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Review: Memoirs of a Revolutionary – by Victor Serge

memoirs of a revolutionary

This is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read, a first witness account of some of the most important world events of the first half of the twentieth century, a rich period for revolutionary events and the author, Victor Serge, a Belgian born Russian, is perfectly poised to give detailed personal encounters with many of the key protagonists. Serge is a revolutionary, who participates in the Russian Revolution from 1919 as a core Bolshevik. He meets and works with Lenin and Trotsky and his European roots make him critical to the emerging infrastructure of Soviet Russia. Serge writes often with a critical frankness of the core movements of which he is part, a fact that later endangers him as (correctly identified by the author) the Revolution seeps into Totalitarianism, culminating in the great Stalinist Purges of the 1930s. Initially the book flirts with the rising tide of working class socialism in Western Europe. Paris is a hotbed for leading international figures of the Left. Later, in Barcelona, Serge makes key contacts that will come into fruition for his analyses of the Spanish Civil War. From there he embarks for his never seen before motherland (his family were anti-Tsarist exiles). The post 1917 revolution is enduring its honeymoon, yet the whole survival of the Bolsheviks comes within a blink of an eye as the Civil War almost leads to their destruction in Petrograd as the Whites make gains. Serge, as he moves up the ranks, rapidly becomes disillusioned with the turn that the Revolution is taking. He warns against the Cheka and GPU. He is a peaceful man and holds onto the non-violent tenets of socialism. Later, when the party splits – Serge is a key figure in the alliance against the Party Centre and Politburo, which culminates in his expulsion from the Party and exile in Orenburg. His suffering in prison shows how lucky he was to retain his life, in a period where the executioner’s bullet was only ever a step away and was freely used. Serge’s fame as an author, especially in France, managed, through international outcry, to keep him and his young family away from the true harshness of life as an exile and ultimately secured his freedom back to Western Europe. The outbreak of world war was predicted by this great political visionary. His tracts against Stalinism often made him an enemy of…

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Nineteenth Century Revolutions and the French Working Classes

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Q] What was the impact of the revolutions and political uprisings of 1830, 1848 and 1870 on the French working classes?          The French Revolution was a critical event in global history. The effects of this revolution continued to reverberate across French society well into the nineteenth century and three subsequent revolutions occurred. The subjects of this essay are these three revolutions in 1830, 1848 and 1870 and the specific effects on the working classes shall be analysed. In 1789 the sans-culottes played an important role although afterwards conservative consolidation meant that the revolution ultimately favoured the bourgeoisie. Similarly, in the nineteenth century revolts, the power of working classes was often used to fuel the revolutions themselves. Thereafter conservatism dominated politics, resulting in benefits to the bourgeoisie and aristocracy, with the demands of the working classes often overlooked. In focussing on each nineteenth century revolution it shall be necessary to identify the causes of unrest and the results of the uprisings in terms of politics. The very fact that there was a repetitive cycle of revolution indicates that there were underlying political instabilities dominating France. After Napoleon, France reverted to a Bourbon monarchy. However, revolutionary gains were not entirely reversed and the King was bound by certain restrictions, unlike his ancestors. 1789 can be regarded as a ‘Bourgeois Revolution and ‘the nobles were, along with the clergy, the clear losers from the revolution’ (Magraw, 1988:25). The Restoration aristocracy clawed back much of their political power under the Bourbons and their power climaxed preceding the 1830 July Days. Charles X had supported policies for properties lost during the Revolution to be returned to their owners, a political bone of contention. In the immediate years preceding 1830 a classic economic crisis had emerged, inducing food shortages and forcing up grain prices. This deeply unsettled peasants and the urban masses. Charles X introduced restrictive censorship measures that had an immediate effect on one group of workers: the printers. The disenchanted bourgeoisie succeeded in rallying emotions among artisans and it was this element of the working classes that did the backbone of the fighting during the ‘Trois Glorieuses’. This artisan class were the first to identify as a proletariat and demonstrate the birth of the working class in France. They agreed with progressive republican ideas thrust upon them by the bourgeoisie. Artisans were comprised of the old craft workers and the industrial revolution was increasingly…

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Seminar Presentation: A History of French Labour – 29.11.17

Today I gave a seminar presentation on the History of French Labour and below is the 15 slide presentation I prepared on Powerpoint for the seminar.   History of French Labour – Seminar 29.11.17   The history, present and future of the French labour movement: continued division, contestation and weakness?   History 1789 Revolution creates a strong Jacobin State, characteristic of the French government until the present day. (An archetypical dirigiste state) Original Revolution plus three subsequent 19th century revolutions (July Monarchy, Second Empire, Third Republic) all tend to use the working class / masses to ignite the fire of revolution but ultimately all favour bourgeois ideals. Industrialization France is relatively late in comparison with its European neighbours to undergo the industrial revolution. When it does industrialize, it maintains a large peasant element in rural areas and the emerging working class are concentrated in certain northern regions and in the big cities The Nature of the French People Due to the Jacobin structure of government, intermediary bodies between the state and the people are not encouraged. Also, the French people have a genuine disinterest in ‘signing-up’ to large groups / organizations although they do have Nationalistic tendencies when it comes to State interests. This leads to the small membership numbers of Trade Unions. Trade Unions 1791 Le Chapelier Law – Outlaws Trade Unions Trade Unions eventually legalized in 1884 Right to strike recognized in 1864, before Unions were legal. Working class solidarity not encouraged at all and there has always been conflict in any attempts for the Labour movement to organize itself. Trade Unions Union membership always been traditionally low, rising to a peak of about a third of employees following 1968 Strikes. Today’s membership figures are only around 7% of workforce. Union membership, however not essential to the way they work in France and their core members are good at propelling the workforce into strike action. Lowest Union density in Western World Collective Bargaining coverage, however, is very high at 95%, much higher than international economic competitors. Trade Unions CGT Confédération Générale du Travail CFTC Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens CFDT Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail CFE-CGC Confédération Française de l’Encadrement – Confédération Générale des Cadres FO – Force Ouvrière Others – SUD – Solitaires Unitaires Démocratiques –CNT – Confédération Nationale du Travail –FSU – Fédération Syndicale Unitaire   Employers There is a Paternalistic approach to employees Many of…

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