Con Artists Get Conned

Chickens Come Home to Roost in Kiev

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 808, 29 August 2003.

A couple of years ago, a plethora of opportunist “internationals” proclaimed their new Ukrainian sections on the Internet. We smelled a rat. Now, a new round of announcements has appeared on the Internet by many of these groups complaining they’d been hoodwinked. Typical was the following admission by the Bolshevik Tendency (BT) in a 21 August statement titled “IBT Conned in Kiev”:

“The International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) is one of a number of left-wing organizations fooled by a gang of con artists in Kiev, who fraudulently posed as supporters of different international political tendencies....

“We have established, beyond any doubt, that the same collection of people presented themselves as multiple groups, each with an international affiliation.”

On the same day, the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) Web site confessed that they also had been conned, writing that “a group of purported ‘revolutionaries’ in Ukraine has perpetrated a fraud upon at least ten far left organizations internationally, and probably far more.” An earlier admission was posted by the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

A “Cast List” on the BT’s Web site names five of their Ukrainian “comrades” as simultaneously belonging to the putative Ukrainian section of Jan Norden’s Internationalist Group/League for the Fourth International. As WV closes, the Nordenites have said nothing. By various accounts, other international patrons of the Ukrainian Potemkin village included the British Workers Power and Alliance for Workers’ Liberty groups and the News & Letters group and DeLeonist Socialist Labor Party in the U.S. One thing that all accounts seem to agree on is that Oleg Vernik, long the leader of the Taaffeite Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) group in Ukraine, is a central figure in the scandal. Since early August, a statement has been circulating on various Internet sites, purportedly in the name of the Committee for a Workers’ International, claiming that their Ukrainian section has been suspended, pending an investigation.

We are not privy to the sleazy details, and we have no confidence in anybody’s account of what happened. But by their own words these so-called “victims” stand condemned as utter frauds and co-conspirators with their Kiev con men! Now they scream, “We wuz robbed!” But they were more than happy to perpetrate their con on the left public by trumpeting their fraudulent Ukrainian sections. Proclaiming the Ukrainian “fusion” as the centerpiece of its “Third International Conference” two years ago, the BT sang the praises of its supposed comrades for their “grasp of the complexities of the national question” and for “seriously studying the issues confronted by revolutionaries during the past six decades.”

For its part, the LRP loudly crowed that “joining forces with a large group of young revolutionary workers from the former Soviet Union, the land of the Russian Revolution, is an inspiring step. It confirms our confidence in the correctness of our struggle” (“RWO-Ukraine Joins COFI,” Proletarian Revolution No. 67, Spring 2003). The LRP boasted:

“The RWO is now, after the CWI and LRCI [Workers Power’s international], the third-largest left group in Ukraine (outside of the open Stalinists). The RWO consists of several dozen workers not only in the center in Kiev, but also with groups of several workers each in no less than half-a-dozen other key cities.”

It all brings to mind the movie Billion Dollar Brain, where a group of Baltic hustlers sucker a Texas billionaire into a plot to invade the Soviet Union. These cyberspace internationals who conduct fusions in virtual reality didn’t care what their “sections” were actually doing in Ukraine—what they wanted was a new Internet address to impress unwary people far away from the scene of the crime. The BT still hasn’t even bothered to remove documents from their Ukrainian and Russian Web pages that they now denounce as fraudulent!

W.C. Fields once observed that “You can’t cheat an honest man.” Con men prey on desperate people and those who want something for nothing. These phony “internationals” obviously never so much as bothered to ask if anybody in Ukraine or Russia had ever heard or seen their Ukrainian “section.” The BT now says it noticed its Ukrainian group’s “failure to produce any substantial original propaganda, and the marked absence of internal political and perspectives documents,” moaning that “we certainly could have moved sooner to tighten up what appeared to be a largely dysfunctional organization.” And the LRP now meekly confesses that “reports and articles that we have published by or about the RWO of Ukraine, as well as its affiliate, the RWO of Russia, are at best unreliable.” The LRP lamely adds, “Its ‘members’ and ‘leaders,’ some of whom we had met more than once [!], were part of the overall scam.”

Perhaps we should congratulate the Ukrainian con artists for having the perspicacity to see that these disparate groups belong together. All these renegades unite around the rejection of Trotskyism on the Russian question and they unite in slanders and hatred for the Spartacists. We follow James P. Cannon’s injunction in his 1939 “Speech on the Russian Question” (The Struggle for a Proletarian Party): “‘Who touches the Russian question, touches a revolution.’ Therefore, be serious about it. Don’t play with it.”

In contrast to the Potemkin village bargain hunters, we fought to the last barricades against Yeltsin-Bush capitalist counterrevolution and fought to build a real organization in the USSR. And we paid the price. The Kremlin bureaucracy and then the capitalist regimes that replaced it knew the ICL was for real and witchhunted us with a vengeance. Our comrades were arrested, terrorized, attacked and hounded by the fascists and Stalinists alike. In 1992 the senior leader of the ICL’s Moscow Station, Martha Phillips, was murdered at her post; the authorities stonewalled while we tried in vain to find out who killed her. In 1995, we were repressed and officially banned from Ukraine.

Precisely because we are serious about the question of revolution and forging a truly democratic-centralist International on a solid programmatic basis, we suspected something was up when this “Cambrian explosion” in Kiev first emerged two years ago. On 20 August 2001, an ICL comrade from the former East German (DDR) deformed workers state with extensive political experience in Ukraine noted in a letter:

“I wonder whether P. and his lieutenant got access to the internet and posted on EBay something like ‘Trotskyist group in Ukraine for sale. Make your financial offers to the following email address.’ P. certainly was keen on getting money and I wonder whether he’s the Ukrainian section of WP, ITO [International Trotskyist Opposition], IG and BT at once.”

The ICL sent an e-mail dated 31 August 2001 to Oleg Vernik in Kiev to see if he could provide any information on the sudden emergence of numerous new “Trotskyist” groups in Ukraine. Vernik apparently knew who were likely customers for what he was selling and who weren’t; he never replied to our letter.

For all their protestations of being “shocked, shocked,” this is hardly the first time the anti-Spartacist opportunists have knowingly bought tainted goods. In March 1990, the German section of the ICL issued a public warning about a couple of ex-DDR hustlers who had left our organization, taking with them various assets, including a car and money. The BT’s German allies, the GIVI, rushed to embrace these bandits, even issuing a joint May Day statement with them. A few weeks later, the GIVI announced a break in relations, complaining that “principles of the revolution were sold for a contemptible petty-bourgeois project” in which “a lot of party money is involved.” What made these hustlers irresistible to the BT in the first place was their shared anti-Spartacism. At the 1990 Lutte Ouvrière Fete in Paris, the GIVI circulated a letter that makes clear what attracted them to these elements:

“The stand taken for workers democracy against the bureaucratic Robertson regime, your subsequent rightful actions against the ICL slanders—these were your only connection to Trotskyism.”

Today the BT complains that their Kiev partners in crime “are so thoroughly corrupted and cynical that they can only serve as an instrument for the enemies of the workers movement.” Well, they should know!

ICL Home Page