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Workers Vanguard No. 1157

21 June 2019

Victor Granovsky


On May 15, our veteran comrade Victor Granovsky died in New York City at age 66 after an eight-month struggle with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”). We send heartfelt condolences to his sister, and comrade, Irene, her husband Tom and their family, and to Victor’s many comrades and friends around the globe. In the early 1990s, Victor was instrumental in the International Communist League’s Trotskyist intervention against capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. Later, drawing on his exhaustive knowledge of the October 1917 Russian Revolution, he played an important role on the Spartacist editorial board. A graphic designer by profession, he helped define the look of our propaganda. Victor was also known as the ICL’s funniest, most dramatic storyteller, as well as a withering satirical polemicist.

Victor was born in 1952 in Shanghai, China, the son of Russian immigrants. His father lived through the Bolshevik-led October Revolution, and both his parents were in Shanghai during the 1949 Chinese Revolution. In his youth, Victor grasped that revolutions can happen and are serious business. In the mid 1950s, the family left China and made its way to Sydney, Australia, then settled in Los Angeles in 1958.

Growing up in the 1960s, Victor was exposed to a creative milieu of young artists and musicians, and took advantage of free classes in drawing, printmaking and filmmaking to hone his artistic skills. Later, amid the radicalization spurred by the Vietnam War and the state terror unleashed against the Black Panthers, Victor joined the Hollywood High School chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

In 1969, SDS underwent a split nationwide, largely over the question of the centrality of the proletariat as an agency for revolutionary social change. Victor and most of his comrades were recruited to the Young Communist League, youth group of Nelson Peery’s hard-Stalinist California Communist League (CCL). Before long, some CCL members, along with the Hollywood High comrades, were expelled for raising criticisms of Stalin, although they continued to regard themselves as Maoists. They formed a new group, the Communist Working Collective (CWC), and eventually reviewed Leon Trotsky’s key writings. As one CWCer recalled, “After studying The Third International After Lenin, we were Trotskyists.” In 1971, the CWC fused with the Spartacist League. Victor co-authored the article “Communist Working Collective: From Maoism to Trotskyism” on the fusion in the first issue of Workers Vanguard (October 1971).

The SL’s revolutionary regroupments in this period, particularly the CWC fusion, allowed us to launch WV and expand our roots in the American working class. Victor was among those comrades who enthusiastically went into industry, taking a job in an auto plant in Detroit, which comrades dubbed “America’s Vyborg” after the industrial neighborhood in Petrograd where the Bolsheviks acquired a strong base of support. In the mid 1970s, after spending time in our Houston local, he moved to our center in New York.

There, Victor joined WV’s Composition (Comp) department. He was an extremely talented designer who thrived in the paper’s political collective, which stands in marked contrast to the petty-bourgeois publishing industry where designers are either the stars or the peons. In a presentation to younger Comp comrades last fall, Victor explained the purpose of design for a communist newspaper: “Twenty-five percent, approximately, of all ICL propaganda is graphics: hard-hitting headlines and photos, design that grabs people who may not necessarily be in the habit of reading such dense scientific material such as we publish.” He went on: “You want photos and graphics to be windows into the content of the propaganda that we write.”

Among his many pieces of work, Victor designed the Spartakist Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands (the ICL’s German section) poster and button for the 1990 East German elections, in which we were unique in proclaiming “Nein” to capitalist counterrevolution. The ICL threw everything we had into the incipient proletarian political revolution in the bureaucratically deformed workers state of East Germany (DDR) as part of fighting for the revolutionary reunification of Germany.

In the same period, Victor was part of our international teams making exploratory forays into the Soviet degenerated workers state. As Stalinist rule broke down, the question was posed: would the nascent bourgeoisie in Russia, with the backing of the imperialists, consolidate a capitalist state, or would the working class seize the opportunity to fight for political power? Victor, who had basic Russian-language capacity, studied hard to increase his fluency and literacy in order to help implant an outpost of Trotskyism in the homeland of the October Revolution. He served as the ICL’s main public spokesman throughout the existence of our Moscow station, until the mid 1990s.

On one of his early trips in October 1990, Victor and another comrade attended a Soviet coal miners congress in Donetsk, Ukraine, which had been the center of a nationwide strike the year before. There our comrades discovered a rogues’ gallery of “AFL-CIA” counterrevolutionary forces, centered on the anti-communist British Union of Democratic Miners (UDM). The UDM, a scab outfit, wanted to get the Soviet miners to repudiate their significant monetary support to the great 1984-85 British coal strike led by National Union of Mineworkers head Arthur Scargill, who was pro-Soviet. Victor described our intervention during a historically comprehensive and detailed presentation given in 2007: “Though there were only two of us Spartacists at this conference, we played a crucial role in the decision of the congress not to pursue the UDM’s appeal to denounce Scargill.” (For more, see “We Are the Party of the Russian Revolution, Part Three,” WV No. 926, 5 December 2008.)

After U.S. imperialism’s man Boris Yeltsin launched his counterrevolutionary coup in August 1991, Victor and other Moscow station comrades got out 100,000 copies of a Russian translation of the WV article “Soviet Workers: Defeat Yeltsin-Bush Counterrevolution!” This leaflet was the first published leftist protest against Yeltsin’s U.S.-backed power grab. The ICL honored Trotsky’s insistence that “in the hour of mortal danger, [revolutionary internationalists] must remain on the last barricade.”

In the end, there was no mass resistance by the Soviet working class against capitalist counterrevolution. Decades of Stalinist misrule had left the Russian proletariat atomized and lacking any consistent and coherent socialist class consciousness. The destruction of the Soviet Union and the European deformed workers states was an unparalleled defeat for working people the world over.

After our comrade Martha Phillips was murdered at her post in Moscow in February 1992, Victor represented the ICL at a press conference, making sure she would not be a nameless, faceless victim. In July 1992, Victor appeared on the main all-Russian television station for a segment titled “Trotskyism: Next Stop Moscow?” The following year, Victor was critical in the preparation and publication by the Prometheus Research Library (PRL) of the Russian-language edition of Trotsky’s The Third International After Lenin, the first version to appear in the language in which it was written.

Victor never got a college degree; what he knew he learned on his own or through the party. But more powerful than a diploma, he had an insatiable curiosity. Through hard work and intense study, he developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the October Revolution. During a talk last year, Victor recalled that during his time in Moscow, even while “desperately dashing to a demo, there would always be an antiquarian bookstore on the way. And if you ducked in there, you might leave with a treasure that you would never have found anywhere else in the world.” He was able to amass hundreds of books and manuscripts for the PRL, the SL’s central reference archive, including a comprehensive collection of Bolshevik congress and conference minutes, and memoirs from Bolsheviks and Trotskyist Left Oppositionists. With his natural wit, Victor recounted that he got this material out of Russia by telling customs officers that it represented “humanitarian aid from Russia to the working people of America.”

Victor was a member of the ICL’s International Executive Committee from 2003 to 2007. His astute political understanding and his linguistic skills were an exceptional asset, which facilitated our publication of Russian-language propaganda over the years. He made many of his finest contributions as an editorial board member of the English-language edition of our international theoretical journal Spartacist. Victor initiated the article in Spartacist No. 59 (Spring 2006) defending the 1921 Bolshevik suppression of the counterrevolutionary mutiny at the Kronstadt naval base. In 1999, a two-volume set of historical documents was published in Russian on the Kronstadt uprising, long a rallying cry for anti-Communists. Victor read the entire collection and translated hundreds of pages for his ed board comrades. The article succeeded in demolishing the lies by anarchists and liberals by proving once again the counterrevolutionary nature of the Kronstadt mutiny and the forces behind it.

In another instance, when WV published Lenin’s 25 October 1917 speech to the Petrograd Soviet, Victor had the political savvy to recognize that the text quoted in WV had a Stalinist-nationalist bent, as it referred to “building a proletarian socialist state in Russia.” This conception is at odds with Lenin’s Marxist understanding that socialism—a global classless egalitarian society of material abundance—cannot be built in one country. In a letter to the editor (WV No. 861, 6 January 2006), Victor explained that the version we used from Lenin’s Collected Works was not in fact a verbatim transcript but an unreliable newspaper account! He noted that other newspapers reported that Lenin, as on other occasions, spoke of the Russian Revolution as a spark to ignite a Europe-wide socialist revolution.

At the end of 2013, Victor resigned from the party due to personal difficulties, but continued to work with us, vowing to rejoin as soon as he could. Last September, when he learned he was dying of ALS, his most urgent wish was to rejoin, and once he did he was a fish back in water. In his last few months as a Spartacist, Victor tried to convey to the party the wealth of his experiences, while working intensely to inventory and annotate his Russian-language collection for the PRL. During a presentation at the library in December, Victor emphasized, “Comrades can be proud that we were the ones who planted the flag of Trotskyism, defended October to the very last.” The Bolshevik Revolution pulses through the veins of all ICL comrades, but it seemed to have a special urgency for Victor. We honor this beloved comrade by following his example of passionate and rigorous study of language and the history of the Marxist movement, as well as his courage and boldness in the fight for new October Revolutions, wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself.


Workers Vanguard No. 1157

WV 1157

21 June 2019


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