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

Alan Gelfand’s Statement on Lawsuit against SWP Agents

This statement originally appeared in the Bulletin on January 12, 1990

On November 13, 1989, United States District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer denied my motion to amend the findings and the judgments she entered against me after the March 1983 trial of my lawsuit against the Socialist Workers Party, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency. After consulting with my attorneys and supporters, I have decided not to appeal this decision or the judgments and findings.

The essential basis for my decision is that the case has already accomplished for the international working class more than I ever thought possible, by uncovering and synthesizing massive amounts of evidence concerning the penetration of the Trotskyist movement by agents of the Stalinist secret police, the GPU, and US imperialism.

The lawsuit against the SWP, FBI and CIA uncovered information on the role of state agents in the SWP which would never otherwise have come to light. The confession of the GPU agent Sylvia Franklin, released at the end of the trial in March 1983, would still be sealed in a federal courthouse in Manhattan, not to be made public until the year 2008. The deposition testimony of Jack Barnes, Larry Seigle and Doug Jenness, three of the Carleton Twelve, the central nucleus of the government-controlled leadership of the SWP, would never have been taken.

Had I not filed this suit in July 1979, and persevered with it for more than 10 years, much of the evidence against the SWP leadership would have become unobtainable. Suffice it to say that the SWP has shut down production of the Militant newspaper on several occasions in the last three years to clear out its files, destroying many priceless documents and records of the Trotskyist movement in the United States. In 1982-83, in the period when the lawsuit was going to trial, the SWP leadership publicly repudiated any association with Leon Trotsky and carried out a massive purge in which members were expelled en masse for having the slightest attachment or historical connection to the struggle waged by Trotsky and the Fourth International. Meanwhile, several of those who supplied key evidence on the activities of Joseph Hansen and the origins of the Barnes leadership of the SWP, such as Farrell Dobbs and George Weissman, have died.

Moreover, the political struggle embodied in this lawsuit drove the Socialist Workers Party to carry out repeated public acts of collaboration with the capitalist state and with well-known anti-Trotskyist police agents, actions which demonstrated the truth of the charges which were the basis of my suit This reached its high point in December 1982, when the SWP provided legal assistance to Mark Zborowski, the GPU agent who set up the assassination of Trotsky’s son, Leon Sedov, and other founding leaders of the Fourth International, supporting his efforts to avoid being compelled to testify under oath about his crimes against the Trotskyist movement My deposition of this Stalinist hitman was prevented through the combined efforts of the SWP and the federal government, which invoked the newly passed Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, forbidding the disclosure of the names of government secret agents, to protect Zborowski from having to testify.

The continuation of the case in the Court of Appeals would add nothing to these achievements. The very nature of the appeal process bars the presenting of new evidence. The appeal is limited to arguing that Judge Pfaelzer committed errors in the pretrial proceedings or during the trial that were of such significance that her decision should be overturned.

Pfaelzer’s decisions regarding issues of fact are not reviewable on appeal. I am not permitted to argue in any appeal that Judge Pfaelzer drew the wrong conclusions from the evidence which I produced at trial establishing that the SWP leadership is dominated by government agents, no matter how unfounded and unjustified her conclusions were. Instead, on appeal the court accepts as true the facts determined in the trial court and restricts its review to the propriety of the legal rulings made along the way.

In this case, the fundamental legal error which would be subject to appellate review is Pfaelzer’s May 1982 decision denying me access to information from the files of the US Attorney General, the FBI and the CIA. There is no doubt that Pfaelzer’s decision, which followed her review of a secret submission by the US Attorney, violated my right to a fair trial. All parties to litigation have the right to compel their opponents to produce evidence. When I demanded the US government files on the SWP leadership, however, Pfaelzer upheld the government’s refusal to respond, citing “informant’s privilege” and “national security.” Her ruling protecting the government files rendered meaningless her previous ruling acknowledging my right to bring the case.

I have no doubt that despite the obviously wrong ruling of Pfaelzer on this basic issue, the Court of Appeals would instinctively hold to its class interests and affirm her judgments. There are numerous precedents from other Courts of Appeals and the US Supreme Court upholding blanket claims of national security privilege to shield government intelligence operations from disclosure in civil rights lawsuits. Proceeding further at this stage would only serve to sow illusions in the facade of bourgeois democracy and its court system, which is dedicated to the defense of capitalist property rights at any cost.

Moreover, in the unlikely event I obtained a reversal in the Court of Appeals, I would gain nothing but a remand to the courtroom of Judge Pfaelzer and any order to the government to disclose its files would be ignored or defied. We have already witnessed former US Attorney General Griffin Bell risk a jail sentence rather than disclose the identities of low-level FBI informants in the SWP and then we saw the FBI lie to a federal court in the Breitel Report about an informant, Edward Heisler, who served on the SWP National and Political committees.

The decision on whether to appeal is not a question of principle, but of the proper tactic to employ in furthering the struggle to expose the government takeover of the Socialist Workers Party and to drive the government agents out of the workers’ movement. From first entering on this lawsuit, I understood that the capitalist courts were a hostile arena in which to conduct this struggle. I did not suffer from some liberal delusion that the federal courts would issue an order banning government spying on the workers’ movement, or that the federal government would obey such an order if it were issued. Instead, I sought to utilize the contradictions within the bourgeois democratic constitutional framework, making use of one capitalist state agency, the federal courts, to expose another, the FBI and its hirelings in the government-controlled leadership of the SWP. The suit achieved this goal: in the eyes of any honest and objective observer, and above all, in the eyes of class-conscious workers, we proved our case. There is thus no purpose to continuing the litigation.

The case has only continued in the courts for the last six years because of the attempt by the SWP—with the open encouragement of Judge Pfaelzer—to take revenge for the exposure of government agents by obtaining savage financial sanctions against myself and my attorneys. Judge Pfaelzer announced her decision to disregard the evidence and find in favor of the SWP and FBI-CIA defendants in March 1983. But she delayed her final ruling while the SWP presented a motion for more than one million dollars in attorneys’ fees, based on the groundless claim that my lawsuit was frivolous and in “bad faith.”

Although Pfaelzer initially invited the SWP to file the fees motion, she found herself unable to grant it, despite her denunciation of my lawsuit. Unlike her final ruling on the case, an award of attorneys’ fees could have been appealed on the basis of the entire factual content of the case, which clearly demonstrates that I had and have good reason to believe that the SWP is controlled by government agents, and that these agents engineered my expulsion. Rather than make such a ruling, Pfaelzer refused to issue any decision. Finally, in May of last year, the SWP dropped its fees motion, accepting a minor out-of-court financial settlement with the insurance company for my former attorneys, a settlement in which I did not participate. It was this action which made possible Pfaelzer’s issuance of her final judgment.

The SWP is now trumpeting its “victory” in front of Pfaelzer in the pages of the Militant as if some federal judge can give a clean bill of health to a supposedly revolutionary party. From the time it acknowledged publicly that it was the target of a lawsuit against the role of government agents in its leadership—not until the eve of the trial, after the case had been pending for almost three years

the Socialist Workers Party has presented the litigation as a state conspiracy against it. The SWP leadership maintained the pretense that it was fighting off a state attack even under conditions, in 1988, when it was accepting nearly $700,000 in federal government money awarded by then Attorney General Edwin Meese!

The transcript of the final hearing before Pfaelzer unmistakably shows the SWP, the US government and Pfaelzer marching in lockstep against the Gelfand case. When my lawyers and I attended court to argue the motion to amend the findings, Pfaelzer kept a whole courtroom of other attorneys waiting while she pleaded with us behind closed doors in her chambers to drop the case in exchange for her withdrawing the findings. Her conduct revealed the complete lack of any confidence she has in her own conclusions. I of course refused to be a party to any such unprincipled resolution of the case.

When we returned to open court, my attorney, Don Norris, stated briefly the arguments for reversing judgment, summarizing the central questions I have raised throughout, including the secret contacts between Joseph Hansen and the GPU, the relationship established by Hansen with the FBI, and the spy role of Sylvia Franklin. As they have at every hearing, neither the SWP nor the government attorneys attempted to answer these questions. Significantly, the attorney for the federal government—which supposedly instigated the case, according to the SWP—expressed his complete satisfaction with the judge’s findings, declaring, “we see no reason to vacate them or alter or amend them in any way.”

The SWP has falsified the content of the Gelfand case throughout the lawsuit, in a desperate effort to conceal the massive evidence of government penetration and takeover. The January 12, 1990 issue of the Militant states, as does virtually every article in the Militant on the suit, that the goal of the suit was “to remove the party’s elected leadership from office.” But the lawsuit makes no mention of the SWP leadership, only of the removal of government agents.

The actual civil rights complaint which was filed on my behalf on July 18, 1979, charged that I was expelled from the SWP by government agents in the leadership, acting to prevent their own exposure by my inquiries into the spy activities of Joseph Hansen and Sylvia Franklin. The complaint sought the following judgment:

1. That this Court order the defendants Griffin Bell, William H. Webster, Stansfield Turner and Vice Admiral Bobby Inman to disclose the names of any and all agents and informants, past and present, who were or are members of defendant SWP, and

2. That this Court order the defendants Griffin Bell, William H. Webster, Stansfield Turner and Vice Admiral Bobby Inman, to cease and desist from ordering, assigning and deploying persons to infiltrate, inform upon and become members of the SWP....

The Militant equates the demand that the government “cease and desist from ordering, assigning and deploying persons to infiltrate, inform upon and become members of the SWP,” with the demand that the SWP leadership be removed. In effect, this line of argument concedes what has been the basic contention of my lawsuit, that the SWP leadership consists of government agents.

Similarly, the SWP leadership claimed that the lawsuit was an attack on freedom of association, when it was in reality directed against the “freedom” of government agents to take over a working class political party and expel those who resisted.

In 1980, the SWP tried to have the case dismissed, arguing that even if my charges of government takeover of the leadership were true, there was no legal basis for the suit! Pfaelzer wrote in her decision denying the motion, “Such a dismissal would necessarily hold that the First Amendment permits the government to infiltrate and take over political parties and then cause the expulsion of those members who object ... it is clear that the governmental manipulation and takeover of plaintiff’s political party that is alleged ... is a drastic interference with the associational rights of its adherents and cannot pass constitutional muster.”

I was expelled from the SWP because I sought the SWP’s response to publications of Security and the Fourth International, the investigation of the International Committee into the assassination of Leon Trotsky at the hands of Stalin’s murderous secret police, the GPU. These publications contained reprints of US government documents which recorded meetings between Joseph Hansen, a former secretary and guard to Trotsky—Hansen was the most prominent longtime SWP leader while I was a member—and a US intelligence agent at the Mexico City Consulate during the weeks following the Trotsky murder. The government documents disclosed that not only was Hansen passing internal Trotskyist information and documents to a high-level imperialist intelligence agent, but also that prior to the assassination, Hansen was in contact with a GPU agent. At the conclusion of these meetings, Hansen requested that the State Department provide him with “means by which confidential information could be imparted with impunity” upon his return to the United States, and he participated directly in arrangements for the liaison to continue with B.E. Sackett, the FBI Special Agent in Charge of the New York City office.

I also learned from Security and the Fourth International that Hansen and the SWP defended Sylvia Franklin, SWP founder James P. Cannon’s personal secretary from 1939 to 1947, despite overwhelming evidence that she was a GPU agent. Franklin left the SWP abruptly in 1947 when a rumor that she was a Stalinist plant reached Cannon. Subsequently, she was identified as a willing participant in the conspiracy to murder Leon Trotsky by former Daily Worker editor turned FBI stool pigeon Louis Budenz. Finally, former anti-Trotskyist GPU controller Jack Soble described Franklin’s activities during testimony at the espionage trial of his brother, Dr. Robert Soblen.

I was forbidden to raise these issues within my branch or discuss them with other SWP members. My letters to the national office went unanswered, except for a stem warning I received from SWP Political Committee member Larry Seigle, that “any further attempts ... to circulate slanders” against Hansen and Franklin would result in my expulsion. Ultimately, SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes filed charges against me and, on January 11, 1979, the political committee expelled me.

Joseph Hansen was present at the political committee trial, although I was not permitted to attend or otherwise answer the charges against me. Hansen died one week later.

Subsequently, my demand for an appeal to the National Convention, a right guaranteed by the SWP Constitution, was rejected summarily by the national office.

The efforts by the SWP’s top leaders to cover up for Hansen and Franklin revealed their own roles as government agents. Each SWP leader I questioned during the lawsuit unequivocally defended Joseph Hansen and Sylvia Franklin as loyal party members.

With the exception of Barnes, however, none of the current SWP leaders would admit to any knowledge of Hansen’s contacts with the GPU and the FBI. Barnes testified that he knew about Hansen’s meetings with the GPU and US government officials and brazenly asserted his right to keep that information from me, the SWP membership and even his colleagues in the SWP leadership.

To prove that Hansen’s contacts with the GPU and the FBI were unauthorized, I obtained the testimony of former Militant editor Felix Morrow, Farrell Dobbs, Barnes’s predecessor as SWP national secretary, and Morris Lewit. Each was a member of the political committee in 1940 and each testified that he knew nothing about Hansen’s activities.

To show that Hansen was lying about his meetings with the GPU, I subpoenaed an “eyewitness” he had identified, fellow Coyoacan guard Vaughn T. “Irish” O’Brien, who directly contradicted Hansen’s and Barnes’s explanation for meetings with the GPU. Moreover, O’Brien testified to a previously unknown fact, that Sylvia Franklin’s principal accuser, Louis Budenz, had also named Hansen as a GPU agent. The veracity of this startling revelation has since been admitted by the SWP in the Militant.

At the conclusion of the trial, Pfaelzer—over the objections of the SWP—released the previously secret transcript of Sylvia Franklin’s testimony before the 1958 United States Grand Jury for the Southern District of New York. In it, Franklin unequivocally confessed to her activities as a GPU plant and confirmed every detail of Budenz’s testimony against her.

Thus, we established that the purpose of the SWP’s coverup of Sylvia Franklin was to protect Hansen, whose exposure as a GPU agent was also threatened by Budenz. While word of Franklin’s Stalinist activities leaked out and then in 1950 became the subject of one of Budenz’s lurid exposes on the “communist conspiracy,” Hansen’s GPU role was never made public. The reason is obvious, Hansen had been working for the US government since 1940, and he had become a valuable “asset” for the US government.

Just how valuable an asset became apparent during the early 1960s, as the SWP’s founding leadership was aging and politically degenerating. Hansen used his expanded influence to recruit and train a layer of youth, 13 of whom, including Barnes and Seigle, came from Carleton College, a reactionary church-oriented private school in Northfield, Minnesota. These individuals, who succeeded in filling all key leadership positions in the SWP from the mid-1960s on, were directly responsible for my expulsion from the SWP.

Dmitry Volkogonov, a Stalinist historian from Moscow’s Lenin Military and Political Academy charged with the “rehabilitation” of Trotsky, recently wrote, based on his access to the Kremlin archives, that while in exile “Trotsky came under constant surveillance by secret police agents and informers.” The Gelfand case has documented how that network of GPU agents was transformed through the counterrevolutionary logic of Stalinism as well as the efforts of imperialist police forces into a disruption and espionage apparatus of the United States government.

This development surfaced when I sought the testimony of GPU assassin Mark Zborowski who, using the name Etienne, wormed his way into the center of the Fourth International by becoming the confidant of Trotsky’s son, Leon Sedov. Zborowski participated directly in setting up the assassination of GPU defector Ignace Reiss and of Sedov himself, who died miserably from a medical murder in a Paris hospital. There is no question that Zborowski’s activities greatly facilitated the ultimate assassination of Trotsky.

I subpoenaed Zborowski in San Francisco, where he lives in comfortable retirement Despite his hands being soaked in the blood of Trotskyist fighters, Zborowski found a ready ally in the SWP, which provided him with legal assistance to protect him from testifying in my case. Ultimately, Pfaelzer upheld Zborowski’s silence on the basis that permitting him to testify might cause him to violate the newly-enacted Intelligence Agents Identities Protection Act.

One of the first charges leveled against the SWP in Security and the Fourth International was that it covered up for the crimes of Stalinism against the Trotskyist movement. When the SWP actively sought to prevent the release of Franklin’s grand jury testimony and to keep Zborowski from the witness dock, the truth of this charge was directly brought to life.

I not only had to struggle against the US government and the SWP during my case, I had to deal with the ranting of a furious bourgeois judge as well. Early on in the case, Pfaelzer warned that if I did not substantiate with competent evidence my claims that the leadership of the SWP was under the control of the US government, she would grant a motion for summary judgment, terminating my case without a trial. In response, I filed a 146-page brief which detailed all the evidence I had assembled through discovery. The strength of the evidence forced Pfaelzer to deny the motion and set the case for trial.

Then at the request of the SWP, Pfaelzer issued a blatantly unconstitutional gag order, prohibiting the press of the International Committee and the Workers League from publishing the testimony of witnesses. Publication about this case is what the SWP fears most I appealed that ruling to maintain our rights to bring the evidence to the working class. When the Court of Appeals indicated it would entertain my petition, Pfaelzer quickly withdrew the gag order, and denied an SWP request to reinstate it

When we presented our case at the March 1983 trial, Pfaelzer worked hand in glove with the SWP’s attorney to contain my case. She suggested all sorts of preposterous explanations for the SWP’s coverup of Hansen and Franklin, such as that the SWP leadership had “blind faith” in their loyalty or were “negligent,” and then Pfaelzer attacked me as disloyal to the SWP for insisting that the Hansen and Franklin matters be investigated.

Pfaelzer also changed the rules. She stated that I could not win merely by showing that the SWP leaders were government agents. Instead, I had to show by “a preponderance of the evidence” that they expelled me because they were agents who were acting to carry out the government’s wishes. Pfaelzer said that to prevail, I would have to prove that there were no other possible causes of my expulsion. Since Pfaelzer could hypothesize other reasons for my expulsion—ones that the SWP itself never advanced—she said I could not “preponderate” and announced her intention to rule against me.

The most remarkable point about the more than 12 years that have passed since I first posed my questions to the SWP leadership about its defense of Hansen and Franklin is that the SWP has never answered them. While an avalanche of evidence has confirmed the links of Hansen and Franklin to government intelligence agencies, the SWP continues to this day to defend them. Indeed, the January 12, 1990 issue of the Militant, published one week earlier, reads, “Sylvia Caldwell, as she was known in the SWP, managed the national office of the SWP in the 1940s and helped then National Secretary James P. Cannon in a secretarial capacity. When rumors circulated that she was a GPU (Soviet secret police) agent, a party commission in 1950 investigated and determined the rumors were unfounded. The Workers League revived these rumors as part of their smear campaign.”

The SWP does not even know its own history. The control commission investigation took place in 1947, and Franklin-Caldwell fled the SWP immediately afterward. While the SWP leadership may not have had sufficient evidence to conclude that Franklin was an agent when it reviewed the matter in 1947, it certainly did by 1950, when Louis Budenz testified before Congress on her role in the Trotsky assassination, by 1960, when Jack Soble described how she passed him “pure Trotsky” material, and by 1983, when Pfaelzer released the transcript of her grand jury confession.

Since the conclusion of the Gelfand trial in March 1983, the police-controlled character of the SWP has become more widely known in the working class. For the last two years, for example, the SWP has waged a bogus defense campaign for one of its leaders, Mark Curtis, who was convicted in an open-and-shut case for raping a 15-year-old working class black girl. Even those who were initially skeptical about the evidence of government takeover of the SWP are being forced to reconsider as provocations like the Mark Curtis defense campaign are exposed.

The increasing numbers of workers who are facing victimizations and frame-up criminal cases because of government informants within their organizations will have nothing but contempt for the SWP, which protects agents such as Hansen and Franklin, while witch-hunting anyone who protests for “agent-baiting.” Workers fighting jail sentences and bankrupting fines meted out by federal judges will have little difficulty seeing that Pfaelzer has played the same role in my case.

The progovernment policies pursued by the SWP within its ranks dovetails with its procapitalist political line outside. The SWP’s intervention in the great battles now being joined by the working class is limited to shoring up the crumbling position of the labor bureaucracy, while attacking the Trotskyists for exposing the treacherous role of the AFL-CIO leadership.

Unlike the SWP, I want nothing about the Gelfand case hidden from public view. The International Committee has published the major exhibits, documents and transcripts in a 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. I intend to take my case to the working class, where the verdict will be far different from that rendered by Pfaelzer.

The achievements of the Gelfand litigation were realized only because of the unflagging support I received from the International Committee and the Workers League. To all who supported my efforts to expose the US government takeover of the Socialist Workers Party, I extend the most sincere revolutionary gratitude.

The “findings” of Pfaelzer are worthless, as are the ensuing judgments in favor of the SWP, FBI and CIA. I unequivocally claim victory in the Gelfand litigation, and am proud of the contributions it has made. In the coming period, the case will arm thousands of workers with the knowledge needed to emerge victorious from the renewed class struggle we face.