On this day: 13 September 1944

Oops. Forgot that Drink-Soaked Trots is down. What’s going on there? Anyway, have pasted the whole text below the fold.

Victor Serge, “Les Carnets (notebooks) 1944″, guest posting at the Drink-Soaked Trots.

Second meeting of the committee of the independent socialist groups, to go over the draft of the political document worked out by M.P [Marceau Pivert*]., Giron [Enrique Gironella*] and W.S. It’s a kind of very primary Communist Manifesto, going back over all the old stock phrases of its kind.

I criticise it severely, considering that this kind of text can only discredit the handful of men who are responsible for it. They listen to me with interest and inward peevishness. I say that we cannot draft these documents on the spur of the moment today, since all the terms and all the ideas are due for revision in the light of the new realities, and launched into the raging storm. Confused and rather painful debate.[READ THE REST]

At this point, Serge was based in Mexico and involved in a group Socialismo y Libertad (other members included Julian Gorkin, Fritz Fränkel, René Lefeuvre and Luce Fabbri).

*For texts by Pivert in this period, see “Everything is Possible” (1936), “Down with national unity!” (1938), “Letter to Trotsky” (1939), “The Idea of a socialist Europe” (1947). Pivert was the leader of the PSOP, the POUM’s French sister party. Gironella was a POUM leader. Both were exiled in Spain. I’m not sure who W.S. is, although I ought to. Is it Wilebaldo Saldano? I think he was in France in 1944, and this meeting was in Mexico.

See also:

Victor Serge in 1944:

Second meeting of the committee of the independent socialist groups, to go over the draft of the political document worked out by M.P., Giron and W.S. It’s a kind of very primary Communist Manifesto, going back over all the old stock phrases of its kind.

I criticise it severely, considering that this kind of text can only discredit the handful of men who are responsible for it. They listen to me with interest and inward peevishness. I say that we cannot draft these documents on the spur of the moment today, since all the terms and all the ideas are due for revision in the light of the new realities, and launched into the raging storm. Confused and rather painful debate.

I point out that it is false to write that the working class, in bourgeois democracy, has nothing to lose but its chains, and that it enjoys – enjoyed in Europe – real welfare and real liberties. M.P. speaks of the malnutrition of the masses in France before the war. I say that the state is changing its nature and is no longer “the armed band of one class for the domination of another” (according to Engels), except in the totalitarian regimes; the modern state is also the organisation of communications, schools, public hygiene, etc. Indignation on the part of M.P., Giron, J.M.: for a moment I felt they were going to complain loudly about treachery.

I challenge unintelligent naiveties such as “the total organisation of the world”; ludicrous incoherencies like the affirmation of the “full sovereignty” of all the colonial peoples, the rejection of “every hypocritical idea of trusteeship in their respect” and the proposal to supply them with “economic, moral and armed aid” (!!!). They’ve nothing much to say to me in reply, but I see clearly that I’m hurting feelings that find expression only in this poor phraseology. My thesis – that the emancipation of the colonial peoples can come about only as the result of close cooperation with the industrial, metropolitan countries, socially reorganised, on the road to greater justice and humanism – is coldly received, without debate.

N.M.F. says that “we want action” and not only “to devote ourselves to academic debates, however interesting …” What action if not the action of typewriters, and aren’t ideas, correct views, actions in a sense?
Finally, J.M. reproaches me for not speaking about the “proletariat and the dictatorship of the proletariat”! Has he ever spoken about it himself? Another story.

At one point in the debate I felt exactly as I felt in a cell of the Russian CP in ’27, when we were refuting, against the outcries, the already bloody stupidities of “socialism in one country” and denouncing the Thermidor in progress. We were debating like this: I said “I say that this is a white saucer I didn’t say that it’s a blue saucer, I didn’t say that it’s a black carafe, I said that it’s a white saucer!” At that time Bukharin advised us to put everything in black and white – and not to trust the opponent with paper!

The psychological phenomenon of the Politbureau recurs ad infinitum. Basically: idealists caught by the ossification of beliefs, circumstances, and dominated by their convictions and emotional feelings, in short by fanaticisms. In conditions like these, the man who disturbs the peace of mind of the others gives the impression of being a detestable heretic. M.F., J.G., M.P. blame me for casting doubt on convictions that they don’t question themselves, whence their feeling of superiority.

The background to the debate, independently of the poor quality of the proposed text: their extremely optimistic and oversimplified belief is that the Russian Revolution is going to happen again before long in Europe. “The workers will occupy the factories” (M.P.); “they will seize power” (Giron), etc. Then the European Revolution will form a socialist federation. New cadres are appearing everywhere, the underground resistance movements already demonstrate the power of the masses. The Spaniards reckon to be in Spain in six months and at the head of mass movements. M.P.: “The PSOP [Spanish Socialist Workers Party] goes on!”, and he takes out a press cutting showing that pals in Lyons have advocated in an underground paper “the formation of a Red Army” in France, which is certainly the height of absurdity: to play at one and the same time – in their powerlessness, at the risk of their lives – the game of the reactionaries and of the Stalinists.

My theses: that this war is profoundly different from 1914-18, which it follows on from, and that, in particular, it involves elements of international civil war (M.P.’s brisk denials). That the economic structure of the world has changed, traditional capitalism giving way to the planned, controlled economy, hence collectivist in tendency, which can be the tendency of the monopolies, of the totalitarian parties – or of the democracies of a new types if these succeed in being born. (M.P.’s brisk denials). That the defeats aren’t solely attributable to the inadequacy of the leaders, though that is a factor, but are explicable more by the decadence of the working class and of socialism, as a consequence of modern technology (chronic unemployment, declassing of the unemployed; immense increase in the capacity of production of machinery, with less manual work; greater influence of the technicians.) M.P. rebuts these views in their entirety without trying to refute them; and to speak of the weakening of the working classes as a class seems sacrilege to everybody. What can I do if it’s the truth? A good old Bolshevik, one of those who expelled us and put us in prison before getting shot themselves, would have replied: There is no truth that can prevail over the interests of the Party.
That we’re certainly carried along by the current of an immense revolution, but that the Russian Revolution won’t repeat itself unless in secondary episodes. That socialism must renounce the ideas of dictatorship and workers’ hegemony, and become the representative of the great masses in whom a consciousness with socialist tendencies is developing, without clear definition or doctrinal terminology.

That the main point for the immediate future would be to secure the re-establishment of the traditional democratic liberties, precondition of the rebirth of the workers’ movement and the socialist movement; that we must try to emerge from the state of obscurity we’re in, seek the support and the sympathy of the democratic masses wherever they are, make ourselves understood by them, clarify our ideas.

That Stalinism, which has initiated and supplied the movements of armed resistance in France, Yugoslavia, Greece and elsewhere, constitutes the worst danger, which we would be mad to intend to confront alone.
That the years to come will be full of confused struggles in which the socialist movement cannot be other than reborn – if it doesn’t commit suicide through insurrectionary demagogy.

That it must seek influence on the terrain of democracy, in the constituent assemblies and everywhere, put up with compromises, but with intransigence of mind.

That if the socialist left flounders in ineffectual extremism, with a language barely intelligible to the people and an old-fashioned ideology dating from 1920, the Stalinists will invent a false, servile, unscrupulous socialism, which may very well triumph.

I speak in vain, agreement is impossible, and debate difficult and sterile. Those who have adaptable minds will change under the blows of events; the others will vegetate in tiny groups on the margin of life, which offers plenty of satisfactions, or be shattered.

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Published in: on September 13, 2009 at 12:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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