Attack of the clones

The revolutionary left plays at 'internationalism'. Events in the Ukraine prove that beyond doubt, argues Mark Fischer

A bizarre collection of organisations on the revolutionary left have been on the receiving end of a petty, but nonetheless politically quite sophisticated, fraud dating back to at least the late 1990s. Five young Ukrainian conspirators - seemingly with a background in the ‘official communist’ Komsomol and well able to pick up the vital factional nuances of left politics in the Anglo-Saxon world - managed to pass themselves off as ‘sections’ of anything up to 12 different organisations. A feat which might be explained by the claim that they first met each other in an “amateur acting troupe”.

Those stung include Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Sheila Torrance’s Workers Revolutionary Party and its ‘Fourth International’, the US-based League for a Revolutionary Party, the Committees of Correspondence (publishers of News and Letters), the International Bolshevik Tendency, the Socialist Party of Great Britain and Workers Power, along with its burlesque League for the Fifth International. Plans were also being hatched to establish links with colonel Gaddafi and his regime in Libya - that at least might have proved to be a real money-spinner.

Using a whole string of aliases - Alexander, Ivor, Ivan, Jukuv, Kyril, Marsha, Alyosha, Ihor, Pugachov, Mikhail, Oleksity, Sergey Kozubenkow, Vadym Yevtoshok, Vassily, Viktor, Vitality, Yakov - Boris Pastukh, Oleg Vernik (assistant lecturer at a Kiev law school and mastermind of the fraud), Oleksander Zvorsky (born 1972), Yuri Baronov (born 1984) and Zakhar Popovich (born 1976) recreated in fictional microcosm the factional struggles and rivalries that plague the left in Britain and the US. Negotiations, polemics, splits and all. This doubtlessly pleased their ‘masters’ in London and New York no end.

In a spirit of internationalism, but presumably with an eye to outdoing their rivals on the left, various groups channelled money and material resources to aid those whom they believed to be their co-thinkers. For example, it seems that at least three organisations were supplying cash for the upkeep of an ‘office’ in Kiev. Besides that there were trips to Germany, Britain and elsewhere.

Now the whole scam has been exposed. Apparently the executive committee of the SPGB got the feeling that all was not well with their World Socialist Party Ukraine in July. Their minutes put the worries on record. The penny dropped for the IBT and Workers Power on August 14. A leading WP comrade was boastfully displaying a photograph of the organisation’s recent world congress to an IBT member. Standing on either side of the said WPer were two Ukrainian comrades - they were instantly recognisable. They were the IBT’s key comrades in their own Ukrainian section. Photos and information were quickly exchanged between factional centres - everyone had been conned.

With exposure the various Ukrainian ‘sections’ have simply winked out of existence and the CWI - said to be the original host organism - has suspended its whole Ukrainian membership pending a full investigation.

The fiasco is not without its funny side, of course. The Sting meets Life of Brian. For instance, we also received an approach from these people (see below). A little later, we got a furious email from a leading AWLer, demanding to know what ‘our group’ in the Ukraine was doing putting out leaflets attacking their group, the Ukrainian Workers Tendency. They were - of course - the same people. Even better, I have often been teased by a leading member of the minuscule IBT in Britain that at least his group in the Ukraine was bigger than ours. As it turns out, they were exactly the same size, comrade. Whatever else can be said about this mob, you cannot criticise them for not working for the money …

Perhaps tempted by what they saw as our relatively successful fundraising efforts, these con-artists contacted us in June of last year. Complimenting us on our role in the Socialist Alliance, the self-styled “Communist Struggle Group (Ukraine)” told us that the main thrust of its work was “the call to establish of a wide socialist anti-Stalinist alliance like the SA in the UK”, with the perspective of this bloc developing in the direction of a “real mass socialist party”.

Some discussions were mentioned with the Ukrainian Workers Tendency - the “organisation of supporters of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty”. While the CSG(U) agreed with “some of their programme documents”, the UWT still needed to “overcome a lot of dogmatic, authoritarian and sectarian Trotskyist” baggage (Weekly Worker June 13 2002). A carefully crafted ‘teaser’ of a letter, in other words, designed to get us reaching for our cheque book. However, I don’t think the ‘comrades’ were that encouraged by our reply …

We publicly answered the letter in the following issue of our paper (this open exchange caused some consternation back in Kiev at the time - now we understand why). We agreed that the SA represented a potential route out of the sectarian impasse in which the UK left found itself. At the same time, we noted that “abroad, the sects still seem to behave in the old way … the various splinters of the British revolutionary left have attempted to build Ukrainian replicas of themselves. This is sad to watch, frankly.

“Groups that can barely reproduce themselves in this country expend gargantuan amounts of time, resources and energy attempting to construct ‘Potemkin village’ versions of themselves in other parts of the globe. Entertainingly, members of these sects will castigate our organisation for not being interested in this sterile and pointless work - ‘You’re not internationalists,’ they taunt us. In fact, their understanding of ‘internationalism’ is thoroughly degenerate.

“Our comrade Marcus Ström has cuttingly dubbed their efforts as constructing ‘oil-slick internationals’. Given time and tide (and the internet), it is possible to spread yourself over a wide geographical area and pick up small knots of (supposed) co-thinkers across the world. There is no depth to the phenomenon, however. It is all on the surface and, given the non-permeable nature of the material, it can never go any deeper. A sect internationalising itself is not ‘internationalism’” (Weekly Worker June 20 2002).

Concretely, we offered our ‘comrades’ in the Ukraine access to the Weekly Worker to develop their ideas and openly engage with other trends, including our own; technical help with the construction of websites or publishing projects; joint work at the Florence European Social Forum that year; an invite to Communist University and assistance and advice on launching their own Summer Offensive-style fund drive.

Now, we are not claiming to be staggeringly more clever than any of the groups who were stung. It is quite feasible that this Ukrainian mob might have been able to con some cash out of us eventually - if they had not so busy with trends who were an easier touch, perhaps. We do believe the incident has highlighted two very different approaches to the key question of ‘internationalism’, however.

First, our organisation is not interested in creating identikit clones of itself across the globe. We emphasised independent fundraising tasks to the Ukrainian ‘comrades’, because we have learned from our own experience in the ‘official’ world communist movement an important truth. One prerequisite of independent politics is independent finances, the ability to have the wherewithal to say what you want, about whom you want, when you want.

A genuine communist international will - like the Third International - represent the coming together of different revolutionary trends and traditions, fusing on the basis of historic victories of our class. The criterion for joining this world party of revolution will not be bland ‘agreement’ with this or that shibboleth, to employ a currently loaded term. It will be a living political entity. Sects which seek to ‘internationalise’ their own arid impotence via a forlorn, massively time-consuming global quest for co-thinkers are unlikely to have much positive to contribute to any world party of the future.

Second, we agree with Lenin: “There is one, and only one, kind of internationalism,” he pointedly states. “And that is working wholeheartedly for the development of the revolutionary movement and the revolutionary struggle in one’s own country, and supporting (by propaganda, sympathy and material aid) this struggle and only this line in every country without exception” (VI Lenin CW Vol 24, Moscow 1977, p24).

The “development of the revolutionary movement” in this country would be greatly enhanced by the principled unity of the revolutionary left, a step forward tantalisingly glimpsed in the best moments of the SA. The fight for this is the concrete, genuinely Leninist application of internationalism in today’s UK.