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  U.S. Communist Gus Hall Dies at 90

By Karen Matthews
Associated Press Writer
Monday, Oct. 16, 2000; 9:34 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK –– Gus Hall, the Communist Party-USA boss who steadfastly stuck to his beliefs through years in prison and the collapse of communist regimes around the world, has died. He was 90.

Hall died Friday in Manhattan of complications relating to diabetes, Scott Marshall, a Communist Party official, said.

A communist activist since 1926, Hall never repudiated his ideas, even after the dissolution of Communist societies in eastern Europe and the dismantling of the Soviet Union, events he bitterly lamented.

Hall saw the communist movement worldwide go through a variety ideological twists and turns, many of them dictated by the Comintern, the Moscow body that told foreign parties what to do and how to position themselves.

The U.S. version of the party was especially hard hit in the 1950s. It was shaken at home by fierce anti-communist attacks from Sen. Joseph McCarthy, while abroad, the denunciation of dictator Josef Stalin by his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, called into question the very fundamentals of the party in its home country.

Hall was in jail during much of that time. When he assumed leadership of the party in the U.S. it was much diminished, although still used by Moscow as a propaganda tool.

"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," said Sam Webb, Communist Party National Chairman. His comments were contained in a Hall obituary on the Communist Party USA Web site.

Hall called former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin "a wrecking crew."

"I did what I believe in. I believe socialism is inevitable," he said in an interview in April 1992. "Life cannot go on forever without that step (socialism), and setbacks don't change it."

Hall was convicted in 1949 for conspiring to teach the violent overthrow of the federal government. He jumped bail after his arrest and fled to Mexico, where he was arrested and sent back and was jailed for 8½ years.

Hall, whose name became synonymous with the American communist movement, said harassment at home ranged from FBI surveillance of the party's Manhattan headquarters to his inability to get a credit card for many years.

He said such persecution was responsible for the decline in party membership, from about 100,000 in the 1930s to about 15,000 in the 1990s.

In the party, Hall was known for his joviality. He ran for president four times and never garnered even 1 percent of the vote. He blamed that on election law requirements, which kept him off the ballot in half the states when he last ran in 1984, polling 36,386 votes.

He wrote several books on the evils of market economics, including "Fighting Racism," "The Crisis of U.S. Capitalism and the Fight Back" and "Ecology: Can We Survive Capitalism?"

Hall was born Arvo Kusta Halberg in Virginia, Minn., in 1910. He was one of 10 children of Finnish immigrants. His father, often jobless because of union activity, headed the local chapter of the Communist Party.

Hall worked as a lumberjack and a steelworker and joined the party at 16. He studied at the Lenin Institute in Moscow from 1931-1933.

He later organized worker protests in Ohio and Minnesota, and was frequently arrested on charges such as inciting riots.

He served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific from 1942 to 1946.

In 1959, he was elected Communist Party chairman after his release from prison, and he received the Order of Lenin, the highest medal in the Soviet Union.

Before the demise of the Soviet Union, Hall traveled there about once a year, appearing in Soviet media as an American spokesman for the poor and disenfranchised.

In 1987, Hall received $2 million from the Soviet government for his party's expenses, according to formerly top secret documents quoted in 1992 by The Washington Post. Payments to client parties ceased in 1990, after anti-communist revolutions swept across eastern Europe.

More recently, his schedule was heavy with speeches at universities and appearances on radio talk shows.

He lived in suburban Yonkers with his wife, Elizabeth, and was accepted by neighbors.

Hall is survived by his wife; their two children, Barbara and Arvo; and three grandchildren.


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