Victor Serge: Notebooks 1936 to 1947 a close reading

Opening Session with translator Mitch Abidor
April 17, 10:30 am to 12 noon NYC EST • 3:30 to 5:00 pm GMT 

“My conception of writing was and still is that it needs a mightier justification: as a means of expressing to men what most of them live inwardly without being able to express, as a means of communion, a testimony to the vast flow of life through us, whose essential aspects we must try to fix for the benefit of those who will come after us. In this respect, I belonged to the tradition of Russian writing.” —Victor Serge

In this session, we will read Notebooks 1936-1947 written during the last ten years of Serge’s life while in exile in Mexico.  The Notebooks document not only the personal and political costs of Serge’s commitment to the truth of the 1917 Revolution, but the deep and rewarding insights of Serge’s intellect that had been freed by creative and radical political thought. In the Notebooks, Serge comments upon the battles of World War II, the movement of armies and political powers, while also observing the landscape of Mexico. A youthful Anarchist and former press director of the Comintern, Serge seems to have known every left political actor and writer of note in pre-World War II Europe. Serge’s ability to characterize and describe these political actors enlivens his writing into more than reportage and becomes the document of a deeply feeling observer and participant committed to “the “underlying revolutionary principle of double duty: to defend the revolution from its external enemies and its internal enemies (intolerance, bureaucracy, corruption.)”

Serge’s life was difficult: He found it “[t]erribly difficult” to create in the void, lacking the least support, the least real environment. “Serge’s work, inspired by the political intellects and movements that led to the promise of the 1917 Revolution, challenges our daily experience of life under capitalism.  Studying his words can inspire us to be creative in a commitment to Marxist politics and to try to find an understanding of art and writing equal to Serge’s:


Victor Serge: The Novels of Resistance

A 10-session class with Richard Greeman
Tuesdays, 5:30 to 7:30 pm
October 11 – December 13

This Fall we plan to read three novels by the Franco-Russian writer and revolutionary Victor Serge. The period covered (1933-1941) begins with Serge’s arrest by the GPU and deportation to the Urals (the setting of the novel Midnight in the Century), continues through the Moscow Trials and the Civil War in Spain (the background to Serge’s fictional Case of Comrade Tulayev), and ends with the Fall of France (experienced by Serge and fictionalized in The Long Dusk). The group is open to all, and no prerequisite familiarity with Serge is expected.

Richard Greeman is best known for his studies and translations of novelist and revolutionary Victor Serge (1890-1947). Greeman also writes regularly about politics, international class struggles and revolutionary theory. Co-founder of the Praxis Research and Education Center in Moscow, and director of the International Victor Serge Foundation, Greeman splits his time between Montpellier, France and New York City.

10 session class: $95 / $110 / $125
no one turned away for inability to pay

Victor Serge Read-In Day

A Victor Serge Sunday at the Brooklyn Commons
Featuring Mitch Abidor, Mallory Brooks, Silvia Federici, Jenny Greeman, Richard Greeman and Christopher Winks
Complete with a Serge Book Fair and other participation of Serge’s American publishers, Haymarket Books, New York Review Books and PM Press

“Victor Serge died in exile and obscurity, apparently no more than a splinter of a splinter in the Marxist movement. But with the passage of the years, he looms up as one of the great moral figures of our time, an artist of such integrity and a revolutionary of such purity as to overshadow those who achieved fame and power. His failure was his success. I know of no participant in Russia’s revolution and Spain’s agonies who more deserves the attention of our concerned youth.” – I. F. Stone

2:00 pm: Talks and Discussion:
Victor Serge: Revolution and its Illusions by Mitchell Abidor, translator of Serge’s Anarchists Never Surrender (PM Press) and Notebooks (NYRB Classics). Serge’s autobiography bears the title Memoirs of a Revolutionary (a title he didn’t choose), but at the beginning and end of his political life he posed serious questions about the efficacy of revolution and revolutionary activity. Inspired by Serge’s article “The Revolutionary Illusion,” Mitch Abidor will examine this aspect of Serge’s thought.

Victor Serge’s Novels of Resistance by Richard Greeman, Serge scholar, translator and prefacer of five Serge novels (NYRB Classics, PM Press)

Victor Serge and the Poetics of Revolutionary Memory by Christopher Winks, (Comparative Literature, Queens College, CUNY). A discussion of Serge’s poetry as a prolonged elegy for the fallen —“the cortège of his executed brothers” —and an affirmation of love and hope amidst the darkness of world counter-revolution.

3:30 pm: SERGE READ-IN: Pick your favorite Serge passage and join with other fans including Sylvia Federici (feminist writer), Christopher Winks, Melody Brooks and Jenny Greeman, New Perpectives Theater) who will be reading their own favorites and discussing them.