Magazine article New Internationalist

The Revolutionary Trilogy, Being the Novels of a Brave and Tireless Political Agitator Who Developed a Unique Writing Style to Smuggle out His Work

Magazine article New Internationalist

The Revolutionary Trilogy, Being the Novels of a Brave and Tireless Political Agitator Who Developed a Unique Writing Style to Smuggle out His Work

Article excerpt

WHAT is terrible when you seek the truth is that you find it. You find it and you are no longer free to follow the biases of your personal circle, or to accept fashionable cliches.' So wrote Victor Serge, novelist, poet, historian and political agitator in his autobiography Memoires of a Revolutionary. By the time of his penurious death in Mexico in 1947, Serge had experienced every variety of disillusionment and betrayal. Despite this, his convictions remained unsoured and his hope for the future burned undimmed. He had written in his poem Be Hard of his belief that 'in time flesh will wear out chains/In time the mind will make chains soap'. His example of a life lived to the hilt is a chastening but uplifting example to our diminished, passion - starved times.

The man who took the pseudonym Victor Serge was born Victor Lvovich Kibalchic in Brussels, Belgium in 1890. His parents were exiled Russian revolutionaries and his childhood was a typical emigre mix of idealism and poverty. Serge never went to school and learned to read in his father's library of revolutionary books. Active from an early age in the left - wing movements of Europe, his refusal to inform on a group of comrades practising 'expropriation' (robbery) led to a five - year jail term from 1912 to 1917. This experience he transmuted into Men in Prison, the first novel in his 'Revolutionary Trilogy'. On his release, he travelled to Barcelona - a city gripped by anarchist and syndicalist fervour. His experiences of the street - fighting here, followed by his deportation to civil - war - torn Russia, were to form the basis of the second and third novels of his trilogy, Birth of our Power and Conquered City. Taken together these books form a unique and compelling record of some of the most calamitous years of our century. Serge always felt that it was the responsibility of the writer to speak on behalf of all those who have no voice and his books are crammed with the authentic lives of ordinary people. Although often told in the first person, his novels are much more than fictionalized autobiography and much of their power lies in his ability to build the broad picture from a mosaic of small scenes, each centring on a different individual or group. In this way he avoided the sterile tableaux of heroic workers so loved of proletarian hack writers.

Serge's independence was always going to lead him into conflict with Stalin and in 1926 he was expelled from the Communist Party and deprived of all work. …

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