Workers League Vile Provocation
The murder of our comrade Martha Phillips in Moscow has drawn the sinister attention of David North’s Workers League and other denizens of his self-styled “International Committee of the Fourth International.”
For more than 20 years this outfit has variously described the Spartacists as “racist” and “fascist,” the “main spokesman for the national interests of the American bourgeoisie,” “provocateurs in the service of Stalinism,” “the finger-man for the world capitalists,” “Finger Man for the FBI” and generally as the most decadent and unregenerate, “politically diseased” elements, motivated by “hatred of the working class.” Why would they care what happens to our comrades? Yet twice in the space of four weeks the Workers League’s Bulletin has carried articles dealing with the death of our comrade.
Their 28 February issue cites the “disturbing report” in Workers Vanguard (No. 545, 21 February) of Martha’s murder. They shed a few crocodile tears, although everyone who knows the Workers League knows full well that they would gleefully break open a bottle of champagne over news of an SL leader’s death. There soon follows a long list of dark and insinuating “questions” and innuendos about “sketchy” accounts of the murder, “hastily” organized memorial meetings, a “highly unusual” lack of any reports on the murder in the Moscow or U.S. press. The article asks darkly, “Could the killers have been known to Phillips?” Even more explicitly, a second installment on “The Murder of Martha Phillips” (Bulletin, 27 March) talks of “the unavoidable inference that Spartacist has something to hide.”
For Martha’s comrades, the agony of her brutal and untimely death has been compounded by the fact that we still do not know who murdered her. Describing — in the obituary the circumstances of the discovery of Martha’s body on the mom ing of February 9, we said:
“At the present time, the possibility cannot be ruled out that this hideous crime may have been politically motivated. The Moscow militia is carrying out an investigation in which our friends and supporters in Moscow are cooperating.”Two weeks later, after we had managed with great difficulty to get some further details from the militia investigation, this was reported to a memorial meeting by SL/U.S. National Chairman James Robertson. Laying out the range of potential suspects, comrade Robertson concluded:
“I do not have any basis now to speculate. It could have been somebody within our milieu for personal or provocateur reasons. We’ve had altercations with Pamyat. The Kuzbass region independent mine workers union is run straight out of Washington by a Russian fascist and the CIA; we intervened and got in their way. There are many other possibilities. Moscow is hardly New York — that is, you don’t get knifed in the street in Moscow, although increasingly with impoverishment you can get robbed. But this was not that kind of murder at all. And the plain truth is, we do not know.”North & Co. talk as though they do know more, or pretend to, claiming to find in our straightforward statement the “smell of political coverup.” They demand a “public accounting of the ‘milieu”‘ in which we intervene in the Soviet Union, reports of which appear regularly in Workers Vanguard. These virulent Stalinophobes point an accusing finger at the “political swamp of disintegrating Soviet Stalinism,” with which they attempt to put us in league. They find it expedient, to say the least, to ignore other suspects, such as the numerous “assets” of the CIA in the Soviet Union, or even the possibility of a simple criminal act.
The Bulletin remarks that the WV obituary has “no suggestion in the headline that Phillips was the victim of murder.” Perhaps they will next denounce Trotsky for titling his obituary of his slain son, “Leon Sedov — Son, Friend, Fighter.” And maybe they will go after Trotsky’s article as well for the fact that “the first mention of murder as the cause of death comes more than three-quarters of the way into the article.”
They cynically pick up on a call for a “commission of inquiry” raised in a very powerful letter of solidarity by a sympathizer of our organization (see WV No. 546, 6 March). They even cite Trotsky as a precedent. Yet the Dewey Commission was convened not to determine that it was Stalin who murdered Left Oppositionists in the 1930s, but to clear Trotsky’s name from the lies heaped on him by Stalin’s infamous Moscow Trials.
As we wrote in reply to our supporter, “unlike in Stalin’s time, today it is not an easy task to identify the culprit(s).” The Workers League claims this statement is “so specious and flimsy that it invites suspicion.” What “invites suspicion” is that the Bulletin editors willfully ignore the many sinister and deadly forces we pointed to as potential suspects. We observed that “within the decomposing bureaucracy, several of its wings” could be implicated, but “equally there are those with considerable investment in Yeltsin or ties to Yeltsin,” as well as smaller forces who “may have seen our activities as a direct roadblock to their aspirations.” The Workers League certainly fits in this last category. Far from demanding a commission of inquiry, they should be worried about what an inquiry might reveal!
What do they really want, these people who have for years treated the Spartacists as deserving nothing more than to be shot down like mad dogs? They want to seize on a tragedy which has struck our organization, and use that tragedy to hurt the Spartacist League.
The SL has earned a reputation for telling the truth, no matter how bitter, just as the rules of Trotsky’s Fourth International instruct us, from warning against Solidarnosc counterrevolution back in 1981, when the bulk of the left (and .the Workers League) was cheering it on, to correcting errors in our press. We stand on our record, making available the indexed bound volumes of Workers Vanguard and Spartacist dating back to our first issue.
We tell our readers the truth, as it is known to us, when it is known to us. And when we don’t know, we say that too.
The Northites, on the other hand, specialize in the arts of fabrication, innuendo and anti-communist smear designed to bring forces far more powerful than their own down on those whom they target. In short, they are an organization devoted to committing provocations against the left. And go after the SL not least because they see in us all-purpose surrogates for their anti-Soviet venom.
This is not the first time they have expressed a macabre interest in our dead. Following the suicide of one of our cadres two years ago, the Northites raised this in an article on the New York Daily News strike, as they tried to weasel out of our exposure that the Bulletin is published by non-union labor. Several months later, they seized on the untimely death of another comrade from cancer to twist their gruesome knife again.
Take this ghoulish mindset, add the mercenary appetites of a poison pen for hire, and that gives you a rough approximation of the North gang. In exchange for petrodollars, the IC under North’s British mentor Gerry Healy served as press agents for anti-Communist repression by Near East dictators. They are notorious for assisting the bourgeois state in persecuting working-class militants, from the Healyites’ smear of British miners leader Arthur Scargill to North’s campaign to imprison American SWP trade-union activist Mark Curtis.
In November 1990, they seized on the attempted assassination of German SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine to go after our comrades of the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany (SpAD), the only organization to unambiguously oppose the imperialist annexation of the DDR (East Germany). Ina vicious smear, whose only purpose could be to set us up as would-be “terrorists” in the eyes of the Fourth Reich’s agencies of repression, the German Northite BSA vituperated that “The hysterical language of the SpAD is directed at people who are in a mental state similar to that of the schizophrenic would-be assassin of Lafontaine.”
For years, the Workers League has been out to get us. Now they seek to use the tragic murder of our comrade who died at her post, fighting to defeat counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, for another of their insidious “campaigns.” Whose interests does the Workers League serve?
Poisoned Pens for Hire
The “International Committee” has a well-known history as a mercenary outfit. This is a matter of public record. By their own later admission, Healy’s IC received at least well over £1 million (over $2 million at the time) from a variety of Near East sheiks and bonapartist butchers over a period of years beginning in the mid-1970s (see “Northite Blood Money,” WV No. 523, 29 March 1991). And this really was for services rendered.
Beginning with a 1976 deal with the Libyan government for £50,000 with which to buy a four-color web offset printing press, according to an IC Control Commission report, the IC received more than a half million pounds from the Qaddafi regime over the years, Among the services this money bought was turning Healyite publications into hagiographic press agents for the Libyan strongman, as well as supplying names of and intelligence on prominent “Zionists” in “finance, politics, business, the communications media and elsewhere.”
Another £20,000 — and this figure can only be the tip of the iceberg, given that the “investigation” was carried out by the guilty parties themselves — came from Saddam Hussein. In exchange, the IC hailed the execution of 21 Iraqi Communist Party members in 1978. They not only whitewashed the Ba’athist regime’s anti-Communist terror, they actively assisted it. Healyite provocateurs spied on anti-Saddam demonstrations in Britain, taking pictures of Iraqi leftists and turning them over to the Ba’athist regime.
North points to the IC “control commission” to claim innocence, protesting the WL never got any of the loot, But the entire IC carried out the political services required for this money over a whole period, and the fact that the Healyites were on the take was obvious to anyone who looked. In 1977 we ran an article, “Healyites, Messengers of Qaddafi,” concluding that “even a cursory look” at the IC’s “year-long pandering to the oil-rich Qaddafi forces the observation that there is indeed something very rotten in the state of Denmark.”
Three years later, Sean Matgamna, editor of the British Socialist Organiser, was dragged by Healy into Her Majesty’s courts on libel charges. But the one charge that Matgamna raised which Healy didn’t contest was the central one, that the Healyites must have been subsidized by “one or more Arab governments.” In 1985, when Healy was deposed by his lieutenants, the accusations of taking blood money from Arab bourgeois regimes became a big scandal in the IC. Why? Because by then the flow of money had dried up. When it was coming in, nobody complained (see “Healyism Implodes,” Spartacist No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86).
More than 20 years ago, we characterized the Healyites as unsavory “political bandits” whose positions were tailored to their own opportunistic advantage. As they continued to degenerate, their ostensible politics, like their cheering for a mythical bourgeois “Arab Revolution,” became a front — basically dependent on who they were working for at any given time. The petrodollar connection was only one of their contracts. In Australia they took money to print a Vietnamese rightist emigre newspaper, the Bell of Saigon, which called on its fascist supporters to “exterminate” communists. Even when it isn’t exactly clear in whose employ they are at a given moment, like out-of-work gunslingers in the Old West they have continued to do their dirty work with the aim of serving somebody.
In the early 1970s, the Healyites began a decades-long vendetta against the reformist SWP entitled “Security and the Fourth International.” Resuscitating the vile Stalinist slander that Trotsky had been killed by “one of his own,” the Healyites tried to smear the entire SWP leadership — especially Trotsky’s secretary Joseph Hansen — as “FBI and KGB agents” and “accomplices” in the murder of Leon Trotsky. This slander, of course, also implicated SWP leader James P. Cannon and Trotsky himself. David North cut his teeth on that campaign.
The Workers League’s modus operandi in order to get left-wing opponents is to place themselves at the service of larger forces hostile to revolutionaries. In 1971, at a time when the bourgeoisie worried over growing radicalization, the SWP decided it was time to draw a blood line in the “antiwar movement.” At a meeting of the SWP’s “National Peace Action Coalition,” a popular front including prominent Democratic Party politicians, the WL rushed to join in a vicious thug attack led by SWP goons against Progressive Labor and the Spartacist League when we protested the presence of Senator Vance Hartke on the podium. And here they were acting as guard dogs for the same SWP which they now claim has been an FBI-controlled organization for decades. Within their own demented framework, what would that make the Workers League?
True to form, the main vehicle North & Co. have used in pursuing their vendetta against the SWP is the capitalist courts-appealing to the U.S. government to determine that the SWP is an organization of “government agents”! In 1979, when the SWP was engaged in a lawsuit against the FBI’s COINTELPRO infiltration, the Northites — using WL tool Alan Gelfand — took the SWP to court in order to force it to hand over Political Committee minutes.
Four years ago, the “Workers” League launched a big international campaign with the aim of sending SWPer Mark Curtis to prison (see “The Workers League and Mark Curtis,” WV No. 480, 23 June 1989). Curtis was an Iowa trade unionist who was getting in the way of the Swift Packing Co. He is currently serving a 25-year prison term after being railroaded on charges of burglary and sexual abuse. Whole paragraphs of the prosecutor’s summation at the trial that put Curtis behind bars were taken almost word for word from what the Bulletin had written a month earlier! As the headline of a subsequent WV article said, “Why Should Anyone Believe David North?”
What “Milieu” Does North Work In?
And that brings us back to the Northites’ grotesque insinuations concerning the murder of Martha Phillips in Moscow. We have sought to marshal whatever resources we can to press Moscow authorities to pursue all possible avenues of investigation with vigor and rigorousness. And we are taking other measures. Particularly given the chaos of the disintegrating Soviet Union since Yeltsin’s pro-imperialist countercoup last August, pursuing this investigation is fraught with difficulty. This is compounded by the fact that Martha was a Trotskyist, a Jew and an outspoken public opponent of Yeltsin counterrevolution. As we’ve said, at this point we have no way of knowing who killed our comrade and are in no position to exclude any possibility.
But as noted above, the Workers League has been quick to exclude certain possibilities, notably those connected to the CIA and the Yeltsinites. Why might that be? From opposing Soviet intervention against CIA-financed Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan to hailing CIA-sponsored Solidarność in Poland. the Healy/Northites have been found on any side fighting against the Soviet Union.
Thus in Britain, when anti-Communist “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher was gearing up for a bloody showdown with the powerful National Union of Mine-workers, the Healyites put their support for Solidarność into service for the union-busting cabal. On the eve of the heroic 1984-85 miners strike, Healy’s press made a big play of scandalizing NUM leader Arthur Scargill for opposing Solidarność as “anti-socialist.” The scurrilous anti-Communist campaign was instantly picked up by the Labour Party/Trades Union Congress right wing and the Fleet Street tabloids with the aim of isolating the miners union and trying to crush it.
A few years later, the American AFL-CIO’s International Department (widely known as the “AFL-CIA”) sought to put together a new Solidarność by creating a layer of pro-imperialist “free trade unionists” in the Soviet Union. To this end, they tried to get the so-called Independent Union of Miners (NPG) to endorse slanders that Scargill had pocketed contributions by Soviet miners to the British miners strike. Our comrades’ intervention into the founding conference of the NPG in the Donbass in 1990 put a spike in this disinformation campaign. We gored the ox of these CIA-connected elements, and they have good cause to hate us.
Currently, the Northites are engaged in a fund drive for “aid to the Vorkuta miners,” who however are not presently engaged in any particular struggle. This was launched at a November Berlin meeting of North’s “IC,” supposedly on the basis of an appeal from the miners. Yet the appeal has not been published. Could this be related to the fact that a few months earlier the AFL-CIO set up a “relief fund” for Soviet miners? This was reported in an article on Boris Yeltsin’s visit to AFL-CIO headquarters, where he was hailed for his “commitment to free unions.” Interestingly, the article talks of the “plight of the Soviet miners, who first struck in November 1989 in Vorkuta” (AFL-CIO News, 24 June 1991).
Now this is curious indeed, for the Soviet miners struck massively across the country in the summer of 1989. The later Vorkuta strike, however, was the first to openly raise anti-Communist demands. The WL’s Bulletin (8 December 1989) publicized an appeal by the “Vorkuta Workers' (Strike) Committee,” which included a demand for the “complete cutoff of the financial and economic help to the fraternal totalitarian regimes” — i.e., Cuba, Vietnam, etc. In introducing this appeal, the Bulletin explained that it had been “transmitted by telephone from Vorkuta to Leningrad and published there by the Democratic Union Party.” The Democratic Union is a pro-Western, anti-Communist outfit which has been financed by the American government through the notorious conduit of the “National Endowment for Democracy”!
One of the leaders of the Vorkuta miners is Nikolai Terokhin, who railed that “The Cubans receive this money out of our pockets and practically flip out under their beautiful sun” (taz, 18 November 1989). This same Terokhin, along with another Vorkuta miner, Sergei Masolovich, were brought to Britain in June 1990 by the fascistic NTS, which has been financed for decades by Western intelligence agencies. There they addressed the scab “Union of Democratic Miners” which was set up to destroy Arthur Scargill’s NUM. These two are also sponsored proteges of AFL-CIO leader Lane Kirkland, who have been highlighted in the pages of that other Bulletin, published by the AFL-CIO “Department of International Affairs.” Is this the “milieu” that North & Co. have been working? What’s in it for them, we wonder, and does it have anything to do with their interest in the murder of our comrade?
Hate the Soviet Union, Hate the Spartacist League
If there has been one political constant to North’s organization for the past couple of decades, it has been unadulterated anti-Sovietism. This is “theoretically” justified with the description of the Stalinist bureaucracy as “counterrevolutionary through and through” — which flatly denies Trotsky’s understanding of the dual nature of this parasitic caste sitting atop proletarian property forms. Hostile to defense of the gains of the October Revolution, now the Northites have joined Yeltsin in proclaiming the death of the Soviet Union. Under a headline trumpeting “The End of the USSR,” David North writes: “It is impossible to define the Confederation of Independent States as a whole, or any of the republics of which it is comprised, as workers states” (Bulletin, 10 January).
In his famous trade-union analogy, Trotsky compared the Soviet Union under Stalinist rule to a giant labor organization which must be defended against the capitalist enemy despite its bureaucratic misleaders. North inverts Trotsky’s analogy to write off the organized labor movement along with the Soviet Union. After years of groveling to the racist, pro-imperialist labor fakers to build a “labor party,” the Workers League now says, “to define the AFL-CIO as a working-class organization is to blind the working class to the realities which they confront.”
Only a few years ago, the WL denounced us for saying that the hard-fought Hormel meatpackers strike had been knifed by the “labor traitors that currently make up the top leadership of the American labor movement.” North’s Bulletin (1 April 1986) claimed that this revealed our “virulent hatred of the working class and deep pessimism.” Now the Workers League writes off the unions along with the Soviet Union. This comes from an outfit which is notorious for hailing police “strikes,” a supposedly “working-class” group whose newspaper is produced with no union label, an ostensibly socialist organization which in this deeply racist society fulminates against SL-initiated anti-Klan actions as an “obsession with race.”
Other than providing a convenient excuse for scabbing on strikes, North’s pronouncement that the unions in the U.S. can no longer be considered working-class organizations reflects his líder maximo complex. In Berlin last November, North pompously declared: “The delegates today speak to the international working class as the authoritative representatives of the Fourth International” (Bulletin, 22 November 1991). From the “modest” start of crowning himself as Healy’s heir apparent at the top of the IC garbage heap, North is now assiduously trying to eliminate any perceived rivals to his new claim to be leader of the world proletariat.
In his Berlin speech, North declared that Ernest Mandel, leader of the United Secretariat, has “become, in the full sense of the word, a bourgeois politician.” He took Mandel to task for preparing “the ground for the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe,” in particular by supporting Polish Solidarność and its ideologue Jacek Kuron. He charged that “through the medium of Jacek Kuron, Lech Walesa himself is a political Frankenstein created by Man-del.” What chutzpah! When it comes to cheering Solidarnosc, the Northites took second place to no one, including the Mandelites. David North is a “political Frankenstein” created by Gerry Healy (and who knows who or what else).
Having now defined themselves as the sole representatives of the working class, where the megalomaniacal Northites go from here is anybody’s guess. We do know that they are capable of anything; they will work for just about anyone, and maybe they do.
The Workers League claims to be calling for an “inquiry” not “as a question for factional dispute,” but because “If Phillips was the victim of a political killing, her death is of concern not merely to the Spartacist League, but to the entire working class movement.” If Martha’s murder was politically motivated — which at this point we do not know — it is indeed a matter of vital importance and concern for the workers movement internationally. But such interests are of no concern to North’s organization, which has crossed over the class line with such frequency and ease that where it fits in relation to the workers movement is elastic, to say the least. The WL and its activities and associations do indeed warrant close scrutiny.
Martha Phillips was a proletarian internationalist, and as our most prominent spokesman in the Soviet Union she riled the counterrevolutionary nationalists who spearhead the drive to restore capitalist exploitation there. The very forces she fought against are the ones that are championed by the Workers League, from the reactionary Lithuanian Sajudis government to the “AFL-CIA” — backed “independent” miners, whose masters pull the strings from Washington. We know that there are powerful and sinister elements intent on stopping us from building the Leninist-Trotskyist party needed to lead the Soviet workers in a proletarian political revolution to defeat the counterrevolutionary onslaught.
As the capitalist-restorationists seek to consolidate a hold on power and uproot the foundations of the Soviet workers state, we honor our martyred comrade Martha by continuing the struggle to reimplant Bolshevism in the land of its birth, to return the Soviet Union to the road of Lenin and Trotsky.