Review: From Lenin to Stalin, by Victor Serge

Victor Serge is one of the great anti-Stalinist writers of the twentieth century, a man who paid a heavy price for his opposition to totalitarianism. One hesitates to criticise him for that very reason. And in this short book, he has a good excuse for getting some things wrong – the book was written as events were unfolding. He mentions some people being arrested in the Soviet Union, but isn’t aware that they were killed – or perhaps they were killed later. Though he’s aware of the terrible injustice suffered by the Old Bolsheviks, who were slaughtered by Stalin, he barely mentions the genocide of the Ukrainians, in which millions died. Maybe he didn’t know. He knows that the POUM is facing savage repression at the hands of the Spanish Stalinists and their NKVD handlers, but doesn’t yet know the fate of their leader, Nin, who was tortured and murdered. Serge’s ability to analyse and explain is hindered, not helped, by his unswerving loyalty to the dead Lenin and the still-living Trotsky, men who in his view seem to bear little connection to the horrors of the Soviet system. A well written and passionate book, but it will do little to enlighten readers today who have access to better histories, including Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.