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:


The October Revolution of 1917

The October Revolution of 1917
A seven-week overview featuring China Miéville’s October
Mondays, October 9 through November 20, 7:30 to 9:30 pm
The Revolutions Study Group

Few historical events have been as widely misrepresented as the Russian Revolution of November, 1917 (called the “October Revolution”, according to the old Russian calendar). Especially since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, defenders of the capitalist order, including respectable academic scholars, have attempted to portray it as a coup d’état by a small minority of revolutionary zealots, bent on imposing an authoritarian regime. These falsehoods have the aim of discrediting not only this revolution and its leaders, but the idea of revolution in general. The Revolutions Study Group—which has recently taken an in-depth look at the events that brought Lenin and the Bolsheviks to power—is marking the centennial of the October Revolution by offering an eight-week course for anyone interested in finding out what actually happened at this defining moment of the twentieth century, and beyond.

We will read Verso Books’ recently published October, by China Miéville, along with other short readings, where appropriate.

The Revolutions Study Group (originally at the Brecht Forum) has been meeting since 2008. Individual participants have come and gone. However the group has held together, studying in depth a wide range of history including the French Revolution, the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the Mau-Mau Revolt in Kenya, the Haitian Revolution, the European Revolutions of 1848, the May movement in France of 1968 and the Hot Autumn of Italy in 1969, the Spanish Civil War, the Mexican Revolution, the Socialist (2nd) International, and Russian Social Democracy prior to World War I. The group has just this past June completed a year-long examination of the German Revolutionary period of 1918-1924.

Some Reflections On The Russian Revolution

Five sessions with The Revolutions Study Group

May 9-June 13 (no meeting May 30)

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Conveners of the Revolutions Study Group, which has been reading on this topic over the past year, invite all to join them in some precentennial reflections on this history and its continuing significance for the world socialist movement. On May 9 and 16, Jim Creegan, Amy Dalton, Brandon Rippey, and David Worley make short presentations as a way of opening class discussion, expected to focus on issues of cognitive dissonance: the impotence of democratic reformism when an old regime disintegrates; the grinding of revolutionary ideals by the relentless realities of civil war and economic collapse; and the heroism of revolutionary optimism in the face of savage resistance and foreign intervention.
We will view and discuss these films:
May 23 Tsar to Lenin (1937 documentary narrated by Max Eastman)
June 6 Reds (1981 drama directed by Warren Beatty)
June 13 Bed and Sofa (1927 Soviet silent film set in the civil war period).

The Revolutions Study Group (originally at the Brecht Forum) has been meeting since 2009. While individual participants may come and go, the group has held together, studying in depth a range of history including the French Revolution, the Mau-Mau Revolt, the Haitian Revolution, the European Revolutions of 1848, the May 1968 movement in France, a survey of the Italian left after WWII, the Spanish Civil War, the Mexican Revolution, the Socialist (2nd) International with an emphasis on German Social Democracy, and the 1905 Russian revolution and Russian Social Democracy prior to World War I.

It’s Not Over: Lessons from the Socialist Experiment

A special six session class taught by Pete Dolack from his recent book.

Pete Dolack is presenting this class over six weeks, one week to each section of his book that has been ten years in the making. Some reduced-price copies may be available here:

Thinking about the basic contours of a better world is a prerequisite to becoming effective in bringing about this improved world. The march forward of human history is not a gift from gods above nor presents handed us from benevolent rulers, governments, institutions or markets — it is the product of collective human struggle on the ground. It’s Not Over: Learning From the Socialist Experiment analyzes attempts to supplant capitalism in the past in order to draw lessons for emerging and future movements that seek to overcome the political and economic crises of today. It’s Not Over’s historical focus is on the Russian Revolution, the failed German Revolution, the early years of the Soviet Union, the Prague Spring, the Sandinista Revolution and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The concluding chapter analyzes why capitalism is a failed system for working people and offers ideas for discussion in what the contours of a better world might look like.

This history lives through the words and actions of the men and women who made these revolutions, and the everyday experiences of the millions of people who put new revolutionary ideas into practice under the pressures of enormous internal and external forces.

“As Cold War taboos on honest discussions of capitalism and socialism lose their force, important books like this are emerging. They ask why capitalism keeps provoking movements to go beyond it, why they have not yet achieved that goal, and what we must learn from them so the next efforts prove more effective. Dolack here contributes to the vital emerging answers.”
—Rick Wolff, author of Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism and host of the Economic Update radio program

Pete Dolack is an activist, writer and photographer who has worked with several organizations focusing on human rights, social justice, environmental and trade issues. He writes about the economic crisis and the political and environmental issues connected to it on the Systemic Disorder blog. His articles have appeared in popular publications including CounterPunch, ZNet, The Ecologist and Green Social Thought.