Imprisoned in France for his revolutionary activities, Victor Serge was exchanged for French officers held by the Soviets in late 1918 and arrived in Petrograd at the height of the Civil War in early 1919. In this letter, Serge writes back to his anarchist comrades urging them to participate in the Soviet experience. First printed in English in Sylvia Pankhurst’s paper ‘Workers’ Dreadnought’ and picked up by Jack Carney’s Minnesota based ‘Truth’ where it was published on the second anniversary of the Revolution, is transcribed online for the first time here.
‘Letter from Petrograd’ (May 20, 1919) by Victor Serge from Truth (Duluth). Vol. 3 No. 44. November 7, 1919.
The following letter to French comrades was written in Petrograd on May 20th, 1919.
Whilst joining In the first of May celebrations here I remembered the old first of May in Paris, the inept violence of the police, our powerless protests—it was a picture, at once sad and impassioned, of the path where perhaps the revolt is born.
Petrograd, at once half starved, threatened on all sides, was yet marvellously sunny that day and rich in enthusiasm and hope. You cannot even imagine what it is to see at last the masses who have freed themselves, who feel themselves at last victorious. For them the first of May was rather a fete-day than a fighting demonstration. The town was decorated in red, the red flag flew on the Fortress of Peter and Paul, where so many of our comrades had been imprisoned; and no army or police in the old sense of the word, but simply arms in the hands of the people themselves.
Can there be any question at this time of differences of ideas or formulae, which used to divide us into syndicalists, individualists, communists, and others? Life has gone its way, carrying away the words and theories without force, raising up in return realities which today surpass our most daring hopes. Nevertheless all the individual interpretations of revolutionary thought possess their value and their power, surely we should all of us remain between ourselves fraternally independent—and thus, even by our differences, our varied, living movement, will know how to develop in every direction. But a truth is forced upon you today, which takes precedence of all the secondary differences: it is that two conceptions of life irreconcilably opposed are confronting each other, and between them the choice must be made.
The choice henceforth must be made in actions, not words. It lies between remaining with the old world, founded upon private property, the principle of authority and conquest, or with the new world, founded from hence forth on Communal Property the Federalist Principle, Internationalism.
The Communist program is summed up in these three words. It is not a mere printed program. It is a program which is realised, or in process of being realised, in a country of 100 million people by revolutionaries, who are outlawed, besieged, blockaded, starved, but who know that no power can henceforth remake what they have destroyed, nor destroy what they have made. The immensity of these realities and of the ideas on which they live is such that there is doom, plenty of it, in this “communism”, for all consciences and for all the most independent of revolutionary wills.
In the presence of the common enemy, with whom there is no longer any question of parleying, or of coming to an agreement, and because of the work we are carrying out, such an understanding is necessary amongst all the revolutionaries. That at least, dear comrades, is the point of view of one amongst you who for a long time belonged to the most critical fault-finding, the most doctrinaire critical and intransigent section of the French anarchists—to that of Libertaire and of L’Anarchie. If these ideas could prevail amongst you, they would strengthen enormously your power and ours.
Our two principal enemies are hunger and ignorance. If they no longer existed the revolutionary glory would have been taken towards the city of the future. But with us hunger is organised, desired by the Entente. Countless victims are made by the blockade on the one hand and on the other raids by reactionary bands supported by the Allied military missions. General Janin is still operating (for the French government) with the swashbuckler, Koltchak. These things, reacting upon ignorance, cause abuses and excesses to be committed, many suffer without understanding and tire of the struggle. The unspeakable war, which capitalism wages against us contrary to all published declarations, and which at present includes an open attack on Petrograd is thus a cause of countless evils.
Moreover, the attack is absolutely useless. We should cry to our enemies that they are stupid, for what has been done in Russia will remain such an example that neither bayonets nor epidemics can at present kill the communist idea, even under present conditions. In prolonging the fight against us by ineffective methods the capitalists’ governments do evil for the sake of evil, both criminal and idiotic.
Cry it out aloud, comrades. Let the truth of what we are doing be known. Hide nothing that we do; hide nothing of our suffering. Do not be afraid to recognize our mistakes. We no longer fear either discouragement or defeat. The Russian life has entered the epoch of a standard; we must now continue to improve and perfect the work solidly begun. Immense progress has been made especially in pedagogical methods, and higher educational facilities for the people. In the fine arts-ethics, and the creation of a new morality founded upon the spirit of mutual help. Russia is covered with a network of communist groups devoting themselves wholeheartedly to these tasks.
You can help us in many ways, and we Russians will, on our side, even attempt the impossible to help you.
French comrades coming to Russia will find a warm welcome; working amongst us they will learn much that will enable them to be infinitely useful on their return to France.
Good wishes from VICTOR SERGE LE RITIF. Smolny, Ch. 32, Petrograd.
Truth emerged from the The Duluth Labor Leader, a weekly English language publication of the Scandinavian local of the Socialist Party in Duluth, Minnesota and began on May Day, 1917 as a Left Wing alternative to the Duluth Labor World. The paper was aligned to both the SP and the I.W.W. leading to the paper being closed down in the first big anti-I.W.W. raids in September, 1917. The paper was reborn as Truth, with the Duluth Scandinavian Socialists joining the Communist Labor Party of America in 1919. Shortly after the editor, Jack Carney, was arrested and convicted of espionage in 1920. Truth continued to publish with a new editor J.O. Bentall until 1923 as an unofficial paper of the C.P.
Access to full paper: https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn89081142/1919-11-07/ed-1/seq-1