Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 11, 2018

Was Joseph Hansen a GPU agent? A reply to WSWS.org

Filed under: cults,journalism,sectarianism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 6:26 pm

Joseph Hansen

Last month on Leftist trainspotters, someone referred to a 4-part series of articles that appeared on WSWS.org making the case that Sylvia Callen, James P. Cannon’s secretary, and Joe Hansen, one of the long-time leaders of the SWP and Trotsky’s bodyguard in Coyoacan, were GPU agents. I wrote a brief rejoinder but did not bother to read the articles. More recently, a troll showed up on my blog to use my article on UNZ Review to bring up the same charges. He thought I had a lot of nerve “policing” Norman Finkelstein’s affiliation with the neo-Nazi website when I was a veteran of a group that was filled with agent provocateurs and finks. When I asked him to substantiate this accusation, he too brought up the WSWS.org articles.

After giving it some thought, I decided to have a look at the articles. Although many veterans of the left understand that the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) is a toxic cult, many less knowledgeable—including Chris Hedges—give it respect that it does not deserve.

This is not the first time I have examined these charges since I was in the SWP in the mid-70s when they were first raised. Before getting into the particulars, a bit of background is necessary, particularly for people like Hedges unfamiliar with the internecine squabbles of the Trotskyist movement.

In the 1950s, the Fourth International was divided into two factions. The International Committee (IC) included the SWP (prevented from formal membership by reactionary laws aimed mostly at the CPUSA) and Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labor League in England. The International Secretariat (IS) was led by a man named Michel Pablo who believed that the Cold War would force the CP’s to move in a revolutionary direction.

Essentially, the Cuban revolution laid the groundwork for reunifying most parties in the IC and the IS even though Healy remained adamantly opposed to the “petty bourgeois” adaption to Fidel Castro who they considered a nationalist defending capitalist property relations. After joining the SWP in 1967, I remember members of the Worker’s League, Healy’s satellite in the USA, showing up at Militant Labor Forums in New York to denounce the “Pabloite revisionists” during the Q&A. They looked rather like Diane Arbus photos.

Before delving into the articles, I should say a few words about Hansen. While generally considering my time in the SWP as mistake, I count Hansen as a major political influence alongside Peter Camejo. He was a master theoretician and polemicist whose critique of Guevarism was a major contribution to Marxism. In the mid-70s, just around the time Healy began explaining Hansen’s alleged Pabloite revisionism as a function of his secret ties to the Soviet Union, Hansen began his defense of mass action against guerrilla foquismo strategy, including a devastating summary of how Che’s failure to understand Stalinism led to his betrayal by the CP of Bolivia. If proof that Hansen was a GPU agent rested in his defending Cuba uncritically, then he should have been found not guilty.

Meanwhile, the Workers League was going through its own turmoil about secret agents at this time. Party leader Tim Wohlforth was married to a comrade named Nancy Field whose uncle was in the OSS, a precursor to the CIA, something that had never been revealed to their comrades. This led to the two of them being grilled by Healy in intimidating circumstances of the sort endured by Soviet dissidents and members of Larouche’s cult. As it happens, a radical being the relative of an CIA officer or any other high-ranking government official was typical of what was going on the 60s. For example, Robert McNamara’s son was an antiwar activist as were many other children of officials in both the Johnson and Nixon administrations as detailed in Tom Wells’s “The War Within”.

To some extent, searching for spies was to be expected in the Trotskyist movement since Stalin had every intention of destroying what he saw rightfully as his mortal enemy. Trotsky’s assassination was just one example of this campaign that forced his followers to fend off Stalinists at the same time they were dealing with FBI harassment and infiltration.

As for the FBI, the Socialist Equality Party claims that the leadership that evolved in the early 60s around Jack Barnes is made up of FBI agents because they all attended Carleton College in Minnesota. An obvious Healyite plant in the SWP, the lawyer Alan Gelfand was expelled as a provocateur in the mid-90s. Gelfand then sued the SWP for damages on the basis that his right to political expression had been denied. So, as you can see, this stuff about agents and spies has a long and tortured history on the fringes of the Trotskyist movement. However, it is odd that WSWS.org would bother in a new assault on the SWP since for all practical purposes it is a moribund sect that is not an obstacle to the growth of the SEP. The real obstacle to their becoming number one on the far left is their own crazy sectarian politics. As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us”.

The bulk of the WSWS.org articles, which are written by Eric London, are focused on Cannon’s secretary who was known to the party as Sylvia Caldwell. After Max Shachtman and Albert Glotzer, two former leaders of the SWP who had left to form the Workers Party, heard rumors that Callen was a CP agent, they dropped in on Cannon in 1947 to urge him to conduct an investigation. One did take place that year, clearing her of all charges. One suspects that it was Cannon’s insistence that she was innocent that made the difference. Of course, this would implicate Cannon himself as an agent, a bridge too far even for conspiracy-minded sectarians. As soon as the investigation was completed, Callen resigned from the SWP and abandoned left politics altogether, either Stalinist or Trotskyist.

In 1950, ex-Communist and now McCarthyite tool Louis Budenz wrote a book titled “Men Without Faces” that was typical of the time. Like Whittaker Chambers, Budenz wrote about the CP as if it were indistinguishable from the GPU. This fed the paranoia of the witch hunt that made victimization of CP’ers so easy. Since Budenz identified Callen as a CP asset in the book, the SWP had no other recourse but to follow up and effectively re-open the investigation of 1947 even though she was no longer in the party. Cannon sent Farrell Dobbs out to speak to Callen who insisted that she was not guilty. This was enough for Cannon who wrote an article clearing her of Budenz’s charges.

The SWP continued to insist on Caldwell’s innocence even though she was named as a member of Jack Soble’s spy ring in a 1960 NY Times article. However, the Times refers to her as Sylvia Callen. That leaves open the question whether Cannon, Dobbs et al made the connection to Caldwell, Cannon’s secretary. The other curiosity is that despite being indicted, Callen never spent a day in jail. Considering the political climate 58 years ago, that is something of a mystery.

The first indication that the SWP might consider the possibility that Caldwell was a Stalinist agent occurred in 1976 when Healy’s accusations were roiling the left. In an article that appeared in Intercontinental Press defending Hansen by Betty Hamilton and Pierre Lambert, leaders of another Fourth International franchise,  the authors accepted the possibility that she might have been an agent and thought it appropriate for a new investigation to proceed. Looking back at this period, I doubt that the SWP would have found much use in establishing her guilt since Healy’s accusations only had the effect of deepening the isolation of his cult-sect. They hoped that he would hang himself on his own petard.


Sylvia Callen: interrogated by David North’s deputies

In 1976, the Workers League tracked down Callen to conduct their own investigation. At the time she was probably in her late 70s and appeared to have cognitive issues as this excerpt from the interview outside her trailer home would indicate:

Question: Do you have a memory block which begins after all these events supposedly took place?

Franklin: I don’t know. I wish you wouldn’t try to make me remember because I’ll have a breakdown. I can’t remember. It’s been many years, and I’ve put it out of my mind.

Question: Is it possible that you were in the Communist Party and simply have forgotten all about it?

Franklin: I don’t know. I don’t know. It could be one way. It could be the other. I can’t believe that person was me. I can’t believe that I worked in that office. That I was his secretary. I can’t believe anything.

In the view of the SEP, the SWP never held a new investigation of Caldwell because evidence about her GPU/CP connections would point in Joe Hansen’s direction. In the view of this batty sect-cult, it might have brought to light the letter that Hansen’s close friend Vaughn T. “Irish” O’Brien wrote in 1976:

In this letter, dated June 8, 1976, O’Brien recalled an encounter in the late 1940s or early 1950s—the general time frame of the control commission and the publication of Budenz’s books—with Pearl Kluger, a former member of A.J. Muste’s American Workers Party who knew Budenz personally. O’Brien wrote, “I had not seen Pearl for a considerable period of time, but she immediately said, ‘Budenz says your friend Joe Hansen worked with the GPU.’”

Wow, that’s the smoking gun, isn’t it? If Budenz said it, it must be true. For those curious about Budenz, you can find a bunch of his articles archived at the neo-Nazi UNZ Review—that should give you an idea of their provenance. As it happens, you can find O’Brien’s letter on Google books. It is exactly the opposite of what Eric London purports. O’Brien wrote the letter in order to assure Hansen that the charges against him were preposterous.

Indeed, immediately after the sentence above quoting Pearl about Joe working with the GPU, O’Brien follows up with: “I replied, with great earnestness, that while I was aware of circumstances which might lead Budenz to make such a charge, it was not true.” In fact, despite Pearl’s reference to Budenz charge, Hansen is not mentioned once in his writings. Imagine that. With such a potentially juicy expose about Trotsky’s bodyguard being in cahoots with the Kremlin, why wouldn’t Budenz have mentioned it somewhere in his books or articles? Probably because it wasn’t true and didn’t want to risk being sued for libel.

O’Brien clarifies Hansen’s contact with the GPU in 1938 that features so prominently in Healy’s demagogic attacks. What Healy leaves out is that Hansen made this contact with the full knowledge of Trotsky. The only other party members who knew what was really going on were Cannon and Shachtman, the two top leaders of the SWP. All of them were privy to a money-raising scam that Hansen was going to carry out. He would tell the GPU that he had become disillusioned with the movement and would be willing to sell the only manuscript of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin for $25,000 so that he could buy himself a “nice little ranch” in Utah and retire from politics. As it happened, the GPU was not interested in the manuscript but was much more interested in the layout of Trotsky’s house in Coyoacan for obvious reasons.

Does this story sound far-fetched? To me it does but if you are going to cite O’Brien, you need to do it in a way that follows elementary journalistic standards. He was not endorsing Budenz, or at least what he was purported to have said. Just the opposite. As for journalistic standards, they went by the wayside on the very day WSWS.org was launched.




  1. Excellent essay.

    Comment by davidwalters66 — September 11, 2018 @ 7:11 pm

  2. Louis — I have studied the Trotsky hit in great detail and also have visited Trotsky’s home in Coyoacan where he was assassinated. I have never, ever heard that Hansen was an agent for the NKVD (GPU/OGPU became the NKVD in 1934) while working for Trotsky. In fact, he beat the living hell out of Ramon Mercader, the assassin, moments after he struck Trotsky with the ice ace, sending Mercader to the hospital. A couple of other pieces of trivia you may know but many probably do not — Hansen was one of the two founders of the famous “Fair Play for Cuba Committee” that Lee Harvey Oswald promoted in the U.S. shortly before assassinating Kennedy. In addition he was living in Havana at the same exact time as Ramon Mercader after Mercader was released from his 20 year prison term in Mexico. Wonder if they ever met up?

    Comment by Charlie Trew — September 11, 2018 @ 7:18 pm

  3. I once asked Harold Robbins, the commander of Trotsky’s guards, about the charge about Hansen. He said it was totally ridiculous. (This occurred when Robbins spent a brief sojourn in the IS in the mid-70s.)

    Comment by David Berger — September 11, 2018 @ 8:37 pm

  4. I had heard that rumor about Hansen before. Also heard the same thing about George Novack. In Novack’s case it would have been an odd thing for him to be a GPU agent then spend the remainder of his life being a dedicated Trotskyist living in a small apartment.

    Comment by Stephen Rutherford — September 12, 2018 @ 4:28 am

  5. “After Max Shachtman and Albert Glotzer, two former leaders of the SWP who had left to form the Workers Party, heard rumors that Callen was a CP agent, they dropped in on Cannon in 1947 to urge him to conduct an investigation.” I never heard about this. Good on Max and Albert, neither of whom had any love for Jim Cannon by that point.

    Comment by jschulman — September 12, 2018 @ 5:50 am

  6. Luckily the World Socialist website didn’t exist before 1917.
    If it had, it would probably have launched a campaign to prove that Lenin was an agent of the Okhrana.

    Lenin had numerous warnings, that the Duma Deputy Roman Malinovsky was a Tsarist agent,
    He refused to act on them, using the argument was that more would be gained by insisting that Malinovksy follow party policy than by launching a destructive “agent hunt”.

    After 1917, it was shown that the warnings had been right.
    Malinovsky returned to Russia, admitted he’d been a spy and was shot.

    Nevertheless, this doesn’t disprove Lenin’s methodology.
    Malinovsky’s continued membership of the Duma faction was unable to derail the revolution.

    The difference is that the Healyite allegations against Hansen hava always been totally absurd.

    Gerry Healy was at his best when he worked in broad organisations, including members of the Labour left.
    But he wasn’t capable of running a whelk stall on his own.

    After the demise of Socialist Outlook he degenerated into an ultra-left thug, who surrounded himself with yes-men (and women).
    This made real conspiracies against his organisation far easier.

    The World Socialist Web defends the worst aspects of this heritage.
    The internet has given them a new and undeserved lease of life.
    But In real life, they’re as rare as yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

    Comment by prianikoff — September 12, 2018 @ 10:02 am

  7. Priankoff — “Malinovsky – that was a very strange business.” – Lenin
    Lenin also argued, even after his exposure, that even though Malinovsky worked for the Okhrana, he did far more for the Bolsheviks than the police. He never came out and condemned Malinovsky, even after his execution, all he said was the above quote (which was removed from later editions of his published archives). His defense of Malinovsky remained strong to the very end. Perhaps he knew of the double game all along? And speaking of his execution, that was indeed a very strange business, he was shot just a few hours after his trial. It’s never been clear why it was done so quickly, giving him no chance to appeal…or who gave the order. Was Stalin behind it? Did he have something to hide, namely that he also had worked for the police? We’ll probably never know. Vasily Miktrokhin, the former KGB archivist who was in charge of moving records from Lubyanka to Yasenevo, said he located the Okhrana file on Stalin but it was empty…

    Comment by Charlie Trew — September 12, 2018 @ 1:01 pm

  8. Charlie, we had a guy like this in the SWP named Ed Heisler who was identified as an FBI informer during their suit against the FBI. Heisler was a railroad worker who was so outstanding in his trade union work that he was not only on the national committee but on the political committee as well. In conversations I had with my friend Nelson Blackstock, who wrote a book on Cointelpro, he told me that Heisler had an odd personal life, living in rooming houses and exhibiting some lumpen traits. But he suggested that Heisler also had some obvious affinity with the trade union work he was doing. Life is complex.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 12, 2018 @ 1:12 pm

  9. re.#7

    Lenin wrote a lot more than that about Malinovsky:-

    “It is obvious that by helping to elect an agent-provocateur to the Duma and by removing, for that purpose, all the competitors of the Bolshevik candidate, the secret police were guided by a vulgar conception of Bolshevism, or rather, a distorted caricature of Bolshevism. They imagined that the Bolsheviks would “arrange an armed insurdrection.”

    In order to keep all the threads of this coming insurrection in their hands, they thought it worthwhile departing from their own standpoint and having Malinovsky elected both to the Duma and to our Central Committee.
    But when the police achieved both these aims, they found that Malinovsky was transformed into a link of the long and solid chain connecting in various ways our legal base with the two chief organs by which the party influenced the masses, namely Pravda and the Duma fraction. The agent-provocateur had to protect both these organs in order to justify his vocation.
    Both these organs were under our immediate guidance. Zinoviev and myself wrote daily to Pravda and its policy was entirely determined by the resolutions of the Party. Our influence over forty to sixty thousand workers was thus secured. The same applies to the Duma fraction, particularly to Muranov, Petrovsky and Badayev, who worked more and more independently of Malinovsky, strengthened their connections with and extended their influence over the workers.
    Malinovsky could and did ruin individuals, hut he could neither hold back nor control the growth of the Party nor in any way affect the increase of its importance to the masses, its influence over hundreds of thousands of workers (through strikes, which increased after April 1912, etc.)..”

    Quoted in A.Y. Badayev’s book “Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma”
    (Bookmarks 1987- page 168)

    As to whether Stalin was also an agent of the Okhrana….

    This rumour circulated amongst exiled oppositionists during the Purges.
    But according to Badayev, Malinovsky also betrayed Stalin to the Okhrana, when he attended a fund-raising concert while on the run.
    He was also responsible for Sverdlov’s arrest and was intensely mistrusted by Bukharin and the Menshevik leaders Martov and Dan.

    He didn’t deny his guilt but claimed he was blackmailed by the Okhrana over his “previous” in Poland.
    They erased his criminal record and ensured he got a job in a factory.
    This meant he was eligible to stand as a Duma candidate.
    He was also paid a stipend for his services.

    He returned to Russia voluntarily, knowing his likely fate.
    So I’m not sure what grounds there were for an appeal.

    Comment by prianikoff — September 12, 2018 @ 7:49 pm

  10. Although his trial was conducted in secret several people in attendance have discussed some of what went on. Malinovsky did indeed know that he was likely to be executed when he returned. According to Vladimir Burtsev: “When the Revolution triumphed in Germany and Russia and the possibility of participating prominently in political activities was lost to him forever, he decided to go back and die, rather than to flee into the obscurity of an Argentina or a similar place of refuge. Of course, he could have committed suicide, but he preferred to die in the view of everybody, and had no fear of death.”
    At his trial Malinovsky admitted he had been a spy being paid over 6,000 rubles by the Okhrana. He argued: “If I refused to accept the money the Okhrana would have suspected me of playing a double game. I had to show that I was faithful.” The judge replied: “But you had already proved that by delivering our best comrades to the police.” Malinovsky also told the court he had made a full confession to Lenin in 1914. Malinovsky spent an incredible six hours attempting to defend himself before the court and concluded with: “I am not asking for mercy! I know what is in store for me. I deserve it.”
    David Shub, the author of Lenin (1948): “Lenin sat facing Malinovsky, his head bent over a desk while he wrote on a pad. It was obvious, according to Olga Anikst, a Bolshevik witness; that Lenin was undergoing an emotional conflict. He remained in the same position for hours. When the defence counsel said that if Malinovsky had had friends to guide him he would never have become a spy, Lenin stirred, looked up at Malinovsky, and nodded his head many times. When the verdict of death by shooting was read, Malinovsky began to tremble and his face was distorted by fear. He had obviously expected Lenin’s intercession. It is possible that before appearing he had been promised clemency. Lenin himself was undecided. A delegation of Petrograd Bolshevik workers attending the trial demanded to be allowed to witness the execution, apparently fearing that Lenin might commute the sentence of the agent provocateur who once enjoyed his full confidence.”
    Talk of Stalin being an informer/snitch dogged him his entire career, from the seminary, to his time in jail where he played people off of each other, all through his revolutionary career and even after he gained power. There is no “smoking gun” but there is a ton of circumstantial evidence. And to this day it remains a “hot topic” in Russia although, sadly, not for Western scholars (more on that in a minute). As George Kennan noted, nobody can deny that eliminating rivals via the police would be fully within his character. He made a career of eliminating anyone he thought was even a potential rival. There are some works on Stalin as an agent. One is “The Secret File of Joseph Stalin” by Roman Brackman. There are some problems and mistakes with this book but it is still very interesting. London-based, Israeli-born socialist Eric Lee also has an unpublished manuscript I have been trying to get him to finish and publish for the last two years. He had been working on this book: https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/the-experiment/ (on Georgian socialism in the years 1918-1921) and now that he is done I hope he will pick things up again. His preliminary title is “Mole: Stalin & the Okhrana.” A key source is Leiba Feldbin aka Alexander Orlov. Orlov was an early Chekist and rose to Lt. General in the NKVD. His last job was directing Soviet operations in Spain during the Spanish civil war. Although a loyal Communist and Leninist, once he realized he was on the hit list of Yezhov’s mobile groups he fled with his wife and daughter to the U.S. He sent Stalin a letter telling him he would keep his mouth shut as long as Stalin lived as long as Stalin left him and his family in the U.S. and Soviet Union alone. Apparently both men kept their end of the deal. Orlov kept a very low profile while in the U.S. and, incredibly, nobody with the U.S. government talked to him for years. When they finally did, he still never revealed all his secrets and took many to his grave. After Stalin died he wrote a book called “The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes” which did not mention Stalin as an agent. However, soon after Khrushchev’s secret speech he wrote an expose for Life magazine (April 23, 1956) in which he discussed the evidence he had. Apparently he was disappointed that Nikita Sergeyevich did not mention the Okhrana connection in his speech. Edvard Radzinsky, who got access to the Russian archives in the 1990’s wrote in his biography of Stalin that Khrushchev considered talking about the connection but decided it was “just impossible” to mention it. Just too damning and outrageous to admit that the decades long leader of the Soviet Union had worked for the tsarist police.
    Unfortunately, recent Western books on Stalin have all but ignored the issue. Robert Service and Stephen Kotkin just gave it a passing mention and dismissed it out of hand. Montefiore discussed it briefly and dismissed the idea but he did not discuss much of the evidence, either (he did not even mention Orlov), and cited a Russian author Alexander Ostrovsky and his book “Who Was Behind Stalin” as the definitive word on the issue, calling the work “magisterial”. It’s not. I have it and I’ve read it. It’s good but not definitive on the issue in any way. Unfortunately this book is only in Russian, by the way. At any rate, it’s one of those issues that will never be likely proven one way or another. Like Hitler, Stalin was good at covering his tracks and eliminating potential threats before they became real threats. I would remind everyone that to this day there is no “smoking gun” regarding Hitler and the Final Solution. He made sure his name never got directly connected to it. Books that claim to prove a connection just cite passages from “Mein Kampf.” Yet nobody seriously doubts he was involved from start to finish. I think this is the case with Stalin and the Okhrana.

    Comment by Charlie Trew — September 12, 2018 @ 10:10 pm

  11. I have read the entire recent four-part series on Sylvia Callen (aka Caldwell, Franklin and Doxee) published by the WSWS as well as the earlier two-part series on the FBI’s assault on the Socialist Workers Party in the 1940s [https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/08/secu-d08.html], both written by Eric London. The factual material assembled in these articles is immensely impressive. Anyone who examines with a normal level of objectivity the evidence assembled by London will conclude that there is overwhelming evidence that Joseph Hansen was an informer inside the Socialist Workers Party, working first for the Soviet secret police and, from 1940 on, for the US government, and it seems to me to be devastating.

    This reply is a travesty and doesn’t answer anything. Aside from a number of gross factual errors, your article consists largely of evasive rationalizations, glaring omissions, and outright falsifications. Amazingly, you imply that Sylvia Callen was not a GPU agent, but ignore her own testimony before a grand jury (quoted in Part 3 of the latest WSWS series), in which she admits that while James Cannon’s personal secretary she would regularly meet in an apartment with the Stalinist agents Gregory Rabinowitz and Jack Soble and type up and hand over reports on SWP correspondence with Leon Trotsky, on the finances of the SWP, and on internal conflicts within the leadership of the SWP. There is a vast amount of additional evidence, including Soviet-sourced documents (the Venona Papers) corroborating Callen’s confession. Why don’t you just admit that she was a GPU agent?

    You also deny that Hansen was an informer for the FBI. The material published by WSWS—based on the Security and the Fourth International investigation—establishes Hansen’s role as an informer beyond any doubt. In fact, from a present-day perspective—unaffected by the factional hatreds of old defenders of Hansen like you—it is difficult to understand why Hansen wasn’t expelled from the SWP once the incriminating documents discovered by the International Committee were published and verified.

    For example, the International Committee uncovered a letter dated September 25 from the American consul to Mexico, George P. Shaw, to Raymond Murphy of the US State Department, referring to the “desire of Mr. Joseph Hansen, secretary to the late Mr. Trotsky, to establish confidential means by which he may be able to communicate with you to this office from New York City.” He states that Hansen “wishes to be put in touch with someone in your confidence located in New York City to whom confidential information could be imparted with impunity.”

    J. Edgar Hoover wrote a note on October 1, 1940 instructing the FBI to accept Hansen’s offer. It is also clearly established that Hansen carried out these meetings with the US government outside the knowledge of the SWP leadership. I found this in this article: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/09/secu-d09.html.

    Hansen requested secret meetings with the FBI to “impart information” with “impunity”—even if this was all that was contained in the WSWS investigation, it would be still be an open and shut case.

    Your statement in the comments section of your blog makes clear that you do not even care if the accusations of GPU and FBI agents in the leadership of the SWP are true. You refer to an SWP member Ed Heisler who “was identified as an FBI informer during their suit against the FBI,” but then immediately say that Heisler “was so outstanding in his trade union work that he was not only on the national committee but on the political committee as well,” as though it were a positive good that an FBI agent was on the SWP Political Committee.

    Why would anyone concerned about the security of the workers’ movement against state repression take anything you say seriously?

    Your problem, Mr. Proyect, is that a lot of young people who are turning to socialism are concerned about state repression. They will read and study the documents published by the WSWS, and base their conclusions on the facts that are presented in the articles by Eric London.

    Comment by Nick — September 13, 2018 @ 11:18 pm

  12. Why don’t you just admit that she was a GPU agent?

    You seem to have some reading comprehension issues, you idiot. Didn’t you notice that I referred to her being part of Jack Soble’s spy network? As for Hansen, that schmuck Eric Lipton referred readers to a letter written by V.T. O’Brien that identified him as a GPU agent when in fact the letter had the opposite intention. I understand that you are the sort of dogmatic jerk that takes WSWS.org seriously but those of us living on the planet earth have higher standards of credibility.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 13, 2018 @ 11:29 pm

  13. @Louis @Nick

    I was on the fence, I thought maybe I had been hoodwinked by a “toxic cult,” re Hansen and the treason stopped at Callen. But Louis unless your saying the letter (and Felix Morrow’s disavowal of any type of FBI cooperation) supplied in the link is a forgery I don’t see how you can go ahead and defend Hansen.
    It seems really a case of “who do you believe, me or
    your lying eyes?”

    Comment by Jake — September 14, 2018 @ 7:57 am

  14. Jake, are you saying the letter proves that Hansen is a GPU agent when the author makes it clear that he was writing to clear his name? If so, you really need to go back and finish high school.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 14, 2018 @ 11:40 am

  15. Jake, I found your latest comments in the trash. You are obviously the asshole that brought up this business in the Finkelstein post. So, let me answer you. The WSWS.org is making the case that Hansen was BOTH a GPU agent and an FBI agent. This is so absurd it is not even worth responding to. Now go away.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 14, 2018 @ 1:31 pm

  16. The pseudo-Trotskyist North sect has much the same methodology as the Stalin Society.

    Following their methodology to its logical conclusion, both of them would be forced to accuse Lenin of being an agent of the Okhrana!
    And the North sect should indict Trotsky as an FBI informant!

    After the attack on his home in May 24th 1940,Trotsky twice met with Robert McGregor of the US Consulate.
    He briefed him on the likely role of the GPU in the assassination attempt.

    This wasn’t so obvious at the time, as Stalinist agents had infiltrated the Mexican police force guarding Trotsky’s home and may have recruited Robert Sheldon Harte to open its gates.
    Supposedly Harte got cold feet, so they killed him.
    The Stalinists blamed an internal feud amongst Trotsky’s supporters.

    Since the Hitler-Stalin pact was still in force, there was also a possibility that the May 1940 attack had been carried out by the Gestapo.

    Trotsky also offered to testify before the Dies Committee in the USA, but was denied an entry visa.

    The Stalin Society uses these incidents as evidence that Trotsky was a “FBI informant”.
    But under the circumstances, his actions were quite justifiable.

    37 years after these events the Healyites launched their “Security and the Fourth International” campaign
    which was decisively rejected, not just by the “Pabolites”, but just about every other Trotskyist group.
    Other than the Healyites, no one believes that Hansen was a “Stalinist agent” and/or an FBI informant.

    The purpose of the Healyite slander was to discredit the entire leadership of the US SWP.
    With the benefit of hindsight, Healy wanted prove that only *he* could have saved Trotsky and changed world history!.

    A horrendous stunt with Trotsky’s death mask soon followed.
    68 years later they’re peddling the same lousy old politics.

    These reject positions that Trotsky regarded as axiomatic such as working inside the unions and the united front against fascism.

    No wonder they’re the only Trotskyists who regularly get quoted on Global research.

    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

    Comment by prianikoff — September 14, 2018 @ 2:24 pm

  17. As long as there is a minority ruling class, it will try every means to infiltrate organisations the rulers deem a possible danger to their rule, planting agents as informers and as agent-provocateurs, or as moles for disrupting actions directly against the organization. So one has to accept it as a fact of life and … live with it.

    The worst thing one can do is the permanent hunt “who is the spy?” creating an atmosphere of general suspicion of each comrade against each other. This destroys an organisation.

    The main thing is to pursue sound revolutionary politics based on a scientific understanding of the world situation, and a strategy of uniting the working class by calling and organizing united fronts for concrete demands as solution for concrete problems, and with the ultimate goal to take the political power out of the hands of the bourgeoisie. Defending our democratic rights as the rights for everyone, as I had learned from the US SWP in her good years. Defend our legality, as James P. Cannon demonstrates in “Socialists on Trial”.

    An agent provocateur has no chance in such a party. That is what Lenin meant as quoted above using the word “agent-provocateur” for Malinovsky: the informer had no chance to act as an agent-provocateur, because he had to act as a disciplined member of the party, doing legal work in the Duma, and illegal work by smuggling revolutionary literature into the country.

    Judge the people by their actions. Joe Hansen — if he would have been an agent of FBI, CIA or GPU, he could not have led the SWP and the whole Fourth International to an understanding of the Cuban revolution and embracing it. He would not have been able to achieve the reunification of that International which had been split a decade ago.

    Ed Heisler was once touring Europe, and he visited also the little outpost of the German Section which I held in Saarbrücken. I remember him preaching to “patiently explain” but then saw him mocking the people behind a maoist book table at the university caféteria, and provocatively ridiculing them. I still remember that now about 45 years later as a strange experience.

    In the case of being driven into illegality, there are well known rules to organize in a thoroughly compartimentalized cell structure to minimize damage when one comrade is arrested. And to clothe defensively and inconspicuously.

    Finally, a book recommendation, with which I probably carry coals to Newcastle: El hombre que amaba a los perros by the Cuban writer Leonardo Padura (in english probably “The man who loved the dogs”) – I swallowed the 700 page book in its German translation in one week.

    After reading Padura’s book, I read “Mi hermano Ramón Mercader” by Luís Mercader, and found this essay “Leon Trotsky, Dupe of the NKVD – How the Soviets destroyed the Fourth International” by a Rita T. Kronenbitter apparently in 1996, publicly available here:

    Comment by Lüko Willms — September 14, 2018 @ 9:19 pm

  18. Back in the 1970s, Jack Barnes and the strange group of 11 other ex-students from Carleton College who — with the sponsorship of Joseph Hansen — somehow came to comprise virtually the entire central leadership of the SWP, insisted that Budenz’s allegations against Sylvia Caldwell had been thoroughly investigated in 1947 by the party’s control commission. She was, SWP members and supporters were all told again and again, found to be absolutely innocent of all charges, that Caldwell’s biography did not match the description given by Budenz, and that there was nothing to the story. She was, to recall the words of Hansen, an “exemplary” comrade; and that everyone in the Party leadership “burned” over Budenz’s “foul slanders,” which were refuted by the meticulous control commission investigation. As it turned out, documents uncovered by the International Committee — above all the 1958 Grand Jury testimony of Sylvia Caldwell herself — established beyond a shadow of a doubt that she had been a GPU spy, working under the direct supervision of Soviet agents who played a central role in the assassination of Trotsky. As Cannon’s personal secretary from 1938 until 1947, she was in a position to provide information that contributed substantially to the success of the assassination plot.

    By now, the fact that Caldwell was an agent is an established historical fact. But what makes the story of the SWP’s defense of Caldwell particularly horrendous is — as the latest articles by Eric London make absolutely clear — that the so-called control commission investigation of 1947 was an absolute fraud. I believe that London is the first to actually publish the original records of the control commission investigation. It is obvious from this record that the SWP leadership carried out no serious investigation. Moreover, the information that did come out during questioning of Caldwell confirmed Budenz’s allegations. Most damning of all, as London points out, is that Cannon and the other members of the control commission learned from the first time that Caldwell was a married woman, and that her husband had been active in Communist Party organizations during the 1930s. The case against Caldwell was open and shut, but the SWP leaders decided to cover up the truth.

    The articles written by London and published by the WSWS also contained another staggering revelation. It turns out that Max Shachtman and Albert Glotzer — the two principal leaders of the Workers Party — told Cannon that the FBI had infiltrated a high-level agent into the leadership of the SWP. This incredible piece of information, imparted by Shachtman and Glotzer, did not lead to any further investigation or action by the SWP leadership. However, based on official government documents (published by the International Committee), it is an established fact that Joseph Hansen offered his services to the FBI as an informer in the autumn of 1940, requesting a “confidential contact” to whom information could be imparted “with impunity.” There is no innocent explanation for this request. Hansen, as documents published by the International Committee established, met with Bernard Edwin Sackett, the FBI Special Agent in Charge of New York. Hansen’s relationship with the FBI, closely monitored by J. Edgar Hoover, explains why he — despite his critical role as Trotsky’s secretary in Mexico City — was not among the 18 members of the SWP indicted on sedition charges in 1941.

    At this point, it is worse than absurd to continue the defense of Hansen. The SWP membership and supporters were fed a pack of lies by the Barnes leadership, which owed its elevation to Hansen, and whose political legitimacy would have been shaken by the exposure of his criminal role as an agent-informer.

    If SWP members had not been so quick to denounce and dismiss the ICFI’s investigation into FBI penetration, it might not have been so easy for Jack Barnes and his Carleton associates to organize and carry out the purge of several hundred veteran SWP members in the mid-1980s and bring to an end the party’s association with Trotskyism.

    Louis Proyect’s use of swear words and childish invective will not impress anyone who actually takes the time to read London’s finely researched articles and devotes the necessary time to studying the “Security and the Fourth International” investigation.

    One final point: back in the 1970s and early 1980s, SWP leaders would instruct party members not to read the material published in the Bulletin, newspaper of the Workers League (forerunner of the Socialist Equality Party). Branch officers stood outside party meetings to make sure that SWP members did not accept copies of articles being circulated by WL people. That was how it was in the old days. But now, that type of censorship can’t be successfully enforced. The WSWS has an incredible circulation for a socialist publication, and it is widely followed — including by Louis Proyect.

    Comment by Bill Crivens — September 14, 2018 @ 9:22 pm

  19. I forgot to mention that Luis Mercader, the brother of Trotsky’s murderer went to school and studied in the USSR, and worked there as electrical or electronic engineer, developing among others multi-channel wireless transmission techniques for telephone and data lines. The most interesting parts were his description of the utter inefficiency of the USSR industry, and the efforts he had to take to leave his job in industry for a place at a university (one could not simply change the workplace, but only when the outgoing enterprise was giving back is work book, since without the work book which registers the whole career, one can’t apply for a job. And his efforts to go back to Spain after the Franco-fascist regime had at least partially been destroyed at the end of the 1970ies.

    Comment by Lüko Willms — September 14, 2018 @ 9:34 pm

  20. One final point: back in the 1970s and early 1980s, SWP leaders would instruct party members not to read the material published in the Bulletin, newspaper of the Workers League (forerunner of the Socialist Equality Party).

    That’s like being instructed not to eat the urinal cakes in the Grand Central Station men’s bathroom.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 14, 2018 @ 9:40 pm

  21. Once again, you cannot present a serious and reasoned analysis of facts. Instead, you respond with obscene and morally-degraded invective. For whom are you writing? Who do you expect to convince? Politically serious people will be disgusted by the way your respond to arguments grounded in facts. Moreover, your language is not that of a socialist. It is of a type employed by declassed and demoralized lumpen elements. It is not the language of the left, but of the political right.

    Comment by Bill Crivens — September 14, 2018 @ 10:20 pm

  22. What makes you think I want to discuss or debate anything with you people? Writing articles for the past 7 years cheering on Assad. I might as well want to discuss socialism with a supporter of Duterte, Modi or Putin.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 14, 2018 @ 10:55 pm

  23. So you want to change the subject? You won’t deal with the facts exposing Hansen’s role as an FBI informant because the WSWS opposes US imperialism’s current regime change operation in Syria! Actually, there is a connection between your defense of Hansen and your position on Syria. In both cases, you function as a political accomplice of US imperialism.

    Comment by Bill Crivens — September 15, 2018 @ 1:11 am

  24. You support Assad in the same way that Gerry Healy supported Gaddafi. You love strong men, especially someone like Healy who could force a young female comrade to suck his dick–a Trotskyist version of Harvey Weinstein and 10 times uglier.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 15, 2018 @ 1:16 am

  25. Strange how Bill Crivens constructs an accusation of Joseph Hansen attributing him a “criminal role as an agent-informer” when after the murder of Trotsky, for whom Hansen worked in Coyoacan, and by an individual with shady connections via USA tried to pass information to the US police for the prosecution of the assasin and his helpers. Caveat: I don’t know about this purported attempt to pass information on the conspiracy to kill the old Bolshevik Trotsky. It might have been invented by the agents of general mistrust of each one by each one, the most effective way to destroy organisations which try to fight the ruling class.

    If the FBI really had played a role in the conspiracy to kill Trotsky, and it might have had an interest, then Bill Criven’s screaming accusations against the victims serves rather to create a smoke screen hiding the hand for the FBI. You will always find the actual police agents as the noisiest racketeers shouting “find the spy!” creating the atmosphere of general suspicion and mistrust of all against all. Lenin’s dealing with Malinovsky is the right way.

    Besides, I think it was necessary to get rid of this “Trotskyism” which meant to worship those moments of Trotsky where he was wrong against Lenin, not his work to preserve and pass on to new generations Lenin’s legacy, e.g. how to fight fascism and build a united front with the ultimate goal to take power.

    Comment by Lüko Willms — September 15, 2018 @ 6:11 am

  26. The case of Robert Sheldon Harte (alluded to earlier) needs a bit more detail because:-

    a) He may have been a completely innocent victim (as Trotsky insisted at the time)
    b) Gerry Healy supported the accusation he was a Stalinist agent in order to pursue his frame-up of the US SWP’s leadership
    c) There were different opinions amongst the former guards in Coyoacan
    d) The Soviet sources disagree.

    Walter Rourke , one of the American guards at Coyoacan, wrote a defence of Robert Sheldon Harte in
    Fourth International, vol.3 No.5, May 1942 (available online at the MIA)

    He believed Harte was duped into opening the gate by someone he knew.
    This account was supported by Pavel Sudoplatov, the NKVD officer who organised the second attack on Trotsky in August 1940.
    He identified the person Harte recognised as Joseph Grigulevich, an NKVD illegal whose father owned a drugstore in Argentina.
    Grigulevich was known in Trotskyist circles, but not suspected of being a Stalinist agent.

    According to Sudoplatov, Grigulevich knocked on the gate, which Harte half-opened.
    This allowed the Siqueiros gang to storm the building.
    Trotsky, Natalia and their grandson only survived because the gang shot through a closed bedroom door.
    Sudoplatov said that Harte was killed because he’d recognised Grigulevich.

    P. Sudoplatov “Special Tasks” Warner 1994 p.74

    However, ALEX BUCHMAN, another of Trotsky’s American guards, always believed that Harte let in the Siqueiros gang deliberately.
    Buchman, who died in 2003, didn’t admit to his doubts until the Soviet archives were opened in 1992
    See “Alexander Buchman’s Revolutionary Life” by Susan Weissman
    ‘Against the Current ‘2003 (reprinted in “Solidarity” and on the MIA

    Initially the Mexican CP denounced the May 1940 attack and expelled some of those involved as “uncontrollable elements”
    But a few months later its trade union front began a campaign for the release of Siqueiros.

    In 1953, following Stalin’s death and Beria’s execution, Sudoplatov was imprisoned
    The following year, his close colleague Nahum Eitingon originated a story that Harte was an NKVD recruit who’d had “second thoughts” about killing Trotsky
    It’s worth pointing out Eitingon was a past master at sowing discord by “agent-baiting”.
    He once seeded a story that 20 Russians working for the Japanese were double agents, leading to their execution.
    It’s also quite possible that the Soviet Archives have been tampered with.

    Harte may indeed have been an innocent victim, as Walter Rourke’s detailed 1942 article suggests.

    p.s. In post #16 I should have wrote *41* years after Security & the Fourth International was published the Healyites are
    peddling the same lousy old politics.

    After its failure to persuade anyone, Healy spent most of his time writing nonsense about dialectical materialism and philosophy, which tends to confirm the Einstein quote.

    Comment by prianikoff — September 15, 2018 @ 11:17 am

  27. »sowing discord by “agent-baiting”« – that is the worst thing which can happen to a revolutionary party. Thanks prianikoff for that formulation.

    Leonardo Paduro tells all the above in vivid colors in his fact based novel about “The Man who loved the dogs”. Three intertwined threads telling the history of Leon Trotsky from his exile in Almata until his assasination, the history of his murderer Ramón Mercader, and that of an Cuban journalist and would be novelist who meets this mysterius man who loved the dogs at one of the beaches east of Havana. Highly recommended again.

    Comment by Lüko Willms — September 15, 2018 @ 9:20 pm

  28. At this late stage of the comments, which have degenerated into ad hominem invective, I would like to add this: In the early 1970s I was a writer for the SWP’s Intercontinental Press when Joe Hansen was its editor. The journal had the highest standards and its quality can be attributed mostly to Joe’s meticulous editing and admirable work ethic. I consider it an honor to have worked on Joe’s staff. I also knew several of Trotsky’s guards while I was in the SWP’s Minneapolis branch. None of them apparently ever had the slightest inkling that Joe was an agent of the class enemy. I myself have in the past been called an FBI agent by gay activists who didn’t agree with my radical politics on sex issues. But I was then, and may still be, the only gay activist who had some of his own FBI file, and in it J. Edgar Hoover says not to even contact me because of my “devotion to socialism.”

    Comment by David Thorstad — September 16, 2018 @ 2:19 pm

  29. This certainly has been the longest thread on Louis’ blog in a long time and indeed generated much invective. Perhaps a last word from the man who actually ran Operation DUCK (the operation(s) to kill Trotsky) is in order. After all the talk here I went and dug out the memoirs of General Pavel Sudoplatov, “Special Tasks.” The title is in reference to an outfit he ran, the Administration for Special Tasks, which in turn directed the infamous worldwide killer squads from the late 1930’s to the start of WWII — known as the “mobile groups.” He discusses the Trotsky operation on pp. 65-86. In short, he says there was only one agent in Trotsky’s immediate entourage in the late 30’s to 1940 and that was Maria de la Sierra, who was his secretary in Norway and briefly in Mexico. She provided the floor plan of Trotsky’s villa to the NKVD. de la Sierra was replaced by Sylvia Ageloff and Ramon Mercader used a relationship with her to gain access to Trotsky and, of course, Ageloff had no idea who he was and what he was really up to. After General Alexander Orlov fled from Spain to the U.S. de la Sierra had been withdrawn because the NKVD knew Orlov was aware she worked for the Soviet Union and might tip Trotsky off. In fact, Orlov did warn Trotsky (anonymously) via letter from the U.S. that teams of assassins were after him — but did not mention de la Sierra’s name, he simply said he was in danger and not to hire anyone coming from Spain. Supoplatov also says that Robert Harte was killed because he recognized, from a previous meeting, the man first through the gate during the first attempt to kill Trotsky, one Joseph Grigulevich. According to Supoplatov, Harte was not working for the NKVD. To this day there is a small memorial to Harte outside the gate at Trotsky’s villa.

    Comment by Charlie Trew — September 16, 2018 @ 3:33 pm

  30. The roots of WSWS skepticism about Me Too and sexual harassment is kind of obvious when one reads about Healy.

    Comment by purple — September 19, 2018 @ 11:07 am

  31. seems likely to me hansen became an fbi informant after the assassination, but not in any way NKVD. i knew one of the guards, have a page and some pictures of the compound here. including one very interesting picture taken from the guard tower looking down at the garage entrance to the compound. (first link on the page) you can almost imagine Mercadors car parked next to the little trees.


    i dont have any axe to grind over the politics involved. Harold Robbins of course was one of the main accusers of Hansen. Someone upstream said he said charges were ridiculous. This is 180 degrees opposite the truth. Look up the publication in the mid 70’s. My friend who was there the day it happened, never said a word against (or for) Hansen that i have found. I think he lost interest in the organization when he left it about the time Natalia quit.

    Comment by frfly — October 20, 2019 @ 4:57 pm

  32. How does O’Brien become the touchstone of truth here?! Because he’s friends with Joe Hansen? That’s ridiculous. You’ve outdone yourself this time, Louis. All you’ve got here is a bunch of your usual anti-hard Left smears, the “anti-sectarianism” of the sectarian Pabloite “Left.” in full flower.

    Comment by thomassmith21 — January 3, 2020 @ 11:59 am

  33. On the matter of SWP policies concerning the distribution of materials by members of the Workers League “back in the 1970s and early 1980s”. I can’t comment more extensively but I stood outside the 80th birthday party celebration for James Cannon in February 1970 in Los Angeles and after selling the Bulletin and distributing a leaflet, I and other supporters of the Workers League were invited into the meeting. I was disturbed by the fact that one of the people (I didn’t know him) I had journeyed to the meeting with from San Diego had a very impressive camera and was allowed by the SWP to go around the room taking pictures of anyone and everyone present. I had a few discussions with older SWP members. They were working class (cab driver, teamster, auto worker). The meeting began and I remember Cannon giving a “we’re handing the torch off to the younger generation” address. Hansen spoke and his attitude was summed up by his assertion that “after Stalingrad the triumph of socialism was inevitable”. Needless to say, I was not impressed by the remarks made or the SWP’s attitude towards security but no one prevented me from interacting with members. Just the opposite. As far as Hansen and the GPU/FBI? I don’t see the proof one way or the other. I do think the claim that he was somehow implicated in the murder of Tom Henehan in 1977 at a social activity of the Young Socialists is preposterous and from what I understand David North first admitted that and then withdrew his admission during the 1985 collapse of the WRP.

    Comment by Ed — June 18, 2020 @ 8:06 pm

  34. A former colleague had a Healy interrogation story.
    Healy dragged him into his office, sat him down and said “your a spy”. “no I’m not”. “we found out your father is an intelligence officer in the Australian navy”, “no my dad’s a miner”, “are you Richard Phillips”, “no”, “argh, all you Australians look the same”.

    Comment by Jamie Anderson — March 28, 2021 @ 10:20 pm

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