Joseph Hansen remembers Hank Schnautz in "Healy's Big Lie"


Joseph Hansen was Trotsky's chief aide in Mexico at the time of the fatal attack. Hansen came under attack in 1975 from Socialists who began to believe that he was complicit or perhaps even guilty for the assassination of Leon Trotsky some 35 years previous. One of the main voices was a former guard, Harold Robins, who said, among other things, the guards could not shoot and were not being trained. A British leader, Gerry Healy was leading the main charge. Hansen published a collection of articles and testimonials in 1976 called "Healy's Big Lie." He refutes the charges as best he can, and does make many of them look silly. Other charges he seems to ignore.

The Socialist Workers Party, who had the responsibility more than any other to defend the life of Leon Trotsky, had a Soviet Agent Sylvia Caldwell (Franklin) watching over the office as secretary. This was publicly charged in 1948 in Louis Budenz' book "Men Without Faces". Budenz recruited Caldwell. Caldwell herself had been charged as unindicted co-conspirator by the U.S. Government in the trial of her former Soviet handler in 1960 and had given testimony under oath that she handed over all important SWP documents to a Soviet agent. This could hardly have been unknown by Hansen. The theory of the British group was that Hansen was himself an agent, and that Budenz had also secretly fingered him, and that to discredit Budenz, Hansen must disavow the accuracy of Budenz' charge against Caldwell.

And that is not all. Documents released in 1983 at a trial of Alan Gelfand, a former Socialist Workers Party member, showed Hansen had sought and obtained confidential meetings with the FBI immediately after the assassination. This was considered highly unusual. Adding more to the smoking pile of circumstantial evidence, was the strange behavior of the party that Hansen led, and the inner circle which hailed almost exclusively from a single obscure college, as if they were FBI plants. In fact there were confirmed FBI plants in the party. Only a few years after Hansen's death, the leaders he developed expelled many of the old Trotskyists, even Jake Cooper.

On the other hand, the case that Hansen was a Soviet agent seems (nearly) non-existent (to me). The charge rests on rumor and apparently a letter from a friend of Hansen, V.T. O'Brien, and the admission of Hansen that he met with a GPU agent while Trotsky was still alive. The letter from O'Brien is to Hansen written in 1976, and is meant to debunk the idea that Hansen was a GPU agent. O'Brien said Trotsky and Hansen agreed to contact a GPU agent to try to swindle them out of some cash by offering the only good copy of Trotsky's biography of Stalin. The Soviets did not buy it. O'Brien was there in the Trotsky compound. He was the go-between Trotsky and Hansen. He failed to heat check a letter for invisible ink from Hansen for quite some time. When he finally did and it contained some news from Hansen, and he took it in, Trotsky said, "Thomas, in time of war, you would be shot." Unless some new documents come to light from either the Soviet or FBI side, this sounds like truth to me. That letter is reproduced in "The Gelfand Case, Vol II" (1985).


One good thing that came out of this, Hansen pushed hard to defend himself, publishes a 60 page pamphlet, and remembers Hank Schnautz, a guard who could handle a gun.


"Captain" Robins tries to score a point by saying that I did not mention this case. On the other hand, concentrating on his assignment of grinding an ax for Healy, Robins forgets Hank Schnautz, another comrade - really a sympathizer of the SWP - who came down to Mexico on his own in hope of seeing Trotsky. L.D. was attracted to this comrade, and asked me if it wouldn't be possible to include him in the guard. Unlike the other guards, Trotsky pointed out, Schnautz had a farm background. I recognized that Trotsky really wanted to get acquainted with a live American fresh off the farm.

Although a pacifist by conviction, Schnautz happened to be a gun enthusiast. He was a dead shot with a rifle, his preferred firearm. After some troubled thinking, he agreeed that if we were attacked, he would not hold the lives of the assailants as something sacrred. He would shoot to kill. So we included him among the full-time guards. Besides his handiness with guns, he was a hard worker, who knew a good deal about construction. Schnautz fitted into the household very well.

Healy's Big Lie, page 45, Joseph Hansen, 1976, Socialist Workers Party


While defending himself in 1976, Hansen remembers Hank Schnautz and confirms much of what Henry told us. Hansen is writing 35 years later from memory. I do not think Henry was a pacifist. Henry's brother wrote to him and asked him if his plan was still to become a famous dead guy. Henry was a dues paying active member of the Socialist Workers Party from its inception, not a sympathizer. He went to Mexico specifically to offer protection to Trotsky. He was a crack shot. He had been jailed, and he had fought for the cause. Everything else Hansen says is accurate.

Henry Schnautz never tried to insert himself into the history books with regards to Trotsky, or make himself into a hero in the Socialist movement. Perhaps it was the tragedy of the adventure, not something to celebrate, or perhaps it was just his nature that ideas were important, not rubbing elbows with the famous.

also see the Henry Schnautz letter 8-1-1940 for more on the gun issue.