Interview with Victor Serge (1947)

Victor Serge

A short interview with Victor Serge conducted in Mexico in 1947, shortly before his death, in which Serge expresses his views on the future of Europe.

Interview with Victor Serge1

Victor Alba: How do you view Europe from exile?

Victor Serge: With nostalgia. With an unthinking affection whose real name is undoubtedly loyalty. When I had to flee, from exile to exile, to stay alive because I defended essentially European values, like freedom of thought and the rights of the individual, the nightmare of defeats was quickly left behind in Latin America. It does full justice to our old Europe, now so cruel and defenseless, but to which the Americas owe everything. The civilization on this side of the Atlantic is Euro-American…. Some of the exiles are satisfied with saying that “Europe is finished”; I don’t see anything in these words but frustration and regret…. Latin America, ever since it first came into existence, has received all its spiritual nourishment from Europe and that is why it is now undergoing a crisis, characterized by the absence of ideological, literary or artistic “movements”. For eight years now, Europe has only given it the example of destruction. Latin America is the natural complement of Latin Europe; in fact, it is waiting for European recovery to obtain new awareness, a new beginning of its evolution….

Victor Alba: In your view, what are the most important problems facing Europe?

Victor Serge: I won’t talk to you about political problems. They are clearly defined all over the world; and my position as an anti-totalitarian militant, which has never changed, is sufficiently well-known. I will only allow myself to say that the events have proven that I was right. The alternative is brutal: the European resurgence in which I have faith will be that of the essential and superior rights of man, that is, a society organized by and for the freedom to create … or it will be nothing. I refuse to admit that all the instincts, all the deepest aspirations of European man can be permanently repressed. And, in my view, Europe, which according to traditional geography ends at the Ural Mountains, in fact extends beyond them…. The problems of the West and those of the East are basically the same and can be defined in these few (simple) words: either the rebirth or the suffocation of man. The Third World War, if it breaks out, will be, even more so than the Second World War, a kind of international civil war, a new phase, more unconscious than conscious, of the universal revolution that we have experienced since 1914.

Victor Alba: Wouldn’t it be, above all, an immense act of suicide?

Victor Serge: Immense and terrible, undoubtedly, but partial. I do not have a sufficiently apocalyptic state of mind to believe in the suicide of a civilization that, precisely thanks to modern physics, is finally making possible a technological liberation from labor that is beyond the wildest dreams of even the most imaginative utopians…. But some political changes, by no means unlikely, can spare us a Third World War…. In any event, we are thinking of activity in the present, of our present duty, and we must not be daunted by words: The thinking man is responsible….

Victor Alba: So you are effectively posing several questions: “What to do? What are the solutions?”

Victor Serge: From my present vantage point, Europe seems prodigiously wealthy in every way, rich under its ruins, under its inflation and its economic gangsterism. Raw materials, industries, communications, populations accustomed to labor and to study, accustomed also to a precious feeling of the joy of being alive, intellectual traditions from the remote past, social movements, Europe concentrates these fertile goods to an incomparable degree.

I am not talking about Europe recovering its economic supremacy of the past century, and I hope that its imperialism will come to an end. What it can and must offer the next generation is the example of a humanist society, rational in its organization, balanced, suffused with a sentiment of justice…. Am I sounding like an idealist? Heaven forfend! There are only idealists, the resigned, and totalitarians. Where should I begin? I think that it is necessary, first of all, to reject the philosophies of despair that only express the state of mind of the dispirited. To rebuild, to desire a resurgence, is to proceed from an optimism of action, whose wellsprings are in our instincts and which is illuminated by our intelligence. I am on the side of life!

Allow me to say that, seen from afar, the most up-to-date French literature now seems rather lacking in confidence and is frequently dominated by the nightmare…. That the nightmare is most abundant in the world around us—and sometimes within us as well—I do not deny. The real problem is not to die because of this nightmare or to derive advantage from it, but to fight it and defeat it. From the writer’s point of view, what seems most urgent to me is the restoration of a certain kind of courage, and taking clear and well-defined positions in the everyday struggle.

Victor Alba: And from a broader social point of view?

Victor Serge: If I insist on speaking as a writer, this is because the writer is by definition a man who speaks for many others who are silent…. During the war I was part of a multifarious socialist emigration, and rather ill-fated, because we were still swimming upstream with our noble illusions that are now so cheapened. We never once refrained from protesting against every despotism, without exception. You understand? We never consented to denounce some concentration camps, while remaining silent about others…. You have to see this clearly, you have to see it clearly and mercilessly, contrary to all political or ideological opportunism. An indispensable requirement for moving forward! I allow myself to emphasize this because, judging from a good number of the publications I have seen, the custom of remaining silent about the most serious problems is spreading. So many people talk about commitment precisely in order not to commit themselves to anything….

Victor Alba: And what concrete solutions do you see?

Victor Serge: For good or for ill, the reconstruction of the Europe of the past is impossible. It will have to be remade, in accordance with economic planning, the just distribution of the products of labor, and a weakening—at first—of national borders. The West, including Germany, forms a natural whole, whose cohesiveness will be easy to bring about, of strictly interdependent countries. Their only conceivable future is federation, and collaboration with the United States…. Later, after the disasters or by virtue of their efforts to overcome them, the Russias will complete this union and Europe will reach a high point of greatness that it never attained when it was divided. A very distant prospect, you will say. But history moves fast, just think of our experience over the last forty years! What I want to advocate, along with lucidity and bold action, is the reconciliation of the victims. Nothing is more natural than rancor, after such enormous massacres, but nothing is more capable of diminishing and dividing European man against himself. The reconciliation of the victims calls for a great moral effort and it is this which will render it fertile. All the peoples have been ground up in infernal machines that dominated them: to cure this psychological deadlock we must recompose a fraternal soul oriented towards a common future.

October 16, 1947

Translated from the Spanish translation of Teresa Martínez in December 2017.

Source of the Spanish translation:

  • 1. Conducted by Victor Alba for Combat in 1947, when Serge was living in exile in Mexico. What follows is the complete text as it appears in the excellent edition of Serge’s works edited by Jean Rière and Jil Silberstein, Memoires d’un revolutionnaire et autres écrits politiques (Paris, Robert Laffont, 2001). Published with the consent of Victor Alba. Translated by Teresa Martínez. [Note of the Spanish editors.]


Dec 11 2017 11:22

"and my position as an anti-totalitarian militant, which has never changed, is sufficiently well-known."

My, how Serge loved to rewrite his own history! So this one-time defender of the dictatorship of the party proclaimed that he was always "an anti-totalitarian militant"?

He was perfectly fine with party dictatorship as long as he and his comrades were in power:

Victor Serge: The Worst of the Anarchists

Sure, his opposition to Stalinism was brave -- but that does not negate his defence and support for the regime and ideology which created the preconditions for the rise of Stalin.