Fraud against the workers’ movement

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.

On Thursday 14 August a British-based opponent organization supplied us with a photograph taken at one of their international gatherings. We knew one of the three people pictured as a British member of the opponent organization, but had taken the other two to be the leader and a senior member of our own Ukrainian group. The other organization had taken them to be the leader and a senior member of their group.

We proceeded to exchange information and photographs with a variety of other leftist tendencies we suspected might also have been targeted. We are not at liberty to list those organizations because we undertook to treat much of the information we received in strict confidence. We expect that the identity of most of the other groups involved will be revealed in the near future.

We have established, beyond any doubt, that the same collection of people presented themselves as multiple groups, each with an international affiliation. We have created a list of the players we have so far identified, with their photographs.

Aspects of this fraud have already been made public by two organizations. The 26 July minutes of the executive of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB), available on the internet from 6 August, reports that the scam was set up to raise funds for the Kiev operations of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI--the international organization of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, led by Peter Taaffe). However the SPGB has yet to produce conclusive evidence.

What purports to be a CWI statement on the matter (dated 5 August and appended to the 26 July SPGB minutes, and also distributed through the Leftist Trainspotters email list) claims that neither the CWI’s international leadership nor its Commonwealth of Independent States lieutenants are involved, and announces the suspension of its Ukrainian National Committee and Kiev City Committee, pending an investigation.

A Bit of History

A group calling itself the “Young Revolutionary Marxists” (YRM) of Ukraine wrote to us in 1999. A senior IBT member visited them late that year and was impressed both by their apparent understanding of Trotskyism and their interest in discussing important programmatic questions. He was particularly struck by their account of how a minority of their group had recently decamped to join Workers Power/League for a Revolutionary Communist International because they disagreed with our position of military support to the Soviet Stalinist “hardliners” in their August 1991 confrontation with Boris Yeltsin. The “YRM” convincingly feigned agreement with our position on the coup and many other political questions.

Two of these operators, Zakhar Popovich and Boris Pastukh, visited our British organization in 2000. Pastukh, who was originally introduced to us as Alexander Sherbakov, was presented as the group’s leader. It is now clear that in addition to leading “our” Ukrainian group, he was also “leader” of at least two rival groups.

While in Britain, Popovich and Pastukh participated in a series of educationals and branch meetings. They appeared to be politically sharp, honest and committed. A leading IBT comrade made another visit to Kiev, and then two of their leaders attended our international conference in October 2001, meeting the IBT leadership and a cross-section of our membership. The conference concluded with a bogus “fusion” between the IBT and the “YRM.” Since then, five different IBT comrades have visited Kiev, and another Ukrainian swindler, Oleksander Zvorsky, spent three weeks with our German section.

In the last year we became increasingly concerned about the lethargic pace of the translation of our materials into Russian and Ukrainian, their failure to produce any substantial original propaganda, and the marked absence of internal political and perspectives documents. Yet we were very conscious of the desperate poverty in Ukraine and attributed the lack of activity of our supposed section to the difficulties involved in merely surviving in an economically devastated country.

We had determined to upgrade the performance of our “section.” As a first step we dispatched a leading comrade on a four-week visit with a mandate to assess the problem and initiate an organizational overhaul. She was appalled by what appeared to be chronic Menshevik organizational norms and a low level of membership commitment. When she raised these issues with the “leadership” they appeared a bit embarrassed and pretended to accept her proposals for reorganizing the group’s work. We anticipated that if they did not rapidly improve their functioning, a serious political struggle was inevitable.

In hindsight there are several incidents which might have alerted us, had we been at all suspicious. There were precautions we ought to have taken, and we certainly could have moved sooner to tighten up what appeared to be a largely dysfunctional organization. Yet there can be no absolute guarantee against being taken in by a complicated (and well organized) conspiracy run by intelligent criminals with a background in Marxoid culture, particularly if their operation is insulated by language and geography. We will learn from this experience as we continue to work to extend the IBT internationally, but we do not expect to be able to avoid all risks.

Two leading members of our putative Kiev group told one of our comrades that they had first met through an amateur acting troupe. This might be true, although they are no longer amateurs. We have given these people some material aid--very modest by Western standards, but significant in Ukraine. Our subsidy ostensibly paid the rent on a small apartment to be used as a political headquarters. We expect that other organizations have also been financing the same premises.

The primary motivation for this scam was presumably personal material gain, but we must assume that the Ukrainian political police knew of the charade, and shared any information they collected with various other intelligence agencies.

‘A Broad Spectrum’

In our article on the 2001 “fusion,” we reported:

“The YRM derived from a circle of Kiev teenagers who, in 1989, obtained a copy of Leon Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed, and discovered that it contained a wealth of political insights profoundly relevant to the events taking place around them, as the forces of capitalist restoration gained momentum in the Soviet degenerated workers’ state. From that original grouping, a broad spectrum of leftist organizations, all critical of Stalinism and, in most cases, identifying themselves as Trotskyist, has reappeared in Ukraine.”
1917 No. 24, 2002

The “broad spectrum” of virtual organizations was more closely related than we imagined.

Like the other groups involved, we trusted these petty crooks and feel betrayed. But it is also impossible not to see the comical side. The script was Twelfth Night meets Life of Brian, as these characters, in the guise of the Ukrainian section of one of our opponents, harshly denounced us and then, as “our” group, indignantly proclaimed the criticism to be a pure invention.

We received occasional updates on “our” relations with various non-existent opponents in Kiev. Sometimes “we” were able to initiate promising political discussions with “them,” but soon “they” would become hostile and refuse to talk. We were also advised of actions by the security service against various imaginary opponents, and of the periodic harassment of “our” comrades. Needless to say, we were concerned and sympathetic and offered what advice we could.

An unanswered question: Oleg Vernik & the CWI

The extent of the whole operation is not entirely clear, but Oleg Vernik, who was introduced to an IBT representative in Kiev in 2001 as the former leader of the CWI in Ukraine, is clearly a central figure. Pastukh described him to us as a leftist element disenchanted with the CWI, and a potential contact for the IBT. Pastukh later reported that Vernik had dropped out of politics.

In fact Vernik has remained highly active, contributing to CWI websites and promoting them in internet postings. An article on the privatization of the sugar industry in the CWI’s Russian paper Left Vanguard (No. 49, 8 May 2003) is signed by Oleg Vernik, and is listed as the chair of an independent union in Kiev called “The Protection of Labor.” The IBT representative who recently visited Kiev was housed for a month in the same flat as Vernik, who was posing as Vitaliy, our “office manager” and “organizer.”

We await with interest the CWI’s explanation of how they managed to remain entirely unaware of Oleg Vernik’s activities, given his high profile and the CWI’s considerable Russian language capacity.

It seems quite possible that Vernik, Pastukh, et al, once had, and even perhaps retain, in some attenuated and degenerate form, a political motive for their activity. But they are so thoroughly corrupted and cynical that they can only serve as an instrument for the enemies of the workers’ movement.

Boris Pastukh, the “leader” of the fake IBT/Ukraine group (among others) displayed a handsome wristwatch with a picture of Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi during a lubricated late-night social at our 2001 international conference. He claimed that friends in the Socialist Youth of Ukraine (an affiliate of Sheila Torrence’s orthodox Healyite tendency) had given it to him some time ago.

We recently came across an internet posting by Oleg Vernik and Boris Pastukh dated 11 June 2001 announcing preparations for a “summer camp in Crimea for brothers from Lybia [sic], Ukraine, Russia, Byelorussia and Moldovia” and advertising their own web site as (The Green Book was Qaddafi’s equivalent of Mao’s Red Book.) The website seems to have vanished, but it suggests that these hustlers were on the lookout for bigger fish to fry.

It is little consolation that we are not the only people to have been duped. Nor is it any great consolation to remember historical semi-precedents, such as Roman Malinovsky, the Czarist spy who became a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee and head of the Bolshevik fraction in the Duma, or Mark Zborowski (Etienne), the GPU agent who was Leon Sedov's chief lieutenant in Paris and the likely architect of his murder, and subsequently Trotsky's leading representative in Europe.

We cannot allow these gangsters to discredit Trotskyism in the former Soviet Union. Serious people can have no hesitation in exposing this kind of scam. To be victimized but remain silent is to facilitate future frauds. It is of course embarrassing to have been taken in, but we have a responsibility to do what we can to expose these crooks to the workers’ movement.

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Posted: 21 August 2003
Corrected: 26 August 2003