1931 - a Menshevik leader on the "Menshevik Trial" in Moscow

Speech by Rafail Abramovich (Rein) to a rally in Berlin, organised by the SPD in protest against both Italian Fascism and the "Menshevik Trial" in Moscow, 2 March 1931.

Against Fascism and Bolshevik Slander!

[Translator's explanatory notes:
1. The trial of the "All-Union Bureau of Mensheviks", staged in Moscow in March 1931, was one of a series of "economic" show trials, intended to prove that the USSR's economic difficulties could be blamed on malicious sabotage on the part of anti-Soviet forces. Most of the 14 defendants in this trial were very senior, non-communist, officials in Soviet economic institutions who had taken a critical attitude towards Stalin's policies of all-out collectivisation and rapid industrialisation. Most of them had also been members of the Menshevik party until the early 1920s, or had been politically close to Menshevism at that time. However, all except one of the defendants had abandoned opposition politics and devoted themselves to working in the Soviet state apparatus, where many of them were prized for their rather rare skills as economists and statisticians. However, by 1931, their lack of enthusiasm for the USSR's new course made them expendable.
2. The politics of the Menshevik trial were complicated. It purported to reveal a massive conspiracy against the USSR involving the 14 defendants, the Menshevik party in exile, the Labour and Socialist International, Anglo-French imperialism and sundry other forces. This conspiracy aimed simultaneously to sabotage the economy of the USSR, dupe the western working class into supporting anti-Soviet policies, and launch a war of intervention against the Soviet Union. At the time (1931), the Communist International was adopting an extremely sectarian position towards the social-democratic parties of the west, denouncing them as "social-fascists". Once the Comintern line changed in 1935 to one of support for "popular fronts" with socialists and even liberals against fascism, the Menshevik trial tended not to be mentioned.
3. Rafail Abramovich (party-name of Rafail Abramovich Rein, 1880-1963) was a social-democrat from 1899, and in 1901 joined the Jewish social-democratic organisation, the Bund. After 1905, while remaining a leading figure in the Bund, Abramovich also became prominent in the RSDRP Menshevik faction, taking positions close to those of Yu O Martov. Abramovich was one of Menshevism's leading public figures and orators between 1917 and 1920, when he followed Martov into exile in Berlin. There he helped organise the Mensheviks' "Delegation Abroad", and the publication of their journal, Sotsialistichesky Vestnik [Socialist Herald], where the speech reproduced below was first published. He was also for many years one of the Menshevik representatives in the Labour and Socialist International. As Abramovich made clear in his speech, one of the central allegations in the Moscow trial was that he, Abramovich, had travelled illegally to Moscow to conspire with the defendants. He was able to demonstrate that he had been elsewhere throughout the period mentioned in the defendants' testimonies. This was widely reported outside the USSR, but not, understandably, within the country. - FK]

Comrades! First of all I should like to thank our German comrades for inviting me to speak at this massive protest meeting. On a day when in Moscow a shameful farce of a trial is underway against 14 accused, we derive great moral satisfaction from being able to denounce the slanderous and criminal policies of the Bolshevik government before an audience of 20,000 Berlin workers. I spoke of the criminal policies of the Bolshevik government. It is criminal not only in relation to us, the Russian social-democrats - it is a crime against the whole international proletariat. At a time when the working class of the whole world finds itself on the eve of decisive battles against fascism, and, more than ever before, needs all its energy and to concentrate its forces to the greatest extent, at this moment Bolshevism hurries to the aid of its ally, fascism, and again splits the proletariat with this fateful trial.

On the defendants' bench in Moscow sit 14 people, accused of having formed an "All-Union Bureau" of our party. I declare here to the whole world, in the name of our party, that of these 14 people, 13 left the ranks of our party nine to ten years ago and at no time since have they returned to it. Of these 13, moreover, two never even belonged to our party at all. And these are the people that they want to present as the Bureau of our Central Committee, as the highest body of our party!

The Bolsheviks have destroyed every trace of political freedom. They have deprived the whole population, including the proletariat, of any possibility to express its will freely. They have destroyed all freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and of organisation. They have no right to complain if social-democratic workers, without asking permission from the Soviet government, ignoring the GPU's bans, claim the right to propagate their ideas themselves and create illegal organisations for that purpose. (Storm of approval)

Yes, we have a Bureau of our Central Committee! Yes, we have an illegal organisation in the USSR, but our real Central Committee has never consisted of those 14 people at present in the dock...

I am not blaming those unfortunate people. Most of them were sincere socialists in the past, honest people, with a history of great services to the working class of Russia. They have proved unable to withstand the terrible pressure of the GPU. However, only somebody with no idea of the methods the new inquisition uses to get its admissions and confessions could criticise them for that. Here is an example: some of the defendants have confessed that they met me in Moscow in August 1928 and took part in a series of meetings with me. Pravda has even been able to give all the details of my time in Moscow. It names the station at which I arrived in Moscow, names the driver who took me and my baggage, specifies the rooms in which I stayed and stored my luggage and reproduces with almost stenographic detail all the speeches I made there. The trouble is, though, that I have never returned to Russia since November 1920, nor have I travelled to Moscow. (General laughter) Pravda also informs us that the German SPD put 280,000 rubles at my disposal. If it is possible to retain a sense of humour in the face of such a human tragedy, I would like to ask comrade Wels to rectify his oversight and hand over the money. (Storm of laughter)

How is it that experienced and honourable people can make such ridiculous confessions and admissions? The answer lies in the methods used by the GPU in such trials. The accused are subjected to continuous interrogation for up to 24 and 48 hours, during which time the investigators change, while the accused is made to wait for hours or even days, often in a corridor without food or rest. Prisoners are kept in strict isolation, frequently in windowless rooms, in which they lose all sense of time. They are given no information, they can send no messages, and are given no newspapers or books, nor pencils and paper. They are continually threatened with shooting, and put up against the wall. And if they continue to resist, they are put into a system of stone cubicles, alternately hot and cold, without the most elementary sanitation, which has a murderous effect not just on the health of the defendant, but also on his sanity. (Cries of indignation) The accused is presented with the false testimony of his friends and comrades, threats are made against his family, provocateurs are placed in the room, and he is given false information about the well-being of his family, about the death of small children. There are very serious grounds for suspecting that very refined and "scientific" methods of physical torture are used against some of them. And all this continues until the accused, finally, gives in. And then a cynical process of bargaining begins between the accused and the investigator as to what "admissions" he should make. This ends with the defendant simply signing and then obediently repeating in court everything that has been dictated or suggested to him by Soviet justice.

So-called "objective" people like to talk of "émigré exaggerations". Unfortunately, all that I have been telling you here is in no way exaggerated, quite the opposite. If we occasionally spread incorrect information, it is more likely to err on the side of understatement. I would like to make a confession about one occasion where I misinformed our chairman, comrade Künstler. He was writing something and needed to know approximately how many people had been arrested and held in concentration camps. I told him that according to information we had received the previous year, the number was in excess of 166,000. Alas, I confess, I misinformed him. Walter Duranty, the pro-Soviet correspondent of the New York Times, sent a telegram from Moscow which was passed by the censor and published in the 3 February [1931] edition. According to him, the number of people, primarily peasants, arrested and exiled in the Soviet Union over the past two years is in excess of two million! In his words "half of that number", that is, about one million people, are currently in concentration camps and exile. The figure I gave Künstler was wrong by a factor of six - but not in the direction for which émigrés are generally reproached.

But, in the minds of the Soviet Communist Party, the real accused in the Moscow Trial are not those unfortunates in the dock, their spirits broken on the wheels of Soviet justice. In reality they want to pass judgement on our party and, along with it, the entire Socialist International. We are accused of taking part in sabotage, of preparing armed uprisings and intervention by the imperialist powers in Russia, of links with counterrevolutionary organisations and so forth.

It stands to reason that both in Russia and abroad there are many people who believe that the Bolshevik despotism can only be thrown off by means of a popular uprising. There is no doubt that in Russia there are many people, particularly among the peasants, who, realising their own powerlessness, are prepared to accept assistance from a foreign intervention. But on all these questions our party takes a position diametrically opposed to the one I have just outlined. We have always categorically rejected the methods of armed uprising, sabotage and intervention. Not only have we rejected them but, as the Bolsheviks know full well, have always waged an active struggle against such methods. Permit me to recall that during the civil war, despite our rejection of the Bolshevik dictatorship in principle, in order to save the revolution from White Guard reaction and foreign intervention we voluntarily mobilised members of our party to fight in the ranks of the Red Army against counterrevolution.

I do not wish to discuss the correctness or otherwise of our tactics then or now. That, however, is what they were, and no honest person anywhere can deny it. And if, despite this, the Bolsheviks chose our party to feature in this trial, this was because they hoped to compromise our party in the eyes of the workers and thereby strike a fatal blow against the idea of socialism and the Socialist International in the USSR.

As we can see, among the Russian proletariat, and even here and there in the ranks of the Communist Party itself, attitudes and tendencies which believe that some sort of agreement with Russian and international social-democracy is essential are growing stronger. As we can see, amongst the Russian workers, and maybe within the Communist Party as well, the conviction is beginning to ripen that the revolutionary government in Russia cannot exist and develop unless it concludes peace with international socialism. In order to suppress those tendencies at their very inception, in order to crush the growing influence of our ideas at one blow, the Bolshevik dictators have now resorted to this shameful juridical farce.

In May 1930, at the Berlin meeting of the Labour and Socialist International Executive Committee, the organised socialist proletariat of the world offered the hand of friendship to the Russian workers. At that time all Russia's difficulties had got much worse, and, thanks to Stalin's insane collectivisation, Russia seemed to be on the brink of catastrophe. At that moment, the Labour and Socialist International declared to the whole world that it was prepared to use its entire weight and massive influence to avert a catastrophe for the Russian revolution, if only the Bolshevik government would make that possible for us by moving towards a system of workers' democracy. This present trial is a belated answer to the International's appeal. The socialist proletariat extended the hand of fraternal help, in response the Bolsheviks struck us with their fist.

But this is more than just a punch - it is an attack on our honour. It is shameful to have to admit to you that in this respect the new Communist tsarism is worse than the old tsarism of the nobility. In the old days we were subjected to persecution, thrown into jail, exiled, occasionally even executed, but no moral aspersions were cast upon us, no attempts were made to dishonour us politically. Oh, the Bolsheviks know that slander is a most potent political weapon. Remember what your own Ebert had to put up with in struggling against the Black Hundred slander accusing him of "betraying the Fatherland". Remember how you yourselves have to struggle against the foul slanders of the National Socialists, French spies and suchlike dubious persons. But it is the first time in history that such tactics have been used by the government of a major state calling itself revolutionary and working-class. The communist inquisition wants to destroy us politically and morally in a new version of the Dreyfus trial. But there is a court in the world even more supreme than the Supreme Court of the USSR under the chairmanship of Shvernik and the leadership of Krylenko. That is the court of the international proletariat. We shall win our case in this court, even if those fourteen unfortunates are condemned! The conscience of the international proletariat cannot capitulate in front of a dictatorship which from now on will be seen to have no honour. Only by being humane to the highest degree can socialism prevail and achieve its goal - the liberation of the proletariat and of all humanity! (Stormy applause)

from: Sotsialistichesky Vestnik, No. 5 (243), 14 March 1931, pp. 11 - 12