International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International (1990): 50 years since the assassination of Trotsky

Judge Affirms Findings against Gelfand

On August 15, 1989, a decade after Alan Gelfand filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Socialist Workers Party and the intelligence agencies of the US government, demanding the removal of government agents from the SWP leadership, District Court Judge Mariana Pfaelzer issued her “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.” She ruled in favor of the SWP on every question, ignoring the overwhelming evidence Gelfand had presented to substantiate his charges. Gelfand was a member of the SWP and was expelled in 1979 for raising questions about US government takeover of the party leadership. On September 22, in their brief, attorneys for Alan Gelfand filed “Plaintiff’s Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Amend Findings and Judgement,” exposing the contradictions in the findings of the court. Judge Pfaelzer heard and denied that motion on November 13. In a highly unusual conference in her private chambers, Judge Pfaelzer proposed to withdraw her findings against Gelfand if he withdrew his lawsuit. In Alan Gelfand’s statement, he sums up the achievements of this historic suit and explains his decision not to file an appeal.

This article originally appeared in the Bulletin on December 1, 1989

On Monday, November 13, United States District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer heard and denied Alan Gelfand’s motion to reverse the findings of fact, conclusions of law and judgment entered against him in his historic lawsuit against the United States government and the police-infested Socialist Workers Party.

During the hearing, Pfaelzer once again ignored the compelling evidence in the court record which establishes that US government agents dominate the SWP leadership. Instead, she repeatedly apologized to the SWP for not dismissing Gelfand’s case before pretrial discovery and trial.

The hearing followed a highly unusual private conference during which Pfaelzer pleaded with the attorneys to make a deal to terminate the lawsuit without an appeal. Leaving behind a courtroom packed by lawyers waiting to be heard on other cases, Pfaelzer met with attorneys representing Gelfand and the SWP in her private chambers for nearly 30 minutes. There, she urged Gelfand and the SWP to settle the case quietly amongst themselves by agreeing to delete damaging findings in exchange for a promise not to appeal. Ultimately, Pfaelzer proposed that she would withdraw her findings and judgment against Gelfand altogether if he would voluntarily drop his lawsuit, thus leaving matters after more than 10 years of litigation as if the case had never happened.

Pfaelzer’s maneuvering was meant to stave off an appeal of her rulings during trial—including her denying Gelfand access to the government files on its agents in the SWP leadership, her withholding the Sylvia Franklin transcript until after Gelfand had concluded questioning witnesses, and her refusal to consider the powerful evidence that Gelfand was expelled by agents. What it revealed, above all, was the completely unprincipled character of Pfaelzer’s findings. She made it very clear that the harsh denunciation of Gelfand contained in her findings—jeopardizing Gelfand’s professional standing as a lawyer by accusing him of bad faith litigation—was a calculated ploy aimed at persuading him not to pursue the case in the court of appeals.

Pfaelzer’s attempt to deal away her findings is the most devastating expression of their total lack of credibility and integrity. The SWP press demonstrates this fact While it has trumpeted the findings as an exoneration of its leadership and an indictment of the Workers League, the Militant’s November 24 article on the denial of Gelfand’s motion to amend the findings and judgment does not even mention the private conference, which lasted twice as long as the hearing itself!

The hearing occurred one week shy of the tenth anniversary of Gelfand’s first appearance before Pfaelzer, when he successfully overcame the government’s and SWP’s motions to dismiss the case at the outset. Gelfand’s legal claim was simply that it is unconstitutional for the government to take over a political party and then expel someone for objecting.

More than three years later, when the SWP made its first public statements on the case, it turned this legal principle on its head with hysterical headlines that Gelfand was seeking government intervention into the internal affairs of an autonomous political party by seeking a court order to determine its leadership. In fact, Gelfand sought a court order directing the FBI and CIA to identify its agents and take them out of the party. Apparently, the SWP is concerned that such an order would result in wholesale vacancies of leadership positions!

Not only was the Gelfand case on solid legal foundations, it was well-substantiated by government documents and sworn testimony of past and present SWP leaders. That is why Pfaelzer, despite her repeated protestations to the contrary, did not dismiss the case for lack of evidence on the SWP’s motion for summary judgment before trial.

Pfaelzer could not dismiss the case because she knew that with its solid legal and factual foundations, such an arbitrary and lawless ruling would be subjected to widespread scrutiny and perhaps a humiliating reversal in the United States Court of Appeals.

Instead, Pfaelzer consistently tried to bully Gelfand and his lawyers from the civil rights law firm of Fisher & Moest with pointed threats and suffocating constraints on their rights to gather evidence in support of their claims.

As soon as Pfaelzer denied the motions to dismiss, the SWP brought the summary judgment motion. In opposition, Gelfand argued that he needed information and documents, as well as the compelled testimony of witnesses, to discover all the interconnections and present his case in the proper legal form. Pfaelzer postponed ruling on summary judgment, but then denied Gelfand his rights to discovery. At the same time, she threatened Gelfand’s lawyers with a charge of malicious prosecution.

For the next two-and-one-half years, Gelfand struggled for his rights to discovery. Pfaelzer denied him entirely any access to the government files on its SWP agents after reviewing a secret submission presented by the US attorney, who repeatedly argued that a straightforward reply to Gelfand’s charge of government control of the SWP would jeopardize national security.

Pfaelzer finally permitted Gelfand a minimal three-month time period in which to conduct out-of-court depositions. With the information thus obtained, much to the visible distress of Pfaelzer, Gelfand was able to present a powerful 150-page brief documenting the government takeover of the Socialist Workers Party.

After denying summary judgment, she issued an order—at the behest of the SWP—barring the Workers League from publishing any of the evidence obtained by Gelfand in the course of pretrial discovery. Gelfand appealed this outrageous gag order, and after the Court of Appeals agreed to hear his complaint, Pfaelzer retreated and rescinded the publication ban.

During the trial, Pfaelzer repeatedly sought to manipulate the facts and legal standards to bottle up the case. For example, she claimed that Gelfand could only prevail if he demonstrated to the point of absolute certainty that there exists no other explanations, even ones that are obviously absurd, for his expulsion from the SWP, other than his allegation that the SWP leaders were acting in their capacity as government agents.

As the trial began to close, she unleashed a new threat—an award of massive attorneys’ fees as sanctions against Gelfand and his attorneys for bringing the case.

On Pfaelzer’s invitation, the SWP brought a reactionary motion for over a million dollars of attorneys’ fees, an action which threatened to establish a legal precedent that would bankrupt civil rights litigants and their attorneys whenever a court ruled against them. Gelfand and Fisher & Moest filed principled opposition briefs to the attorneys’ fees motion, arguing that the case was based on substantial evidence and conducted in the utmost good faith.

For five-and-one-half years Pfaelzer refused to rule on the fees motion, knowing that an order granting it would most likely be reversed on appeal. Finally, the motion was withdrawn by the SWP after it received a minor financial settlement from Fisher & Moest’s malpractice insurance carrier.

Once the coast was clear, Pfaelzer issued findings of fact and conclusions of law exonerating the FBI, CIA and SWP, and condemning Gelfand for “bad faith” and having no evidence “credible or otherwise” in support of his claims. Since the fee motion had been withdrawn, however, these issues were moot. The only reason Pfaelzer had for making such findings was to smear Gelfand if he did not capitulate.

Despite the ranting of this bourgeois judge, what dominated throughout the 10 years of litigation was always the powerful legal and factual content of the case.

In 1978 and 1979 Gelfand was silenced and then expelled from the SWP when he questioned the leadership’s failure to respond to recently declassified government documents which showed that top SWP leader Joseph Hansen had meetings with the Soviet secret police (then known as the GPU) shortly before the assassination in Mexico of Leon Trotsky. The documents demonstrated that shortly thereafter, Hansen met secretly with the US State Department and the FBI, providing the imperialist police with confidential information from Trotsky’s desk.

Gelfand also challenged Hansen’s defense of James P. Cannon’s personal secretary, Sylvia Franklin, as an “exemplary comrade” when she had left the party in 1947 after being identified as a GPU plant.

During the pretrial proceedings, plaintiff confirmed Hansen’s contacts with the GPU and the US government, established that they were completely unknown to the SWP Political Committee at the time, and demonstrated that the explanations published by Hansen and his political protege, SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes, in the notorious pamphlet Healy’s Big Lie consisted of nothing but evasions and outright falsehoods.

After Gelfand called his last witness at the trial, Pfaelzer released the previously sealed transcript of Sylvia Franklin’s confession to the 1958 United States Grand Jury for the Southern District in New York, in which she described furnishing information to top GPU agents during the period leading up to the Trotsky assassination.

Gelfand established that the SWP defends Sylvia Franklin (a defense which continues to this day) because her principal accuser, former Daily Worker editor turned FBI stool pigeon Louis Budenz, had also identified Hansen as a GPU agent.

Gelfand’s lawyers explained that while Franklin was exposed publicly and forced to testify against her former GPU controllers, Jack Soble and Robert Soblen, the revelation about Hansen remained confidential because he was left inside the SWP to do his anti-Trotskyist dirty work for a new boss, the United States government As a top imperialist agent he recruited and trained a wave of new infiltrators, primarily from ultraconservative Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, to transform the party founded as the US section of the Fourth International into a prized espionage tool of imperialism against emerging national liberation movements and the international working class.

Barnes and his Carleton cohorts in the SWP leadership such as Larry Seigle and Doug Jenness had to cover up for Hansen and Franklin by attacking, isolating and expelling Gelfand because they knew that the unwinding of the threads of the GPU-FBI conspiracy against the SWP would ultimately lead to their own disclosure as government agents.

Pfaelzer’s attempt to cut a deal at her in camera conference failed. Gelfand dismissed the proposal out of hand and the SWP, having already abandoned its fees motion in return for an official, though toothless, denunciation of Gelfand, could not accept the court’s offer, which would have left them high and dry.

Once back in her courtroom and on the record, Pfaelzer, visibly disappointed at the rejection of her deal, resumed her stem judicial pose and repeatedly denounced Gelfand’s case, complaining that she should have granted summary judgment back in 1982.

When Gelfand’s attorney pointed out that she had been unable to grant summary judgment because his allegations against the SWP were powerfully grounded in facts, Pfaelzer made no attempt to argue. This simply continued a pattern of evasion of the factual substance of Gelfand’s allegations that characterized her handling of the case throughout its decadelong history.

Within the next two weeks, Alan Gelfand and his attorneys must decide whether to appeal Pfaelzer’s findings and conduct of the lawsuit. This is a tactical decision that will be based on an evaluation of the legal prospects and political value of such an appeal.

Whatever the decision on this matter, the Gelfand case has in the course of one decade uncovered a wealth of factual material that is the political and historical property of the international workers’ movement. Through his efforts, supported by the Workers League, light has been shed not only on the activity of agents inside the Socialist Workers Party, but on the entire conspiracy of Stalinism and imperialism against the Fourth International since its founding in 1938.

An important portion of this material has been meticulously compiled and published for the benefit of the international working class by the International Committee of the Fourth International in the two-volume set entitled The Gelfand Case: A Legal History of the Exposure of US Government Agents in the Leadership of the Socialist Workers Party, and in the other publications of Security and the Fourth International.