Victor Serge

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Sep 5 08:21:36 MDT 2001

Chronicles of Higher Ed, September 7, 2001

Victor Serge, Conscience of the Revolution

Scholars rediscover a largely forgotten Soviet dissident writer


Wandering around Buenos Aires in June of last year, Susan Weissman, an
associate professor of politics at California's Saint Mary's College, found
herself on a street lined with bookstores -- where, in the window of one
shop, she noticed a display of the latest issue of El Rodaballo, a literary
and political journal. The magazine's design was elegant, but what really
caught her eye was its headline: "The Contemporary Relevance of Victor
Serge." It is a subject very close to Ms. Weissman's heart.

Ten years earlier, she had written her dissertation on Serge -- a Russian
author who supported the Bolsheviks, was imprisoned by Stalin, then spent
years in exile, subject to constant harassment by Soviet agents. His novels
and historical writings had been praised and denounced by intellectuals and
activists around the world. But after his death in Mexico in 1947, Serge
was all but forgotten.

That started to change after 1990, the centennial of Serge's birth, when
scholars in several countries began publishing studies of his work. New
editions of his fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in various
languages -- not a flood of them, exactly, but enough to signal a revival.
Yale University acquired the author's papers in 1996. And his complex
political legacy is the focus of Ms. Weissman's book Victor Serge: The
Course Is Set on Hope (Verso), due out in October.

So Ms. Weissman was gratified to find Serge's name featured prominently on
a magazine cover in Buenos Aires. (That sort of thing means years of
scholarly labor on an obscure topic are beginning to pay off.) The timing
was perfect, too. Ms. Weissman was there to attend an academic conference,
but her visit had started out on a surprising note: When she arrived, her
hosts had whisked her off, not to a seminar room, but to a huge rally
against the International Monetary Fund. It was much like the
demonstrations in Seattle a few months before, with one distinctly
Argentine touch: a performance of "The Internationale," the old
revolutionary anthem, done tango-style. Serge would have liked that.

After buying a copy of El Rodaballo, Ms. Weissman was in for another
surprise. The article on Serge was familiar. In fact, very familiar: It was
a section from her dissertation that Ms. Weissman had published in Against
the Current, an American socialist magazine.

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Louis Proyect
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