They are derisively called “conspiracy theorists”. They carry the torch for the beliefs that sixty to eighty percent of their fellow citizens share since the assassination of President John Kennedy. From October 17 to October 19, several hundred gathered in Pittsburgh for the “Passing the Torch” symposium, a forum devoted to many of the leading investigators discussing alternate visions to the US government's official version of the murder of Kennedy.
For three days, a group of ordinary-looking, very well-spoken, collegial people discussed and debated the plausibility of conflicting explanations of the Kennedy assassination. Those who have been misled by the corporately-compromised media would be disappointed with the participants: there were no ominous references to the Holy Grail, Area 51, or Roswell, except in jest. Rather, the atmosphere of the gathering was more akin to a convention of neurosurgeons without the glamor of a glitzy destination. The few cranks-- anti-Federal Reserve exponents and religious zealots-- saw their comments politely dismissed.
Questions and Answers
Broadly speaking, there are two research methodologies that engage assassination investigators. One group of researchers develop, examine, analyze, and debate the physical evidence. The objects of their study are the familiar artifacts: the Zapruder film, the so-called “pristine bullet,” the rifle associated with Oswald, autopsy photos, etc. Of course not all physical evidence is either direct or clearly relevant. Photos, personal accounts, audio tapes, documents, etc. may be merely suggestive and open to broad interpretation. While physical evidence may count as “hard” data, it virtually never fills all of the narrative space between the premeditation to murder and the completion of the act. The judicial system recognizes this oft-occurring opening by placing the “hard” evidence before a jury with the hope that they will have the collective judgment to satisfactorily fill the gaps and arrive at a well-considered conclusion.
But it would be naive to press the idealized courtroom analogy too hard. The court of public opinion, like the real judicial system, allows of differential resources, bias, and clandestine influence. But where honest people recognize that the courts are “overly” fair to the rich, and that the poor suffer a surfeit of fairness, the court of public opinion dispenses entirely with the notion of fairness. With the Kennedy assassination, the government and its agencies have invested overwhelmingly in the Warren Commission/Oswald-did-it-alone version. The US government has resisted, at every step, revealing relevant evidence that might shed new light on the case; it has even denied access to evidence developed to support the conventional view; and it has actively interfered with independent investigations of the assassination. Now-public documents show that the security agencies spied on and interacted with the Garrison investigation in New Orleans. Recent revelations demonstrate that the CIA established their former (1963) chief of covert operations in Miami as their liaison with the 1976 House Select Committee on Assassinations... without revealing this relevant fact (the Joannides affair). This revelation has belatedly driven the formerly compliant final head of that investigation, G. Robert Blakey, into uncharacteristic fits of indignation:
I am no longer confident that the Central Intelligence Agency co-operated with the committee.... I was not told of Joannides' background with the DRE [Revolutionary Student Directorate], a focal point of the investigation. Had I known who he was, he would have been a witness who would have been interrogated under oath by the staff or by the committee. He would never have been acceptable as a point of contact with us to retrieve documents. In fact, I have now learned, as I note above, that Joannides was the point of contact between the Agency and DRE during the period Oswald was in contact with DRE. That the Agency would put a 'material witness' in as a 'filter' between the committee and its quests for documents was a flat out breach of the understanding the committee had with the Agency that it would co-operate with the investigation.
Given that researchers face a hostile government and its lap-dog media, it is truly amazing that researchers have advanced the study as far as they have. Of course hostile intelligence agencies and a media with blinders only reinforce the suspicions that the truth remains to be uncovered.
Blending into the physical evidence and further filling the evidentiary gaps are the circumstances and personal ties of the key players in the murder-- so-called “circumstantial evidence.” For example, the bizarre trajectory of Lee Harvey Oswald's brief adult life is breathtaking and complex. He crosses paths with a wide variety of diverse and contradictory characters while taking on equally contradictory personae.
Apologists for the Warren Commission want us to believe that these oddities reflect an isolated, but unstable personality. But the narrative fails the “credible-movie-script” test: No one would believe this tale if it were a movie.
Further, Oswald's Mexico trip the month before the assassination is a surreal saga fraught with confusion, misidentification, and mystery.
Is there anything that a Marxist could add to nearly fifty years of skepticism over the Warren Commission and the account of the assassination defended by the security agencies, US elites, and the corporate media?
Certainly a strong case could be made for the account offered by the former head of Cuban counterintelligence, Fabian Escalante. His book, JFK: The Cuba Files, based on his careful review of Cuban evidence, presents many new elements of the days, events, and personalities leading up to the assassination, though no citation of his work arose during the three-day symposium in Pittsburgh. In fact, I inquired of a lobby bookseller with a trove of assassination and associated books why he failed to offer Escalante's book in his extensive collection. He muttered something about how youthful Escalante looks in his pictures despite his retirement-- clear recognition of Escalante's work, but an evasion of its absence.
It is unfortunate that investigators ignore his book because he untangles much of the Mexico City puzzle. And his profiles of likely suspects add much to the existing biographies. But one senses a hesitance to accept a contribution from a Cuban official, a remnant of Cold War distrust. Moreover, the investigators, with only a few exceptions, own a rather conventional, naive politics. At the end of the symposium, a panelist posed what proved to be an embarrassing, but revealing question: How many here would welcome a Kennedy Presidency today?
The participants and audience demonstrated resounding approval with an enthusiasm betraying frenzied devotion to a fallen martyr rather than mere respect for a murdered President.
Perhaps it is here that a Marxist can make a modest contribution to our understanding of the Kennedy assassination by adding an element of political realism and historical context.
Regard Oswald's strange course from his adolescence in the mid 1950s through his death in November of 1963. Many point to the incredible twists and turns taken by him through this period. They argue that other forces must be at play: Oswald must have been a puppet. Opponents dismiss this as only indicative of his instability.
But these arguments miss the point.
The real conundrum is in reconciling that bizarre path with the known, demonstrable behavior of the US security services. It was in that period that their covert and overt surveillance reached unparalleled heights. And it was in that time frame that their suppression and prosecution of the left was at its pinnacle. It is simply impossible for Oswald, posturing as a Communist or Marxist militant, to have escaped their constant attention and, indeed, harassment, if anyone in the higher echelons of the many bureaus and agencies believed that posture. Consequently, it would be beyond comprehension that Oswald would have been where he was alleged to be at the moment of the assassination without those many security offices discounting his “leftist” credentials.
Reflect on the following:
● Oswald was allegedly a self-proclaimed Communist in his adolescence before his Marine Corps enlistment and remained so during his 35 months in the Corps (Oct. 1956-September 1959), often sharing his politics with fellow Marines. Despite his openness, he was given at least a “confidential” security clearance and assigned to a secret U-2 base in Japan. He was trained in sophisticated radar tracking and had access to much sensitive information.
At the same time, hundreds of Communists and thousands of liberals were under surveillance, lost their jobs, or were in jail. Communist leader Claude Lightfoot was sent to jail in 1956 when Oswald joined the Marines. A year earlier, copywriter Melvin Barnet was fired from his job at the New York Times for his political views. The infamous FBI COINTELPRO, a program of active measures against Communists and other leftists, began in 1956. Leaders of the ACLU were informing to the FBI in that period. A Professor at the University of Michigan, Chandler Davis, went to jail for his views in 1959, at a time Oswald was espousing Communism to his fellow Marines.
Is Oswald's story credible? Did he escape the net that captured liberals who were victimized by snitches and liars? What accounts for his immunity?
● Upon discharge, Oswald set off within 10 days on his voyage to the Soviet Union and defection. Investigators quibble over the formalities of the defection, but no one questions that Oswald made the strongest political statement by surrendering his passport and taking residence in the USSR from late 1959 until June of 1962. After stating his misgivings about the USSR, he was smoothly integrated into a nest of anti-Bolshevik Russians living in arguably one of the most rabidly reactionary, anti-Communist cities in the US, Dallas, Texas (the other candidate being Miami, Florida). Oswald and his young wife quickly find friends who would, by inclination, stand off from his politics, social status, and manners. At no time does this produce a backlash commensurate with the tenor of the times.
It wasn't until late 1962 that Junius Scales, a district functionary of the Communist Party in North Carolina, was released from prison for merely being a Communist. The Smith Act, The Internal Security Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act, and the Communist Control Act remained in full force in this period, all aimed at suppressing and repressing Communists. Spanish Civil War vet and Communist Archie Brown was arrested in 1961 under the Communist Control Act. In 1962 and 1963, Jack O'Dell was forced out of his leading role in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by the Kennedy administration for his alleged Communist affiliation. The US government pressed again to revoke Paul Robeson's passport in 1962. The Berlin Crisis, the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 and the October Cuban missile crisis of 1962 brought anti-Communism in the US to a boil.
It was in the midst of this atmosphere that Oswald brought his crackpot leftist ideas to Dallas and into the arms of anti-Communist fanatics. While working at an enterprise engaged in classified military work, Oswald contacted both the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party-- he had maintained subscriptions to their respective newspapers since his return to the US. Unlike thousands of people who were denied employment, experienced harassment, or found their names on watch lists, Oswald enjoyed a charmed life within a cesspool of right-wing intrigue and anti-Red hysteria.
●The spring of 1963 brought Oswald to New Orleans where he mounted a one-man campaign to establish left credentials while blatantly drawing attention to his activities, a bizarre goal for an authentic leftist in a hostile environment and with no allies. Warren Commission apologists like Gerald Posner answer that these actions only prove that Oswald was unbalanced and unpredictable.
But that evades the pertinent question.
Where were the security services that were systematically hunting, harassing, and persecuting everyone in the US with even a pinkish tint? How does Oswald escape their net? Did anyone in the US leave such a trail of provocative left-wing foot prints as did Oswald?
Before, during, and after Oswald's pro-Cuban adventure in the deep South, critics were threatened, beaten, and even killed for opposing segregation. And yet Oswald's television notoriety earned by defending revolutionary Cuba brought a violent reaction only when Oswald provoked one. Lee Harvey Oswald was perhaps the only self-proclaimed leftist in the US who traveled, lived, and acted with impunity during this repressive era.
● Immediately before leaving for Mexico in September of 1963, Oswald telephoned the head of the Texas Socialist Labor Party to mention that he wanted to meet before he left for Mexico City, a conversation that was surely overheard by authorities. What would be the likelihood that the correspondence between two public Marxists would not be the subject of interest in these repressive times and in the paranoid South?
Border crossings were, as they are today, designed to filter those worthy of scrutiny or detention. Yet Oswald went on his merry way to Mexico City with his passport and visa intact. For years, Mexico had been a haven for political expatriates and fleeing victims of the blacklist. All were under constant attention from US and Mexican authorities. Like Portugal and Spain in World War II, Mexico was to the Cold War a hot bed of spying and intrigue where all the antagonists maintained robust stations. Enter Lee Harvey Oswald. Flashing his leftist credentials, Oswald visited and revisited the Cuban and Soviet embassies loudly touting his desires to travel to Cuba and the Soviet Union. Without doubt, these plans were exposed to US authorities, who, uncharacteristically, did virtually nothing. Should his plans have been actuated, he could have been the US's first double-defector! No one seemed too alarmed in the higher echelons of the CIA and FBI.
This tortured history could easily be dismissed as the expression of an unstable, twisted mind. But that dismissal would only strengthen the oddness of the lack of action on the part of the US security services that would have had to curiously dismiss Oswald's vocal leftism and uncommonly audacious expression of that postured leftism.
Viewed from the Marxist left, Oswald's showy exhibition with a gun in one hand and a copy of The Worker and The Militant in the other smells of a provocation. Even a newcomer to the culture of the left knows that Trotskyists and Communists are water and oil. Thus, for a “veteran” of the left like Oswald to go to some lengths to make such a display is only intelligible if he were seeding evidence for some unrevealed purpose. Was the carefully posed picture meant to impress the left? Of course not. Was it meant to make a different impression?
Oswald was likely the only “leftist” in the US to never make first-hand, direct contact with other leftists, to never attend a meeting, to never join an organized demonstration or vigil in 6-8 years of off-and-on “activism.” He was well known as a “leftist” to non-left acquaintances and co-workers as well as much of the general public. But the broad left only knew him through correspondences.
In the end, it is impossible to reconcile Oswald the “leftist” with the unlikely indifference of the US intelligence and police establishment. At the same time, it is impossible to accept the authenticity of that leftism.
But if Oswald was not genuine, if he was only posing as a leftist, what was he really?
Since the intelligence and police agencies ignored Oswald as though they knew he were not a leftist, since he slipped easily through the net that captured thousands of the faintly pink, who did they think he was? He certainly did plenty to deserve their attention, attention that they seemed determined not to give.
Until we know who Oswald really was, we will never solve Kennedy's assassination.