Victor Serge, born Victor Lvovich Kibalchich (December 30, 1890 – November 17, 1947), was a Russian revolutionary and writer. Originally an anarchist, he joined the Bolsheviks five months after arriving in Petrograd in January 1919 and later worked for the Comintern as a journalist, editor and translator. He was critical of the Stalinist regime and remained a revolutionary Marxist until his death.
Serge was born in Brussels, Belgium, to a couple of impoverished Russian anti-Czarist exiles. His father, Leo (Lev) Kibalchich, a former infantry trooper from Kiev, was distantly related to Nikolai Kibalchich of the People's Will, who was executed as a result of the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. Leo, himself a Peoples' Will sympathiser, had fled Russia around 1887 and gone to Switzerland, where he met Serge's mother, Vera Frolova, née Pederowska. She was the daughter of an impoverished petty nobleman of Polish extraction from the Nizhni-Novgorod province. Vera had married a Saint Petersburg official and, after giving birth to two daughters, had received permission to go to Switzerland to study and heal her consumptive lungs, but also to escape the reactionary environment of Saint Petersburg. She fell in love with the handsome, feckless Kibalchich, and the couple wandered Europe, according to their son, "in search of cheap lodgings and good libraries". Victor was born "by chance" in Brussels, where the couple were so poor that Victor's younger brother died of malnutrition before Leonid eventually found work as a teacher at the Institute of Anatomy. The 'Kibalchich myth' of revolutionary idealism and sacrifice dominated Victor's impoverished childhood. He read a great deal, and became interested in socialism and anarchism along with his friends, including Raymond Callemin.
Serge's parents broke up in 1905, when he was 15. Living on his own from then on, he soon joined the Belgian Socialist Party, but soon came to feel that it was not radical enough. He became increasingly involved in anarchism and was expelled from Belgium in 1909. He moved to Paris and learned the printing trade.
Serge's first published article was written in September 1908. Under the pen name "Le Rétif" ("The Restless One" or "The Stubborn One"), Serge wrote many articles for Le Révolté and, starting in 1909, L'Anarchie, a journal founded by Albert Libertad, whom Serge and his friends considered to be a hero. Serge at this stage was an outspoken supporter of individualist anarchism and illegalism, frequently clashing with the editor of L'Anarchie, André Roulot (aka "Lorulot"), who favoured less inflammatory rhetoric. In 1910, following a schism in L'Anarchie, Lorulot departed and Serge was named as the new editor of the paper. During this time Serge was in a relationship with Rirette Maitrejean, another anarchist activist.
In 1912 Serge was judged to have been involved in acts of terrorism and was sentenced to five years in solitary confinement for his involvement with the Bonnot Gang. Several of his comrades were executed. He was thus in prison on the outbreak of the First World War. He immediately forecast that the war would lead to a Russian Revolution: "Revolutionaries knew quite well that the autocratic Empire, with its hangmen, its pogroms, its finery, its famines, its Siberian jails and ancient iniquity, could never survive the war."
In September 1914, Serge was in a prison on an island in the Seine, twenty-five miles or so from the Battle of the Marne. The local population, suspecting a French defeat, began to flee, and for a while Serge and the other inmates expected to become German prisoners.
On his release in 1917 he went to live in Spain, which was neutral in World War I but was the scene of an attempted syndicalist revolution. It was around this time that he first used the name Victor Serge, as a pen name for an article in the newspaper Tierra y Libertad.
Nicholas II was overthrown in February, 1917, and in July Serge decided to travel to Russia, for the first time in his life, to participate in the revolutionary activities there. In order to get there he returned to France. He studied art history for two months, but was then arrested because he had promised to stay out of France. He was imprisoned without trial for more than a year and engaged in political discussions with fellow prisoners.
In October 1918 the Danish Red Cross intervened, arranging for Serge and other revolutionaries to be exchanged for Bruce Lockhart and other anti-Bolsheviks who had been imprisoned in Russia.