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Gus Hall

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 Lenin's death.

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 movements.

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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