Victor Serge

What everyone should know about repression

Author’s Preface
to the French edition of 1926

With the victory of the Revolution in Russia, there fell into the hands of the revolutionaries the whole mechanism of the most modern, most powerful, most battle-hardened political police, which bad taken shape in over fifty years of bitter struggles against the leaderships of a great people.

An acquaintance with the methods and proceedings of this police force is of immediate practical interest for every revolutionary; for the defence of capitalism everywhere uses the same tools; and moreover all police forces work together and are similar to each other.

The science of revolutionary struggle which the Russians acquired in over half a century of immense effort and sacrifice, will have to be acquired in a much shorter space of time by revolutionaries in countries where action is developing today, in the circumstances created by the war, by the victory of the Russian proletariat and the defeats of the international proletariat – the crisis of world capitalism, the birth of the Communist International, the marked development of class consciousness among the bourgeoisie, with fascism, military dictatorship, white tenor and anti-working class laws; revolutionaries need this knowledge today. If they are given good warning of the means the enemy has at its disposal, they will perhaps suffer fewer losses ... There is then good reason, for a practical purpose, to study the main instrument of all reaction and all repression, that is, the apparatus for strangling all healthy revolt known as the police. We are able to do so, because the weapon perfected by the Russian autocracy to defend its existence – the Okhrana (Defensive), the general security police of the Russian Empire – has fallen into our hands.

To make the most thorough study, which would be very useful, would require leisure which the author of these lines does not possess. The pages you are about to read do not make any claim to fulfil this task. They will, I hope, be adequate to give comrades a warning and to enable them to see an important truth which struck me on my very first visit to the archives of the Russian police; which is that there is no force in the world which can hold back the revolutionary tide when it rises, and that all police forces, however Machiavellian, scientific or criminal, are virtually impotent against it.

This work, published for the first time by the Bulletin communiste in November 1921, has been carefully completed. The practical and theoretical questions which a study of the workings of such a police force cannot fail to raise in the mind of a worker reading it, are examined in two new sections. In the section Simple advice to revolutionaries, which despite its obvious simplicity experience shows to be very useful, outline the fundamental rules of workers’ defence against surveillance, informing and provocation.

Since the war and the October Revolution, the working class can no longer be content with carrying out solely negative, destructive tasks. The epoch of civil wars has begun. Whether they are in fact posed today or not for “some years”, the many questions of the seizure of power are still here today for most Communist Parties. At the beginning of 1923, capitalist order in Europe might have appeared sufficiently stable to discourage the impatient. By the end of the year, however, the “peaceful” occupation of the Ruin was to raise over Germany the powerfully real spectre of revolution.

Now, all action aimed at the destruction of capitalist institutions needs to be complemented by the preparation, at least in theory, of the creative work of tomorrow. “The urge to destroy,” Bakunin used to say, “is also the creative urge.” This profound thought, which when taken literally has sent many revolutionaries astray, has just become practical reality. The same class struggle outlook today leads communists to destroy and create at the same time. Just as anti-militarism today needs to be complemented by the preparation of the Red Army, the problem of repression posed by the police and bourgeois justice has a positive side of great importance. I believe it is necessary to define the main lines of it. We must get to know the means the enemy has at his disposal; we must also get to know the full extent of our own tasks.

March 1925





The publishers wish to thank both Vlady Kibalchich, Victor Serge’s son, and the publishers Francois Maspero of Paris, for permission to bring out this English edition; M. Jean Rière for compiling material for the appendix [1], and Peter Sedgwick for valuable advice concerning the translation.



1. This material is included in the biographical and bibliographical notes, which are accessible from the main Victor Serge index page.


Last updated on 21.3.2004