Leon Trotsky's Ghost, The Russian Immigration Service, and Me

By David North on November 15, 2009

This is a story about the Russian immigration service, the ghost of Leon Trotsky, and me.

There are three bits of background to bear in mind before I tell the story.

1) Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), founder of the Red Army, was one of the possible heirs to Vladimir Lenin as the dictator of the USSR after Lenin's death; Joseph Stalin won the power struggle and, it is widely believed, caused the murder of Trotsky, by ice pick, in Mexico City. I never met any of them.

2) Last summer my wife and I went on a small-ship cruise through the Baltic Sea, which included a three-day visit to St. Petersburg; none of the numerous nations we planned to visit (such as Finland and Estonia) asked for visas, but Russia did.

3) I am not the only David North in the U.S. There is another one, again someone I have never met or corresponded with, who is identified on the internet as the leading Trotskyist in the United States.

Not Trotskyite, mind you, Trotskyist.

The old saying is that in any group of three radicals there will be four factions applies here. The Trotskyites, who hived off the mainline Communist Party in the 1920s when Trotsky and Stalin had their spat, apparently split into further factions. The main branch in the U.S. was called the Socialist Workers Party (not to be confused with the Socialist Labor Party) and they ran candidates for the President of the United States as recently as 2008. The Trotskyites and the Communists were, and probably still are, bitter enemies.

The Trotskyists who run the Socialist Equality Party, however, split off from the Socialist Workers Party somewhere along the line and my namesake is their leader – again, according to according to Wikipedia.

So there I was, in the spring of this year, faced by a really very comprehensive visa application for our visit to Russia. Now, I did not fear a Russian ice pick, but I worried that I would not get a visa because of my namesake, and would have to spend three days on the boat in St. Petersburg harbor while my wife and our fellow travelers visited museums and palaces.

What to do? Should I do a little research, and get the middle name and the date of birth of the other David North, and tell the Russians that I am David Sterling North, and that I was born in Chicago in 1929, and that none of those things could not be said about my namesake?

Or should I take my wife's advice and ignore the whole thing, expecting the Russian immigration service to be careless and something less than all-knowing? My wife's advice is significant; she is not only the most wonderful human being in the whole world, but she has an M.A. in Russian from Yale, and has twice visited the Soviet Union, once taking the Trans-Siberian railroad from Beijing to its western terminus. Further, her mother spent the first 12 months of her life in the Czarist Ukraine, a very long time ago.

"Don't bring it up – they will never notice," she said.

I took her advice, and got the visa easily, if expensively. (It cost $520, including a fee for the visa handling agency, for our two visas.) The immigration people on the dock in St. Petersburg paid no special attention to me when we got there.

Perhaps immigration agencies are not all-knowing, even in authoritarian Russia.

Or maybe the Russian agency is, but regards both the other David North and the ghost of Leon Trotsky as harmless. I wish I knew which, but, sadly, will never know.