JOSEPH HANSEN – POLITICAL SCHEMER
News Line, January 11, 1977, Page 8
On September 25, 1940, just over a month after Trotsky’s assassination, his secretary Joseph Hansen began a sea voyage to New York.
He boarded the Cuba Mail Steamship Line’s vessel the SS Mexico at the port of Vera Cruz.
When the ship docked at Havana, Hansen posted a letter to Charles Cornell, who had been one of Trotsky’s guards and a member of the household at Coyoacan.
On receiving the letter, Cornell and Trotsky’s lawyer, Albert Goldman, both members of the Socialist Workers Party, took it to the American embassy in Mexico City.
This extraordinary step was taken as a matter of policy. Hansen’s policy. It is based on the thoroughly reactionary idea that US imperialism was interested in helping Trotskyists discover how the GPU murdered Trotsky!
The truth was that the Moscow bureaucracy and the American imperialists were equally pleased with Trotsky’s death. Both regarded his extermination as a necessity before the floodgates of world war were opened.
The International Committee of the Fourth International uncovered Hansen’s letter to Cornell in the US State Department files in Washington DC.
It is the first time that the Trotskyist movement has been let into the secret that private correspondence between leaders of the SWP was freely handed over to agents of US imperialism.
Earlier in the investigation into Security and the Fourth International, we showed that Hansen himself paid a secret visit to the US embassy in Mexico City on August 31, 1940, 11 days after Trotsky’s murder.
Hansen saw Consul Robert C. McGregor, who subsequently filed a report of their discussion to Washington. It contained this vital paragraph:
“Hansen stated that when in New York in 1938 he was himself approached by an agent of the GPU and asked to desert the Fourth International and join the Third. He referred to the matter to Trotsky who asked him to go as far with the matter as possible. For three months Hansen had relations with a man who merely identified himself as “John” and did not otherwise reveal his real identity.” (Report by Robert C. Mc Gregor, American Consulate General Mexico, September 1, 1940)
The International Committee established that “John” was one of the pseudonyms of Dr. Gregory Rabinowitz, who doubled as head of the Russian Red Cross as well as chief of GPU operations in the US. He was in charge of the American end of the plot to murder Trotsky.
When the McGregor document was first published in in August-September 1975, Hansen responded like a trapped man. He admitted meeting McGregor at the embassy on Saturday morning, (Intercontinental Press, November 24, 1975). He could do little else since we had the official documents!
But on his contact with a GPU in New York over a period of three months, he was silent. It took twelve months, (Intercontinental Press August 9, 1976), before Hansen finally admitted – after a 36 year silence – that he had contacts with a GPU Officer.
This admission exposed Hansen’s method since the beginning of the investigation into Security and the Fourth International; say nothing as long as you can and when you are forced into the open say as little as possible.
Rabinowitz’s role has assumed even more crucial proportions since the on-the-spot investigation by the International Committee of the Fourth International in Mexico in December 1976.
In June 1940, two weeks after the machine gun raid on Trotsky’s house by artist Alfaro Siqueiros, Jacques Monard/Frank Jacson/Ramon Mercader travelled from Mexico to New York.
There he attended a top-level GPU meeting attended by Leonid Eitingon, of homicidal notoriety in Spain, Rabinowitz and Caridad Mercader, the assassin’s mother.
The abortive Siqueiros raid had to be avenged. The GPU would now move to its reserve plan – the single assassin, Ramon Mercader.
There must have been discussion on whether Mercader’s cover had been blown following the disappearance of Sheldon Harte, the guard who opened the gate to the raiders on the night of May 24.
Would the facts come to light about Harte’s friendship with Jacson/Morard? Would they find out that the two men had been carousing at the Kit Kat Club and meeting “ladies of pleasure” at the same haunts? Wouldn’t this alert Trotsky’s household and make Mercader persona not grata at the very least?
Obviously the GPU felt supremely confident that Jacson/Monard would be able to continue his masquerade and get closer to Trotsky. He returned to Mexico towards the end of July with the typed “confession” which was found in his pocket after he struck the fatal blow which killed the founder of the Fourth International.
Hansen describes his meetings with Rabinowitz in New York as “a small manoeuvre”. He wrote in Intercontinental Press;
“I felt no special aptitude for the task. Nonetheless, under Trotsky’s direct influence and the encouragement of Canon and Shachtman, I was willing at that age to tackle anything that would help advance the Fourth International and speed the victory of socialism. To take on a GPU agent from whom something might be milked would no doubt seem to some to be an unusual and even a ‘daring undertaking’. In Trotsky’s battle against Stalinism, it was only a very small manoeuvre.” (August 9, 1976)
The coolness and courage that Hansen expresses in this article is completely at odds with the letter he wrote to Charles Cornell from the SS Mexico in September 1940. We are reprinting it in full:
“CUBA MAIL LINE
From the hour listed on your telegram …
Wolf – a heavy man, paunchy, red-faced, light-haired man of about 45. Head of a bull. Long-horned, front view, tattooed on his chest in blue ink. Speaks German, English, French, Spanish. He speaks Spanish with an English accent. Speaks English without slightest accent, sounding as if born in USA, using slang, colloquialisms etc. so that unless you knew differently you would swear he was an American. Much of his pose reminds me of Jacson’s pose – a wealthy person – aristocrat – with nothing to do but kill time and order the help around.
Like Jacson he goes in for sport – but his specialty is not mountain climbing, but bull-fighting. That is, he is an aficionado. He claims to know the bull fighters personally, for instance the boy who was gored Sept 16. He speaks of as ‘not a sport but an art.’
His excuse for moving from the room was that he is writing a chapter on bull fighting for a book, now being compiled by a friend of his on Mexican art, to be published by the Museum of Modern Art – Mountain climbers and bull fighters are Mexican artists!! – The GPU draws its agents from everywhere. The first night I threw out a dozen leads: Results – he picked up no political lead except one – ‘I steer clear of all the Germans in Mexico’ – Why? I asked him, the political differences? He did not answer.
He supported Mexico against American imperialism very warmly. But then made a curious remark regarding (regards) trade unions in general. ‘They should all be smashed. They’re closed corporations.’
I considered this a provocative remark to draw me out. If he were a fascist he would never say the trade unions should be smashed. He would say only ‘they were closed corporations.’ If it were a cover for his political views it was very clumsy. A straight reactionary would never call them corporations. Otherwise all political leads were directed by him back to bull fighting except for a few remarks on the world situation especially USA and Japan which show him well acquainted in that field.
I forgot to mention that when he made the crack about smashing the trade unions, I immediately brought up the question of the CTM- but instead of launching a diatribe (where else could he draw from experience?) he became silent. He poses as a man of the world well-travelled – claims six trips by boat between Mexico and USA – 25 trips between USA and Europe.
He tried to cultivate friendship with me but I am not ready for that stage until we pass Havana so I turned down his offers of drinks etc. He has two girl- friends whom I would swear to god were Stalinists or ex-Stalinists (in GPU now?). One has made a couple of discrete passes in my direction (not too flattering with the Marcus troop on board).
In the morning an hour or two before he moved out of the room, one of them came up to where we were seated and said ‘I have just made a curious discovery …’ her voice sounded .jpeg excited. She looked in my direction (we were seated side by side outside the room). He immediately got up. As they left I heard her say, ‘Silones book … not on list’ … A bull fight - and Silone!! The list? What list? What wasn’t on the list? Silone’s book or my name? (He couldn’t figure out how the hell I got in his room!) Then as he moved, the bellhop or whatever you call them on a ship, came for his baggage.
On opening one of the bags there was a copy of The Nation – the magazine which uses Harry Block as Mexican correspondent!!! Why is he going to New York? He says in order to renew his immigration papers in Mexico. That he must stay in USA nine weeks and then return to Mexico. One of his friends on board is a Cuban going back to Havana. The first morning meal we were assigned to the same table. He began a lively conversation in Spanish with an elderly Argentine couple en-route to Rio Janeiro – real placid innocents. He was a bull fight fan he said.
He knew many of the bull-fighters personally; for example the boy who was gored on Sept 16. He spoke some appreciations of bull fighting as and art and then mentioned he had a Russian friend who was very interested in bull fighting and writing something on it. By God Charlie. I felt the cold steel pass through my shoulder blades.
Since that meal, however, he has talked only about the weather. Also Wolf has not sat in his chair next to mine, or written in his room – he always seems elsewhere on the ship. You may be sure the trip is boring
PS – Saturday morning, Havana – He uses as his address in New York, 118 West 57th. Street.”
At first sight, these are the words of a political novice – someone who is having cops and robbers fantasies. But this is not the real Hansen writing. This is Hansen at his old game of deflecting things.
At the time he wrote this letter, Hansen had been in the Trotskyist movement since 1934. He had been on Trotsky’s staff for two years and he was designated in charge of security.
He was an accomplished political schemer. He had been in the Abern clique, but removed himself just in time to join the majority. His articles and letters of this period show the hand of the deft operator.
In short, the letter from the SS Mexico to Cornell isn’t the real Hansen at all. This one is planted for suckers, a cock and bull story to be given to the US embassy to lead them a merry chase. Why Hansen chose to do this, we cannot say. It is a matter for investigation and further statements from Hansen before a commission of inquiry.
On taking delivery of Hansen’s letter, the US embassy ran a check on the mysterious Wolf. In his letter to Washington, Consul Shaw said:
“The person described in the letter and spoken of as Wolf may possibly be Dr. Nathaniel Wolf, who according to the records of the Cuba Mail Steamship Line office in Mexico City described himself as being 45 years of age, single, an American citizen and an artist by profession.
According to the records of that office, Dr. Wolf purchased a round trip ticket in New York, which he used to come to Mexico on the SS Monterey, leaving New York on April 11, 1940, and was using the return voucher when he sailed from Vera Cruz on the SS Mexico on September 25, 1940. This vessel was due to arrive at New York on September 30.
Mr. Goldman said that the reference on the second page of the enclosed copy of letter to Silone’s book was probably to a book by an Italian author of that name who writes anti-fascist articles and studies on life in present-day Italy.
The department will be interested in the postscript to the letter giving the New York address as 118 West 57th. Street.”
One immediate point of interest about the Consul’s covering letter is that Wolf is not “about 45” as Hansen says, he is 45. Exactly. The amazing Wolf has never been mentioned in dispatches by Hansen or the SWP. There is no record of an investigation to discover his links, if any, with the murder. Hansen has never written about wolf in any of his articles nor the episode at sea.
Yet surely a security report would have been necessary once Hansen reached New York, having escaped the mortal danger of the “cold steel passing through his shoulder blades.” Didn’t the SWP visit the New York address which Hansen fortuitously got from them? Where is the report on the Wolf case?
The truth is that Hansen’s newly-uncovered letter was nothing more than a diversion. Its author is a cold and calculating politician, not the political schoolboy he pretends to be in it.
Hansen has never explained why, after Trotsky’s death, he did not reveal all about his contacts with John/Rabinowitz. If he was really interested in exposing those responsible this would have been his first and foremost task.
But the political history of Hansen and George Novack since 1940 shows that they had an agreed policy: To formulate a story about Trotsky’s death and stick to it, boosting their own legends. This has gone hand-in-hand with a huge cover-up of what took place in Paris, Mexico City and New York.
The conspiracy of silence has aided and abetted the GPU. They love the anonymity and the peace and calm which the SWP leaders have given them. For this reason the International Committee has indicted both men as accomplices of the GPU.
Hansen and Novack are being provocatively malicious when they talk about being “framed”. Their simple remedy is to accept a commission of inquiry.
Gentlemen, are you ready? If not, what are you afraid of?
Sylvia Franklin: The GPU agent they all want to protect.