John ‘Johnny’ Gates was an American Communist journalist and a true believer in the Marxist theory. He is well-known for leading the liberalization movement started by Communist Party of USA in the late 50s. He was born in a humble Polish-Jewish household and faced poverty as a child, which perhaps led him to believe in Marxist theory and think of it as the sole solution for all the financial and social problems in the United States of America. It influenced him so much that he left his studies in the middle to join the YCL as a Party Organizer in the steel industry, in order to come face to face with the realities of life instead of just sitting in the comfort of the classroom and think of new policies to change the situation. He joined the International Brigades, an organization that was attempting to defend the Popular Front during the Spanish Civil War and spent few years of his life in Spain and France. When he came back, he was appointed the head of the Young Communist League in New York State and also became the editor of the Communist Party’s newspaper ‘the Daily Worker’.
Childhood & Early Life
John Gates was born as Solomon Regenstriet in New York to Polish-Jewish parents; his father was owner of a candy store and ice-cream parlor. After the Wall Street Crash, his father had to become a waiter.
Gates started attending the City College of New York in 1930 and became highly influenced with the writings of Karl Marx. As a result, he joined the Young Communist League and participated in the campaign to free the Scotsboro Boys.
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In 1932, Gates shifted to Ohio and gave up his Regents Scholarship at the City College to join the YCL as a Party Organizer. He did various jobs under the National Youth Administration project, Works Progress Administration, etc.
Gates was sentenced to jail for 30 days in 1935 for circulating leaflets during a strike in New Castle, Pennsylvania. He was not given a chance to plead; the town mayor acted as a judge and sent him to jail.
In 1937 Gates joined the International Brigades, an organization that was attempting to defend the Popular Front during the Spanish Civil War, for which he travelled to France and Spain.
Gates was appointed the head of the Young Communist League in New York State after his return to the United States in 1938. He also served as Secretary of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
In 1949, Gates was sent to prison for 5 years as he was one of the 12 ‘Kingpin Commies ‘and was convicted under the Smith Act.
He was indicted because he was involved in ‘Marxist-Leninist principles of the overthrow and destruction of the Government...by force and violence’.
After serving his time in the prison, Gates became the editor of the Communist Party’s newspaper ‘the Daily Worker’ in 1955. His role as editor used to put him into trouble with the Party members from time to time.
Disillusionment with communism among workers and intellectuals affected the circulation of ‘The Daily Worker’ and the Party cancelled publication of the paper as a daily in 1957. This meant that Gates was now out of job.
In 1958, he resigned from the Party on the grounds that the Party was no longer effective in bringing democracy, peace and socialism in the country. He then started working on his memoir, ‘The Story of an American Communist’.
After the completion of his memoir, he started working as a senior research assistant for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), a position at which he worked until the end of his life.
Gates’ appointment as the editor of the Communist Party’s newspaper ‘the Daily Worker’ is considered to be the most important work of his life as his faith in Communism came alive in this period.
Personal Life & Legacy
Gates was married for 47 years to Lillian Schwartz and died in 1992 in Miami Beach, Florida.
Gates disapproved of the actions of Nikita Khrushchev and publicly made a statement that he felt ashamed of being a communist.
Gates was a strict disciplinarian and intolerant of criticism while he was serving in the International Brigades in Spain.
Gates published in the Young Communist Review that “Soviet Union was a socialist island in a sea of hostile capitalism” and that ‘it would be understandable if Joseph Stalin signed a military alliance with Adolf Hitler’.