An “Exemplary Comrade”: The Socialist Workers Party’s 40-year-long cover-up of Soviet spy Sylvia Callen: Part three
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 was published on August 14, and part two on August 15.
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…