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Victor Serge papers

 Collection
Call Number: GEN MSS 238

Scope and Contents

The Victor Serge Papers document the life and work of the Franco-Russian writer and revolutionary, Victor Serge (1890-1947). The Papers consist of correspondence; manuscripts and notes for articles, books, and poems; subject files; immigration and identification documents; and memorabilia. The Papers also contain various materials concerning Serge (including correspondence, clippings, and photocopies of writings) that were collected by his son, Vlady Kibalchich. The collection spans the years 1912-1994, but the bulk of the material is from 1936 to 1947.

The Papers are organized into six series: Correspondence, Writings, Subject Files, Personal Papers and Memorabilia, Envelopes, and Materials Collected by Vlady Kibalchich. The collection is housed in 27 boxes. The Papers are chiefly in French, but there are also materials in Russian, Spanish, English, and German. Before arriving at The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Papers (excluding the materials collected by Vlady Kibalchich) had been housed in oversized envelopes, which had been labeled and numbered. These numbered envelopes are now filed in Series V.

Series I, Correspondence , is organized into three subseries, General Correspondence, Family Correspondence, and Third Party Correspondence. Each subseries contains a number of carbon and holograph drafts of letters from Serge, as well as typescript and holograph drafts of letters to him.

The first subseries, General Correspondence, contains correspondence with friends and colleagues, including André Breton, Michael Fraenkel, André Gide, Julián Gorkin, Daniel Guérin, Lucien Laurat, Dwight and Nancy Macdonald, Jean Malaquais, Marcel Martinet, Magdeleine Marx (Paz), Emmanuel Mounier, Leon Trotsky, Leon Werth, and Maurice Wullens. This subseries also contains correspondence with publishing companies and journals regarding Serge's writing and his response to the published writing of others, as well as correspondence with organizations, including the Comision Socialista Internacional and the P. O. U. M. Letters written by an individual on behalf of an organization have been filed under the name of the organization, and cross-references have been made from the person's name (e.g., letters written by Julián Gorkin on behalf of the Comision Socialista Internacional have been filed under the Comision Socialista Internacional).

The second subseries, Personal Correspondence, contains letters between Serge and his wife, Liouba, many concerning her hospitalization for mental illness; one letter to Serge from his son, Vlady; and letters to Serge from other relatives, including Cécile, Henri, and Tina. The third subseries, Third Party Correspondence, contains a small number of letters between Serge's friends and colleagues.

Series II, Writings , is organized into nine subseries (the first two being the largest): Articles, Books, Conferences, Newspaper and Journal Clippings, Notes, Open Letters, Poems, Reviews, and Writings of Others. The first subseries, Articles, contains typescript and typescript carbon versions of articles, many of them corrected. Mostly written in French (a few are in Spanish), the articles are about politics and culture in Mexico, Europe, and Russia, and many articles deal specifically with the Russian Revolution and various aspects of World War II. Some of Serge's articles were translated into Spanish after his death; these translations are filed in Series VI.

The second subseries, Books, contains notes, outlines, drafts, and page proofs for some of Serge's books. There is also some fan mail, advertisements for the books, and reviews. Many books are represented in this series, including L'affaire Toulaév, Les années sans pardon, Les derniers temps, Mémoires d'un révolutionnaire, S'il est minuit dans le siècle, and Vie et mort de Trotsky. There is also a translation by Serge of Leon Trotsky's Staline, which Serge titled Vie de Staline. The chapter titles for the drafts of Mémoires d'un révolutionnaire have been listed individually, since varying versions of this book have been published, and the chapter numbers and titles of the drafts do not necessarily correlate with the published versions.

The third subseries, Conferences, contains drafts and speaking notes for three papers presented at conferences. The fourth subseries, Newspaper and Journal Clippings, contains clippings of articles published by Serge in various newspapers and journals. The subseries is arranged by the title of the newspaper or journal and then by the title of the article. The newspapers and journals include Acción social, La batalla, The Call, The New Leader, and La Wallonie, and the dates of the articles range from 1936 to 1947. The articles are mainly written in French, Spanish, and English.

The fifth subseries, Notes, contains notebooks and loose notes, mainly holograph, but some typescript, on a wide variety of topics, including politics and culture in Russia, Europe, Mexico, and South America. There are also two daybooks for 1936; notes about Serge's meetings and conversations with Laurette Séjourné (filed under her name); and some notes that are either autobiographical or possibly ideas for a novel (filed under [Dmitrovna, Tat'iana. Orenburg?], [V lesakh severa], and [A woman]). The titles in brackets have been supplied by the Library; Russian titles have been transliterated and placed in brackets. The sixth subseries, Open Letters, contains typescript carbon, mimeograph, and printed versions of open letters in Spanish, French, and English addressed by Serge and others to various political figures.

The seventh subseries, Poems, contains typescript and holograph versions of poems by Serge in French and Russian. Any poem that was titled by Serge has been listed under that title; poems that Serge did not title have been listed under their incipit, which has been placed in brackets. The titles of the Russian poems have been transliterated and placed in brackets. There is one file of fragments. The eighth subseries, Reviews, contains reviews written by Serge of a wide variety of books and journals, including Esprit, Partisan Review, Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy, and Leon Werth's Deposition. The reviews are arranged alphabetically by the name of the author being reviewed, or, in the case of journals, by the title. The ninth subseries, Writings of Others, contains mainly printed versions (but some typescript carbon versions) of political writings by various friends and colleagues of Serge, including Fritz Fraenkel, Julián Gorkin, Lucien Laurat, and Leon Trotsky.

Series III, Subject Files , is arranged alphabetically by title. The material was grouped into subjects by Serge, but all of the titles were supplied by the Library. The files mainly contain clippings, but some also include articles, press releases, and correspondence. The subjects include Mexico, South America, Russia, and various political figures, such as Otto Ruehle, Vicente Lombardo Toledano, and Leon Trotsky.

Series IV, Personal Papers and Memorabilia , mainly contains material pertaining to Serge himself, including many immigration and identification documents, as well as his address book, business card, and wallet. There is also a brief description by Serge of the seizure of his manuscripts in April 1936 by "La Censure du Commissariat du Peuple à l'Instruction Publique" in Moscow. Other material in this series includes many health and identification documents and receipts relating to Serge's wife, Liouba; a certificate regarding the placement of his daughter, Jeannine, during World War II; and a copy of the birth certificate of his son, Vlady. There are also two undated photographs of Vlady with his paintings and two sketches that were possibly done by Vlady. The materials in this series are arranged alphabetically by the name of the individual and then chronologically. The death masks of Serge and Vsevolod Mikhailovich Eikhenbaum are housed with Restricted Fragile Papers; reference prints have been made and are filed in place of the masks in Series IV.

Series V, Envelopes , contains the envelopes that were numbered and labeled to house the Papers (what is now Series I-IV) before they were acquired by the Library.

Series VI, Materials Collected by Vlady Kibalchich , is organized into six subseries, Correspondence, Serge's Writings, Reviews of Serge's Writings, Translations of Serge's Writings, Writings about Serge, and Writings of Others. The first subseries, Correspondence, contains letters to and from Vlady Kibalchich concerning Serge and his work; photocopies and transcripts of a few letters to and from Serge; and photocopies of third party letters concerning Serge. The second subseries, Serge's Writings, contains photocopies (made by or for Vlady Kibalchich) of typescript and printed versions of articles that were published during Serge's lifetime; clippings of a serial version of Mémoires d'un révolutionnaire that was published posthumously in Combat; and a 1994 transcription by Emilio Brodziak of Serge's "Vers un renouvellement du socialisme?". The third subseries, Reviews of Serge's Writings, contains clippings of reviews published from 1949 to 1981 (in newspapers and journals) of books by Serge. There are also several advertisements for posthumous published versions of some of Serge's books.

The fourth subseries, Translations of Serge's Writings, contains translations into Spanish of some of Serge's articles. Most of the translations are bound in the volume, "Trabajos de y sobre Víctor Serge," put together by Emilio Brodziak (housed in the fifth subseries), for which cross-references have been made. The fifth subseries, Writings about Serge, contains articles, mainly in Spanish, about Serge and his writings (especially about his novel, L'affaire Toulaév). Many of the articles are bound in two volumes that are contained in this series: "Trabajos de y sobre Víctor Serge" and "Dossier: diaris i revistes, centenari Victor Serge, 1890-1990." Appropriate cross-references have been made. There are also several files of obituaries and biographical articles that were clipped from newspapers and journals. The sixth subseries, Writings of Others, contains a printed version (1958) of "La seule urgence" by François Bondy.

Dates

  • 1912 - 1994
  • Majority of material found within 1936 - 1947

Creator

Language of Materials

Chiefly in French, some material in Russian, Spanish, English, and German.

Conditions Governing Access

Boxes 23-27 and broadside, Bsd: ‡a Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Victor Serge Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Papers were purchased in 1995 from Vlady Kibalchich on the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund.

Extent

16 Linear Feet ((28 boxes) + 1 broadside)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL

http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/beinecke.serge

Overview

The Victor Serge Papers contain correspondence; writings; immigration and identification documents for Serge and his wife, Liouba; death masks of Serge and of Leon Trotsky; and various materials concerning Serge (including correspondence, clippings, and photocopies of writings) that were collected by his son, Vlady Kibalchich. The correspondence includes letters between Serge and his wife, son, and other relatives; a few letters between third parties; letters between Serge and his friends and colleagues, including André Breton, Michael Fraenkel, André Gide, Julián Gorkin, Daniel Guérin, Lucien Laurat, Dwight Macdonald, Jean Malaquais, Marcel Martinet, Magdeleine Marx (Paz), Emmanuel Mounier, Natalii︠a︡ Ivanovna Trot︠s︡kai︠a︡, Leon Trotsky, Leon Werth, and Maurice Wullens; and letters between Serge and publishing companies, journals, and organizations, including The New Leader and Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista.
The writings include holograph and typescript notes and drafts for Serge's articles, books (including "L'Affaire Toulaév", "Les Derniers temps", and "Mémoires d'un révolutionnaire", among others) and poems. There are also several notebooks, including two daybooks for 1936.

VICTOR SERGE (1890-1947)

Victor Serge was born Victor Lvovich Kibalchich on 30 December 1890 in Brussels. He first took the pen name "Victor Serge" in March 1917 in an article written for the journal, Tierra y libertad. Serge's mother, Vera Mikhailovna Poderevskaya, was of Polish origin and had arrived in Belgium after leaving her first husband in Russia; Serge's father, Leon Ivanovich Kibalchich, was Russian and had fled Russia after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 (Kibalchich had been involved in the plot against the Tsar and was distantly related to Nikolai Ivanovich Kibalchich, the chemist who had made the bombs that killed the Tsar).

Serge's childhood was one of poverty. His brother, Raoul, died of malnutrition, and Serge, himself, was often hungry. He never went to school, but learned to read from his parents' library. As a teenager, he joined an anarchist commune in Belgium, where he wrote articles (the first one in April 1908) for its papers, Le communiste and Le révolté, under the pseudonym "Le Rétif."

As a young man, Serge moved to France, where he wrote for L'anarchie in Paris, which he took over with Rirette Maîtrejean (née Anna Estorges) in 1911. In January 1912, he and Rirette were arrested and imprisoned for their part in defending the actions of the Bonnot Gang (Serge had written a supportive article in L'anarchie, and the police had found two revolvers at the journal's office). Rirette was subsequently acquitted in 1913, but Serge was sentenced to four years in prison. His novel, Les hommes dans la prison, was based on this experience.

Serge married Rirette while in prison to ensure her visiting rights. When he was released in January 1917 and expelled from France, he and Rirette went to Barcelona, but she returned to Paris shortly thereafter. In Barcelona, Serge became affiliated with the Syndicalists and with the Confederación Nacional de Trabajadores. The setting for portions of his novel, Naissance de notre force, is taken from his experiences in Barcelona at the time of the uprising.

News of the Russian Revolution impelled Serge to return to France in an attempt to join the Russian army from Paris. He was arrested in October 1917 as a suspected Bolshevik and interned. Finally, in January 1919, Serge, along with other prisoners, was exchanged by France for some French officers interned by the Russian revolutionary government. One of the other prisoners was a Jewish revolutionary, Alexander Roussakov, who was accompanied by his daughters. Serge later married one of Roussakov's daughters, Liouba.

When Serge arrived in Petrograd, he began working for the Communist International (Comintern) under Grigory Zinovyev, the Communist Party's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, the archives of the tsarist secret police, and communist publications in the West. He also joined the Communist Party. Serge and Liouba's son, Vlady, was born in Petrograd on 15 August 1920.

From 1922 until 1926, Serge (with his family) was sent by the Comintern to Berlin and then to Vienna for the purpose of forming a revolutionary working-class movement in the West. His responsibilities included editing Inprekorr. They returned to Russia in 1926, to work with Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition. When Trotsky was arrested and exiled from Leningrad by Stalin in 1928, Serge was also arrested, imprisoned for six weeks, and subsequently expelled from the Communist Party.

Serge spent the next five years, from 1928 until 1933, in Leningrad. Forbidden to leave the country, he was isolated from his colleagues, and G. P. U. agents were stationed in his communal apartment to monitor him. During this time, Serge's wife suffered severely from mental illness. In spite of these conditions, Serge managed to write his first three novels, Les hommes dans la prison, Naissance de notre force, and Ville conquise, and an historical work, L'an I de la révolution russe. He wrote each work in small portions, sending each section abroad as soon as it was finished to ensure that it would be published.

In 1933, Serge was arrested again and sent to Orenburg. Vlady joined him there soon after, and Liouba visited intermittently. A daughter, Jeannine, was born in February 1935. In the meantime, Serge's friends and colleagues in Paris began campaigning for his release. Among those involved were Georges Duhamel, Luc Durtain, André Gide, Victor Margueritte, Marcel Martinet, Magdeleine Marx (Paz), Charles Plisnier, Henry Poulaille, Charles Vidrac, Leon Werth, and Maurice Wullens. In June 1935, at the International Writers' Congress for the Defence of Culture, held in Paris, a debate took place regarding Serge's situation.

As pressure increased on the Soviet government, Serge and his family were finally expelled in 1936, and their Soviet citizenships were revoked. At the same time, Serge's manuscripts were confiscated, including Les hommes perdus (a memoir of French anarchism before World War I) and La tourmente (a sequel to Ville conquise). Serge and his family arrived in Brussels in April 1936; he had narrowly missed the purges that began that year in Russia.

While working as a typesetter and writing against the purges and the Moscow trials that followed, Serge also found time to write De Lénine à Staline and Destin d'une révolution in 1937. He joined the P. O. U. M. under the leadership of his friend and colleague, Andrés Nin, who was arrested and murdered in June 1937 by the Spanish Communists.

In April 1937, Serge moved to Paris, where Liouba's mental condition deteriorated, and she was institutionalized. It was in Paris that Serge met the archaeologist, Laurette Séjourné, with whom he began a relationship. A rift had begun to emerge in 1937 between Serge and Trotsky, partly because of their differences of opinion about the P. O. U. M., and in 1939, they broke off contact. (Serge later co-wrote a biography of Trotsky, Vie et mort de Trotsky, with Trotsky's wife, Nataliia Ivanovna Trotskaia, in 1946). Serge became increasingly isolated from his colleagues, but he continued to write. In 1939, he finished the novel, S'il est minuit dans le siècle, and a biographical work, Portrait de Staline.

In August 1940, as the German army approached Paris, Serge, Vlady, and Séjourné fled to Marseilles, where they lived outside the city with André Breton and his family (Jeannine had been assigned a temporary wartime placement in February). Serge described this period of his life in the novel, Les derniers temps.

While struggling to obtain a visa out of France, Serge learned of Trotsky's murder in Mexico City. After many countries refused entrance to Serge (including the United States), Mexico finally accepted him and his family. On 25 March 1941, Serge and Vlady left Marseilles on a converted cargo-ship, the Capitaine Paul-Lemerle, with the Bretons and Claude Lévi-Strauss, among others. Serge and Vlady arrived in Mexico City in August 1941, after a circuitous trip through Martinique, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. Laurette and Jeannine joined them there a year later, in March 1942.

Serge lived in Mexico for more than six years after his arrival. Isolated from his colleagues, and having trouble publishing his writing, he also feared attempts on his life. Nevertheless, he wrote voluminously, finishing two novels, L'affaire Toulaév and Les années sans pardon, and an autobiographical work, Mémoires d'un révolutionnaire.

Serge had heart trouble in Mexico City (his doctor attributed it to the high altitude), and he died from an embolism on 17 November 1947. He was buried in a pauper's grave in the Spanish Republican section of the Mexico City cemetery as someone without a nationality. In Mémoires d'un révolutionnaire, he had described himself thus: "A political exile since my birth, I have known both the real benefits and the oppressive hardships of the uprooted man...For my own part, I have no regrets at carrying this leaden burden, since I can feel myself to be at one and the same time Russian, French, European and Eurasian, a stranger to no land, despite the law, and recognizing everywhere, in all the diversity of place and person, the unity of the world and of mankind."

This biographical note draws on information kindly supplied by Richard Greeman and is also derived from Bill Marshall, Victor Serge: The Uses of Dissent (New York: Berg Publishers Limited, 1992).
Title
Guide to the Victor Serge Papers
Author
by Miriam B. Spectre
Date
September 1996
Language of description
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

  • 2007-08-13: beinecke.serge.xml converted for compliance with Yale EAD Best Practice Guidelines with brbl-migrate-01.xsl (mr2007-08-13).
  • 2007-03-08: PUBLIC "-//Yale University::Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library//TEXT (US::CtYBR::::[VICTOR SERGE PAPERS ])//EN" "serge.xml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2010-02-10: Transformed with yale.addEadidUrl.xsl. Adds @url with handle for finding aid. Overwrites @url if already present.

Repository Details

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

Contact:
P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977