1940: the Mensheviks split

Submitted by Matthew on 28 August, 2013 - 2:43

Russian Mensheviks in split over attitude toward Soviet Union, by John G Wright. Socialist Appeal, 6 April 1940 (the issue for the SWP convention of 5-8 April 1940).


The “Foreign Delegation” of the Russian Mensheviks, that is, their leading center, has split on the question of the attitude toward Stalin’s regime.

Theodore Dan has resigned as chairman and left his post as one of the two editors of Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik (Socialist Courier), the Menshevik organ published in Paris. Yugov has resigned as secretary. Abramovich is now provisional chairman and sole editor, B. Dvinov the new secretary.

Abramovich and his friends are “principled defeatists” in relation to Stalin and the Soviet Union.

They refuse to draw any distinction whatever between their “defeatist” policy toward Hitler and their policy toward Stalin. Dan, on the other hand, seeks to establish “subtle” distinctions between his attitude toward Hitler as “against Stalin and the Soviet Union”. Dan and Abramovich, who remained defensists under the Czar and under Kerensky, have finally become “defeatists”. Abramovich wants to go the whole hog. Dan apparently has reservations.

As we shall presently see, Dan’s reservations do not at all flow from any deep desire on his part to defend the remaining conquests of the October revolution, but rather from his hopes that a possibility still remains of bringing the Soviet Union back into the orbit of the democratic imperialists. Abramovich thinks the only way to attain this is by “unconditional defeatism.” Dan believes the more realistic policy to be that of “conditional defeatism.”

Formally speaking, in recent years, the Mensheviks have recognized in Russia “elements of socialism.” Insofar as Stalin marched shoulder to shoulder with “democracy,” they were “defensists.” In other words, they were “defensists” yesterday for the self-same reason that they are “defeatists” today.

When Stalin signed his pact with Hitler on August 30, 1939, Dan and Abramovich concluded it was necessary to re-evaluate their attitude toward Stalin, whom they have always identified with the Soviet Union. There were no disputes among them as to what was involved in this re-evaluation.

As Abramovich writes: There was complete harmony in appraising Stalin’s rule as the “rule of a nationalist-imperialist clique, which has completely broken with the proletariat and with socialism and has degraded itself to the level of Hitlerite Nazism.” “All of us,” complains Abramovich, “have unanimously recognized that his (Stalin’s) regime has completely broken with revolution and socialism; that his regime is the greatest enemy of the working class and has become transformed into the rule of a national imperialist Bonapartist clique, on the same plane as Hitlerism, with its fate tied irrevocably to Hitlerism.” (Sots. Vestnik, March 5.) Unanimity was preserved when the second world war actually broke out. Dan and Abramovich lined up solidly on the side of the “democracies,” where they still remain despite their differences.

And the invasion of Finland found both of them unconditional supporters of Mannerheim’s “democracy” and “independence.” Abramovich reminds Dan that Dan himself “wants with all his heart a debacle and a defeat for Stalin in his brutal assault on Finland.”

Why, then, have these good friends split? And after all these years! They have a principled difference. At least Dan claims it is. Abramovich, on the contrary, brands as artificial Dan’s “attempt to construct some sort of difference between ‘principled defeatism’ which he (Dan) advocates towards Hitler, and some other kind of defeatism, apparently ‘tactical’ defeatism .... in relation not only to the Soviet Union as a country but even towards the Stalinist regime (!) which oppresses the country.” (The ironic exclamation is Abramovich’s.) Abramovich, it appears, holds that there is only one kind of defeatism. Dan argues there are various kinds. Abramovich is ready to concede to Dan that there is a “difference” between Germany and the Soviet Union as such, i.e., as countries, but that this difference has no bearing on the question of defeatism.

Abramovich’s argument in summary form is as follows: (1) If war is the continuation of politics by other means, then “totalitarian war is the continuation of totalitarian politics”; (2) A preliminary condition for the violent overthrow of a totalitarian regime is military defeat; therefore, (3) “We must strive for the most complete and ruthless military defeat of the Stalinist regime.”

“From this it does not, of course, follow at all,” continues Abramovich, “that we want the atomization, dismemberment, bankruptcy or enslavement of our country or any of its various sections. On the contrary, we will fight might and main against this.” Lest some innocent reader faint with surprise at Abramovich’s conversion to violence and lest he conclude that therein lies the crux of the differences between Abramovich and Dan, we hasten to add that Dan, too. supports the thesis of “violent overthrow” (totalitarian regimes cannot be overthrown in peace-time or peacefully, they both agree).

Furthermore, this “revolution” so ardently supported now by Mensheviks is a “palace revolution.” Or, as Abramovich so aptly puts it: “Of all the forms of violent overthrow of totalitarian dictatorship the most probable appears to be that which bears in our literature the highly-qualified label of ‘palace revolution’.” And Abramovich swears that Dan himself acknowledges that “history, sad to say, has apparently left no other way out save for a palace revolution.” A Menshevik sheds tears even when confronted by “history” with such a revolution!

Dan, however, is a pessimist. He warns against any illusions. It would only mean that “another Bolshevik clique will come to power.” That is why a different “defeatist” approach is necessary. He does not want to wait for a military defeat but seeks rather to liquidate Stalin’s regime “by means of inner forces” and make the “revolution” a lever for the defeat of Stalin’s “criminal war policies.”

Despite his tears, Abramovich is very optimistic. He lists various “palace candidates” to replace Stalin, and concludes that all of them (including Voroshilov) would be compelled to be very, very progressive. Why? Because a palace revolution, even with Voroshilov at the head, he argues, must unavoidably catapult Russia from the present coalition with Hitler into an alliance with the Allies. And what could be more “progressive” than this to a Menshevik?

Dan does not contest the “progressive” character of such a change. He simply refuses to cherish any illusions that a Voroshilov will behave better than a Stalin. After all, they are both “Bolsheviks” — in Dan’s eyes.

P. Garvey, a “principled defeatist” argues as follows against Dan’s position: “What we need is clarity! The instrument of the Marxist method must serve us but so as not vainly to obscure controversial issues; so as not to cover up semi-assertions, immediately accompanied by qualifications; so as not to linger and temporize, which only paralyzes action.... Our times demand forthright answers to the accursed questions. It is impermissible under the cloak of ‘dialectics’ to cover up lapses and irreconcilable contradictions in one’s own position...

“It is impermissible to see in Soviet Russia a totalitarian state.... and at the same time to seek in this social order of state slavery ‘elements of Socialism’ which must be ‘sustained’ until the world social revolution. It is impermissible to want the defeat of the Soviet Union in the war against Finland — and at the same time, with glaring inconsistency, to insist on a subtle distinction between the two aggressors.... advocating towards one of them, the Third Reich, principled defeatism, and towards the other, the Soviet Union, a restricted, temporary and conditional defeatism.”

What style! What thought!

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