Today is May Day. And what better way to celebrate International Workers’s Day and remember the activists and reformers of the past by publishing Victor Serge’s autobiography Memoirs of a Revolutionary, the first time the complete text has been published in English. Serge had an incredibly active and courageous life, and this book is the story of that life and the fellow revolutionaries he knew along the way. The bio from the book sums it up well:
Victor Serge (1890–1947) was born Victor Lvovich Kibalchich to Russian anti-Tsarist exiles, impoverished intellectuals living ‘by chance’ in Brussels. A precocious anarchist firebrand, young Victor was sentenced to five years in a French penitentiary in 1912. Expelled to Spain in 1917, he participated in an anarcho-syndicalist uprising before leaving to join the Revolution in Russia. Detained for more than a year in a French concentration camp, Serge arrived in St. Petersburg early in 1919 and joined the Bolsheviks, serving in the press services of the Communist International. An outspoken critic of Stalin, Serge was expelled from the Party and arrested in 1929. Nonetheless, he managed to complete three novels (Men in Prison, Birth of Our Power, and Conquered City) and a history (Year One of the Russian Revolution), published in Paris. Arrested again in Russia and deported to Central Asia in 1933, he was allowed to leave the USSR in 1936 after international protests by militants and prominent writers like André Gide and Romain Rolland. Using his insider’s knowledge, Serge published a stream of impassioned, documented exposés of Stalin’s Moscow show trials and of machinations in Spain, which went largely unheeded. Stateless, penniless, hounded by Stalinist agents, Serge lived in precarious exile in Brussels, Paris, Vichy France, and Mexico City, where he died in 1947. His classic Memoirs of a Revolutionary and his great last novels, Unforgiving Years and The Case of Comrade Tulayev (both available as NYRB Classics), were written ‘for the desk drawer’ and published posthumously.