Gus Hall, longtime leader of the Communist Party USA, died Friday in New York City of complications from diabetes. He was 90.
In the 1950s, Mr. Hall served eight years in federal prison for conspiring to overthrow the government.
By 1996, however, he supported the re-election of President Clinton, calling on the Communist Party to “mobilize people to vote and to re-elect Clinton as the only way … to defeat” Republicans he called “pro-fascist forces.”
Mr. Hall was the Communist Party’s presidential candidate in four consecutive elections from 1972 to 1984, running on the slogan “People Before Profits.” Mr. Hall received his highest total 58,992 votes in 1976.
Joining the Young Communist League at age 17, Mr. Hall devoted his life to the cause. Even after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union ending as much as $2 million a year in Kremlin subsidies to the American party Mr. Hall still spoke of the “inevitability” of Marxist socialism.
A 1993 newspaper profile called him “The Last Comrade.”
“Gus Hall is not only a giant figure in our party, but he was a giant figure in the world movement,” Scott Marshall, vice chairman of the Communist Party (CPSUSA) told The Washington Times.
Mr. Hall “was a figure in our movement that helped build our party, who fought in the struggles of the working class,” Mr. Marshall said. “He was a founding member of the [United] Steel Workers union. He was a champion in the struggle for equal rights, against all forms of discrimination and racism.”
Arvo Kusta Halberg was born in Minnesota, one of 10 children of Finnish immigrant parents who were charter members of CPUSA. He went to work as a lumberjack at age 14. By age 21, he was studying sabotage and guerrilla warfare at the Lenin Institute in Moscow.
Arrested for inciting a riot during a 1934 Teamsters strike in Minneapolis, he moved to Youngstown, Ohio, where he ran for City Council on the Communist ticket under his birth name. He changed his name to Gus Hall when he applied for a job in a steel mill that refused to hire Communists.
Mr. Hall was indicted on explosives charges during a 1937 Ohio steelworkers’ strike so violent the National Guard was called out to protect a Republic Steel plant. The explosive charges were dropped, Mr. Hall was fined $500 for vandalism, and the steel company was forced to recognize the union.
“That strike was the final blow against the steel giants’ vicious anti-union stance,” the CPUSA said in a press release yesterday.
During World War II, Mr. Hall volunteered for the Navy, served as a machinist mate, and was honorably discharged in 1946.
But in 1948, Mr. Hall and 11 other CPUSA leaders were indicted on federal charges of “conspiracy to teach and advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government by force and violence.”
Convicted in 1949, Mr. Hall jumped bail and fled the country. Captured in Mexico, he served eight years in the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan.
The party’s strength estimated at 100,000 members in the early 1940s had been broken by the time Mr. Hall was released from prison in 1959 and elected general secretary of CPUSA.
Revelations of Soviet espionage by Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the Soviet-backed invasion of South Korea, and congressional investigations by Sen. Joseph McCarthy and others contributed to communism’s declining support in the United States. The 1960 election saw John F. Kennedy, an anti-communist Democrat, narrowly defeat anti-communist Republican Richard M. Nixon.
Author of such works as the 1971 book “Erosion of U.S. Capitalism in the Seventies,” Mr. Hall published articles in the CPUSA newspaper, People’s Weekly World, as recently as last month.
Mr. Hall’s 1995 report to the CPUSA convention denounced House Speaker Newt Gingrich as leader of the “extreme right fascist-like forces who took over the Republican Party.”
In a 1999 article, Mr. Hall called Mr. Clinton’s impeachment “an attempted right-wing coup d’etat” and wrote: “We fully agree with Hillary Clinton when she called it a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy.’ ”
Mr. Hall is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; a daughter, Barbara; a son, Arvo; and two sisters.