An “Exemplary Comrade”: The Socialist Workers Party’s 40-year-long cover-up of Stalinist spy Sylvia Callen: Part three

By Eric London
16 August 2018

In May 1947 the Socialist Workers Party received information that Sylvia Callen, the personal secretary of long-time party leader James P. Cannon, was an agent of the Soviet secret police, the GPU. It quickly became clear that Callen had concealed critical personal information about her Stalinist background when she joined the SWP in 1938. For nearly nine years Callen had high-level and unrestricted access to the party’s most sensitive information. However, rather than exposing Callen’s murderous role as spy within the Trotskyist movement, the Socialist Workers Party launched a cover-up that lasted for nearly 40 years. What follows is a historical account of the cover-up and its exposure by the International Committee of the Fourth International.

Part one | Part two | Part three | Part four

The ICFI Locates Sylvia Callen

The SWP’s defense of Callen made it critical to locate the former agent. In 1976, the Workers League (predecessor of the Socialist Equality Party), initiated a search to find Callen. Without the benefit of modern-day search engines, it was necessary to reconstruct the biography of this dedicated and ruthless American GPU agent who was able to spy on and betray without remorse people with whom she worked on a daily basis for almost a decade. She was absolutely indifferent to the human impact, which included murder, of her actions.

In order to locate Callen it was necessary to discover the name under which she was living. The November 1960 federal indictment that named her as a co-conspirator in the GPU spy ring led by Robert Soblen and Jack Soble identified her only by her maiden name, Callen. However, through an examination of court documents, David North, the national secretary of the Workers League, was able to ascertain that Callen had been living in Wheaton, Illinois, at the time of her indictment.

Callen left Wheaton shortly after the conclusion of the Soblen trial. But there was a paper trail that could be followed. In the early 1950s Callen had divorced her husband and co-GPU agent, Zalmond Franklin, who died in 1958. Callen married her second husband, James Doxsee, a member or fellow-traveler of the Communist Party who worked for ABC. Together they had three children, whom they raised in Wheaton. Her pleasant middle-class life was disturbed only by visits from the FBI and two extensive federal grand jury interrogations, the first in 1954 and the second in 1958.

GPU agent Sylvia Callen, pictured in Wheaton, Illinois in 1977

After selling their home in Wheaton, James and Sylvia Doxsee relocated to a nearby West Chicago suburb. The domesticated Mrs. Doxsee was careful to conceal her past, refusing to allow her family and few friends to take pictures of her. In the mid-1970s, the Doxsees sold their home and purchased an RV, which became their mobile residence. Much of their time was spent driving through Central America.

However, in May 1977 the Doxsees returned to Wheaton to visit James’ aging mother. North had been able to establish Callen’s new married name. He learned in advance of the Doxsees’ planned visit to Wheaton, where they had reserved a space for their RV in a local trailer park. He and Alex Mitchell, who was then the editor of the News Line, the publication of the Workers Revolutionary Party (British section of the International Committee), located Sylvia Callen-Franklin-Caldwell-Doxsee at this trailer park in Wheaton.

On May 9, 1977, North and Mitchell went to the Doxsee’s trailer and confronted the ex-GPU spy.

When asked about her political past, Doxsee (aka Callen, Caldwell, Franklin) acknowledged working as Cannon’s secretary, but sought to brush aside her years in the SWP as a minor episode in her life. As the Bulletin, newspaper of the Workers League, reported on May 31, 1977, Doxsee said: “I don’t see why it’s even important. I was never really in politics. I never read. I never understood it. I was just an immature child, that’s about all I can say… It’s like I blacked it out. All that period of my life.” [52]

Regarding James P. Cannon, with whom she had closely worked on a day-by-day basis for almost a decade, Doxsee said with unconcealed contempt, “He wasn’t an important man, in my opinion. Is he? What part did he play in the world?”

Pressed by North and Mitchell to explain why she was indicted as a co-conspirator in a GPU spy ring, Doxsee feigned amnesia. The following exchange was reported in the Bulletin:

Question: This is an official document. Grand Jury, 1960, in which your name is mentioned right here, Sylvia Callen.

Franklin: Grand Jury charges!

Question: Yes. All I would like to ask you is why were you named on this indictment? That’s all I’d like to ask you.

Franklin: I can’t believe it!

Another document was shown to her.

Question: Here as well is your name on the list of witnesses the Government was going to call.

Franklin: My God!

Question: You have no explanation for your name.

Franklin: No, but the FBI came to see me here.

Question: Why did they come to see you?

Franklin: I don’t know. I had a mental breakdown afterwards so it must have been pretty terrible.

Question: So why…

Franklin: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it.

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. [53]

Reba and Joseph Hansen hiding from the camera

After the publication of the interview with Sylvia Doxsee-Franklin-Caldwell-Callen on May 31, 1977, Hansen responded in an Intercontinental Press article on June 20, 1977 titled “Healyites Escalate Frame-up of Trotskyist Leaders.” In the article, Hansen attempted to cast doubt on what he called the “purported” interview, stating that the ICFI had “escalated their slanders on the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party.” [54]

Hansen attacked the Security and the Fourth International investigation by referencing the 1947 Control Commission:

“The members of this select body of witch-hunters [i.e. the ICFI] commit themselves to a slander they had previously only hinted at; namely, that the control commission set up by the Socialist Workers Party in 1947 to examine the rumours circulating about Caldwell was ‘rigged.’”

He continued:

“If there was a cover-up, if the control commission was rigged, if no control commission was held at all—as the Healyites now allege—then the main guilt clearly falls on James P. Cannon, one of the founders of the Fourth International. In accordance with the logic of the Big Lie as practiced by the Healyites, Cannon must be listed as an ‘accomplice of the GPU,’ if not worse.

“This is only the beginning. If Cannon was an ‘accomplice’ or ‘agent’ of the GPU, then the entire top leadership of the SWP associated with him must be similarly listed, for they obviously participated in staging the alleged control commission fraud, whether by helping to rig it or, if it was not held at all, by making out—along with Cannon—that it had been held.

“How far back did such fraudulent practices go? Was Cannon an accomplice or agent of the GPU when he founded American Trotskyism? When he collaborated with Trotsky in founding the Fourth International? Was his long battle against Stalinism a sham? Were his close relations with Trotsky a cover up for a secret connection with Stalin? Just whom did Cannon use as willing tools in working for the GPU—for instance, in the alleged fake control commission?” [55]

On June 25, 1977, North, in an article published in the News Line responded to Hansen’s claims in an article titled “Hansen’s Big Lie Grows Bigger.” After quoting the above paragraphs, North wrote:

“All this comes straight from the pen of Joseph Hansen! He is charged with covering up the activities of GPU agents, and so he replies by trying to frighten SWP members with the suggestion that his guilt makes Cannon a Stalinist agent! He is trying to intimidate the SWP membership and bully them into silence by telling them how terrible the consequences will be if the International Committee’s charges against him are proven correct.

“Hansen deals with his members like an airplane hijacker with a bomb in his hand who waves it above his head and shouts at the passengers ‘Anyone tries to stop me and we’ll all be blown to kingdom come!’

“What is clear is that Hansen will stop at nothing to save his own political neck. Hansen is not protecting Cannon; he’s using Cannon; he’s using Cannon to save himself.” [56]

The fact that Hansen resorted to this desperate method precisely on the question of the 1947 Control Commission shows just how central it was to Hansen’s “narrative.” As North wrote:

“This is Hansen at his tricks again. He doesn’t give a straightforward answer: was the SWP control commission rigged or wasn’t it? Instead, he drags in James P. Cannon in order to hide behind his grave. Why doesn’t he leave Cannon out of it? The International Committee has made no accusations against Cannon. We’ve accused Hansen! It’s Hansen’s favourite trick to immediately conjure up Cannon’s Ghost the moment he himself is challenged.” [57]

The publication of the ICFI’s interview with Sylvia Callen-Doxsee and the calling into question of the 1947 Control Commission produced anxiety among the SWP leadership and the Stalinist bureaucracy. Those involved in penetrating the Trotskyist movement had good reason to believe the Security and the Fourth International investigation would publish further revelations exposing the GPU infiltration of the Trotskyist movement.

Tom Henehan, 26-year-old member of the Workers League Political Committee, murdered in 1977 after Hansen warned of "deadly consequences" to Security and the Fourth International investigation

Hansen responded by adopting the methods of Stalinist intimidation, attempting to create a threatening atmosphere of provocation against the ICFI. Unable to challenge the damning implications of the Callen interview, Hansen wrote, “The Healyites are quite capable of initiating physical violence against other sectors of the labor movement.” In the same article, he threatened the International Committee, warning it that Security and the Fourth International would bring “deadly consequences.” [58]

Less than four months later, on October 16, 1977, Tom Henehan, a 26-year-old member of the Workers League Political Committee, was assassinated in New York City by two professional gunmen while supervising a public party event. Though the killers were quickly identified, the New York police refused to make any arrests. Finally, after a three-year campaign waged by the Workers League, the gunmen were arrested, placed on trial, and convicted in July 1981 of second-degree murder. Following the trial, the private detective who had investigated the case for the defense attorney informed North that “the word on the street” was that the killing was a “hit.”

The Gelfand case and the Franklin grand jury transcripts

In August 1977, Alan Gelfand, an SWP member and a public defender in Los Angeles, obtained copies of the Security and the Fourth International documents circulated by Workers League members outside the SWP’s National Convention in Oberlin, Ohio. [59]

Gelfand asked other SWP members about the documents and particularly the 1940 State Department and FBI memos that referenced Hansen’s meeting with the GPU and with the US government.

In response, Gelfand was given different explanations. Some SWP members told him the documents were forgeries, either by the Workers League or the FBI. Others, including SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes, told Gelfand the documents were legitimate but that the SWP had instructed Hansen to contact US government agencies to obtain information about Trotsky’s assassination. SWP leaders also claimed that all the allegations made by the International Committee had been fully answered in a party internal bulletin that was provocatively titled, “Healy’s Big Lie.”

"Healy's Big Lie." The SWP mobilized the international Pabloite movement to slander Security and the Fourth International

After the convention, Gelfand carefully studied this internal bulletin and concluded that the answers were contradicted by documents uncovered by the Security and the Fourth International investigation after its publication.

Gelfand continued to ask for discussion regarding Hansen’s connections to the GPU and United States agencies, and of Callen’s connections to the GPU. The SWP leadership repeatedly barred him from speaking to other members about his concerns. Gelfand realized that the cover-up must be tied to the activity of high level state agents still operating within the party.

In December 1978, Gelfand filed an amicus curiae brief in support of a lawsuit by the SWP related to the FBI’s surveillance of the movement through COINTELPRO. This lawsuit, which had been initiated by the SWP primarily as a fundraising activity, was not being conducted with the intention of exposing past or still active agents inside the party. In fact, the US government eventually settled the case by paying the SWP hundreds of thousands of dollars but without identifying a single agent that it had infiltrated into the party. In the course of the trial, the FBI admitted that between 1960 and 1976 there were 300 informants serving as members of the SWP.

Gelfand’s brief, however, referenced the history of FBI and GPU penetration of the movement, and the recent revelations concerning Callen and Hansen to further demonstrate the need for the court to compel the government to identify the agents that had been sent into the SWP.

This demand outraged the SWP leadership, which accused Gelfand of violating party discipline. On January 5, 1979, SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes charged Gelfand with “undisciplined and disloyal behavior.” Six days later, on January 11, the SWP Political Committee expelled him. This was the last meeting of the SWP Political Committee attended by Joseph Hansen. He died in New York City exactly one week later, on January 18, 1979. Hansen was 68 years old.

In a letter to the SWP Political Committee, dated January 29, 1979, Gelfand stated that he had been purged from the SWP to block the exposure of agents inside the party. “This purge,” he wrote, “is the result of my persistent and principled fight over the last 18 months to obtain satisfactory answers and explanations to the various questions raised by Joseph Hansen’s and Sylvia Franklin’s relationship with the FBI and GPU.”

The Gelfand Case, the record of Gelfand v. Attorney General, published by the International Committee of the Fourth International in 1985

On July 18, 1979 Gelfand filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles, alleging that the government violated his First Amendment rights by infiltrating the SWP with agents who expelled him from the political party of his choosing. Gelfand named as defendants high US government officials—including the attorney general and the directors of the FBI and CIA—as well as leading members of the Socialist Workers Party.

The SWP immediately filed a motion to dismiss Gelfand’s lawsuit. Oral arguments were made before United States District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer on November 19, 1979.

In June 1980 Pfaelzer denied the SWP’s motion, finding that Gelfand’s complaint raised fundamental constitutional issues. She wrote that “the government 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.” [60]

Gelfand and his lawyers took depositions of many current and former SWP members. The first to be deposed was Sylvia Doxsee, who had relocated to an exclusive neighborhood along Chicago’s “Gold Coast.” In the course of her deposition, she invoked memory loss 231 times. She admitted, however, during the course of the deposition that she had previously appeared before at least two federal grand juries. Referencing her grand jury testimony, Doxsee-Callen said:

Q: Did you take the Fifth Amendment on any questions?

A: On some I did.

Q: How did you know to take the Fifth Amendment?

A: From reading the papers from the McCarthy’s thing. I copied it down, even what to say.

Q: Did you talk to anybody about when to use the Fifth Amendment?

A: No. I probably should have, but I’m just so dumb.

Q: What types of areas did you take the Fifth Amendment in?

A: Oh, I don’t remember.

Q: Well, would it be fair to say that certain questions you were willing to answer?

A: I don’t remember.

Q: Well, did you answer any questions?

A: That I don’t remember either. Maybe I didn’t answer any questions, I don’t know. [61]

Although grand jury proceedings are generally sealed, Gelfand’s attorneys petitioned a federal court in New York to release the transcripts of Sylvia Callen’s testimony of 1954 and 1958. This request was bitterly opposed by the SWP, which argued for continued secrecy on the basis that the “grand jury testimony is wholly irrelevant to any material issue in this litigation” and “should not be disclosed.”

The judge in New York released the transcripts to Judge Pfaelzer in Los Angeles. Pfaelzer, a liberal Democratic judge, was managing the case with extreme caution.

Her ruling in June 1980 had accepted that Gelfand’s expulsion from the SWP would be unconstitutional if engineered by government agents to prevent their own expulsion. However, as the case proceeded, Pfaelzer, the SWP, and the government sought to block Gelfand from accessing the evidence he would need to prove that his First Amendment right was denied by the government agents who expelled him from the SWP.

As Gelfand and his attorneys wrote in their closing brief on summary judgment:

“Legally, this case presents a double paradox. For the court, there is the tension between the enforcement of First Amendment rights on the one hand and the duty to protect claims of national security on the other. In denying the motions to dismiss, the court in ringing terms affirmed the right to political association free from governmental interference. By upholding the government’s claim of informer privilege on plaintiff’s motion to compel, however, the court demonstrated its sensitivity to the countervailing concerns. Rarely does a case require the reconciliation of two such fundamentally opposing legal principles.

“The plaintiff faces the other side of the coin. On the one hand he is told that, if he can prove that the leaders of the Party are agents of the United States government, he will establish the violation of his constitutional rights. Yet the most straightforward method of proof—examination of relevant government documents and direct responses to questions aimed at government agencies—has been denied to him.” [62]

Mark Zborowski, alias "Etienne," was located in San Francisco in August 1975 by the International Committee of the Fourth International. (Photo by David North)

Pfaelzer appeared concerned that Gelfand’s evidence-gathering efforts would lead to the publication of state secrets regarding the penetration of the SWP. When denying Gelfand’s request that Zborowski be compelled to testify, she said:

“Now, my feeling is that Mr. Zborowski, given the very nature of this case, when postured up against, since the case was filed, an enactment known as the Protection of Certain National Security Information, which has just become law this year, does or would run a possible risk of violating section 601(a) of that act, were he asked to identify either by name or description or anything else which might lead to the identity of possible intelligence agents who might be superficially participating in this Socialist Workers Party.

“And that act specifically provides that if any person has such information and knowingly discloses it, regardless of whatever the motivation, can be prosecuted, fined $50,000, and imprisoned up to ten years. And, therefore, I feel that his invoking the Fifth Amendment in that area, which is the pivotal point of this lawsuit, perhaps, nonetheless is a legitimate concern of the witness and his counsel that must be honored by this court. And, therefore, insofar as any invocation of the Fifth Amendment that has, up to now, been asserted in this deposition, I’m not going to order him to further answer.” [63]

The highest levels of the US government and military-intelligence apparatus were closely monitoring the case. A June 11, 1982 memorandum from Central Intelligence Agency General Counsel Stanley Sporkin to CIA Director William J. Casey cites the Gelfand case as an “item of major interest” for the CIA.

Referencing a request by Gelfand and his attorneys that the CIA and other state agencies reveal the identities of agents in the party, the recently-declassified CIA memo reads:

“In Gelfand v. Attorney General, DCI, et al., Gelfand claims that alleged CIA and FBI agents in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) expelled him from the party. In pretrial discovery, Gelfand submitted interrogatories asking the DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] whether 19 named SWP members are or have been CIA agents and whether CIA believes that one named individual is a Soviet intelligence agent. The DCI refused to answer the interrogatories on the ground that answering them would tend to reveal intelligence activities, sources, and methods. The U.S. District Court hearing the case upheld the DCI’s refusal to answer, holding that the DCI’s statutory responsibility to protect intelligence sources and methods and the CIA’s statutory exemption from any requirement to disclose the names or functions of CIA personnel justify the refusal to answer.” [64]

Under pressure from the government, Pfaelzer sought to restrict the focus of the trial to the narrow procedural issue of whether Gelfand technically violated party rules by continuing to press for answers on the Hansen and Callen exposures after the SWP leadership told him to stop.

When the proceedings began, Gelfand’s attorney, John Burton, asked Judge Pfaelzer to release the transcripts of the Callen grand jury transcripts that had been forwarded from New York. The judge replied that she would rule later on that request. Several further requests for the release of the transcripts were brushed aside. Her brusque demeanor and seemingly hostile attitude to Gelfand gave the impression that she would deny the request.

Jack Barnes, National Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party

On the last day of the trial, March 9, 1983, SWP National Secretary Barnes was called to testify. Apparently confident that Pfaelzer would not release the grand jury transcripts, Barnes not only defended Franklin. He concluded his testimony with an extraordinary tribute to this GPU agent:

Q: Now, was it your opinion at the time you received [Gelfand’s letter] that there was no evidence whatsoever to indicate that Sylvia Franklin was an agent of the GPU?

A: All the evidence is just the opposite. Her whole comportment not only when she was in the movement but everything that’s happened since she left indicates that she is exactly what she was: a loyal, hard-working, and model member of our movement.

Q: That is still your opinion today?

A: Well, my opinion today is she is one of my heroes after the harassment and what she’s been through the last couple of years. I would even feel more strongly about her, her character, than I did then.

Q: Now, was Sylvia Franklin the subject of an SWP Control Commission investigation?

A: No. Sylvia Franklin was not the subject of an SWP Control Commission. Sylvia Caldwell was invited to an SWP Control Commission hearing to discuss the fact of the Shachtmanites were spreading this rumor. The control commission had their hearing and then they passed a motion saying, one, that there is zero evidence that there is anything connected with this rumor that could be true and, number two, which of course is the key of why they met, to request of the Shachtmanites to cease spreading this rumor because of that. [65]

These lies may have proved too much for Pfaelzer. Following Barnes’ testimony, Pfaelzer suddenly released the transcripts of both the 1954 and 1958 grand jury hearings. While Pfaelzer shielded Barnes from exposure on the witness stand, these transcripts nevertheless decisively answered, with Callen’s own words, the question of her role as a GPU agent inside the SWP.

In her 1954 testimony, Callen employed the tactic that she would later use when confronted by North and Mitchell in 1977 and during her 1980 deposition, i.e., memory loss. In 1954, Callen did confirm that she had been married to Franklin, and that they had attended meetings of the Stalinist Young Communist League. But in response to crucial questions, such as whether she had met with Louis Budenz, Callen stated: “I can’t answer that because of possible self-incrimination,” invoking her Fifth Amendment privilege. [66]

In her second grand jury appearance, on June 18, 1958, Callen was more forthcoming. She realized that the grand jury was preparing indictments for an espionage case against her former GPU handler, Robert Soblen, and that she was facing the danger of a lengthy prison term, if not the death penalty, on charges of treason.

The US government attorney began his interrogation by reminding Callen (now addressed as “Mrs. Doxsee”) of problems that arose during her 1954 appearance:

Q. You do recall testifying before a grand jury?

A. Oh, yes.

Q. And you do recall, Mrs. Doxsee, that at that time your memory was not as good as it might be?

A. Yes.

Q. And have you since that time tried to improve your memory as best as you could?

A. Yes, I have.

Q. And have you talked over the matters with your husband?

A. Yes.

Q. And do you feel that you are beginning to remember some things that you had difficulty with before.

A. Yes. [67]

Callen told the story of her role as an agent inside the SWP. She recalled how she was paid to hand over confidential information from the desk of James Cannon to two leading GPU spies, Dr. Gregory Rabinowitz—the “Roberts” Budenz worked with—and Jack Soble, the brother of Robert Soblen. Under examination by a government attorney, the transcript of her testimony read, in part:

Q: If I can make a little resume here, Miss Doxsee, you say then that you joined the Young Communist League in the middle thirties, but after you joined the Young Communist League and at the suggestion from someone from the Communist Party you joined an organization that was part of the Social Workers’ [sic] organization. Is that right?

A: I think that’s it.

Q: Then ultimately you entered the office of James Cannon and became his secretary?

A: Yes.

Q: Now, during the time that you were working in Mr. Cannon’s office, did you ever discuss anything that you learned there with anybody else?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you recall who it was that you discussed that with?

A: Well, I used to go to my former husband’s apartment, Zalmond’s apartment.

Q: Did you meet anyone there?

A: I met—not every time I went up there—but I had met a man I called Jack [Jack was the alias used by Gregory Rabinowitz—aka Roberts—during his meetings with Sylvia Franklin]. I don’t know his name.

Q: This man, Jack, you say, was introduced to you by Louis Budenz?

A: Yes.

Q: And that was in Chicago?

A: Yes, that’s the way I recall it.

Q: Do you ever recall meeting a woman to whom you gave information?

A: Yes; a woman’s apartment.

Q: And was that a different apartment from the apartment you have previously described?

A: Yes. [68]

Callen was referring to the apartment of Stalinist agent Lucy Booker. She then testified, “I used to go up there and type reports also, the way I used to at my husband’s apartment, and sometimes, as I recall, she was there and sometimes she wasn’t just as I recall.”

There, she would sometimes meet Jack Soble, who she knew as “Sam.” He would pay her for her services.

Q: Do you recall how you knew—commenced going to this apartment that you’re now describing, the woman’s apartment?

A: No, I don’t.

Q: Did someone tell you to go there?

A: No, I hadn’t given that any thought. I don’t know whether someone brought me—I can’t remember whether I was given an address, I really can’t remember that, the sequence there.

Q: Now, you described the mimeographed material which you gave, can you recall the contents of the material that you typed?

A: Well, I remember I used to just type up—it was mostly during faction fights in the party and political committee meetings, who was fighting with who, and then if there was correspondence from Leon Trotsky that I saw, I would try to remember what was in the letters and write that all out, who’s going with who and that kind of thing, personal things like that, I remember, how much money they had—I knew, you know, bank balances and stuff like that. [69]

Callen and the GPU had access to everything: international correspondence, internal discussion papers from Trotskyist movements worldwide, all of Cannon’s correspondence, and personal information about the membership.

The Sylvia Franklin Dossier, published by the International Committee of the Fourth International in 1977

The release of the grand jury transcripts exploded the cover-up of the GPU’s penetration of the SWP, and completely vindicated the investigation conducted by the International Committee.

But Judge Pfaelzer, guided by a desire to prevent Gelfand from exposing the depth of the FBI’s involvement in the SWP, denied his requests that she release information about specific agents operating in the party.

Pfaelzer ruled against Gelfand by conjuring up a clearly unattainable level of proof.

Pfaelzer asserted that Gelfand could not prove his case by a “preponderance of evidence” if there were other explanations—no matter how implausible—for the SWP defendants’ actions. The judge acknowledged that Gelfand’s conclusion that the SWP leaders were agents “might be a permissible inference to be drawn, but you can’t prevail by a preponderance of the evidence on that because it’s equally likely that they just sat there without investigating because they had blind faith. You can’t win on a preponderance of the evidence based solely on the fact that the charges were true.” (Emphasis added). [70]

In a further exchange with Gelfand’s attorney, Pfaelzer said:

“Let us assume that you prove that every single thing that Mr. Gelfand said is true and that there is no doubt but that Hansen was working with the FBI and may indeed have been an agent of the FBI at some point, and that Sylvia Caldwell was an agent of the GPU, and that indeed his suspicions were well founded and they made a mistake, the Party made a mistake in believing the contents of Healy’s Big Lie.

“Now, let’s say that is all proved, what permissible inference may be drawn from that if that is all you have?”

Burton said, “Your Honor, it can’t be examined out of context.”

To which Pfaelzer responded, “Oh, no. It can be examined out of context.” [71]

This reasoning does not stand up to basic legal analysis. As all first year law students know, the “preponderance of evidence” standard only requires a civil plaintiff show there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the evidence presented proves the claim, not that all other potential inferences have been disproven. Furthermore, circumstantial evidence is always evaluated in context and frequently incriminating evidence can lose its meaning when viewed in isolation.

As the Workers League correctly noted, “The central pillar of the SWP’s defense—that Gelfand had been propagating a ‘slander campaign’ manufactured by the International Committee—was utterly shattered. The transcripts’ release completed the destruction of the defendants’ credibility.” [72]

To be continued

Notes:

[52] The Sylvia Franklin Dossier, (New York: Labor Publications Inc., 1977).
[53] Ibid.
[54] Intercontinental Press, June 20, 1977.
[55] Ibid.
[56] “Hansen’s Big Lie Grows Bigger,” News Line, June 25, 1977, available at: http://www.gerryhealy.net/page117.html.
[57] Ibid.
[58] Intercontinental Press, June 20, 1977.
[59] For a complete review of the chronological events leading up to the Gelfand Case, see The Gelfand Case, vol. 1 (Detroit: Labor Publications, 1985), pp. 35–102.
[60] Ibid., p. 111.
[61] Ibid., pp. 104–105.
[62] Ibid., pp. 174–75.
[63] The Gelfand Case, vol. 2 (Detroit: Labor Publications, 1985), p. 469.
[64] Declassified CIA memo from General Counsel Stanley Sporkin to CIA Director William Casey, June 11, 1982.
[65] The Gelfand Case, vol. 2, pp. 635–36.
[66] The Confession of Sylvia Franklin (Detroit: Labor Publications Inc., 1983) p. 19.
[67] Ibid., p. 23
[68] Ibid., pp. 25–27.
[69] Ibid., p. 26.
[70] The Gelfand Case, vol. 2, p. 569.
[71] Barnes Still Defends Sylvia Franklin, (Detroit: Labor Publications, 1983) p. 10.
[72] The Gelfand Case, vol. 2, p. 571.

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