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U.S. Communist Leader Gus Hall Dead

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.

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

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.

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

His revolutionary beliefs landed him in jail for 8 1/2 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 jail.

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 from being the leader of such a tiny, unpopular movement, Hall was known for his joviality, and enjoyed telling funny stories about being the Communist Party boss in capitalist America.

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?"

A big man with thick, gray hair and a barrel chest, Hall was born Arvo Kusta Halberg in Virginia, Minnesota, on Oct. 8, 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, at 16, joined the party. 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.

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

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.

He kept on his office desk a pink box of Insam tea a birthday gift from the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. On the wall was a painting of a forest, a present from the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

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, 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. Some don't believe me, but nobody seems angry," he said in a 1987 interview.

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