Gus, RIP

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Mon Oct 16 09:01:33 PDT 2000


NEW YORK -- Gus Hall, long time Communist Party leader, died Friday Oct. 13 in New York City. He was 90.

Hall was one of the most famous American communists. He led an extraordinary life of working class activism and was a participant in nearly all of the most important social struggles that transformed America in the twentieth century. He came from, and was typical of, an outstanding generation of activists on issues of workers' rights, peace, equality, international solidarity and socialism. Like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Paul Robeson, William Z. Foster, John L. Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois, and many other Communist and non-Communist figures he worked with, he leaves a deep imprint on America's political life.

Originally from the Minnesota Iron Range, Hall was born into a politically active Finnish family. As a young man he worked in the lumber camps of the far north.

At 17, he became an organizer for the Young Communist League (YCL). He later made his way to Youngstown Ohio where he ran for mayor on the Communist Party ticket, under his birth name, Arvo Gus Halberg. When Hall wanted to get a job in the steel mills, because of blacklisting he knew he wouldn't be hired, so he changed it to Gus Hall. The name stuck.

Hall was an organizer for the Steelworkers Organizing Committee (SWOC), a founding member of the United Steelworkers of America and a strike leader during the "Little Steel Strike" of 1937. That strike was the final blow against the steel giants vicious, anti-union stance. Hall helped to organize over 10,000 steelworkers in the Mahoning Valley.

Later Hall became an organizer for the Communist Party. A staunch fighter against racism and fascism Hall volunteered for the U.S. Navy, when World War II broke out, serving as a machinist mate in a machine shop in Guam. He was honorably discharged March 6, 1946. On July 22,1948, Hall and 11 other Communist Party leaders were indicted under the Smith Act on false charges of "conspiracy to teach and advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government by force and violence."

Many communists and progressives were jailed, blacklisted and hounded by the FBI during one of the most undemocratic periods in our country's history. Hall spent eight years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary for the crime of "thinking." The Supreme Court finally struck down the Smith Act as unconstitutional.

After his release Hall continued his activism in the working class, democratic, peace and civil rights struggles, making many public speeches and media appearances. Hall was famous around the world as a respected Communist leader and had warm relations with many heads of state. Hall addressed numerous international meetings of Communist and workers' parties.

Hall ran for President four times on the Communist Party ticket, making People before Profits a rallying slogan.

An internationally renowned Marxist theoretician, Hall authored many books, articles and speeches. Two of his best know books are Working Class USA and Racism, the Nation's Most Dangerous Pollutant.

Sam Webb, the National Chair of the Communist Party, said, "Gus Hall will be greatly missed by the progressive movements and our Party. Through all the turmoil of McCarthyism, the Reagan/Bush years of attacks on labor, and the setbacks to socialism, Hall helped our party maintained a clear, stable focus in the working class, and the people's movements for peace, social justice and socialism."

Hall is survived by his wife Elizabeth, also a founder of the USWA, a daughter, Barbara, a son, Arvo, two sisters and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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