Victor Serge & the Bolsheviks


This article was originally written for publication in Workers Solidarity but it turned out the space was not available to do justice to the subject. I've decided to make the first draft of the article and some additional quotes I'd collected available anyway as they may be quite useful. We hope to produce an article on Serge in Red and Black Revolution No. 4. The main flaw of the article below is that it fails to address why Serge supported the Bolsheviks and it assumes a lot of knowledge of the debate around the events mentioned.


From the Summer of 1918 the Bolshevik government undertook the destruction of the Russian Revolution, the destroyed all the gains the workers had won in October over the next four years. Any anarchist who has argued this with Leninists today will know the name of Victor Serge.

The material Serge wrote in his first years in Russia consists of crude apologies for the Bolshevik dictatorship. It is not surprising that this is the most popular material among today's Leninists. But in his later writings the Bolsheviks pet anarchist turns to bite his master. With the illusion of the 'success' of the Russian Revolution fading in the late 1930's Serge rediscovered the brutality of the Bolshevik regime.

Serge was not at the time of the revolution an anarchist. He had been an anarchist in the years before the first world war but joined the Bolsheviks on his arrival in Russia in 1919. Like the Bolsheviks he argued for the party dictatorship saying "The Party lived in the certain knowledge that the slightest relaxation of its authority would give the day to reaction"

Even when the Party lied to its own members and massacred the sailors of Kronstadt he stuck with the Party, despite being only too aware of its lies. He describes how he was initially fooled into believing that Kronstadt was a White rising but how "The truth seeped through little by little, past the smoke screen put out by the Party press, which was positively bezerk with lies...it lied systematically"

In later years when Trotsky lied about the reason for the suppression Serge answered that "It is untrue that the sailors of Kronstadt demanded privileges..". When Trotsky claimed they sought the restoration of capitalism, Serge pointed out "The economic program of Kronstadt was so legitimate, so far in reality from being counter-revolutionary, and so easy to grant, that in the very hours when the last of the mutineers were being shot, Lenin implement the same demands by getting the New Economic Policy adopted". When Trotsky denied the massacres carried out after the rebellion Serge wrote "By hundreds, if not by thousands the sailors were shot on the spot. Three months later they were still being taken out by night..in small batches, to be executed in the cellars or the exercise yards"

Serge described what Kronstadt actually stood for as follows "Pamphlets distributed in the working class districts (of Petrograd) put out the demands of the Kronstadt Soviet. It was a programme for the renewal of the revolution. I will summarise it: re-election of the Soviets by secret ballot; freedom of the spoken and printed word for all revolutionary parties and groupings; the release of revolutionary political prisoners; abolition of official propaganda; an end to requisitioning in the countryside; freedom for the artisan class; immediate suppression of the barrier squads that were stopping the people getting their food as they pleased"

He also describes how these demands were received by the Bolsheviks "from the first moment, at a time when it was easy to migate the conflict the Bolshevik leaders had no intention of using anything but forcible methods. Later, we discovered that the whole of the delegation sent by Kronstadt to explain the issues to the Petrograd Soviet and people was in the prisons of the Cheka"

While Leninists today like the SWP try to label the Kronstadt's rising as anti-Semitic, Serge shows us the real motivation of the rebellion when he describes its final moments "The final assault was unleashed on 17 March....Some of the rebels managed to reach Finland. Others put up a furious resistance, fort to fort and street to street; they stood and were shot crying 'Long live the world revolution!' There were some of them who died shouting 'Long live the Communist International!"

These descriptions by Serge, a Bolshevik, confirm the accounts given by all the anarchists . Of course Serge had fallen for the Russian myth, that this repression would somehow preserve the revolution. Today we see it led to 70 years of a monstrous police state that completly discredited the idea of communism . So when Serge asks "Given the dictatorship of the proletariat, exercised by the Communist Party, was it right for us to use forcible repression against the protests, demands, propositions and demonstrations of workers stricken by famine?...Was it right to repress movements whose underlying origins were in working class democracy" our answer should be a very loud NO!

Andrew Flood


Further quotes from 'Memoirs of a Revolutionary'

"In spite of my special rations as a government official, I would have died of hunger without the sordid manipulations of the black market where we traded the petty possessions we brought in from France"
p. 79

"the Chekas inevitably consisted of perverted men tending to see conspiracy everywhere and to live in the midst of perpetual conspiracy themselves.

I believe the formation of the Chekas was one of the gravest and most impermissible errors that the Bolshevik leaders committed...All evidence indicates that the revolutionary tribunals functioning in the light of day..and admitting the right of defence would have attained the same efficiency with far less abuse and depravity. Was it so necessary to revert to the procedures of the Inquisition?"
P. 80-81

On the defeat of the Denekin assault on Petrograd

"The White disaster was the result of two cardinal errors; their failure to have the intelligence and courage to carry out agrarian reform in the territories they wrested from the revolution, and their re-instatement everywhere of the ancient trinity of generals, high clergy and landlords"
p. 95

On the abolition of the death penalty Jan. 1920

"On the 18th or 19th some of the comrades of the Smolony told me in hushed voices of the tragedy of the preceding night - no one mentioned it openly. While the newspapers were printing the decree , the Petrograd Cheka were liquidating their stock! Cartload after cartload of suspects had been driven outside the city during the night, and then shot, heap upon heap. In Petrograd between 150 and 200; in Moscow, it was said between 200 and 300."
p. 99

On 'War Communism'

"No one dared to admit that it would not work...Rozhkov.. wrote to Lenin saying that we were heading for catastrophe; there must be an immediate change in economic relations with the countryside. The Central Committee ordered him off to Pskov, where he was obliged to live.."
p. 117

"The Soviets indeed, which had been so lively in 1918, were now no more then auxiliary organs of the Party; they possessed no initiative, exercised no control and in practise represented nothing but the local Party Committees"
p. 118

"Anarchism was basically a doctrine of far more emotive power then intellectual. When these men met together it was only to proclaim that 'We fight for the obliteration of all State frontiers and boundaries. We proclaim that the whole earth belongs to all peoples!' Would it have endangered the Soviet regime if they had been granted freedom of thought and expression? It would be lunatic to think so. It was merely the majority of Bolsheviks, true to the Marxist tradition, regarded them as 'petty-bourgeois Utopians' whose existence was incompatible with the extension of 'scientific socialism'
p. 120

On Makhno

"In September 1919, at Uman, he inflicted a defeat on General Denikin from which the later was never to recover"
p. 121

"his popular reputation throughout the whole of Russia was very considerable...despite..the strenuous calumnies put out by the Communist Party, which went so far as to accuse him of signing pacts with the Whites at the very moment when he was engaged in a life and death struggle against them"
p. 122

In October 1920, when Baron Wrangel still held the Crimea, a Treaty of Alliance was signed between the Black army [Makhnovists] and the Red Army. This treaty was to be a preliminary to an all Russian amnesty for anarchists, the legalisation of their movement and the convention of an anarchist congress at Kharkhov. The Black cavalry broke through the white lines..this victory, coinciding with that of Frunze and Blucher..was the decisive blow against the White Crimean regime.

In Petrograd and Moscow the anarchists were making ready for their Congress. But no sooner had this joint victory been won than they were suddenly arrested en masse by the Cheka. The Black victors of the Crimea... were betrayed, arrested and shot

This fantastic attitude of the Bolshevik authorities, who tore up the pledges they themselves had given to this endlessly daring revolutionary peasant minority, had a terribly demoralising effect;"
p 122

On Kroptkins funeral (Dec. 1921)

"I was the only member of the Party to be accepted as a comrade in anarchist circles. The shadow of the Cheka fell everywhere, but a packed and passionate multitude thronged around the bier, making this funeral ceremony into a demonstration of unmistakable significance

Kamanev had promised to release all the imprisoned anarchists for the day;..[but]...angry voices were whispering that the Cheka was violating Kamenev's promise, that a hunger strike had been voted in the jails; that so and so and so and so had been arrested; that the shootings in the Ukraine were still going on.

The lengthy negotiations to get permission for a black flag and a burial oration sent a wave of anger through the crowd. The long procession...set off to the cemetery...accompanied by singing choirs who walked behind a black flag bearing inscriptions in denunciation of all tyranny. At the cemetery...Aaron Baron, arrested in the Ukraine, due to return that evening to a prison from which he would never again emerge, lifted his emaciated, bearded, gold-spectacled profile to cry relentless protests against the new despotism; the butchers at work in their cellars, the dishonour shed upon socialism, the official violence that was trampling the Revolution underfoot. Fearless and impetuous, he seemed to be sowing the seeds of new tempests"
p. 124

On Kronstadt

Serge was told the Whites had taken Kronstadt but

"..I met comrades who told me it was an atrocious lie; the sailors had mutinied, it was a naval revolt led by the Soviet"
p. 125

"Pamphlets distributed in the working class districts (of Petrograd) put out the demands of the Kronstadt Soviet. It was a programme for the renewal of the revolution. I will summarise it: re-election of the Soviets by secret ballot; freedom of the spoken and printed word for all revolutionary parties and groupings; the release of revolutionary political prisoners; abolition of official propaganda; an end to requisitioning in the countryside; freedom for the artisan class; immediate suppression of the barrier squads that were stopping the people getting their food as they pleased"
p. 126

"The truth seeped through little by little, past the smokescreen put out by the Party press, which was positively bezerk with lies...it lied systematically"
p.126

"from the first moment, at a time when it was easy to migate the conflict the Bolshevik leaders had no intention of using anything but forcible methods. Later, we discovered that the whole of the delegation sent by Kronstadt to explain the issues to the Petrograd Soviet and people was in the prisons of the Cheka"
p. 127

"An ultimatum was published signed by Lenin and Trotsky and worded in disgusting terms: 'Surrender, or you will be shot down like rabbits'"
p 129

"At the beginning of March, the Red Army began its attack....The 10th Congress of the Party, was now, on Lenin's proposal..proclaiming the 'New Economic Policy'; all the economic demands of Kronstadt were being satisfied!"
p. 130

[In fact the NEP went considerably beyond Kronstadts demands as it re-introduced aspects of capitalism]

"The final assault was unleashed on 17 March....Some of the rebels managed to reach Finland. Others put up a furious resistance, fort to fort and street to street; they stood and were shot crying 'Long live the world revolution!' There were some of them who died shouting 'Long live the Communist International!' Hundreds of prisoners were taken away..and handed to the Cheka; months later they were still being shot in small batches, a senseless and criminal agony"
p. 131

Serge's excuse for supporting the Bolsheviks

"The Party lived in the certain knowledge that the slightest relaxation of its authority would give the day to reaction"

"Kronstadt opened a period of dismay and doubt. In Moscow Paniushkin, a Bolshevik with a distinguished record in the Civil War, resigned demonstratively from the Party to found..the "Soviet Party". he opened a club in a working class street; he was tolerated for a brief while, then arrested. Some comrades came and asked me to intercede for his wife and child, who had been evicted from their apartment and were now living in a corridor. I could do nothing for them. Another old Bolshevik, a worker named Miasnikov, who had taken part in the 1905 Upper Volga rising and knew Lenin personally, demanded freedom of the press 'for everybody from the anarchists to the monarchists". He...was soon to be deported to ...Armenia."
p. 132

"From Odessa we had monstrous news: the Cheka had just shot Fanny Baron and Lev Chorny, one of the theoreticians of Russian anarchism. Lev Chrony had been well know to me in Paris 12 years earlier..he lived in the Latin Quarter, cleaning restaurant windows and then going off to write his 'Sociometry' beneath the trees of the Luxembourg Gardens"
p. 153

Third congress of the Communist International, 1921

"Trotsky...flew at the Spanish delegate, Orlandis, who was attacking the persecution of anarchists. Trotsky seized him violently by the coat-lapels and almost shouted, "I should certainly like to see that happening to you, petty-bourgeois that you people are!" p. 142

The 1923 Germand revolution

In answer to Trotsky explaining the failure of the 1923 German revolution as a 'crisis of leadership'

"canny workers ridden by fear of the revolution: as for revolution, the Russian one, the only one that had succeeded, had suffered too much famine, waged too much terror, and strangled too much freedom in its early years."

"Scapegoats had to be found. Out of defeat came the lying, the suppression.... No body talked about the basic fault. the whole party lived on the involuntary bluff of functionaries whose first concern was not to contradict their superiors. Misinformation was generated at the base through the personal interest of the poor wretch who, simply to keep his job assured the Bezirk or Central Committee organiser, that, yes, he had his fifty men available and that the fifty Mausers [rifles] had been bought - when in fact he had ten men and was searching in vain to find Mausers for sale. Misinformation ascended stage by stage, through the whole hierarchy of secretaries, so that, at the end of it all, the delegate from the Central Committee of the K.P.D., could tell the President of the International, 'we are prepared', when nothing was prepared and everybody in the Party knew it was so, except those who drew up the confidential reports."
p. 174-175


From 'The Serge Trotsky papers'

"It is untrue that the sailors of Kronstadt demanded privileges.."
p. 163

"It would have been easy to forestall the uprising by listening to Kronstadts grievances, by discussing them, even by giving satisfaction to the sailors... Even when the fighting had started, it would have been easy to avoid the worst: it was only necessary to accept the mediation offered by the Anarchists...For reasons of prestige and through an excess of authoritarianism, the Central Committee refused this course. In all this the responsibility of Zinoviev...was particularly great: he had just mislead the whole party organisation and the entire proletariat of the city by announcing to us that 'the white general Kozoovsky had seized Kronstadt by treason'. It would have been easy and humane...not to resort to massacre after the military victory...The massacre that ensued was outrageous".
p. 164

"The economic program of Kronstadt was so legitimate, so far in reality from being counter-revolutionary, and so easy to grant, that in the very hours when the last of the mutineers were being shot, Lenin implement the same demands by getting the New Economic Policy adopted"
p. 164

"Given the dictatorship of the proletariat, exercised by the Communist Party, was it right for us to use forcible repression against the protests, demands, propositions and demonstrations of workers stricken by famine?...Was it right to repress movements whose underlying origins were in working class democracy"
p 166

"By hundreds, if not by thousands the sailors were shot on the spot. Three months later they were still being taken out by night..in small batches, to be executed in the cellars or the exercise yards"
p 164

"Can one, finally, justify the insensate and, I repeat, abominable massacre of the vanquished of Kronstadt who were still being shot in batches ...three months after the end of the uprising?"
p171

"Trotsky emphasises that the sailors and soldiers of the Kronstadt of 1921 were no longer the same , with regard to revolutionary consciousness, as those of 1918...But the Party of 1921 - was it that same as that of 1918?"
p. 164