Lesser-known classical books you shouldn't forget
If you have read my review of The Age of Longing, might remember me mentioning that Julian (one of
the characters) was a communist, but not a part of the Soviet Union and I had a hard time putting my finger on what he actually was. Well, that’s because I didn’t know much about communist ideology, it turns out. And lo and behold, what book do I read the same week for #1951club? An autobiography of a former soviet communist, that was kicked out of the Soviet Union because he turned wrong kind of communist (in the sense that there are more than one type of communist. Who knew? Well people more knowledgeable in communism knew, but I learned a lot, and that’s the important part).
These battles have thought me, that in every person there is the best and the worst side by side, and some times they get mixed up – and the worst comes when the best is broken.
Victor Serge was born in Belgium, spent a lot of time in Paris, was an anarchist fighter in Spain, before landing in Russia as a communist. Now, here is the tricky part. After Lenin dies, the people who had followed Lenin couldn’t agree on what was to happen. So they fractioned off. The group that ended up seizing power in Soviet were the Bolshevistic, while Victor was a follower of Trotsky. Despite being “wrong kind of communist” Victor still had a power in Soviet because he was a famous writer and journalist, especially in Paris. This made him both valuable and a threat.
Had I been only a Russian activist and not a French author, things would have been very different.
Despite everything that happened to Serge, he stayed a Marxist his entire life as well as a critic of the Soviet Union. To me this made this book one of the most interesting books about the Soviet Union, because it was written by someone who was both on the inside and on the outside. He was critical, yet a follower. I can’t help believe this leaves merit to his writing, which might be why he became the figurehead he was in the 30s (though, sadly mostly forgotten now).
My only real complaint is something he actually talks about at the end. He says that people have said there is too little of him in the text, which was what I had been thinking. He is a journalist, describing horrible things, loss of great friends, but he doesn’t really talk about how this effects him. He bring up that he as an individual doesn’t matter, only the people (ie. the group) as one would expect from a Marxist. “In the end, nothing of us the individual belongs to us the individual unless we are willing to be a part of us the group”. But you can also sense a comping mechanism. He has spent 1/6 of his life in different kind of jails, when writing this book. He has been through horrible things, for wanting to do what he thought was right. I can understand that his has thought himself to be a bit distant to the world, because he has had to be to survive.
A brilliant book for those interested in learning more about the Soviet Union in the 30s and the life of a very interesting man.