Gus Hall, U.S. Communist Party head, dies at 90

NEW YORK--Gus Hall, the American Communist Party 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.

Mr. Hall died Friday at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan of complications relating to diabetes, Scott Marshall, a Communist Party official, said yesterday.

A communist activist since 1926, Mr. 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.

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

His beliefs landed him in jail for 8½ years.

"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."

He 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. He spent most of the 1950s in prison.

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

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

Despite the harassment and isolation that resulted from being the leader of such a tiny, unpopular movement, Mr. Hall was known for his joviality. He ran for president four times and never garnered even 1 percent of the vote. 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?"

Mr. Hall was born Arvo Kusta Halberg in Virginia, Minn., on Oct. 8, 1910. He was one of 10 children of Finnish immigrants. He served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific from 1942 to 1946.

He was elected Communist Party chairman in 1959 and received the Order of Lenin, the highest medal in the Soviet Union.

He lived in suburban Yonkers, where he said he and his wife, Elizabeth, were accepted by their neighbors. But in chats with strangers on a plane or train, he said many were incredulous when he spoke of his job.

"Many say they never met a real live Communist before," he said in a 1987 interview.

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