Peace and Love Lifestyle

Creating Pockets of Mindfulness and Gladness through Yoga and Writing

Victor Serge on attempting to escape from a painful world.

December 30, 1890, Victor Serge, following in the footsteps of his parents by becoming a revolutionary, was born in Brussels, Belgium. Victor, at an early age, contemplated man’s tendency to assume his customs, traditions, and creeds were handed down by God; the source of his rebellion was the fight against his culture’s limitations. Questioning the beliefs that ruled our lives, and the need for a principled way of life Victor, while locked in prison, began meditating on the vast solitude that rules our lives. He spoke about man’s need to devote thought to himself, greed’s rulership over man, his time in solitary confinement, and how “one ought to go all the way for the sake of the others and for oneself so as to gain from the experience and to grow from it” in “Memoirs of a Revolutionary.” Victor watched his peers revolt against the world, and escape through suicides, bombings, and murders, but our revolutionary, believing in his parties ideals, spoke eloquently on society manufacturing crime, criminals, desperate ideas, and greed. His one saving grace from the world of no escape, a grace many of his one dimensional thinking peers never saw, was that he witnessed a world full of enduring hope and rich in human values. I have many friends, myself included, that lived our entire childhood unconvinced it was possible to become a writer, to one day have our drawings hung in a museum, or become the chef’s food we would mimic.

Living amongst revolution, Victor Serge, watched his peers attempt to live a life without worry; many were sent to the guillotine, even more were sent to hard labor, and many, like him, were forced into solitary confinement. However, Victor told himself that he would survive this hell; through the frustration of his life, and learning the necessity of fighting for mankind Victor dove into himself to begin the process of transforming the world and forging a renewed consciousness in the hearts of men. Throughout “Memoirs of a Revolutionary” Victor speaks about our search for escape through the pain, confusion, turmoil, and constant fluctuations of the world. Through police shootouts and countless suicides Victor discovered the connection between every human being on the planet.

The Christian: “Salvation is found through Christ”

The Buddhist: “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free. Accept everything just the way it is.”

The spiritualist, having merged the many wisdoms of the world, said in their common mystical tone, reverberating the words of Allan Watts: “The meaning of freedom can never be grasped by the divided mind. If I feel separate from my experience, and from the world, freedom will seem to be the extent to which I can push the world around, and fate the extent to which the world pushes me around.”

Even before I emerged from childhood, I seem to have experienced, deeply at heart, that paradoxical feeling which was to dominate me all through the first part of my life: that of living in a world without any possible escape, in which there was nothing for it but to fight for an impossible escape. I felt repugnance, mingled with wrath and indignation, towards people whom I saw settled comfortably in this world. How could they not be conscious of their captivity, of their unrighteousness? All this was a result, as I can see today, of my upbringing as the son of revolutionary exiles, tossed into the great cities of the West by the first political hurricanes blowing over Russia.

Victor understood that life is a confrontation with despair and persistent commitment to the present. We cannot escape our history; we have a responsibility as citizens of the planet to reshape the world. Beyond vegetarian diets, master degrees, chakra meditations, and spiritualist facades everyone with the ability to speak becomes a voice for the voiceless. Victor Serge born during a time, and with a certain heart, where it was necessary for him to become a revolutionary; I believe, Victor loved the world and fought to prevent the nastiness of man from hoarding the comforts, wisdom, and beauty of life, and reserving poverty, oppression and ignorance to those deemed less deserving. As James Baldwin said, about people searching for life outside their country of birth:

“Long before then. I still do, though that feeling has changed in the face of it. I think that it is a spiritual disaster to pretend that one doesn’t love one’s country. You may disapprove of it, you may be forced to leave it, you may live your whole life as a battle, yet I don’t think you can escape it. There isn’t any other place to go—you don’t pull up your roots and put them down someplace else. At least not in a single lifetime, or, if you do, you’ll be aware of precisely what it means, knowing that your real roots are always elsewhere. If you try to pretend you don’t see the immediate reality that formed you I think you’ll go blind.”

The way we respond to suffering, and the subtleties in our love is dependent on our influences as children; the effects of our upbringing follow us through the entirety of our lives. Victor, roaming the countryside with his exiled parents, experienced severe hunger as a child; this experience shape his view of the world for the rest of his life saying:

“Thou shalt be hungry.” I think that if anyone had asked me at the age of twelve, “What is life?” (and I often asked it of myself), I would have replied, “I do not know, but I can see that it means ‘Thou shalt think, thou shalt struggle, thou shalt be hungry.”

The world may cause us to question of our value, our mind may support the world’s view of our importance, and our heart may have to wage a fight against both the world internal and external, but one must not grow bitter. Bitterness stagnates the feet, wearies the heart, and closes the eyes to the beauty of the world; anyone that cannot see beauty has no faith in God, source, or life. Anyone unable to articulate this bitterness is filled with convulsions both physical and mental; we become our own “Evildoer” unless we establish faith in our hearts about the potential of living a meaning-filled life. Victor, a child during this time, allowed himself to become the “Evildoer” and wreck havoc on the world around him saying:

“It must have been some time between the age of six and eight that I became the Evildoer. Through this episode I was to learn another commandment: Thou shalt fight back. I was a well-loved child, the firstborn, but for some years I became, inexplicably, a delinquent child. With a devilish cunning, the criminal child worked his mischief as if he wanted to avenge himself against the universe and, most cruelly of all, against those he loved. The precious pages of my father’s scientific notes were found torn up. The milk, stored for supper in the cool of the window ledge, was found dosed with salt. My mother’s clothes were mysteriously burnt with matches or else slashed with scissors. Ink was surreptitiously spilt on newly ironed linen. Objects disappeared without trace.

“The feeling of having so many dead men at my back, many of them my betters in energy, talent, and historical character, has often overwhelmed me, and that this feeling has been for me the source of a certain courage, if that is the right word for it.” This remains one of the great lines in the annals of revolutionary memoir. On rereading, however, I found myself equally moved by Serge’s rueful meditations on the uses of human reason. “Many times,” he writes, “I have felt myself on the brink of a pessimistic conclusion as to the function of thinking, of intelligence, in society”, even to the point of wondering whether “the role of critical intelligence”, which he had exercised so often and at such costs to himself, might not be “dangerous, and very nearly useless”. He banishes such thoughts rather lamely with the remark that societies need critical thinking and “better times will come” – but then adds, with more conviction, that in any case, the use of the critical faculty is “a source of immense satisfactions” to the thinker. Perhaps, after all, we can regard the life of Victor Serge, perennial critic and dissenter, as, in a certain sense, a happy one. Memoirs of a Revolutionary is a tremendous read.

Memoirs of A Revolutionary