The death on Oct. 13 of Gus Hall, leader of the Communist
Party USA from 1959-1999, has been the occasion for the
capitalist press to dip deeply into their wells of poison ink.
Their obituaries are only an excuse to ridicule and revile the
very idea that socialism is possible, that the working class
can run society.
Of course, they pretend to pay respect to Hall's proletarian
origins. His parents were impoverished Finnish immigrants in
Minnesota. His father, a miner, early on joined the
Wobblies--the International Workers of the World. In 1927,
Hall's father recruited him into what was then called the
American Communist Party. By then Gus Hall had worked sunup to
sundown in the woods as a half-starved lumberjack, and knew
what exploitation was first-hand.
He became a steelworkers' organizer during the Great
Depression, and was a founder of the United Steel Workers of
America. That was a period when plants had shut down in the
capitalist countries and tens of millions of workers were
unemployed, spurring the fight for industrial unions.
From the sarcastic tone of the bourgeois obituaries on Hall,
one would think that exploitation is now a thing of the past in
the United States, and that anyone who believes in the class
struggle is under a delusion. But let the writers for the giant
media corporations go out into the real world and they will
find that, despite the fabulous growth in wealth for the top 1
percent of society, low wages, long hours, union-busting laws
and rotten working conditions are still a grave concern for
tens of millions of workers.
Hall studied in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s and came
away dedicated to building a socialist society. Much amazement
is expressed that this "quintessential American" should have
remained devoted to the Soviet Union, even after its downfall.
It is worth thinking about, surely.
The contrast between the USSR and the capitalist world was
electrifying in the 1930s. Just when bosses all over Europe and
the U.S. were tossing workers out by the tens of millions, the
Soviet government was putting millions to work building new
industries under its first five-year plan.
This young worker from the U.S. took away with him a basic
devotion to the new system. What so irks the ruling class is
that all the reverses of the USSR failed to shake his
convictions. He was convinced that the problems came not from
the Soviet leaders but from the enemies of the revolution--and
in that he was mainly correct.
Workers World Party has had many, many differences with the
Communist Party over the years. Some have to do with the
degeneration of the great Bolshevik Party that began soon after
But probably the most important difference is over the
attitude communists should take toward the "liberal"
bourgeoisie. In the struggle to revive a fighting movement
against capitalism, Workers World has always called on the
workers and oppressed to organize independently and not rely on
any segments of the ruling class.
Our differences are clearly seen in relation to the
Democratic Party, which is a trusted instrument of the
imperialist bourgeoisie even as it creates an image appealing
to the workers and oppressed. The CPUSA presents the Democratic
Party as a lesser evil, predicting that a Republican electoral
victory would be tantamount to a right-wing takeover with
fascist overtones. This has been their position for many years,
and in effect amounts to support for the Clinton-Gore Democrats
who gutted welfare, deeply cut other social programs, gave the
Pentagon the billions it wanted, and carried out imperialist
wars in Africa, the Middle East and Yugoslavia.
It should be remembered that the harsh anti-communist
campaign called the Cold War, which so tore up the Bill of
Rights, began under the presidency of a Democrat, Harry S.
Truman. Gus Hall himself was one of 12 CPUSA leaders indicted
in 1948 under the Smith Act gag law, and he spent eight years
in jail for his views. The Smith Act had earlier been used
under Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt to imprison 18 leaders of
the Socialist Workers Party because of their opposition to
World War II.
Whether Democrats or Republicans are elected, it is militant
struggle, not the ballot box, that forces concessions out of
the ruling class and can change the course of history.
A new generation of communists is being born in reaction to
the cruelties of capitalism. It is sensitive to the issues that
face the working class today: economic exploitation, of course,
but also racism, sexism, oppression of lesbians, gays, bi and
trans people, imperialist wars, immigrant bashing, the
destruction of the environment and all the other ruling-class
crimes that have led to so many progressive grassroots
It needn't be held back by the shortcomings of earlier
movements, but it should pay due respects to all who have spent
their lives in the struggle to overcome this vicious system of
decaying finance capital.
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