I Wanna Be Literated #268

I Wanna Be Literated #268

Wednesday, 02 August 2023

From Lenin to Stalin
by Victor Serge

There are great figures in the history of Soviet Russia (and by “great” I mean popular) and great journalists on the history of Soviet Russia. David Remnick isn’t one of them. Victor Serge maybe is one. I’ve read a lot on Soviet Russia and particularly the Lenin/Stalin years, but never Victor Serge. He’s important enough that people still speak of him, and even the New York Times covers his books but what about his reporting on the early years of Soviet Russia?

From Lenin to Stalin is a somewhat fragmented book where Serge details how the early Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Trotsky were trying to bring about global socialism and how that changed under Stalin. It bares mentioning also that this book was first released in 1937 when it wasn’t yet accepted that Soviet Russia was far from the utopian society it claimed to be (and yes, I’m saying “utopian” because I know that will piss off Marxists). Nowadays it’s generally accepted that Soviet Russia under Stalin had nothing to do with socialism and everything to do with brutal totalitarianism (not be confused with “gentle” totalitarianism, of course).

It’s always interesting (almost fun) to read a first-hand account from an insider about the inner workings of the party and Serge definitely has a lot to detail. From Lenin to Stalin is a short book and Serge wastes no time giving his account on how society was functioning during the Lenin and Trotsky years and how quickly the bureaucratic system overwhelmed the party and how the new members of the party became more focused on their careers and easy living than moving socialism forward (whether in Russia or globally). All of this was manufactured by Stalin, he claims. Serge knows a lot of the old Bolsheviks personally and checks them off one by one as they turn on the true leaders of the revolution (Trotsky and the Opposition) in support of Stalin, how they succumbed to the party machine, and where they ended up (all the way up to Zinoviev and Kamenev). Serge loves using the expression “blew his brains out” which is repulsive to say the least. All of this is interesting, especially considering this wasn’t common knowledge at the time.

What’s not so great is that Serge is clearly a Trotsky fanatic and refuses to throw any dirt his way. As if everything was going so well when he was in power. He disturbingly describes the early years of the Soviet Union as the “Great Years.” This was when war communism, the civil war, and all the brutality it brought was in full effect. He also speaks of Lenin and Trotsky as leaders to be venerated and needed to lead the dumb masses. Of course Lenin pushed the NEP, which restored capitalism partially (which Trotsky and Serge opposed but didn’t mind the effects it brought the country), and the valiant Trotsky didn’t mind being pushed in the background for 10 years while his party stepped all over him all for the sake of the great party. What it comes down to was that Lenin created a party consisting mostly of spineless yes-men and overgrown children who had no idea what to do when he died. It’s clear that Trotsky was the likely successor, but petty jealousy from other leaders wasn’t going to let that happen. So much for the virtue and integrity of these communists. The easiest explanation here is that Lenin set things up for a Stalin if the party was to remain in power.

Yes, that the brutality and persecution was scaled up greatly by Stalin and he was skilled at vanquishing his enemies and the details Serge provides are horrifying. From Lenin to Stalin is full of interesting and useful information and is an important document to anyone interested in this era of Soviet history. Just remember you’re reading an account by Trotsky’s fanboy.

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