International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International Vol. 20 (1994): Capital, Labor and the Nation-State

Spartacist Smears ICFI Chernobyl Campaign

This article was first published in the Bulletin on December 4, 1992

The account of the International Committee’s efforts to provide aid to the workers in the former Soviet Union would not be complete without mention of the scurrilous attempt by the anti-Trotskyist organization known as the Spartacist League to smear the ICFI and the Workers League.

The November 13, 1992, issue of Workers Vanguard, biweekly newspaper of the Robertson group, carried an article headlined, “Workers League’s ‘Vorkuta’ Fund,” which contained a series of cowardly insinuations, without a shred of evidence, based solely on Spartacist’s factional frenzy against the Trotskyist movement.

The ICFI decided to ship the medical supplies to the hospital in the Ukrainian city of Shostka, near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, rather than to Vorkuta, in northern Russia, as originally intended. The circumstances of this decision are quite clear and have been explained publicly in the press of the entire International Committee.

The ICFI collected medical supplies worth in excess of $250,000 for shipment to the former Soviet Union, where the Stalinist bureaucracy’s pro-capitalist wrecking operation has sabotaged the operation of the planned economy and deprived many areas of even the most minimal necessities for medical care.

When the campaign was launched, at the World Conference against Imperialist War and Colonialism, held in Berlin in November 1991, the ICFI proposed to collect medical supplies through the efforts of workers in many countries and ship them to Vorkuta, in the north Urals coal-mining region.

The appeal by miners union officials was selected, among several appeals for aid received by ICFI representatives who visited the USSR, in part because of the historical connection between the Trotskyist movement and Vorkuta, where thousands of cadre of the Left Opposition were exiled and eventually murdered by the Stalin regime in the mass purges of the 1930s.

The IC’s decision was not based on agreement with the political views of the miners union leaders, but rather on the necessity to reestablish the fraternal bonds between the Soviet and the international working class which have been severed for so long by the counterrevolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy.

The ICFI carried out an aggressive campaign in the working class in the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Australia, Sri Lanka and India, bringing the conditions in the former Soviet Union to the attention of the most class-conscious workers, combating the chauvinism and anticommunism of the trade union bureaucracy and winning considerable support.

The decision to shift the aid from Vorkuta to Shostka was made because the deepening social, economic and political crisis made it impossible to ship the aid to the remote north Russian destination. According to the announcement published on the front page of the Bulletin September 4, after the supplies had safely reached their destination in the Ukraine, “due to the present conditions in the former USSR—the breakdown of transportation, rampant official corruption, the lack of security—the International Committee could not obtain any reasonable assurance that its shipments would arrive safely in Vorkuta, which lies hundreds of miles from Moscow, north of the Arctic Circle.”

Such assurances were obtained in Shostka. A representative of the Chernobyl Union of Shostka had approached the ICFI for aid in the summer of 1991, when a Trotskyist delegation visited the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. The Shostka hospital authorities agreed that all the supplies would be used to provide free health care for victims of the Chernobyl disaster and the workers who had fallen ill because of their involvement in the cleanup of the nuclear power plant.

The Spartacist League is incapable of conceiving of a campaign based on political principle, such as that launched by the ICFI to aid the Soviet workers. Thus, Workers Vanguard rejects the IC’s explanation for the shift from Vorkuta to Shostka by placing the word’s “transportation,” “corruption” and “security” in quotes, as though these considerations are irrelevant for plans to ship seven tons of medical supplies halfway around the world, to a country where the plundering of public resources is the principal activity of the ruling authorities.

Spartacist is utterly indifferent to the welfare of the working class, an attitude which it has displayed in such odious ways as calling on the Soviet bureaucracy to kill as many Polish workers as necessary to crush the Solidarity movement by force in 1980-1981. It is incomprehensible to Spartacist that the Workers League and International Committee should engage in a campaign to provide material assistance to workers in the former Soviet Union, whose purpose was to ensure the actual delivery of supplies and save the lives of workers and their families.

Hence the search for ulterior motives for the Vorkuta campaign, which results in a series of wild allegations. The Workers Vanguard article accuses the Workers League of “financial chicanery and deceptions,” implies that the sections of the International Committee used the funds raised through the Vorkuta Appeal for their own purposes and claims that the IC and the Workers League were following the dictates of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy in the decision to send supplies to Shostka. Spartacist even suggests, by placing quotation marks around the name of Dr. Alexander Apenko, that the Shostka hospital official who received the supplies does not exist!

Spartacist presents as its supposed Exhibit A, reproduced under the suggestive headline “Follow the Money,” the April 24 announcement in the Workers News, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Labour League, that the Australian section of the ICFI had “shipped more than $40,000 worth of desperately needed medical supplies” to aid the Vorkuta miners. Workers Vanguard claims that this contradicts the announcement, four months later, that the IC medical shipment had been sent to Shostka.

The International Committee is a world party and conducted the Vorkuta appeal as a unified world campaign. The shipment from the Australian section went to Germany, where rail transport to the former USSR is available. There it was combined with supplies collected in the US, Canada and other countries, under the immediate supervision of the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter, the German section of the ICFI. During this period, the decision was made to send the shipment to Shostka rather than Vorkuta.

Comrade Peter Schwarz, a leading member of the BSA and the secretary of the International Committee, and other representatives of the BSA accompanied the shipment to the Ukraine, travelling to Shostka to ensure that the medical supplies were delivered safely and into the hands of the proper medical personnel. This was the only responsible way for the ICFI to proceed.

Spartacist is an organization whose membership is drawn from declassed and lumpenized sections of the middle class, held together by personal ties and adulation for their guru-leader, James Robertson. All of its activities are based on subjective factionalism, principally its hatred of the Workers League and the International Committee.

For decades, Spartacist conducted political work as a cheerleader for the most brutal counterrevolutionary actions of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR, hailing the imposition of martial law in Poland and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. With the collapse of Stalinism, Spartacist has no political reason for being except to carry out political provocations against the Trotskyist movement.

The Spartacist League spreads slanders in order to provide the basis for political witch-hunts and state attacks on the Workers League. Toward that end, it will print anything, no matter how baseless, ludicrous or libelous, so long as it is aimed against the Workers League.