“One of the gravest and most impermissible errors”

unforgivingyears.jpgFrom Michael Weiss’s very interesting review of Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge (1890-1947) published in Democratiya:

At his worst, Serge was too dismissive during the Civil War of the misfit intellectuals who ‘wept for their dream of an enlightened democracy, governed by a sagacious Parliament and inspired by an idealistic Press (their own, of course),’ but even in this he had a well-grounded fear of what might happen if the current regime fell. ‘Russia would have avoided the Red Terror only to endure the White, and a proletarian dictatorship only to undergo a reactionary one.’ No revisionist is entitled to underestimate or diminish the cruelty and anti-Semitism of the czarist irredentists. Yet the very dialectical keenness that made him wary of these what-ifs also outfitted Serge with an arsenal for use against his own side. He understood that the founding of the Cheka was ‘one of the gravest and most impermissible errors’ the Bolsheviks committed in 1918, when fear of losing power made them forfeit any moral claims on keeping it, because what was the new secret police but a recrudescence of the old? His preferred term for describing the pathology that gripped the Politburo and the rank-and-file henchmen was ‘psychosis.’ On the very same day that the Party newspapers were heralding the end of the death penalty (it was later reinstated), the Cheka succumbed to ‘occupational psychosis’ and murdered some 200 or 300 of its prisoners. Also loathsome to him was the Kremlin’s treatment of its former facilitators, the many ‘Black’ anarchists who helped secure the Crimea during the Civil War. At Pyotr Kropotkin’s funeral, Serge was the only Party member allowed to circulate among the surviving left ultras, all awaiting their inevitable fates in the nightmarish opposite of a stateless utopia for which they now felt partly responsible for bringing into being.