- 129K

Our comrade Richard Greeman, now living in NYC, is giving two talks at the Brecht Forum on revolutionary writer Victor Serge on the afternoons of Saturday Feb 2, and Saturday Feb. 9, at 1:30 pm.

Richard asked me to invite you to them, and I attach the poster/flyer. His talks are always exciting, educational, and full of life! (And WBAI should record this!)

Richard is the translator (from the French) of Serge's novels and revolutionary writings. The talks at the Brecht are being sponsored by Haymarket Books and the NY Review of Books.

Here are the details:

Victor Serge and the Novel of 20th Century Revolution
Richard Greeman, Serge biographer and translator of five Serge novels

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Public Lecture One
Myth and History: Victor Serge's Russian Heritage
Saturday, February 2, 1:30 pm

This is an introduction to Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary, the complete English translation of which has just been published by New York Review Books and which will be read in the course. Based on original archival research, it situates Serge in the 19th Russian revolutionary tradition and reveals hitherto unknown aspects of his family background and psychology.

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Public Lecture Two
Victor Serge and the Novel of Revolution
Saturday, February 9, 1:30 pm

This second lecture is designed as a general introduction to Serge's seven surviving novels. It explores the origins of Serge's literary vocation, places Serge in the context of Western modernism and the post-revolutionary Soviet literary 'renaissance,' and traces the evolution of his two novel 'cycles' the 'cycle of revolution' and 'the cycle resistance' -- with their ironic themes of 'victory-in-defeat' and 'defeat-in-victory.'

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The Brecht Forum is located at
451 West Street (between Bank & Bethune Streets, on the West Side Highway)
Sliding scale: $6/$10/$15 New York City
No one turned away for inability to pay!

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Excerpt from "Beware of Capitalist Sharks", by Richard Greeman

My Political Education

I guess I was born a rebel. My parents were active Progressives (pro-Soviet until 1956) while my maternal grandfather, Sam Levin, an immigrant tailor from Russia, was a card-carrying member of Eugene V. Debs' American Socialist Party.(1) During his Presidential campaigns, Debs barnstormed the U.S. on a train called 'The Red Special' making whistle-stop speeches in every town and city, including Hartford, Connecticut. That's how my grandfather got this autographed picture, a prized possession of his which I inherited along with his library of Socialist books. This makes me a 'red-diaper' grand-baby.

In the 6th grade, at the beginning of the Witch Hunt, I was labeled a 'Communist' during Social Studies class by the son of a local 'liberal' Democrat politician who must have heard his parents badmouthing mine. I had zero idea of what a 'Communist' was back then (we were 'Progressives' at home), but I knew that label could get me in trouble. Never at a loss for words, I instantly retorted that I was not a 'Communist' but a 'commonist' because I was 'for the common people.' This inspiration shut the pint-sized red-baiter's nasty little trap, won the approval of my 11-year-old classmates, and has defined my political outlook ever since.

As a Yale College Freshman in 1957, I was recruited to the Young Peoples' Socialist League by its Organizer, Michael Harrington, who had been invited to campus and gave a rousing socialist speech. I was soon involved in peace and civil rights activism, agitating for reform but increasingly aware that militant activism alone was not enough and that only in a new society socialism could our dream of peace, justice and equality be realized. However, this would not be the totalitarian 'socialism' of the USSR, which my parents' friends continued to defend, even after Russian tanks crushed the 1956 Hungarian Revolution of Workers' Councils.

The YPSLs had me read Victor Serge and George Orwell (for whom our campus forum was named), and they soon talked me out of any lingering illusions about the 'progressive' USSR with its privileged bureaucracy, forced labor camps and total distortion of the Marxist philosophy which I was beginning to discover in its original form. Among the socialist speakers the Orwell Forum brought to campus were the Civil Rights pioneer Bayard Rustin, the psychologist Erich Fromm and the Marxist philosopher and former Trotsky secretary, Raya Dunayevskaya, whose Marxist-Humanist movement I later worked with over the next fifteen years in N.Y., Detroit and central Connecticut.

And of course we were caught up in the activism of the late Fifties: civil disobedience against Civil Defense A-bomb drills, Fair Play For Cuba Committee, protesting the House Un-American Activities Committee and civil rights. In 1958, I joined the massive Youth March on Washington for Integrated Schools organized by Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph's Negro American Labor council and of course us young socialists. Twenty-thousand of us sincere, well-dressed, white and black high school and college students poured in to D.C. from nearly every state in the union. It was the biggest demo since the Thirties, and not one line in the next day's N.Y. Times. That day something snapped inside my Freshman heart. I had lost my last hope for liberalism and reform and become a revolutionist.

Spending a year in France was the next great eye-opener for me. Living in another country and learning its language is the best way to see your own country objectively, devoid of the national prejudice we imbibe with our mother's milk. In 1959-60, I studied in Paris where I learned a lot, got swept up in the anti-Algerian war movement, and joined a small revolutionary group called Socialisme ou Barbarie ('Socialism or Barbarism') whose leading comrades included 'Chaulieu' (Cornelius Castoriadis), 'Laborde' (Fran?is Lyotard), 'Vega' (Alberto Maso of the POUM) and Daniel Moth?(who worked in an auto factory). On a later stay in Paris, I met Vlady Kibaltchich, the son of my favorite revolutionary writer, Victor Serge (1890-1947), a Russian who wrote in France and whose novels Vlady asked me to translate into English.

During the Sixties, I studied and taught French at Columbia University in New York where I was active in civil rights (CORE), labor (1199) and the Independent Committee Against the War in Vietnam, to which I brought my knowledge of the French defeat in Indochina. With David Gilbert, I was one of the founders of SDS and was Mark Rudd's 'faculty advisor' during the 1968 student occupations and strikes. I got my PhD on a police-occupied campus at a strikers' Counter-Commencement presided by the radical journalist I.F. Stone.

In N.Y., I was also in the orbit of veteran Anarchists like Russell Blackwell, Sam and Esther Dolgoff and radical journalists like Daniel Singer and maverick socialist I.F. Stone an old family friend. I thus had the great chance of learning from older political activists, including veterans of the Russian anti-Stalinist opposition, the Spanish Civil War, the European anti-fascist resistance and the U.S. labor movement revolutionary heretics whose ideas were based on libertarian socialism and critical, humanist Marxism.

For me, these extraordinary men and women were living links to the revolutionary past. They incarnated its ethos, breathed its energy, spoke of people like Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Emma Goldman as if they had just left the room. I had the impression, in our conversations, of being initiated into an oral tradition which paralleled and completed the reading of history and the 'sacred texts' of Marxism. Along with my day-to-day political activism, these conversations (and the readings they led to) were the 'universities' in which I completed my political education while earning degrees in French from Yale, Columbia and the Sorbonne in my 'spare time.' Obviously, with this attitude and these credentials, my future career in academia was destined to be chequered, to say the least.

I spent the Seventies and Eighties in central Connecticut, mostly teaching French (and sneaking Marxism into the curriculum) and participating in the anti-Vietnam-War movement, defending the Black Panthers and later as part of the Central American Solidarity movements. I learned Spanish and went to Nicaragua in 1984 to study the Sandinista revolution and Witness for Peace on the Honduran border.

The collapse of totalitarian Communism in 1989 came not as a discouragement or a disillusion, but an exciting opening to make contact with fellow dissidents and revolutionaries in Russia. I was part of the first non-Intourist organized trips of informali U.S. radicals invited by Russian environmentalists, syndicalists, dissident Marxists, anarchists and human rights fighters. These contacts led to the creation of the Victor Serge Library and the Praxis Center in Moscow, which I talk about at the end of this book. With this political education and fifty years of experience of the movement's ups and downs, I have never been tempted to turn away from the basic Marxist-humanist, libertarian socialist and anarchist revolutionary traditions that nurtured me and that experience has confirmed and enriched.

My mentors also taught me to cherish the brief positive experiences of the revolutionary past, to scrutinize those rare historical moments when the tremendous creative force of revolutionary humanity emerged and briefly lighted the way to the future - from the 1871 Paris Commune to the Russian Soviets of 1917; from the self-managed farms and factories collectivized and defended by the Spanish Anarchists in 1936, to the world-wide risings of the Sixties; from the French General Strike of May 1968 rebellions to this Century's rising Latin American popular movements. In these pages, I have attempted to transmit to new generations some of the lore I learned in these radical working class, socialist and internationalist 'universities' and to elaborate and reinvent it for our times.

Two main concepts, borrowed from Victor Serge and Rosa Luxemburg, dominate my outlook: Internationalism and Tolerance. For me, Internationalism is basic: in our age of multinational corporations, the only way to defend ourselves against global capitalism is globally, through the planetary unity of the working, thinking creative people in all countries. This was the dream that united Marx and Bakunin in the First International, and to me the word 'internationalism' still says it all. To avoid the temptations of nationalism, identity politics and despair, we must continue to 'Act locally, think globally.' So with each concrete struggle we must ask the key questions: 'Does this tactic increase solidarity with people of other nationalities, or divide us?' and the parallel question: 'Does this tactic move us closer to our ultimate goal a new society?'

To me, Tolerance, respect for the 'other,' is the only means to reach the revolutionary end; if by revolution we mean a new human society in which "the freedom of the individual is the basis of the freedom of all" (Marx). Without respect for the individual, without freedom of opinion, without the right to dissent and the availability of unbiased information, We-the-people will never be able to find our independent path. Instead, we billions will forever be mislead by corrupt or fanatical leaders and manipulated by controlled mass media. Instead of an infallible single Party, I propose critical thinking, horizontal organization, and the development of an 'invisible international' woven of thousands of links where people can discuss and decide everything for themselves.

For this reason, I'm uncomfortable with political labels other than 'internationalist.' My Marxist friends consider me an Anarchist because I reject the State and the self-designated Vanguard Parties that aim to conquer it. On the other hand, sectarian Anarchists throw up their hands whenever I quote Karl Marx forgetting that Anarchism has no political economy of its own, that Bakunin himself translated Das Kapital into Russian, and once wrote to Marx: "I am your disciple and proud to be one."

Victor Serge appeals to me because he was an internationalist with roots in both Anarchism and Marxism, was critical of them both, and rejected sectarians who claimed to hold the monopoly of the truth -- and who therefore felt free to manipulate, raid, and split activist groups, to expel dissenters (and to shoot them when in power). In any case, pluralistic and essentially non-violent mass movements represent the only way for the party of Humanity to emerge victorious, the coming momentous planetary social struggles looming on today's horizon.

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NOTES
1. Debs, a union organizer from Indiana, was the leader of the Socialist Party in its heyday as well as one of the founders of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). His credo: 'I want to rise with the people, not from the people' said Debs. 'Do not expect any leader to lead you to the Promised Land, because if he could, he could lead you out again.' As an anti-war candidate, Debs took away a million votes from Woodrow Wilson in 1916. When Wilson declared war a year later, the great liberal locked Debs up in for talking against the draft and kept him in jail for years after the War was over. which didn't stop Debs from running for President from Leavenworth Penitentiary and getting a million votes. The government destroyed the Socialist Party and the IWW during the anti-Red Palmer raids in 1919, and my Grandpa Sam was still considered something of an outcast in Hartford when I came along.