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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

They're here, but would Trotsky approve?

While people in the ex-Soviet Union struggle to cast off the shackles of communism, a small band of foreigners is doing the opposite.


Unlike their Western contemporaries here to instill capitalism, this group is challenging "U. S. imperialism" and the "capitalization of the Soviet Union".


They are members of the International Communist League, Fourth Internationalist, a group formally dedicated to rekindling the ideology of Leon Trotsky, and informally known as "the Trots". Their primary goals are to reunify the former Soviet Union by uniting the working class and reestablishing the Bolshevik Party.


At a time when most Russians are working hard to liberalize their society and shape the beginnings of a modern market economy, the ICL appears to have set itself a monumental task.


Rachel Wolkenstein, the ICL's lawyer for the last 18 years and a member of the MOSCOW team of enthusiasts, admits that the response from Russians has not been encouraging.


"A number of them say, 'Your ideas are great, but it's impossible to put them into effect. It's too idealistic'", she said". We do find a heightened interest in Trotsky's ideals", she added, "but society is struggling every day for survival, and many say they have no time to join an organization, especially one that is swimming against the stream - and we are, in the greatest fashion".


This Trotskyite group's existence in Moscow came to light when it exerted pressure on the city to bolster its investigation into the Feb. 7 murder of Martha Phillips, who had been the group's spokesperson.


With a worldwide membership of only about 1, 000, the ICL staged demonstrations in 13 cities on the eve of May Day to raise public awareness of the Phillips case. Their ambitious campaign scored headlines in such newspapers as the San Francisco Chronicle, Japan Times, The Scotsman and Le Monde.


In interviews this week, three members discussed the party's agenda, activities and effectiveness.


"Unlike other foreigners who come here to make as much money as possible, we are here to win the Soviets over to our programs", said 42-year-old Wolkenstein.


Most of the Moscow members are of Wolkenstein's generation. They are American and German, British and French, people who turned to communism after becoming discouraged with the lack of progress that mainstream political organizations were making in civil rights movements.


Victor Granovsky, 39, an American graphics designer, does not see the Moscow group's small size - about 10 - as a problem. Just as the Bolshevik Revolution was led by a small group, he said, "We feel we can serve similarly as a catalyst for the regroupment of communists in the Soviet Union".


Granovsky and his comrades ascribe to the teachings of Trotsky, who joined Lenin in 1917 and formed the Red Army after the revolution.


Under Stalin, Trotsky, led the Left Opposition that emerged in the Soviet Communist Party. He was exiled in 1928 and 10 years later created his own communist organization: the Fourth International.


In the Soviet Union, Trotsky's supporters were purged and harassed, and in 1940 he was assassinated with an ice pick in Mexico City, allegedly upon Stalin's orders.


Glasnost opened Russia's door to the movement's successor. Last year, Trotskyists began focusing more attention here in an effort to head off the type of changes that swept Eastern Europe as Communist regimes fell and free market systems came to the fore, Wolkenstein said.


One man affected by the changes in Eastern Europe, Ralf Neitzke, 30, a former East German Army officer, joined up with the Trotskyists to work against capitalism in Germany.


Neitzke said he watched the "massive drive of the West to swallow up East Germany" after the Berlin Wall came down.


"United Germany was, for me, the final blow", he said. Last winter he gave up on his native country and moved to Moscow.


"The counterrevolution is done in Germany. But here, revolutionaries are actively fighting against Yeltsin's government", Neitzke said.


Though opposition to President Boris Yeltsin's market reforms is a high priority for the ICL, it also "works to educate, organize and mobilize Soviet workers so they can politically arm themselves", Granovsky said. "That's the way the Soviet Union can be saved".


Neitzke, Wolkenstein and Granovsky consistently use the phrase "Soviet Union" rather than the Commonwealth of Independent States, "We don't accept the death sentence of the Soviet Union as ordered by Yeltsin and Kravchuk", Granovsky said.


Wolkenstein said the ICL does not work with the Russian Communist Party and is significantly different.


"We do not capitulate to Russian chauvinism, capitalism, anti-Semitism and nationalism", she said, adding, "We are in absolute opposition to capitalism".


In what may well prove a vain effort to win over Russians and reestablish the Bolshevik Party, the trio and their comrades attend rallies and distribute publications like Workers Vanguard and the Moscow section's journal, printed in Russian.


They also hold biweekly seminars with "a couple of dozen Soviet participants".


All three agree the biggest problem the ICL faces here is stimulating the working class. "I think there's a massive opposition to Yeltsin that has not been expressed yet", Wolkenstein said.


And although many Russians may disagree with Yeltsin, many others are far from keen to embrace Trotsky's ideals.


Asked about the ICL's efforts, Alexander Kalinin, a mathematician who is a Social Democratic Party deputy, said, "I don't think they'll find a basis here for Trotsky's and Lenin's ideals anymore". He said he did not think a group of foreigners could "be in touch with the situation in this country". Grigory Gurvich, artistic director of the Bat Cabaret, was more blunt. "No chance", he responded. "It's impossible for our society to go back. If it would, it couldn't be through the work of foreigners. It would be, as we Russians say, our suicide - by our own doing".