Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 22. 1973
The Birth of Revolutionary Power — Birth of Our Power: Victor Serge. Gollancz, 1968
The Birth of Revolutionary Power
Birth of Our Power: Victor Serge. Gollancz, 1968.
Victor Serge is one of the writers of previous revolutions whose work is presently having something of a revival in young radical circles. He is a writer of total revolutionary committment, who presents work as an artistic and political totality. The sixties and early seventies, although decades of turmoil and genuine political unrest, so far as the countries of advanced capitalism are concerned, have failed to produce fiction of enduring standard from the turmoil. The reasons for this no doubt lie to a large extent in the nature of the radical movements themselves — fragmented coalitions of disaffection rather than revolutionary movements concious of themselves in that role. Serge belongs to a different age but one that has lost its literary imperative no less than his subjects lost their political imperative.
Birth of Our Power begins with a failed uprising in Barcelona in which the narrator participates, clearly paralelling Serge's own experience. The uprising has an air of unreality about it — being postponed for an important bullfight — and acts as an example for the revolutionary activity which falls short of revolution. The attention passes, through a lengthy internment in a French internment camp, to where 'our power' has at last been born — Bolshevik Russia. The dialectic of the three phrases is mediated brilliantly through the experience of the narrator, always in terms of his human contact with those around him.
Serge (his real name was Victor Lvovich Kibalchich) had revolution in his blood. "On the walls of our humble and makeshift lodgings," he recalled in his Memoirs of a Revolutionist, "there were always portraits of men who had been hanged". He lived his life with living portraits such as those in Birth of Our Power, with the knowledge of future hangings in their hearts. Writing was Serge's means of expressing such an existence. He wrote his first novel Men in Prison after a five year prison term to "free myself from this inward nightmare, as well as the performance of a duty toward all those who will never so free themselves."
The revolution flows on within him and without him. Serge takes into his philosophical/literary practice Lenin's concept of the actuality of revolution, that is the understanding of the total process of social development as a revolutionary. As he writes in Birth of Our Power, "Nothing is ever lost.... Tomorrow is full of greatness. We will not have brought this victory to ripeness in vain. This city will be taken, if not by our hands, at least by others like ours, but stronger. Stronger perhaps for having been better hardened, thanks to our very weakness. If we are beaten, other men, infinitely different from us, infinitely like us, will walk, on a similar evening in ten years, in twenty years (how long is really without importance) down this rambla, meditating on the same victory. Perhaps they will think about our blood. Even now I think I see them and I am thinking about their blood, which will flow too. But they will take the city".
Birth of Our Power, as a novel of the revolution is a part of the revolution. It is now available in a 280 page hardback edition for only 90 cents from the Salient Office. The book is being distributed at this low price by Project Books, a left-wing book grouping, Box 704 Auckland.