The Strange Case of Provocateur Alan Gelfand
Healyite Slanders and SWP Cowards
We reprint below and exchange of correspondence between the Spartacist League (SL) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The SWP was for 35 years the Trotskyist organization in this country, but in the early 1960s it abandoned Trotskyism in all but name and, passing rapidly through centrism, transformed itself into and eccentric reformist formation.
In our last issue, WV explored the internal wrangling now at an advanced stage in the SWP (see “Barnestown, U.S.A.” WV No. 320, 31 December 1982). We laid particular emphasis on SWP head Jack Barnes’ ongoing purge of survivors of the old revolutionary party, noting that the SWP’s decisive break from Trotskyism did not automatically expunge all aspects of human and organizational continuity with the old party.
“Long after the Trotskyist content was gone, some elements of basicWe noted that the “age purge” process unleashed by Barnes, particularly following the death of SWP revisionist theoretician Joseph Hansen in 1979, had systematically destroyed those residues, citing in particular, “the very strange case of Alan Gelfand” as a demonstration of the hard-to-believe ineptness of todays SWP.
organizational competence and professionalism still functioned... something that could still organize a demonstration, write a polemic, co-opt an opponent, run a defense case... ”
Alan Gelfand is a lawyer and a political agent of the Gerry Healy group, an unstable and sinister British-based tendency which after years of shamelessly opportunist political banditry jumped from the ranks of the workers movement into the political service of certain Arab governments. In 1979 Gelfand sued the SWP in Federal court.
The very strange case of Alan Gelfand began in 1977 when Gelfand surfaced in the Los Angeles SWP as a mouthpiece for Healy’s “Security and the Fourth International” slander campaign against the SWP. The campaign, launched in the Healyite press in 1975, claimed that the central leaders of the SWP were actually long-time agents of the capitalist and Stalinist secret police. In particular, the slander campaign targeted Joseph Hansen, who had served as secretary to Leon Trotsky in Mexico, as an “accomplice” to the assassination of Trotsky by the Stalinist GPU in 1940.
Healy’s loathsome lies – echoing the discredited Stalinist tales that Trotsky’s murder was carried out by his own people – were an assault not only against the SWP of today but against the revolutionary past of the SWP whose Trotskyist work we claim as part of our own history. So the Spartacist League campaigned actively against Healy’s slanders, including picketing Healyite meetings with signs demanding, “Who Gave Healy His Security Clearance?”
Much of Healy’s smear campaign centered on Hansen’s role as a main SWP contact with the bourgeois authorities in the investigation of Trotsky’s murder. This confidential work, testifying to Hansen’s position of trust in the Trotskyist movement, constituted the core of Healy’s “evidence.” In 1975-76 Hansen published point-by-point refutations of Healy’s claims as well as statements of support from prominent left political spokesmen (including Spartacist national chairman James Robertson), veterans of the Trotskyist movement of Trotsky’s time, etc. These materials effectively laid Healy’s baseless slanders to rest.
Indeed, Healy's “evidence,” where there is any, itself refutes Healy’s claims. For example, prominently featured in the Healyites’ press was a letter from Hansen to the American Consul in Mexico City (regarding the Trotskyists’ attempts to unravel the identiy of Trotsky’s assassin). Healy claims that this shows secret contact between Hansen and the FBI behind the backs of the SWP. Unfortunately for Healy, Hansen’s letter gives as his return address 116 University Place in New York – which was at the time the SWP’s own national headquarters.
The Gelfand lawsuit is the latest round in Healy’s scurrilous, paranoid vendetta. In January 1979 the SWP discovered to its horror that Gelfand had filed a “friend of the court” brief in the SWP’s own lawsuit against the FBI. Gelfand was hastily expelled from the SWP on January 11. He then brought suit against the SWP charging the expulsion resulted from FBI control of the party, and citing all of Healy’s crazy lies to “prove” it. Gelfand's suit claims the government has the right to intervene in the internal life of left organizations, ostensibly to enforce their adherence to their own rules. It would be difficult to overstate the danger posed by this case, which if upheld would give the capitalist state a license to “regulate” the internal life of working-class organizations. That in this case the disgruntled ex-“member” was from the outset evidently a Healyite plant only adds insult to injury.
Nothing to Cover Up, But SWP Covers Up Anyway
The uninformed observer might imagine that the SWP, in elementary self-defense, would seek broad support for its rights and its good name in this important legal case, much as Hansen did when Healy’s “accomplice” smear first started. But the uninformed observer would be reckoning without Jack Barnes’ singular capacity for political stupidity. Incredibly, the SWP’s public press has said not one single word about the Gelfand case since it began! Apparently Barnes & Co. made a deliberate decision to treat the lawsuit as some kind of guilty secret – as if Healy’s threadbare lies were impossible to answer. This is a crime not only against the members of the SWP but against the late Joe Hansen and all the founding Trotskyist leaders whose reputations are being dragged through the mud. The SWP’s failure to mount a vigorous public counterattack aimed at mobilizing support against Gelfand’s provocation is equally a crime against all working-class organizations, who have the right and the duty to smash Gelfand’s precedent for government snooping and witchhunting against the left.
In August 1982, the newspaper of the American Healyites, the Bulletin, gleefully reported that the SWP’s motion for summary judgment in the Gelfand case had been denied. In October 1982, Rachel Wolkenstein on behalf of the SL wrote to the SWP asking for information enabling us to cover the lawsuit in our own press. We think the letter speaks for itself, as does the SWP’s two-sentence reply to us.
The SL’s expressed interest in the case probably helped the SWP to figure out that the issue could not be buried forever. In any case, the SWP National Committee plenum held in December was embarassedly self-critical about the public silence. The SWP finally made some public acknowledgement of the case at the convention of its youth group in Chicago over New Year’s. But incredibly, the report did not mention the Healyites at all, much less their year-long slander campaign against Hansen. If ever a policy were guaranteed to lend credence to Healy’s baseless slanders, this is it.
Instead of covering over the “Healy connection,” the SWP should acquaint the American radical public with Healy’s long and sordid history of going to the capitalist courts against his political opponents. In England right now, Healy is pursuing a vicious two-year legal effot to muzzle and bankrupt a small socialist current on the fringes of the Labour Party, the “Socialist Organizer” grouping of Sean Matgamna. Taking exception to some hostile political characterizations of the Healy organization which appeared in a January 1981 Socialist Organizer article, Healy simply sued for “libel” under Britain's draconian libel laws. When Matgamna complained, the Healyites gave the rich man’s answer, coyly suggesting the little group should hire itself sime good barristers.
The SWP is unfortunately not unique in its criminally sectarian refusal to mount an aggressive public defense against legal provocation. Progressive Labor (PL), the target of a vicious civil suit by the Los Angeles police, similarly rejects the support of other left organizations, all of whom have a stake in a PL victory over this assault on their existence and rights.
One doesn’t have to agree with or even like the SWP or PL to recognize the need for substantial and urgent support in these important cases. In this spirit, we are publishing the Wolkenstein letter and the SWP’s reply for the information of our readers.
__________________________Rachel H. Wolkenstein
Attorney at Law
New York, New York
Attorney at Law
Socialist Workers Party
410 West Street
New York, New York
Dear Ms. Davis:
In my telephone conversation with you on 5 October 1982 I requested access to and a coy of the public court record of Gelfand vs. SWP, et al. This request was made on behalf of the Spartacist League/U.S. and the international Spartacist tendency (iSt). Although this record is available to the public from the federal court clerk in Los Angeles, California, given the location and volume of the file, I thought it expeditious to try to secure access to and a copy of the court recourd from your office. Additionally, I have since learned that permission is needed from one of the attorneys on the lawsuit to gain access to the depositions taken of the Socialist Workers Party defendants. Of course, I offered to pay all costs for copying.
Your response, after consultation with your client, was to inform me that the request must be “made in writing, on official letterhead, containing the reasons for the request.” Since those reasons were given to you in our phone conversation, I am perplexed as to the rationale for this prerequisite to determining whether you will assist th Spartacist League/iSt in obtaining access to the Gelfand court record. However, because of the seriousness of the issues posed by this lawsuit, compelling the Spartacist League/iSt to take a stand, the reasons for this request are restated herein.
The Spartacist League/iSt became aware of the gravity of this lawsuit after the appearance of an article in the August 6, 1982 issue of the Bulletin stating that a Federal District Court judge denied the Socialist Workers Party defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Reportedly, the court held this case for trial after finding factual suport for Gelfand’s claim that his expulsion from the SWP was due to government manipulation and control of the SWP.
It is apparent that Gelfand’s case was instituted and is financed by the Workers League/ Workers Revolutionary Party/ International Committee of the Fourth International. This lawsuit is a continuation of Gerry Healy’s vicious slander campaign against Joseph Hansen, accusing him of having been an agent of the GPU/FBI, implicated in the assassination of Leon Trotsky. It has been and continues to be the position of the Spartacist League /iSt that those charges are manifestly groundless. This slander campaign against Joseph Hansen constitutes and attack on the entire SWP leadership around Trotsky and Cannon, posing directly the question of Healyism versus Trotskyism.
The Spartacist League/iSt is publicly on record in vehement opposition to these slanders. James Robertson, National Chairman of the Spartacist League signed a statement circulated by the SWP in 1976 entitled, “A Shameless Frame-Up.” Since 1975 the Spartacist League /iSt has held demonstrations against the Workers League/RWP asking, “Who Gave Healy His Security Clearance?” Thus it is with the utmost concern and outrage that the Spartacist League/iSt views this most recent addition to the Healyite frame-up campaign, this time invoking the government’s courts against the Socialist Workers Party.
While the Spartacist League/iSt takes no position on the question of whether Gelfand’s rights as a member of the SWP were violated in the expulsion process, it is clear that asking the courts to make that determination is a violation of workers democracy. The case presents a dangerous precedent for all working class organizations.
The Spartacist League/iSt believes that a vigorous, aggressive counter-attack must be made against the Gelfand lawsuit. However, to date, the available information on this case has been in the press of the Workers League. There does not appear to have been any information on or excerpts from this lawsuit in the pages of the Militant or Intercontinental Press.
The Spartacist League/iSt is necessarily interested in examining the “evidence” submitted by Gelfand in support of his allegations of government dominion over the Socialist Workers Party as well as examining the development of the legal defense and counteroffensives taken by the SWP defendants. To the extent the Spartacist League/iSt has concrete information in hand, particularly the court record, then to that extent it will be able to be more categorical in publicly dealing with the vital issues of workers democracy involved. The deliberate introduction of the bourgeois state into the life of private political organizations does have a history; this has been used in England by racist/fascist organizations during their quarrels and splits. Is it now to be imported into socialist organizations in the United States? This must be fought.
I trust that an expeditious reply will be given to this request (in writing).
Rachel H. Wolkenstein
cc Spartacist League/iSt
* * *
October 28, 1982
c/o Rachel Wolkenstein
New York, N.Y.
This is in response to your letter, postmarked October 21, which has been referred to me for reply.
The Socialist Workers Party will not provide any assistance to the Spartacist League.
Socialist Workers Party