Workers Hammer No. 238

Spring 2017


In memory of Martha Phillips 1948-1992

The following remarks were delivered by Jon Bride, member of the International Executive Committee of the International Communist League, at a 12 February meeting in the US. This article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard no 1106, 24 February.

Twenty-five years ago, our comrade Martha Phillips was murdered in Moscow. She died in the front lines of the fight against counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. The ICL waged an international campaign to press for an investigation into this heinous crime, but it remains unsolved.

Russia was the birthplace of the communist programme. Martha understood that Soviet Russia belonged to the workers of the whole world and that we were coming home to defend the gains of the October Revolution. For Trotskyists the USSR had never been a foreign country, and we can say truly that Martha died in her homeland.

Before joining our tendency, Martha had been a member of the American SWP [Socialist Workers Party]. There she took on the “pint-sized Kautskyites”, as she called them, who were seeking to build a “peaceful, legal” anti-Vietnam War movement. This was a gigantic popular front with liberal Democrats, whose purpose was to prevent a defeat for US imperialism. Martha was won to Spartacism and fought for “Military Victory to the NLF” [National Liberation Front] and “All Indochina Must Go Communist!” She died in Moscow fighting for the same revolutionary internationalist programme she defended against the renegades in the SWP who had reconciled themselves with their own bourgeoisie.

Martha did not have an easy life. She had a handicapped child. In midlife, she began a serious study of the Russian language. Later, she got a job teaching in a Soviet school. Her Soviet friends were astounded that any foreigner would live like that. She could have found an easier way to survive, but Martha wanted to get a better sense of how Soviet working people lived.

Martha was the leader and principal spokesman of the ICL group in Moscow. This job was not made easier for her, as a Jewish woman communist, in a period when anti-Jewish bigotry and backward social attitudes were proliferating in the final days of the Soviet Union. She was one of several outstanding women leaders in the ICL; her interview with Soviet women in Women and Revolution [no 40, Winter 1991-92] is testimony to Martha’s conviction that a Leninist party must be a tribune of the people.

Trotsky once said that all genuine revolutionaries live for the future; that is, they refuse to sacrifice principle for temporary expedient. Martha refused to allow herself to be daunted by the temporary setbacks of today or yesterday. When asked by skeptics how many members we had, she always replied: “A few less than Lenin had at the time of Zimmerwald.” She often made the point that at the time of the February Revolution, the Mensheviks had larger numbers, more writers, etc. But Lenin had a hard cadre trained in a revolutionary programme. That is what made the difference. For her entire political life, Martha was a party person from head to toe, understanding that it was the subjective element that was indispensable to proletarian victory.