This article first appeared in the Bulletin on February 28, 1992.
The February 21 issue of Workers Vanguard, the biweekly newspaper of the Spartacist League, carries the disturbing report that a longtime leader of the organization, Martha Phillips, was found murdered in Moscow on February 9.
According to the Workers Vanguard, Phillips had been living in the Russian capital since last May, employed as a teacher of English and directing the organization’s work in the Soviet Union. A member of the Spartacist League since 1972, for most of that time in the San Francisco Bay Area, Phillips was the Spartacist candidate for Oakland City Council in 1983.
The circumstances of her death are reported as follows:
Comrades who arrived at the apartment where Martha was staying on the morning of February 9, the day of the most recent large demonstration against Yeltsin, found her there having apparently died in her sleep. Although she had recently been quite ill with a kidney ailment, her death seemed medically inexplicable since she had been improving. In the midst of their shock and grief, the comrades asked for an autopsy which, when it was finally performed, revealed that she had been stabbed. At the present time, the possibility cannot be ruled out that this hideous crime may have been politically motivated. The Moscow militia is carrying out an investigation in which our friends and supporters in Moscow are cooperating.
It is odd, to say the least, that the first mention of murder as the cause of death comes more than three-quarters of the way into the article. There is no suggestion in the headline that Phillips was the victim of murder. The full-page article is written in the style of an obituary tribute, with the reference to murder limited to one paragraph inserted towards the end.
That one paragraph is all that is provided concerning the circumstances of Phillips’s death. The account is sketchy and raises more questions than it answers. What is one to make of the report of a stab wound that was only detected at the autopsy? Why was it not obvious that Phillips had been stabbed? Were there any signs of a struggle? Were there signs of forced entry into her apartment? How long before the body was discovered had she died? The reader is left completely in the dark as to what actually happened.
The statement that a political motive “cannot be ruled out” also raises questions. If politics was not the cause of Phillips’s murder, what was? Could the killers have been known to Phillips?
Although Spartacist supporters are said to be cooperating with the Moscow militia in the investigation, no details are provided. Moreover, there have been no reports in the Moscow press of the murder of an American resident of the city—a highly unusual event, and even more noteworthy since the victim was apolitical activist who professed to be a Trotskyist.
Nor have there been any reports in the American press, and there is no indication that the Spartacist League has held a press conference to inform the public of this murder, which it suggests may have been politically motivated. Did the capitalist press impose a blackout on the report of Phillips’s death after it was notified, or did the Spartacist League decide to say nothing publicly in the two weeks since Phillips’s death?
The Workers Vanguard article reports that memorial ceremonies for Phillips have already been held by Spartacist supporters in Germany and Britain. These meetings were apparently organized hastily, without any public notice of the events and before Phillips’s death was even announced in the Spartacist press.
The Spartacist League has an obligation to provide far more information on the circumstances of the death of Martha Phillips, including the evidence that suggests she may have been the victim of a politically-motivated attack.