International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International Vol. 15 No. 2 (June 1988)

A Warning to the Labor Movement: Government Pays $264,000 to SWP Agents

Martin McLaughlin is the editor of the Bulletin. This article originally appeared in the March 25, 1988 issue.

The entire international labor movement and all organizations claiming to be socialist should take note of the decision of the US government to drop its court appeal and pay $264,000 to the Socialist Workers Party.

The payment is a cash subsidy by the capitalist state to the SWP and demonstrates that this organization enjoys the complete political confidence of the American ruling class.

The US government, the bastion of anticommunism and counterrevolution, is voluntarily handing over a quarter of a million dollars to a party which claims to be a revolutionary socialist organization, as well as leaving itself liable to more than $1 million in legal fees which the SWP is claiming, as a result of its 15-year-long lawsuit.

To those who have followed the investigation by the Workers League and the International Committee of the Fourth International into the police agent penetration and takeover of the SWP, the decision to pump government cash into this organization will come as no surprise.

Over the last decade, thousands of pages of documents have been produced demonstrating the role of the top leadership of the SWP in the systematic cover-up of the government agents within this party. The ICFI investigation Security and the Fourth International has conclusively proven that the present SWP leadership is the product of massive government infiltration. The SWP, in all its activities, functions in the workers’ movement as an organ of capitalist state surveillance and political provocation.

Federal District Judge Thomas P. Griesa awarded the $264,000 in damages to the SWP, for FBI spying, bugging and burglaries, in a decision handed down on August 25, 1986. In January of this year, the Justice Department filed notice of its intention to appeal the decision with the Second US Circuit of Appeals. But a Justice Department spokesman told the press that a decision to drop the appeal was made by the Solicitor General of the United States on March 7. The spokesman would give no explanation of why the appeal was dropped.

The SWP held a press conference on Thursday, March 17, to announce the Justice Department action. SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes could give only the lamest of explanations for the Justice Department’s decision not to appeal to the Circuit Court of Appeals and then all the way to the US Supreme Court, stalling tactics which are standard government practice against genuine civil rights lawsuits.

He claimed that the Justice Department feared the political repercussions of the case, saying, “To appeal the case would mean rehearsing publicly in front of the US people what has been exposed in this 15-year effort.” As though the pathological anticommunist Edwin Meese, who personally supervised the extermination of Black Panthers in Oakland, California, was embarrassed to be caught in political spying!

No politically serious person can accept this transparently fraudulent claim. Every labor militant or socialist knows the utter ruthlessness with which the ruling class conducts its legal affairs. On the favorable terrain of capitalist “justice,” the bourgeoisie never throws in the towel before it has exhausted every one of the vast means at its disposal.

Consider just a few examples of recent years:

The savage treatment of frame-up victims like Gary Tyler, still jailed 14 years after his arrest, and 12 years after all evidence against him was proven to be manufactured by the Louisiana authorities; or Hurricane Carter, tried and retried on perjured testimony, held in prison for nearly 20 years in a state vendetta.

The denial of any compensation to the victims of FBI-KKK killers during the civil rights movement, such as the family of Viola Liuzzo, murdered with the complicity of FBI-Klansman Gary Rowe. Even 20 and 25 years later, the capitalist state will not admit its crimes.

The refusal of the federal government to admit that exposure to Agent Orange has caused cancer and other diseases among Vietnam veterans. More than 20 years after the spraying of the deadly pesticide throughout Vietnam, the Veterans Administration still concedes nothing.

The firing and permanent blacklisting of the 12,000 PATCO air traffic controllers, nearly seven years after their strike was broken and their organization bankrupted and then outlawed. The same administration which refuses to allow the rehiring of a single air traffic controller supposedly no longer has the stomach to continue its legal defense against the SWP suit!

The cash payoff to the SWP comes as the administration is deepening its assault on the labor movement, engaging in the most ferocious persecution of militant workers since the 1920s, in the frame-up of the Massey coal miners in Kentucky. Four coal miners have already been sentenced to 35-45 years in prison, and a fifth miner faces a trial this summer in which the death penalty could be imposed.

What a contrast with the treatment of the SWP! The same Justice Department which meekly agrees to pay massive damages to the SWP for the illegal actions of the government has directly supervised the frame-up of the miners, with a Justice Department official and an FBI agent sitting at the prosecution table.

While the Justice Department in the case of the SWP agrees to compensation for the use of informants and the planting of bugs, in the case of the miners, the paid testimony of informants has played a key role and the families of the miners have been subjected to unrelenting and ferocious intimidation through bugging, wiretapping, heavy-handed surveillance and actual death threats.

Barnes’s claim that the Reagan administration has been forced to retreat in its political spying would be farcical if it was not so sinister. It is aimed not only at covering up for the SWP, but at providing false assurances and disarming the working class.

The dangers of political spying and provocation against workers have intensified, not lessened, with the deepening crisis of the capitalist system. The administration which Barnes claims is embarrassed over political spying drew up plans in 1984 to declare martial law, suspend constitutional rights and carry out mass arrests of political opponents, in the event of a US war in Central America. The author of the plan, approved by the National Security Council, was Lt. Col. Oliver North.

When illegal government spying was exposed recently against the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) and other groups opposed to US policy in Central America, the reaction of the FBI and the entire Reagan administration was to stonewall, and defend the spying as a legitimate precaution against “terrorism.”

In fact, if any embarrassment is to be expected in Reagan administration circles, it would be over the Justice Department having to provide a cash bonanza for an organization which is nominally a fervent supporter of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and of Fidel Castro. Yet the representatives of the ultra-right have been strangely silent about Edwin Meese’s decision not to contest the award of damages to the SWP.

From its inception in 1973, the Socialist Workers Party lawsuit against the FBI has been a colossal political fraud. It has been aimed, not at exposing government agents, but at providing a cover for the government agents who have taken over the SWP.

Griesa’s 210-page opinion gave a glimpse of the scale of the government penetration of the SWP, but at the same time gave a clean bill of health to the agents in the SWP leadership.

Griesa found that the FBI expended more than $1.6 million in payments to informants in the SWP during a 16-year period, as well as carrying out massive electronic and wiretapping surveillance and engaging in hundreds of burglaries of SWP premises and members’ homes.

He wrote that “between 1960 and 1976 the FBI used a total of about 1,300 informants in its investigation of the SWP and YSA. There were about 300 member informants and 1,000 non-member informants.... Since the SWP and YSA have relatively few members, these informants comprised a not insignificant percentage of the membership.”

Yet it is an indisputable fact that the SWP lawsuit has never exposed the name of a single one of these hundreds of agents. What Barnes is hailing as a political victory against government spying has left the spies untouched!

Judge Griesa noted the active role of the agents inside the SWP, saying the FBI’s policy was that “the member informants should not be ‘quietly sitting back as observers,’ but should enter into discussions and engage in normal organizational activity. The member informants in the SWP and the YSA were also encouraged to cultivate relationships with these organizations’ leaders in order to assist the informants in attaining leadership positions. In the view of the FBI the value of informants increased with their advancement to higher levels in the organizations being investigated.”

Yet despite the flooding of the SWP with government agents and a clear policy directive that the agents should move to the highest levels of the organization, Griesa accepted the government’s claim that its use of informants inside the SWP ended in 1976 and that, except for one isolated case, these informants never penetrated the SWP’s leadership.

The worthlessness of this claim was demonstrated in 1980, when Edward Heisler, a member of the SWP’s Political Committee, chairman of its 1976 presidential campaign and former head of its trade union work, confessed that he was an FBI informer inside the SWP. Heisler was for more than 15 years a close political confidant of Jack Barnes, who elevated him into one leading position after another, even after serious questions about Heisler had been raised by other SWP members.

Heisler’s confession exposed the completely bogus character of the SWP suit. There was no internal investigation into Heisler’s activities and no attempt to warn workers who had come into contact with Heisler through the SWP. The only such analysis has been made by the Workers League. The SWP attorneys did not even call Heisler as a witness during the 1981 trial of the lawsuit against FBI spying, a year after his public admission that he had served for nearly 20 years as an informer.

The irony of the Griesa decision is that in the course of the lawsuit, the Barnes leadership was driving out of the SWP virtually the entire older layer of the party, including many of those who provided affidavits against government spying and harassment used in the SWP lawsuit. The result is that those who were the real victims of the FBI bugging, spying and break-ins from 1960 on have largely been expelled from the organization, leaving the government agents who have seized control of the leadership to collect the damages.

In 1982-85, while Griesa was holding the SWP lawsuit under advisement, Barnes conducted a purge against any members with even a residual loyalty to Trotsky and Trotskyism, begun with his infamous denunciation of Trotsky and the theory of permanent revolution at the December 1982 meeting of the Young Socialist Alliance.

Those expelled include party veterans with up to a half-century of membership, who were framed up, denied their rights under the party constitution, and expelled. Among these were figures such as James Kutcher, who fought and won the famous battle against McCarthyite blacklisting detailed in The Case of the Legless Veteran. At the age of 70 and crippled, he was hounded out of the SWP on bogus charges of assaulting another party member.

Since 1975, the Workers League and the International Committee have conducted an investigation, entitled Security and the Fourth International, which has uncovered massive evidence of the infiltration and takeover of the SWP by US government agents.

The SWP’s political decay throughout much of the 1950s left this once-proud Trotskyist party, formerly the leading section of the Fourth International, unable to defend itself against government infiltration. The takeover by agents of US imperialism coincided with the SWP’s break with the world Trotskyist movement in 1963, when it split from the International Committee.

The key figure in both the government takeover and the 1963 split was a longtime leader of the SWP, the late Joseph Hansen. A former Stalinist agent inside the Trotskyist movement who then passed over into the service of American imperialism, Hansen’s documented links to the FBI go back to 1940.

With Hansen playing the main role, the federal government was able to insert an entire group of agents into key positions in the SWP, beginning in 1961. At least a dozen students from a single small conservative college, Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, were sent into the SWP between 1961 and 1966 and trained by Hansen to take over every top leadership post.

The Carleton Twelve include Barnes, the SWP national secretary; Doug Jenness, editor of the Militant and chairman of the SWP’s 1988 presidential campaign; Larry Seigle, head of the Militant bureau in Managua, Nicaragua; Cindy Jaquith, previous head of the Nicaragua bureau; Mary-Alice Waters, co-editor of the SWP magazine New International, and Elizabeth Stone.

The exposure of the government agents within the SWP was taken to a new level through the lawsuit initiated in 1979 by Alan Gelfand and supported by the Workers League. Gelfand, who was expelled from the SWP for asking questions about the government connections of Hansen and other SWP leaders, filed a lawsuit charging that his expulsion was engineered by the government to protect its agents in the SWP.

The real attitude of the capitalist courts towards the exposure of state agents was shown by the hostility of District Court Judge Marianna Pfaelzer towards Gelfand. In sharp contrast to the warmth of Griesa (a Republican judge appointed by Nixon!) towards the SWP, Pfaelzer continuously expressed her class hatred of Gelfand and threatened him and his attorneys with massive financial sanctions for daring to expose the government conspiracy.

Five years after the Gelfand case went to trial, in March 1983, producing massive additional evidence that the present SWP leadership is the product of government infiltration, Pfaelzer has not yet handed down a ruling on either the case itself or the question of attorney’s fees.

But the Justice Department decision to accept Griesa’s award and pay the $264,000 is itself an unanswerable exposure of the real nature of the SWP.

The $264,000 award is not only payment for services rendered, but for those to be performed in the future. Two days after the federal government decided to hand over the cash subsidy, the Socialist Workers Party held a press conference, on Wednesday, March 9, to announce it was launching its 1988 presidential campaign—nearly eight months later than the SWP has traditionally announced its campaigns. Like the capitalist politicians competing for the nomination of the Democratic and Republican parties, the SWP had to wait for its federal “matching funds” before it could run in the elections!

This shows the real role of the SWP’s fraudulent election campaign. This is not a genuine political campaign for socialist candidates, it is an extension of the intelligence-gathering activities which the US government has contracted out to its agents in the leadership of the SWP.

Every trade unionist, socialist or political opponent of US imperialism should take warning: when you speak to the Socialist Workers Party, you might as well be speaking to Edwin Meese or William Webster.

A single SWP informer-agent, Edward Heisler, who was active for a decade in the United Transportation Union, filed more than 10,000 pages of reports to the FBI, naming every person he met who expressed militant or antigovernment sentiments, and describing every union or political meeting which he attended. The role of the Socialist Workers Party in every sphere of its activity is to assemble vast data bases on the domestic and international workers’ movement for the purposes of US imperialism.

Inside the labor movement, the SWP maintains a cadre of several hundred middle-class members who have no problem getting jobs in key factories, including major defense plants, despite mass unemployment, a ferocious unionbusting drive by big business, and the blacklisting of known socialists by employers, especially the federal government.

A principal activity of the SWP is the promotion of phony defense cases, which always center on the alleged victimization of their own members. They afford the police-agent leadership of the SWP a useful pretext for approaching wide layers of the labor and socialist movement, collecting names, information and money.

A typical case is the notorious and long-running fraud of Hector Marroquin, who has been conducting a “struggle” against his deportation to Mexico for a decade. Marroquin has never explained what charges he faces if deported, and Mexican authorities deny he is wanted for anything. Mexican-American trade unionists report that his case is unknown in the Mexican labor movement. Yet this case has provided the SWP entry to the wide network of Central American refugee, sanctuary and solidarity groups.

Internationally, the Militant maintains a stable of foreign correspondents on a scale befitting Time magazine, consuming vast and unexplained resources. They operate as “socialist” journalists in countries such as Nicaragua, Angola, Burkina Faso and (before the US invasion) Grenada, countries where a capitalist reporter from America would be viewed with suspicion or barred entry altogether. In Managua, the Militant’s three-man bureau surpasses any of the capitalist dailies. It is second only to the US Embassy itself as an imperialist outpost in the Nicaraguan capital.

The Workers League awaits with interest the explanation of the learned renegade Cliff Slaughter, who denounced Security and the Fourth International when he broke with the International Committee of the Fourth International, knowing full well that he was directly assisting the agent-ridden leadership of the SWP. Let Professor Slaughter analyze the phenomenon of Edwin Meese voluntarily providing $264,000 to the SWP!

And let us hear as well from all those so-called socialists, the revisionists of every stripe, who in private freely speculate about Barnes’s role as a police agent, but who in public join with the SWP in denouncing the Workers League and the International Committee for “agent-baiting.”

The Workers League and the International Committee will continue the struggle to expose the role of the SWP agents and alert the working class. We are absolutely confident that every class-conscious worker will draw the logical conclusion from the $264,000 award: the Socialist Workers Party is bought and paid for by the US government.

We urge all workers, students and youth to study the vast documentary record of Security and the Fourth International, and especially the two volumes of the Gelfand case, and to strengthen their vigilance against police spies and provocateurs within the workers’ movement.