Confessions

Rubens Gerchman, SOS, 1967/1968. Photographic reproduction João L. Musa/Itaú Cultural
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By VICTOR SERGE*

poem tohosted and translated by Sean Purdy.

Victor Serge (1890-1947) was a Belgian-Russian Marxist revolutionary who supported Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition against Stalin in the 1920s-1930s in the Soviet Union. Novelist, poet, journalist, historian and socialist militant, he was born in Belgium, the son of exiles from Tsarist Russia. He was active in the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movement in Belgium, France and Spain during the First World War.

In October 1918, he was exchanged along with other Russian revolutionaries in Paris for anti-Bolshevik foreign prisoners in Russia. He joined the Bolsheviks in 1919 and worked as a journalist and official for the Communist International. In 1925 he joined the Left Opposition, working tirelessly as an activist and writer against the rise of the Stalinist counterrevolution.

Serge was arrested in 1928, expelled from the communist party and fired from his job in the Soviet state. He was arrested again in 1933, spent 85 days in solitary confinement, and was exiled to the southwest of the country. After a campaign in his defense by European writers, he was released and exiled from the USSR in 1936 along with his wife and children. It was “a miracle of solidarity”, Serge later recalled. However, his sister, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and two brothers-in-law died in Stalin's gulag.

Despite being officially allowed to take all his writings made in internal exile, including two novels, the secret police confiscated them and he was forced to rewrite them from memory afterwards. The poem “Confessions”, published in 1938, deals with the forced confessions, under torture, of dozens of old Bolsheviks in the Moscow Trials.

[Sources: Victor Serge; James Brook; Richard Greeman. Resistance: Poems by Victor Serge. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2001. See also Victor Serge. Year 1 of the Russian Revolution. Translation: Lólio Lourenço de Oliveira. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2007]

 

Confessions

We were never what we are
the faces of our lives are not ours,
the voices you hear, the voices that spoke
are not ours,
nothing you saw is true,
nothing we've done is true,
we are totally different.

We never thought our thoughts,
we believe in our faith,
we wanted our will,
today our only truth is despair,
this confession of mad degeneration,
this fall in darkness
where faith is renounced and regained one last time.

We have no faces or names, no strength or past
– for everything is over and gone
We should never have existed
– because everything is devastated
And we are the guilty ones, we are the unforgivable ones,
we the most miserable, we the most ruined,
it's us... know this
– and be saved!

Believe our confessions, join our oath
of complete obedience: despise our repudiations
Once crushed, the old revolt is nothing more than obedience.

Let those who are less devoted be proud,
let those who have forgiven themselves be proud,
let those who are most devoted be proud,
let those who didn't give up be proud.

If we awakened the peoples and made the continents tremble,
we shot the mighty, we destroyed the old armies, the old cities,
we started to do it all over again with these old dirty stones,
these weary hands, and the meager souls they left us,
was not to haggle with you now,
sad revolution, our mother, our daughter, our flesh,
our decapitated dawn, our night with its bare stars,
with its inexplicable Milky Way torn to pieces.

If you betray yourself, what can we do but betray ourselves with you?
After lives like these, what death could there be but, in this betrayal, to die for you?
What else could we have done than kneel before you in this shame and agony,
if in serving him we invoke that darkness?

If others find your heart stabbed a thousand times
the means to live and resist you, in order to save her in twenty years, a hundred years,
Blessed are we who never believed in blessings,
blessed are they in our secret hearts
for us that we can do nothing else.

We no longer belong to the future, we belong entirely to this time:
bloody and vile in its love of mankind,
we are bloody and vile like the men of this age.

Trample us, insult us, spit on us,
puke us,
massacre us,
our love is greater than this humiliation,
this suffering,
this massacre,
their wicked mouths are righteous, their mouths are our mouths,
we are in you,
your bullets are ours, and our mortal agony, our death, our infamy are yours, and your vast life in these fields worked for centuries is ours forever!

* Victor Serge (1890-1947) was a Russian writer and political activist. Author among other books by Memoirs of a Revolutionary (Literature Company).

*Sean Purdy is a professor at the Department of History at the University of São Paulo (USP).

 

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