THE SHELDON HARTE DOSSIER
News Line January 10 1977, page 8
A tip-off sent the Mexican police to the cottage at Santa Rosa in search of the GPU conspirators who had raided Trotsky’s household on 24 May 1940.
They found it empty, but recent signs of life were in evidence. Copies of Exelsior and El Universal dated May 18 were on the table with some left-over food and a tin of chillis.
In the adjoining room they found a camp bed with a mattress on top of it with another rolled up mattress in the corner. The third room contained an artist’s easel and some tins of paint.
Outside it was nightfall and the rain was pouring down. The police were about to leave when one of them noticed a path leading down the side of the house. Following it they came to an entrance into the basement, which was used as a kitchen, with a loose earth floor. Four flat stones served as a resting place for the hot cooking pots. To the side of these stones the earth had been disturbed.
This was what they had been looking for – the hiding place for the police uniforms and weapons used by the GPU gang when they shot up Trotsky’s household on May 24 1940
They borrowed a pick and shovel and started to dig. It was not long before the tiny basement was filled with an unbearable smell. They suspended operations at once to send an urgent police courier the Mexico City to inform General Sanchez Salazar, the chief of the secret police, of their grisly find.
Under the directions of Sanchez and police chief Nunez, a group of firemen dug into the kitchen floor and removed the remains of Robert Sheldon Harte, Trotsky’s guard who had disappeared with the Stalinist raiding party on the night of the attack.
His body had been buried in lime, thereby causing the advanced state of decomposition. The skin had peeled off the body, especially the hands, but the police notices that the finger-pads were intact, so he could be identified from fingerprints.
On searching the room upstairs, Salazar’s men found that the head of Harte’s camp bed and mattress had been cut off, to hide the tell-tale bloodstains. Blood hand been washed off the walls which were then re-coated with lime. In the grounds outside the police found the charred remains of a pair of trousers, buttons and a pair of sandals. They had been burned with the piece of mattress and camp bed. Nearby was an almost empty bottle of petrol
The police concluded that Harte had been shot in the back of the head while he slept. An autopsy was held the following day at the Juarez Hospital by Dr. Arturo Baledon Gil. He found two bullet holes, one in the right side of the back of the head with an exit hole at the left of the forehead, and the second in the right temple, with the bullet lodged in the opposite temple.
The report in Exelsior newspaper left no doubt who was responsible:
“Sheldon was taken to this place to hide from the police by his own accomplices, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Antonio Pujol, and the brothers Luis and Leopoldo Arenal, hours after the attack was made on the house at Coyoacan.
The day after the sensational events, May 25, it is supposed that the Arenal brothers murdered him and gave him an improvised burial.
With this cruel killing the seriousness of the Trotsky case and the responsibility of the organisers is enormously enhanced, since they will now also have to answer to the charge of homicide under the harshest terms of the law, including that of betrayal, since their victim was probably killed during his sleep.” (June 27 1940)
Trotsky was in no doubt that the Arenals were involved in Harte’s death. In an article written on July 5 1940, Trotsky referred to “Louis Arenal, assassin of Robert Sheldon Harte”
Then the paper asked, “why was Trotsky’s secretary put to death? The deductions made by the police [i.e. Salazar and Nunez] are as follows”.
“Sheldon Harte has been shown to be in league with those who attacked Trotsky, became the centre of police attention of the world – especially the US – his accomplices being unable to get him out of the country because of the watch being kept for him. Had he fallen into our hands he would have been an inexhaustible source of valuable information. Siqueiros and his men know this. What’s more Sheldon must have known many other secrets which they did not want revealed, and must also have kept the price of his betrayal, probably many thousands of dollars given that in this case money had been freely shared out. All these circumstances condemned him to death.
In spite of the optimism shown by Trotsky, who believes his secretary to be innocent, we believe the opposite. If not, why was Sheldon at complete liberty in the house at Santa Rosa?
He was taken there to hide from us; hand he been kidnapped by these men, they would not have left him a liberty, free to go out and take a walk for an hour while the girl did the cleaning, with no one watching him. Had he been kidnapped, in that hour he would have reached the highway through the Desierto de los Leones, a kilometre away, and hitched a lift on a lorry or asked for help from a driver of one of the many cars which passes by there, and regained his freedom. Isn’t this the case?”
That is but a fraction of the information dealing with the Harte affair which the International Committee of the Fourth International has gathered since it began its inquiry into “Security and the Fourth International” in May 1975.
Trotsky pored over all of the evidence that was available to him to expose the techniques of the GPU and the names of its agents and, if possible, to stop the next assassination attempt. For him it was a matter of survival.
Joseph Hansen and George Novack of the revisionist Socialist Workers Party say that Trotsky pronounced that Harte was a loyal Trotskyist and that is the final word on the affair.
But we have concrete testimony to show that Trotsky did not take this all-or-nothing position, in spite of what he may have said publicly. For example, he had a series of discussions with the guards in which all of them were given the opportunity to air their views on whether Harte was loyal or not. He sifted the information from the Mexican press, working and re-working his conclusion.
One example of the uncertain opinions at Coyoacan is revealed in a State Department document filed in the US National Archives in Washington DC. On May 28 1940, American consul in Mexico City, Mr. George P. Shaw, wrote to his superiors saying that Consul Robert G. McGregor had interviewed one of Trotsky’s guards, Walter Ketley, who had the party name Walter O’Rourke. Shaw said:
“A memorandum of Mr. McGregor’s conversation is attached hereto. It is desired to point out that Mr. Ketley had probably been instructed by Mr. Trotsky to say that he did not believe that the missing Mr. Harte was a traitor to Trotsky’s cause.
However, it is pointed out that this feature was the principle point made by this morning’s press in the discussion of the case. In fact it was stated that the police strongly suspect Mr. Harte of being a Stalinist. This is probably based upon the reported fact that he had a picture of Stalin in his quarters in New York City.”
In the attached memorandum, McGregor states:
“With regard to the disappearance of Harte, O’Rourke said that he believed the person who demaned entry into the premises and thereby gave access to the grounds to the attackers was probably a friens of Harte’s.
He said that this would explain why Harte did not take the precautions which they were all trained to take with regard to the admission of nocturnal visitors.”
Again, the question is raised; what “friend” had he met in Mexico City during the seven weeks he was there?
Wasn’t this a major item for investigation when the SWP leaders, including James P. Canon, came to Mexico in June 1940 in the wake of the raid? Trotsky has already pointed to the possibility that Harte had been infiltrated into the Party in New York. Was Trotsky’s recommendation carried out?
According to Cannon, the SWP leaders were deeply aware of their responsibilities for Trotsky’s security. He told the Trotsky memorial meeting on September 7 1940:
“In the last weeks after tie assault of May 24, we once again put on the agenda of our leading committee to question of the protection of Comrade Trotsky.
Every comrade agreed that this is our most important task, most important for the masses of the whole world and for the future generations, that above all we do everything in our power to protect our comrade who helped and guided us so well.” (James P. Cannon, Writings and Speeches 1940-43. The Socialist Workers Party in World War II, Pathfinder)
Hansen is incapable of consistence, even in arranging his own lies. He had attempted to blackguard the coroner, the International Committee for saying that the Harte affair is an “open question”. But leafing through the Exelsior newspaper for August 25 1940, we find Hansen himself saying an inquiry into Harte is necessary. Quoting what Hansen told the paper said:
“Trotsky’s secretary [Hansen] added that in the United States they were checking out whether there had been relations between Jackson [sic], Sheldon Harte and Sylvia (Ageloff), and said that he was certain that the dead man, Sheldon, opened the gate on the day of the raid on Trotsky’s house, because he recognised Jackson’s voice, and that this was why he was later killed.”
Whatever happened to Hansen’s investigation in New York? Did he establish any definite links between Mercader, Harte and Sylvia Ageloff?
What about the other Sylvia in the SWP’s National office, Sylvia Callen, party name Caldwell? Where does she figure in the assassination plot?
Why was Hansen in favour of an investigation of Harte’s role in 1940, but so violently opposed to it today when it is raised by the International Committee? What are all these men hiding? Why? And who benefits from cover-up and suppression of the facts?
It is not difficult to catalogue a number of questions which make the Harte affair so enigmatic:
1. Harte checked into the Wells Fargo office in the Ermita building when he arrived in Mexico in April 1940. This was the same correspondence address used by GPU agents Siqueiros and Luis Arenal: Frank Jacson/Jacques Monard/Ramon Mercader, Trotsky’s assassin, had an office, room 620, in the same building.
2. According to Fanny Yanovich, a secretary/translator, Harte was extremely nervous on the day before the attack and the days leading up to it. She said that when Harte chauffeured her home each day, he would ask probing questions about Trotsky’s work on the Stalin Biography. “How far has he got now? What part is he up to?” Etc.
3. From Trotsky’s archives at Harvard University, biographer Isaac Deutscher took the following anecdote: “Trotsky relates that shortly after Sheldon’s arrival he saw him giving away a key to the front gate of the house to one of the builders working there. Trotsky warned him not to do this and said, ‘If you behave like this you will, in the case of an attack, be the first victim.’ (See The Prophet Outcast by Isaac Deutscher)
4. On the afternoon before the raid, Harte irritated Trotsky by walking into his study for the purpose of checking the alarm system, when no one can recall giving him the assignment.
5. One of the raiding party, Nestor Sanchez, confessed to the police that he asked what they should do if they met gunfire. Siqueiros replied, ‘there is nothing to be afraid of. One of our own people will open the gate.’ (See Murder in Mexico by General Sanchez Salazar)
6. When Harte left Coyoacan with the GPU raider, he went voluntarily, according to some police evidence. Others said he appeared to be struggling. He must have been doing it silently since no one heard his voice.
7. At the Santa Rosa hide-away Harte was left unguarded and allowed to wonder about.
8. In his New York Apartment police found a photograph of Stalin on the wall
9. In a statement to the International Committee of the Fourth International on December 10, 1975, Harold Robins, captain of the guard at Coyoacan, had this to say:
“It’s my opinion that all of the guards were devoted to Comrade Trotsky. The only one who came out of the Stalinist movement was Sheldon Harte. After the murder of Harte, after the murder of Trotsky, I opened the dictionary that I had borrowed from, Spanish-English dictionary, that I had borrowed from Harte’s library, and my wife pointed out to me that on the fly leaf was the signature of José Alfaro Siqueiros.”
Hansen and Novack have suppressed all of these details from their publications in the SWP. Search every issue of The Militant and you won’t find a reference to any of the evidence on Harte brought to light by the International Committee.
They simply say that Harte was young and inexperienced and that’s why he opened the gate on May 24, 1940. Novack has spiced this up a bit by saying in Intercontinental Press, December 6, 1975, that Harte was 19, when he knows very well that he was 25.
But these comments simply raise the biggest question of all: How was Harte selected to be a bodyguard if this was the case? Who in New York recommended him?
We can now go on to show that Hansen practices what he preaches. He and Novack not only suppress information about Harte and fear an inquiry, they have falsified Trotsky’s writings to keep Harte’s role in the dark.
One of the last books Trotsky edited before he was killed was a collection of writings on the May 24th. raid. When the Spanish language edition came out posthumously in September 1940, Trotsky’s wife, Natalia gave a signed copy to Harold Robins. Trotsky chose the title Los Gangsters de Stalin.
In all its proliferous undertakings, the SWP’s Pathfinder Press has never reproduced this book. No matter which way you look at it, that is political. And it runs absolutely counter to Trotsky’s struggle against Stalinism and the GPU.
Some of the Articles in Los Gangsters de Stalin have been translated to appear throughout Pathfinder’s Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939-1945. The centrepiece of all these writings covering May 24 to August 20 is Stalin Seeks My Death. We can show that crucial passages have been falsified.
The relevant sections come where Trotsky is speaking of the night of the raid. The Spanish edition says that once the gunmen had gone it was found that “Robert Sheldon Harte, the guard on duty, had disappeared with them.
In the Pathfinder edition, page 234, the words “with them” are missing.
The original Spanish edition carries a paragraph to explain why Trotsky believes the GPU gang left in such great haste:
“It must be added that in such cases, the GPU have an unbreakable rule; leave none of their own men on the battlefield so as not to compromise Moscow. This was why they did not complete the job.”
This whole paragraph is missing from the Pathfinder edition. Why?
A translator’s slip? Very unlikely. The omission of this paragraph is the conscious act of someone at the top of the SWP who feared that Trotsky’s words might be applied to Sheldon Harte.
Everything about the Harte case points to questions raised 37 years ago by Trotsky himself. Who had sent this thoroughly unsuitable candidate for the guard to Mexico? Everything points to an investigation of the New York Office.
Trotsky could only surmise what we now know – that the SWP headquarters was penetrated at the highest level. Sylvia Callen, party name Caldwell, who was reporting directly to the GPU chief, Dr. Gregory Rabinowitz, was Cannon’s personal secretary and then the office manager.
Natalia Sedova wrote about the way Trotsky worked on the Siqueiros raid, the task that preoccupied most of his time until the assassination on August 20 1940.
“He followed the developments patiently and tirelessly, explaining the circumstances of the case to the courts and the press, making superhuman efforts to force himself to refute the self-evident lies or malicious equivocations, doing all this with the intense perspicacity peculiar to him, and not allowing a single detail to escape his notice. He attached the proper significance to every single thing, and wove them into a single whole.”
But immediately Trotsky was killed the investigation into Harte stopped – and the investigation into Trotsky’s assassin never started until the International Committee of the Fourth International assumed the responsibility