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61 GREEMAN RICHARD GREEMAN VICTOR SERGE'S THE CASE OF COMRADE TULAYEV The novels of Victor Serge (1890-1947) reflect a rich experience of involvement in revolutionary politics. Born of parents who were themselves exiled Russian revolutionaries, Serge had a dozen years of agitation as an anarchist militant behind him (including six spent in captivity) when he entered the Russian Revolution in the bleak winter of 1918-19. He joined the Communist Party, fought in the Civil War, and participated in the founding of the Communist International. It was only after 1927, when he was expelled from the Party for his membership in the Left Opposition, that he turned to literature as a kind of substitute for political activity. Serge conceived of writing as an act of witness, "as a means of expressing for people what most of them live without being able to express, as a means of communion, as a testimony about the vast life that flows through us whose essential aspects we must try to fix for the benefit of those who will come after us."1 For Serge, literature was a sharing of human experience, and Serge's experience of Revolutionary Russia and its people was profound. The values that inform his work are those of sincerity, solidarity, and truthfulness. Paradoxically, Serge turned to literature at the very moment when Russian writers were being forced to deny those values. By 1930, the freedom and creative ferment of the Soviet literary renaissance of the 1920s in which Serge had taken part as a critic and translator, had been crushed by the Stalinist bureaucracy. However, as a French-language writer publishing in Paris, Serge was able to continue the literary experiments of his Russian friends and colleagues — Babel, Essenin, Gladkov, Mandelstam, Mayakovsky, Pilniak, et al— whose voices were silenced by censorship, suicide, and deportation. His work thus represents a strand of continuity in Soviet writing between the creative flowering of the 1920s and the post-Thaw dissidence of our own day in that it escapes the pernicious influence of so-called Socialist Realism. Serge is also unique in other ways: although a committed Marxist with a long experience of the worker's movement, he was also a literary modernist who was unafraid to borrow from "decadent" influences like Freud, BeIy, and Joyce. As such, his example and practice as a revolutionary artist may tell us more about the question of Marxism and literary form than volumes of unreadable Althusserian abstractions. Serge's first three novels, Men in Prison, Birth of Our Power, and 62 THE MINNESOTA REVIEW Conquered City, were completed between 1929 and 1932. 2 They comprise an informal trilogy chronicling the birth-pangs of the revolution in which the individual protagonist of the traditional novel is replaced by a kind of collective hero— the comrades. Shortly after the publication of Conquered City, Serge was arrested and deported to Orenberg, on the Ural, where he nearly starved to death. In 1936, after an international campaign in his favor, he was allowed to leave Russia— like Alexander Solzhenitsyn some thirty years later. However, the two novels Serge completed in deportation were confiscated by the GPU (despite an exit permit issued by the Soviet Censor) and have never been recovered. From 1936 to 1940, he lived a precarious existence in Brussels and Paris, working in printshops and campaigning against the Stalinist persecution of revolutionary minorities in Russia and Spain. He also wrote five books, including a novel, S'il est minuit dans le siècle (1939), about the persecuted Left Opposition in Russia.3 During WWII, he fled to Mexico, where he died in poverty and obscurity with three unpublished books in his desk drawer: among them his unforgettable Memoirs of a Revolutionary and the novel many consider his masterpiece— The Case ofComrade Tulayev.* Serge composed The Case of Comrade Tulayev under the most trying conditions when his very survival and the fate of his manuscript were open to the severest doubt. He began it in Paris at the outbreak of World War II, when Grasset had already withdrawn his latest book, Portrait de Staline, from circulation under government pressure. (It was too controversial .) He continued it, after the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 61-79
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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