detractors of the revolution.”

I do agree with Birchall on two things however. Firstly that Haberkern’s absolute division of pre and post 1917 Bolshevism is superficial and ahistorical and secondly that the Shahtmanites generally suck, although they do produce interesting pieces (Draper rates as one of the greatest Marx scholars imho).

However Birchall’s piece here is full of the sort of moralism that he accuses Haberkern of.
 

butchersapron

blood on the walls
Haberkern’s article seemed to me to attempting to do two other directly related things. Firstly point out where Serges embrace of Bolshevism was wrong - that it was based on lack of knowledge and experience, and was primarily derived from the war communism of the years 1918-21 rather than the claimed earlier more 'democratic' years.

And secondly, to make the point that this was a direct result of Serge's anarchism (and by extension all anarchism)- and that consequently Serge (and all other anarchists) never manged to grasp what was happening and why the revolution degenerated.

Now, i do have a measure of sympathy for the first point - Serge undoubtdly was fascinated by 'men of action' and did tend to drop his critical intelligence when around them - actually it wouild probably be more accurate to say that he used that critical intelligence to justify their actions.

But he was the son of Social Revolutionaries expelled from Russia, he grew up surrounded by Russian exiles and his whole life was spent amongst political radicals. I really don't think it's possible that he had no idea who the bolsheviks were, what they stood for or what they promoted pre-1917. That's just too handy a claim for Haberkern's argument.

The second though is really just nonsense. Haberkern tries to pass off the uninfluential and tiny individualist French anarchist movement off as anarchism full stop. He correctly characterises that current as full of contempt for the w/c, for 'prolos' and for collective action, but he then, rather disgracefully, extends those same feelings from this tiny minority onto anarchism as a whole, and beats the wider movement with their crimes and mistakes.

I think what Haberkern does manage to do - rather inadvertently - in his stressing the continuities in Serge's political thought, is highlight the similiarites between individualist anarchism and jacobinism/authoritarian Communism. The distrust/dislike of the w/c and it's capabilities, the role of the strong leader/vanguard to keep the revolution on track (brain and memory of the class) etc.

The exchange continued later on here and here

There is still no English edition of Serges early individualist writings as far as i know.
 

Random

Ethnic nalgocrat
If Serge moved straight from anarcho-individualism to ultra-bolshevism, why did he go and join the CNT after his release from jail in 1917? In his retelling of those times, in his autobio, he describes an anarcho-individualist in Barcelona who wouldn't take part in the CNT's uprising of 1917 as an example of 'the individualist poison'.

I'd say that Serge's social libertarian outlook was in development from an early stage, causing, for example, rifts between himself and the individualists who were to become labelled 'the bonnot gang', who had edited 'Anarchy' before he did.

Edit: I'm going on serge's own writings here, so maybe he was trying to exculpate himself. However, his Year One also is more critical of the development and degeneration of bolshevik power than one would expect from an 'ultra-bolshevik'.
 

Taxamo Welf

kebagels pls
Random said:
Edit: I'm going on serge's own writings here, so maybe he was trying to exculpate himself. However, his Year One also is more critical of the development and degeneration of bolshevik power than one would expect from an 'ultra-bolshevik'.
yes but he wrote that in 1930, long after his ultr-bolshevik phase...?
 
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