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May 23: Trying to Liberalize the Communist Party

May 22, 2016

220px-John_GatesJohn Gates (Solomon Regenstreif), a Communist journalist and activist who led an unsuccessful attempt to liberalize the American Communist Party (CPUSA) after Nikita Khrushchev took power and denounced Stalinism, died at 78 on this date in 1992. Gates was the son of candy-store owners in the Bronx and was employed by the WPA during the Great Depression. He was a commander in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, known as a tough disciplinarian who actually oversaw the execution of another Jewish Spanish Vet volunteer, Bernard Abramofsky, for desertion and black marketeering. Gates enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight Nazism, and enrolled in the Army Parachute School to get to the front lines, but his status as a known communist delayed his arrival in Germany until April, 1945. From 1949-54 he was imprisoned under the anti-Communist Smith Act, and after his release he became editor of the CPUSA’s Daily Worker. He used that position to oppose the USSR’s suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, to support Khrushchev’s short-lived anti-Stalinization campaign, and to urge that the CPUSA become independent of Moscow. After a year of intense internecine conflict, Gates resigned from the newspaper and the Party and wrote his memoir, The Story of an American Communist.

“The paper received an unprecedented flood of mail, and even more unprecedented, we decided to print all the letters, regardless of viewpoint — a step which the Daily Worker had never taken before. The full page of letters, in our modest eight pages, soon became its liveliest and most popular feature... Readers spoke out as never before, pouring out the anguish of many difficult years.” —John Gates