Socialist Equality Party (United States)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (United States)

The Origins of the “Security and the Fourth International” Investigation

The intersection of history and politics found expression in the circumstances surrounding Wohlforth’s desertion from the Workers League. Although he had initially acknowledged that his failure to inform either the leadership of the Workers League or the International Committee of Fields’s family connections was a serious breach of the movement’s security, Wohlforth—once he had left the Workers League—declared that the concerns raised by the party were without the slightest justification. Gerry Healy’s preoccupation with the issue of security, declared Wohlforth, was evidence of “madness.” Joseph Hansen, the principal political leader of the Socialist Workers Party and editor of the Pabloite journal, Intercontinental Press, came to Wohlforth’s aid with a vitriolic denunciation of Healy. “Wohlforth describes Healy’s performance as ‘madness’,” Hansen wrote. “Would it not be preferable and more precise, to use a modern term like ‘paranoia’?”[1]

Hansen’s intervention in support of Wohlforth, aimed at belittling the need for security in the revolutionary socialist movement and discrediting those who took this matter seriously, raised questions of the greatest political and historical significance:

i. Hansen’s defense of Wohlforth’s negligent attitude toward the security of his own organization came at a time when, in the aftermath of Nixon’s resignation, an enormous amount of evidence was emerging about massive government spying on radical and socialist organizations. Hansen’s own organization had been the target of a spying operation that spanned nearly 15 years. Documents relating to the so-called COINTELPRO operation, set up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation under the aegis of J. Edgar Hoover, revealed that between 1961 and 1975 the SWP had been flooded with police agents and informants.

ii. The Trotskyist movement had been dealt devastating blows through the infiltration of the Fourth International by agents of the Soviet Union and the United States. The assassination of a significant section of the leadership of the Fourth International between 1937 and 1940 was prepared and executed by Stalinist agents who had penetrated the movement.

iii. Hansen, who libeled Healy’s concern for the security of the international Trotskyist movement as “paranoia,” had witnessed the assassination of Leon Trotsky by Mercader. It was none other than Hansen who authorized the admission of the GPU agent into Trotsky’s villa in Coyoacan on the day of the murder. Hansen also knew that Mercader had developed a personal relationship with a young member of the SWP as a ploy to gain access to Trotsky. James P. Cannon, after Trotsky’s assassination, indicted the “carelessness” that had compromised Trotsky’s personal security. “We haven’t probed deeply enough into the past of people even in leading positions—where they came from, how they live, whom they are married to, etc. Whenever in the past such questions—elementary for a revolutionary organization—were raised, the petty-bourgeois opposition would cry, ‘My God, you are invading the private lives of comrades!’ Yes, that is precisely what we were doing, or more correctly, threatening to do—nothing ever came of it in the past. If we had checked up on such matters a little more carefully we might have prevented some bad things in the days gone by.”[2]

Given this context, Hansen’s attack on Healy was not only scurrilous. It was nothing less than an attempt to disarm the cadre of the Trotskyist movement in the face of real threats from the capitalist state and its agencies. The International Committee decided that the most appropriate answer to Hansen and Wohlforth would be to review the historical experience of the Fourth International in relation to problems of security. Specifically, this entailed an investigation into the events leading up to the assassination of Trotsky. At its Sixth Congress in May 1975, the ICFI voted to initiate this investigation, whose results were to be published under the title, “Security and the Fourth International.”


“The Secret of Healy's Dialectics,” Intercontinental Press, March 31, 1975.


James P. Cannon, The Socialist Workers Party in World War II: Writings and Speeches, 1940-43 [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975], pp. 81-82.