Midnight in the century

Kazimir Severinovich Malevich, Dynamic Suprematism.


Afterword to Victor Serge's newly released novel

Victor Serge: a life for work and for the Revolution

The assault on the power of workers, soldiers and peasants led by the Bolsheviks took place with little bloodshed. Left Socialist-Revolutionaries participated in the first government, supported by the soviets. The Russian Empire was heavily disorganized by the inter-imperialist war of 1914-1918 for which it was not prepared. Of its more than one hundred million inhabitants, two million died and five million were injured and disabled in the conflict. In 1918, with the end of the war, the workers' state suffered a terrible imperialist offensive – England, France, United States, Italy, China, Germany, Ottoman Empire, Poland, Romania, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Greece – which financed the internal counterrevolutionary forces. It was hoped to crush the revolution that threatened to spread across the world. Under the direction of León Trotsky, the Red Army was built.

With successive Soviet victories and the threat of revolution in Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, etc., the imperialist states accepted defeat and imposed a blockade on the USSR, Winston Churchill's “Iron Curtain”. What had escaped destruction in 1914-1918 was razed to the ground by the Civil War (1918-1921). Lenin recalled the honor and disgrace of the first socialist revolution taking place in the most backward European society. The struggle for survival gave rise to “War Communism”, when the Soviet State defended itself against the counter-revolution by vampirizing a deeply anemic country. The Bolsheviks requisitioned food without being able to pay for it. Peasant insurrectionary outbreaks erupted in the rural world and misery dominated cities and fields. Seven to twelve million civilians and combatants would have died in that war.

At the end of the Civil War, industrial production was 30% lower than in 1913. Urban workers left for the countryside to survive. Part of the proletariat that had built and defended 1917 had died fighting or was now part of the armed forces and administration. The peasants returned to the subsistence economy. Revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries resorted to the black market in order not to die of hunger. In the extreme winter, the lack of food was associated with the lack of fuel. Religious sects announced the arrival of the end times. In the countryside, there were cases of anthropophagy.


Victor Serge – Viktor Lvovitch Kibaltchith – was born in Belgium, on December 30, 1890, the son of an expatriate anti-Tsarist Russian junior officer, close to the People's Will party (Narodnaya Volya). Vera Poderewski, her mother, was a teacher of Polish origin. Serge had little formal education, due to his father's pedagogical ideas and the family's economic difficulties. His brother Raoul-Albert was cut down by tuberculosis and starvation at the age of nine. Very young, Victor, in order to live, worked as an apprentice photographer, typographer, draftsman. He was active in the Young Socialist Guard of Brussels (Ixelles), living with Belgian anarchists. In 1909, aged nineteen, he moved to Lille, France, and then to Paris, where he was active and became close to the anarcho-individualists, living in semi-penury. Arrested in January 1912, he was sentenced, in February 1913, to five years in prison and a similar ban on residence in France for harboring and not denouncing leaders of the so-called Band à Bonnot, of anarcho-robbers.

Freed, expelled from France, he worked in Barcelona, ​​Spain, in 1917, as a typographer. He wrote for revolutionary anarchist publications and participated, in July 1917, in Catalan workers and libertarian uprisings. Back in Paris, he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Along with Russian prisoners, he formed a revolutionary nucleus that joined the Bolshevik Revolution and was part of the Franco-Soviet prisoner exchange.

In January 1919, when he and his companions set foot in the land of the soviets, a red soldier greeted them warmly and asked if they had any bread! Serge records revolutionary soldiers carrying rifles on their backs tied by ropes, for lack of leather straps. Victor Serge settles in Petrograd (Leningrad, 1924), which was depopulating, harassed by the counterrevolution, with hunger, typhus, lice. He joins the Communist Party and the Third International, participating in the Civil War effort as a journalist, translator, teacher, instructor, etc. He wields his rifle in the face of an imminent attack on Petrograd, when the revolution's fortunes hang in the balance. He collaborated in setting up the infrastructure of the First Congress of the Communist International (Comintern), integrating its direction, commanded by G. Zinoviev (1883-1936).

It organizes arms smuggling from abroad, paid for with counterfeit tsarist currency, and searches the archives of the tsarist political police for former infiltrators in the revolutionary movement. From this experience and from his life, his book What every revolutionary should know about repression, from 1925, was born. He collaborates in the founding of the Museum of the Revolution, in Moscow, and writes for the Soviet and international revolutionary press. He translates works by V. Lenin, L. Trotsky, G. Zinoviev, etc. from Russian into French.

At the end of the Civil War, Victor Serge learned, on February 28-29, 1921, of the uprising of the garrison of the naval base on the island of Kronstadt, in the Gulf of Finland, led by anarchists, concomitant with small outbreaks of strikes in the outskirts of Petrograd, stricken like the rest of the country with poverty. The island fortresses and the ships immobilized by the ice were reconquered by guns before the melting occurred, and rebel sailors were shot dead shouting "Long live the world revolution" and "Long live the Communist International!"

Victor Serge never abandoned his libertarian vision that he integrated and elevated with the revolutionary Marxist perception of the class struggle. Disgusted with the authoritarian treatment of the uprising, he and fellow left-wing communists reject the anarchist “Third Revolution” proposal, remaining faithful to the Bolshevik Party, for objective reasons. Kronstadt's victory would have opened the door to counter-revolution. He writes, already in the 1940s, in Memoirs of a Revolutionary (1901-1941): “(…) the country was completely exhausted, production almost stopped, there were no more reserves of any kind, not even moral reserves in the minds of the masses.”


Some of the major economic demands of the Kronstadt sailors were soon satisfied, with the exception of easing political repression and removing the Communist Party from power,” recalled Serge. In March 1921, after heated debate, the Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party approved the “New Political Economy” – NEP According to Lenin, a transitory setback to catch our breath and move forward. It was about the commercial liberation of small private property in the countryside and the city and the opening to foreign financing, which never arrived. Peasants would pay taxes in products and could sell the surplus as they wanted. Small and medium private industry would be liberated.

The Bolshevik land reform had created multitudes of parcel landowners who resumed production, selling their surpluses in markets. In the cities, small businesses returned to work and new ones were founded. Treasury capitals returned to the light of day. Services tended to normalize and absolute hunger disappeared. The large industrial and infrastructural companies remained in the hands of the State, with scarce resources for investment. The urban and rural petty-capitalist economy advanced with free rein while the state-socialist one followed at the heels of a tired tortoise. Scenarios reminiscent of the past were outlined, with a new and growing class of wealthy peasants, helping themselves to wage laborers, – kulaks – and urban entrepreneurs – nepmen –, the former and the latter enjoying bourgeois pleasures prior to 1917.

In the main cities, fairy-lit restaurants, shops, hotels, ice cream parlors, luxury nightclubs, etc. were frequented by the new bourgeoisie, by diplomats, by senior bureaucrats, who traveled in old and new private means of transport. Meanwhile, wages and unemployment allocations were miserable. There was a huge shortage of supplies in the cooperatives and state stores and the prices of food and manufactured goods were high. Workers lived worse than before the Revolution in a world that knew class distinctions again.

A vast bureaucratic caste born during “War Communism” was also consolidated – during the effort to structure and defend state, party, military, etc. apparatuses. – necessary for the organization and survival of the revolution. A reality radicalized by the NEP, in the context of the growing anomie of the proletariat that disappeared in the Civil War, mowed down by deindustrialization, expropriated of its best cadres by being co-opted for administrative and other positions. The popular refrain of “whoever shares, shares, and keeps the greater part” prevailed.

Belonging to the administration and the Party allowed the conquest of privileges of all kinds, some minimal, but valued by the general misery. In the absence of trained staff, multitudes of employees, technicians, etc. from Tsarist times invaded the administration. Upon being arrested, Serge interacted with the jailer who had closed the prison door to L. Trotsky in 1905! They were valued for their loyalty to the authorities, which institutionalized the promotion of cadres by co-option, and no longer by election. In 1936, in the revolution betrayed, L. Trotsky calculated that 12% of the Soviet population enjoyed some bureaucratic privilege.


Victor Serge participated in the political laceration known by the internationalist communists due to the contradictions of the consolidation of the NEP, which allowed the country to breathe, on the one hand, and for the workers to despair, on the other, due to the different situations of misery they were experiencing and the renaissance of the bourgeoisie. In a kind of escape from reality, he decided to found, with some companions, an “agricultural commune in the middle of the Russian campaign”, an old libertarian dream that he had lived on the margins of in France when he was young. The utopian project quickly failed due to the total lack of economic viability and an aggressive social environment towards communists and “without god”.

Victor Serge often intervened in defense not only of former anarchist comrades threatened with death by the Bolshevik political police (Cheka), transformed into “master of rope and cleaver” over the fate of dissidents, resorting to Maximo Gorky (1868-1936) in cases more serious. While many of his comrades abandoned politics in despair, Serge returned to Central Europe, hoping to contribute to the advancement of the world revolution, which would relaunch the revolution in the USSR, by putting an end to its isolation and boosting the combativeness of the international proletariat.

Sent by the Executive Committee of the Communist International, the Belgian-Russian revolutionary settled clandestinely with his family in Berlin to contribute to the expected communist insurrection in advanced Germany. He was on the writing committee of the Inprecor, publication of the Executive of the Communist International, with worldwide circulation, writing in numerous publications on the German revolution and other topics. At the end of 1923, he saw, in Berlin, Germany plunge into a deep crisis and, in October, the insurrection was suspended, with the exception of Hamburg, due to a failure of communication, in a failure with world-historic consequences.

Lost the great departure, the revolution would retreat for decades. Defeat would pave the way for fascism in Europe and consolidate the bureaucracy in the USSR. For L. Trotsky, the defeat was due to the “crisis of revolutionary leadership”, to which Serge adds the crisis of popular consciousness and of the Communist International. It reports the spread of careerism and opportunism among the leading cadres of the CI, under the erratic control of G. Zinoviev, at a time when he, L. Kamenev (1883-1936) and J. Stalin (1878-1953) were opposing each other. whether to L. Trotsky in the dispute over the direction of the USSR, with Lenin immobilized by illness.

Under growing repression, Serge and his family leave Berlin for Austria, home to a powerful socialist labor movement. During the trip, he was informed of the seriousness of Lenin's health and, soon, of his death, on January 21, 1924. In Vienna, the outside leading center of the Communist International, he learned more about the bureaucratic adventures of that organization, always under the command of by G. Zinoviev. He lived there with Andrés Nin, George Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, among other prominent figures of international Marxism, linked to the Communist International.

Victor Serge took a stand in favor of the Left Opposition, organized in 1923, led by León Trotsky and Eugenio Preobrazensky (1886-1937), already under severe general attack in the USSR.

In December of that year, in the context of Lenin's illness and death, L. Trotsky wrote articles for the Pravda, proposing a “New Course” for the Party, gathered in a homonymous booklet. It was the first articulated denunciation of bureaucratism and the expropriation of proletarian power. The opponents of 1923 pointed out the “danger of the fragility of the industry, incapable of satisfying the needs of the countryside and the suffocating dictatorship” of the officials, recalled Serge in his Memoirs. In The New Economy, from 1926, Preobrazensky proposed the financing of socialist industry mainly by the peasant economy, in a planned way, through fiscal and mercantile measures, etc. It was defined as “ultra-industrialist” by N. Bukharin (1888-1938), who defended the construction of socialism at “snail's paces”, through the NEP. Opening.

In 1924, L. Trotsky published, The Lessons of October, presentation to a volume of his writings from 1917, where he recalled the opposition of G. Zinoviev and L. Kamenev to the October insurrection. In response, his detractors launched a violent campaign recalling the diatribes that Lenin and Trotsky exchanged before 1917, their “Menshevik” background and their belated adherence to Bolshevism. N. Bukharin, G. Zinoviev, L. Kamenev then departed from the so-called “Trotskyist” theory, the antithesis of the version of dogmatic “Leninism”, as the last two acknowledged in 1926-27. Serge demanded to return from Vienna to the USSR, where he understood that, with the ebb of the revolution in Europe, the fate of the Revolution of 1917 and the world would be defined.

Remembering those times, in Memoirs of a Revolutionary, that the Soviet bureaucracy, already trying to accommodate itself to the great bourgeois nations, in the hope of obtaining resources for the consolidation of the USSR, began the taming of international communism and a large part of the cadres of the Communist International managed to survive in the new context and progress functionally. The leadership of the Communist International repressed the left-wing and independent militants of the national sections, encouraging unreflective world obedience through the campaign of “Bolshevization” (“Russification”) of foreign communist parties. Serge reports in his Memoirs an interview with George Lukacs, in Vienna, who advises him to join, waiting for better times.

In 1924, Serge finds Soviet Russia in a dramatic situation. Unemployment was rampant and unemployment benefits were meager. The cities teemed with abandoned children, prostitutes, alcoholism, violence. The NEP had retreated from the absolute poverty of the Civil War years, but it had radicalized the power of the bureaucracy, the rebirth of capitalist production, the social inequalities, the demoralization of the communists. Members of the party, government, armed forces, etc. they were paid as specialized workers and supplied in cooperatives where nothing was lacking. Corruption prevailed, inside and outside the government and the party. Private trade offered the best, for those who paid. The workers survived half-starved, poorly dressed and poorly shod, freezing in the winter.

Veterans of 1917 and the Civil War disaffiliated themselves from the Party, which opened wide the doors to hundreds of thousands of new adventitious militants, with the “Lenin Promotion”, after the death of the founder of Bolshevism, in January 1924. The suicide of militants expelled from the Party had become a semi-epidemic: men were shooting themselves in the head; the women preferred the poison. Serge is invited to join the leadership of the already semi-clandestine “leading center of the left opposition” in Leningrad — which included students, old Bolshevik workers, two Marxist historians, a visual artist, an agricultural scholar, Trotsky’s first companion and his two daughters, among others. They would be mowed down by Stalinist repression, especially in 1936-7 – the years “of the shot”. Afterwards, he joined the central leadership of the Opposition in Moscow, coordinated by L. Trotsky, still a (formal) member of the Bolshevik leadership. At that time, the opposition was organized throughout the USSR, in large and medium-sized cities, usually expanding.

Serge refers with admiration to the style of work of the builder of the Red Army and his secretaries, all working like a Swiss clock, with no time for fraternizations, with emphasis on drunkenness, a reason for dislike. In the spring of 1925, G. Zinoviev and L. Kamenev, frightened by the eventuality of capitalist restoration, opposed “socialism in one country”, a lowly aggression against revolutionary Marxism, approaching L. Trotsky. The new alliances at the top of the Central Committee motivate the repositioning of hundreds of thousands of CPSU militants. The crowds of officials wanted peace, for everything to go on as before. In December 1925, the XV Congress of the CPSU, with marked cards, enthrones the new troika: M. Bukharin, A. Rikov (1881-1938), J. Stalin. The first two represented the right in the Party, the koulaks and the nepmen; the latter, the bureaucratic apparatus.

L. Kamenev and G. Zinoviev recognize the correctness of the Opposition proposals of 1923 on the party regime, giving rise, in 1926, to the stillborn Unified Opposition, when political and administrative repression was already general. Agent provocateurs infiltrated the ranks of the opposition. Conversely, not a few GPU agents who spied on L. Trotsky were his supporters, having fought under his orders in the Civil War. The first great bloody Stalinist purge will be carried out in the ranks of the political police. In the meetings of the base cells, the control was total. Officialist speakers defended at length the “building of socialism in one country” and the lack of “faith” of the opposition, without addressing the issues under discussion. The isolated opposition speakers took the floor for five minutes to the boos and attacks of bureaucracy agents — “Traitors”, “Mensheviks”, “Pro-bourgeois”! Most militants remained silent, fearing retorts and unemployment, even when they supported opposition positions. The CC allowed militants to dissolve “illegal meetings” by force – recalls Serge in his Memoirs. The first arrests began. On November 3, 1929, Yakov Blumkin will be the first opposition Bolshevik executed without trial. He was given 15 days to write down his adventures and deeds in the service of the Revolution.

In 1927, the fortunes of the Chinese Revolution excited the Unified Opposition and vast sectors of the party. His victory would boost the revolution in the USSR and around the world. The Communist International, under the de facto leadership of Stalin, ordered the Chinese Communists to ally themselves with the “democratic and nationalist bourgeoisie” as it carried out the massacre of Shanghai, setting back the revolution for decades. Serge wrote a pamphlet about Chinese successes. The Unified Opposition drafted its Platform, discussed by the rank and file, proposing: reform the NEP, advance the industrialization and collectivization of the countryside, in a planned and gradual way; the return of Soviet power and internal party democracy; increase in the wages of poor workers and peasants. Among other issues, he discussed the world revolution.


On November 7, 1927, the Unified Opposition participated in the official demonstration of the tenth anniversary of the revolution with its slogans and banners, being repressed by police troops who struck, in some cases, outstanding commanders of the assault on power and of the Civil War. On November 16, L. Trotsky and G. Zinoviev were expelled from the Central Committee, accused of fomenting an insurrection. Adolfo Abramovič Ioffe (1883-1927), a veteran and prominent Bolshevik leader, seriously ill and forbidden to be treated abroad, committed suicide as an act of anti-bureaucratic political protest, aged 47. The threat of international scandal forced his will to be handed over to L. Trotsky, to whom it was intended.

Soon, L. Kamenev and G. Zinoviev abjured the Opposition, bowing to the bureaucratic dictatorship, proposing that there was no life outside of a lifeless party. Trotsky was deported to Alma-Ata on the Turkistan border. In the last conversation, he proposed that Victor Serge leave for France to organize the international opposition. Deportations of oppositionists continued. The XV Congress of the CPSU had legalized the repression of the opposition. “However revolting it was, the repression began in a mild way” – pointed out Victor Serge, excluded from the Party in 1928, in his Memoirs of a Revolutionary.


In 1928, Victor Serge is arrested and imprisoned in Leningrad, sharing a cell with a speculator, a mad beggar, a humble accountant, among other desperate people... counter-revolution, black market, sabotage. In prison, he reread Memories of the House of the Dead, by F. Dostoevsky (1821-1881), master of world literature, imprisoned and exiled by tsarism, under terrible conditions. Protests against his arrest abroad allowed him to return home a few weeks later. Interned for illness, fearing he would die without leaving any traces of his resistance, he decided to return to literature, which he had proposed as “a very secondary thing in an era” revolutionary, in which he had fought tirelessly for ten years. He would prioritize fictional literature in prose because historiography would require calm and time that he knew he did not have. Literature, on the contrary, he proposed in his Memoirs, made it possible to apprehend “living men”, to scrutinize “their internal mechanisms”, “to penetrate their souls!” “A certain light on history cannot be shed, I am persuaded, except by free and disinterested literary creation (…).” At that time he wrote Year I of the Russian Revolution, classic historiographical work and ended the novel men in prison. Birth of our strength, fictional production, was dedicated to the European revolutionary idealism of 1917-18. He wrote about the Conquered City: Petrograd 1919, published in Paris, Literature and revolution, opposing “proletarian literature”.


In 1923, L. Trotsky highlighted the danger posed by the NEP, as the advance of private agriculture and the fragility of state industry would give rise to the depreciation of abundant agricultural prices and the appreciation of scarce industrial products — “Scissors Crisis”. Strengthened, in the summer of 1928, the peasants stopped sending their produce to the market. With nepmen, demanded expansion of mercantile liberation, in the direction of capitalist restoration. The threat of famine again loomed over the cities of the USSR, forcing the resumption of forced requisitions. As in the terrible times of “War Communism”, the peasants hid the products, restricted the plantations, rehearsed small demonstrations and uprisings. Communist officials were again found with their throats cut on rural roads.

At the end of 1928, under the direction of J. Stalin, the bureaucracy understood that the strengthening of the NEP and the capitalist restoration, which would motivate a possible civil war, would liquidate the socio-political structure on which it supported its privileges and their lives. The social support base of the Revolution was also weakened. In 1929, after disposing of the Bukharin faction, the bureaucratic leadership launched accelerated industrialization and collectivization of the countryside, supported by voluntarist, anarchic measures and repression. The Opposition had proposed to tax the kulaks – the bureaucracy liquidated them, banishing millions of them to desert areas. Rural revolts broke out across the USSR. Border populations moved to Turkey, Poland, China. The Opposition advocated restricting and modifying the NEP, towards its future extinction. The NEP was simply sent into space. The worsening conditions of existence of urban workers forced the institution of internal passports, to stop the bleeding of specialized workers who retired to the countryside.

The peasants slaughtered their animals to eat them, made boots and clothes from the hides, sold them at any price, etc., instead of delivering them to the collective farms. The animal hecatomb compromised for decades the still main means of traction and locomotion in the USSR. Sabotage became virulent, in the fields and in the city. From 1930 onwards, the USSR plunged into a crisis that seemed to have no end, which was answered with waves of repression. In 1932, the young wife of J. Stalin, living at the height of the dome of privileged bureaucrats, committed suicide. Afraid of being arrested and disappearing, Serge writes a political will.


Accelerated industrialization and forced collectivization heavily impacted the Left Opposition. A huge part of perhaps more than five to eight thousand Trotskyist prisoners and deportees abjured their positions. They defended that the Party should be supported, since it applied, in any way, the opposition program, against the restorationist right. In 1928, L. Trotsky himself proposed emergency support to J. Stalin and the bureaucracy, against N. Bukharin and the capitalist restoration. In a positivist reading of the successes, he proposed that industrialization would by itself originate a strong proletariat that would naturally regenerate the party and society. Some remembered that Trotsky in exile would deal with the world revolution. It should be noted that, despite the terrible excesses of the bureaucracy, the productive forces of the USSR grew, under the impetus of the revolution, the nationalization of the economy, the efforts of workers in the cities and fields, even clumsy planning.

Thousands of repentant people returned to the Parties and to the administration, weakening the Opposition, without any change in the orientation and in the bureaucratic dictatorial regime that exacerbated the repressive violence. Very soon, they would return to prison, under unbelievable accusations, to, in the continuation, meet, in the vast majority, death. Oppositionists who persevered in demanding the redemocratization of Soviet institutions were subjected to increasingly harsh conditions of detention. Despite the communication difficulties between the prisons and between them and León Trotsky and the Opposition abroad, they continued to discuss and write about the situation in the country and in the world. At least part of this valuable elaboration remains in Russia's archives, increasingly closed to investigators by Vladimir Putin's determinations. In 2018, when changing the floor of cell 312 of Vekhneuralsk prison, workers found documents hidden there by Trotskyist prisoners in the early 1930s, still only partially translated from Russian. Oppositionists, like Victor Serge, were rare.

Without correcting the excesses, the crisis continued to hit the USSR hard, giving rise to opposition trials in the very ranks of the bureaucracy, such as the plot of the “young Stalinist left” and, at the end of 1932, of the Rjutin group, close to Bukharin. The latter distributed a detailed assessment of the situation, demanding the regeneration of the party and the return of those banished and expatriates, including Leon Trotsky. For having read and not denounced the document, which scorned J. Stalin, G. Zinoviev was again expelled from the party. On March 27, 1934, with the assassination, in Petrograd, of Serguei Kirov (18861934-XNUMX), high leader of the bureaucracy, J. Stalin launched a river repressive wave that exterminated real, possible and imaginary oppositionists, from the right, center and left. He imposed a Bonapartist dictatorship on a party immobilized by fear, transformed into a mere instrument of government. The Political Bureau and the Central Committee began to be rarely and ritually consulted by the now “Father of the Peoples”. It was a movement in defense of the bureaucracy, in general, and of J. Stalin and his close ones, in particular, who feared a mature coup within the party apparatus itself.

The Great Terror (1934-38) struck right, center, left, with collective condemnations to death, without trial, of tens of thousands of people accused, in general, of sabotage and conspiracy, held responsible for the economic disaster: religious, Mensheviks, non-parties, anarchists, Trotskyists; manual and skilled workers; poor and rich peasants; teachers, doctors, engineers, agronomists, etc. The “old guard” that prepared 1917 and won the Civil War was annihilated and, with it, the revolutionary memory. The Left Opposition militancy was exterminated, with very few exceptions. Serge and Ante Ciliga (1898-1992) escaped massacre due to foreign nationalities and international campaigns. Maria Ioffe, young wife of A. Ioffe, survived in prison due to bad luck, only being released after the relative de-Stalinization of 1956.


In 1933, again, Victor Serge is arrested, in Petrograd, when he was looking for medicine for his wife, Liuba Russakova, suffering from psychiatric disorders. Then he is transferred to Moscow, where he is interrogated at length, reaffirming his dissent and rejecting defection. In prison, under stress, he suffers from pains in the head and heart; he coexists with desperate people from multiple origins who animate characters from Chaos, in Midnight in the Century. He lives isolated, poorly fed, without the right to read and write, while dozens of condemned people are executed. His inquisitor ends his process with the reading of a fanciful deposition of his sister-in-law and secretary, an apolitical and defenseless young woman. Serge rejects the statement, demands confrontation, and incessantly protests in writing to higher authorities. A botched process could turn the spell against the sorcerer. He is condemned to deportation for three years in Orenburg, where he arrives in June 1933. He almost exults with the condemnation and with his fate, tempered certainly due to the international campaign in his favor. He reminds comrades deported to villages of some rustic huts in the Polar Circle.

The city of Orenburg, on the banks of the Ural River, on the border between Europe and Asia, had about 160 thousand inhabitants. In the region, there had been heroic battles of the workers against the counter-revolution, during the Civil War. The Orthodox and Christian churches had either been destroyed or were being used as warehouses. The mosques were respected due to the important and strong Muslim population. Orenburg had higher schools of agronomy, veterinary medicine, pedagogy; factory, prisons, a “small concentration camp”. Barracks and camps and a flight school had been built. Well-uniformed, well-nourished, well-housed soldiers, with their families, constituted an elite completely alien to a large population bordering on poverty, living on tiny bread rations, lack of fuel, starvation wages.

Serge refers to the spread of alcoholism, prostitution and syphilis; to children who worked in restaurants to lick the plates. He remembers a boy who finds the taste of sugar strange that he had never known. He records the famine he and his fellow Opposition members knew in Orenburg – soup with mutton bones or an egg were extraordinary luxuries in the daily diet of dry bread and sweetened tea. The deportees and the population, poorly fed, fell ill. He lived in Orenburg with a “fraternal” group of irreducible “Trotskyists”, with “excellent morals”, which he set out to record and honor in Midnight in the Century. His wife and son join them in Orenburg.

Since Kirov's death in 1934, repression had taken on appalling levels. In isolators and concentration camps, irreducible members of the Opposition began harsh and desperate hunger strikes, mercilessly repressed. The proposal for a “final solution” for the “Trotskyists” and other opponents or perceived as such is already being outlined in J. Stalin's inner circle. Very soon, the gruesome Moscow Trials would take place. Especially in France, the Victor Serge case hinders the action of the French Communist Party, which defends the Popular Front policy. Finally, his departure abroad is allowed, when he has already completed his sentence! In Memoirs of a Revolutionary, recalls the devastation with which he left his comrades in exile from Orenburg, destined for certain death. Deprived of Soviet nationality, he leaves for Belgium, which had granted him refuge, with his family, months before the First Moscow Process (1936-1938). In a final retaliation, manuscripts are confiscated, including novels that have already been completed, such as the lost men e Storm, and the eraser Year II of the Russian Revolution, whose exportation the official censorship did not allow. These writings remain buried in the archives of Russia.


In 1936, in Belgium and then in France, he worked as a typographer and proofreader and wrote articles defending the rapprochement of anarchists and Marxists, as a path to the victory of the Revolution in Spain, and intervened in the denunciation of the Moscow Trials. He maintains close collaboration with León Trotsky and the International Left Opposition. In January 1937, in Amsterdam, Holland, he participates in the International Conference of the Fourth International. He joined the POUM and did not join the IV International, which led to friction with L. Trotsky, with whom he broke up in 1939, and about whom he would write, in partnership with Natalia Sedov (1882-1962), Trotsky's life and death, poignant and important biography after his assassination in 1940. From Lenin to Stalin e Fate of a Revolution, in 1937, and fictional works about his life and struggle in the USSR, among them, Midnight in the century. In 1940, with France invaded by German troops, he and his son, Vlady Kibálchich, took refuge in Marseille and, in 1941, undertook a five-month trip to Mexico, where he published the long twilight e The case of comrade Tulayev, released in France only in 1948, which he would impute as his best novel. In 1945, his best-known work appears in the USA, Memoirs of a Revolutionary. Two years later, it's time to Thirty years after the Russian Revolution, a kind of political testament, in which he explains the bureaucratic and socialist degeneration stemming above all from the defeat of the world revolution and the harassment of imperialism, registering the revolutionary surrender of Lenin and the Bolshevik old guard.

His historiographical, political and fictional production is vast, and part of it still remains, especially articles and essays, dispersed in newspapers and magazines. Much due to the conditions of life in prison in France and the USSR, Victor Serge dies, in Mexico, on November 17, 1947, of a heart attack, aged 57. His funeral was financed by comrades, due to the family's lack of means. In his relatively brief and impressively productive life, he had fulfilled the commitment he had reaffirmed when he reported the farewell to his companions in Orenburg, of a revolutionary who had to live above all to “work and fight”.

* Mario Maestri is a historian. Author, among other books, of Revolution and counter-revolution in Brazil: 1500-2019 (FCM Publisher).


Victor Serge. Midnight in the century. Translation: Florence Carboni. Porto Alegre, Authors Club, 2021, 228 pages.

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