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Authors: Victor Serge

Tags: #History, #Europe, #Former Soviet Republics, #Germany, #Modern, #20th Century, #Political Science, #Political Ideologies, #Communism; Post-Communism & Socialism

Witness to the German Revolution

BOOK: Witness to the German Revolution
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Table of Contents
A successful workers' revolution in Germany in 1923 would have changed the entire course of the century's history. A second workers' state—in one of the most advanced industrial countries—would have made nonsense of Stalin's slogan of “socialism in one country” and enormously enhanced the chances of spreading the revolution to France, Britain and Italy. And Adolf Hitler, even if he had escaped summary execution, would have found it hard to make any impact on events. The two great tyrannies of the century, Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany—with their host of imitators and would-be imitators—would have been aborted. Of course, there would have been other dangers, other possibilities of defeat still to face. But the scales would have been shifted significantly in favor of socialism.
One person who had the opportunity to observe and analyze the events of 1923 at first hand was Victor Serge. Serge was still a young man—32—in 1923, but he had an extensive revolutionary
past behind him. Born in Brussels to Russian revolutionary parents in exile, he went to Paris while still in his teens and became active in anarchist journalism. He spent the years 1913 to 1917 in jail after defending the anarchist bank robbers of the notorious Bonnot Gang. He went next to Spain, where he participated in the unsuccessful 1917 Barcelona syndicalist uprising. Then he made his way to revolutionary Russia, where he soon decided to become a member of the Communist Party (though he never abandoned political dialogue with his former anarchist comrades). His experiences in revolutionary Russia are described in his
Memoirs of a Revolutionary
and in the pamphlets he wrote at the time.
By 1922 Serge was feeling considerable disillusion at the way events were developing in Russia. He believed that only by spreading could the revolution survive: “Relief and salvation must come from the west. From now on it was necessary to work to build a Western working-class movement capable of supporting the Russians and, one day, superseding them.”
With Zinoviev's assistance he got a job in Berlin with the Comintern [Communist International] press agency Inprekorr (
Correspondance internationale
), which provided reports for the Communist press around the world. He spent most of 1922 and 1923 in Berlin, then worked in Vienna and elsewhere before returning to Russia in 1926. He became a supporter of the Left Opposition, and was sent into internal exile before being expelled from the USSR. Back in the West he continued to be an intransigent anti-Stalinist writer, who also produced a series of outstanding novels. With the German occupation of France, he left Europe for Mexico, where he died in 1947.
In his
Serge gives only a relatively sketchy account of his activities in Germany.
Even before the major clampdown of November 1923 his activity was at best semi-legal. Many articles under his name appeared in the Comintern press of the time, but they generally dealt with Russian affairs. It was doubtless useful to
let the German authorities think “Victor Serge” (itself a pseudonym; he was born “Kibalchich”) was in Russia. But for German matters, on which Serge wrote a weekly column between July and December 1923, he adopted the pseudonym “R. Albert.” As a result, Serge's writings on the German revolution lay for many years ignored and forgotten in the files of Comintern publications.
Albert was first identified as Serge by Richard Greeman after a study of the style and content of more than 20 articles in
Correspon-dance internationale
and the
Bulletin communiste
And in 1990 the French Trotskyist historian Pierre Broué,
in collaboration with Serge's nephew Bernard Némoz, published a collection of Serge's writings from 1923.
The selection in this book is inspired by Broué's edition, but I have added eight additional pieces not included by Broué (see the appendix for details of the comparison between the two books). In fact, on close study Serge's authorship becomes obvious. His style, his eye for significant detail, are unmistakable. Even his characteristic punctuation—the way in which he frequently, and often irritatingly, ends a sentence with three dots—is there. Doubtless the German police did not employ experts in literary analysis.
BOOK: Witness to the German Revolution
4.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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