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John Gates

John Gates, editor of the Communist Daily Worker and a leader in the Communist Party in the United States for 27 years, talks to Wallace about why he quit the Communist Party.

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Guest: John Gates

WALLACE: Good evening, tonight we shall try to examine the mind and the emotions of a man who for twenty-seven years was a leader in the Communist Party of the United States. He's John Gates, who was editor of the Communist Daily Worker, he left the party, renounced Communism a week ago. If you're curious to know why John Gates became a Communist, why he quit after devoting twenty-seven years to it, whether he thinks he was a traitor and what he hopes the future holds for him as an American, we'll go after those stories in just a moment. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Parliament, another fine product of the Philip Morris Company.


WALLACE: We'll meet John Gates in just a moment.


WALLACE: And now to our story. For twenty-seven years, John Gates played a significant, bitterly controversial role in the United States, until he left the Party a week ago, he was a top-ranking leader in the Communist Party of the United States. Another ex-Communist has said of him, "Gates was the only national leader to be loved, honored and respected by the Communist rank and file." We know a good deal of what's been said about John Gates; let's find out what he has to say about himself. Mr. Gates, first of all let me put this to you. You spent practically your entire adult life in the Communist Party of the United States, you joined when you were seventeen at the depths of the depression, worked your way up until you became one of its top leaders, because of this you had to pay a heavy price, which included going to jail. Then suddenly a week ago you quit the party. As briefly as you can, why did you quit?

GATES: I resigned from the Party, because it no longer believes in the freedom that it professes to have as its goal.

WALLACE: It no longer believes? You mean that the Communist Party during your twenty-seven years believed in freedom?

GATES: Yes, it did. That was its goal, that was my goal in the Party...

WALLACE: Well now was it...

GATES: ...and at the last convention of the Party a year ago it adopted a new program which was interpreted widely as constituting a Declaration of Independence from Moscow; because the Party no longer lives up to that Declaration of Independence, and I don't think that there's any hope that it will, that I quit.

WALLACE: You're suggesting that all through the twenty-seven years up until about last February or whenever the convention was held the Communist Party of the United States was a free and freedom-loving institution?

GATES: It was not free but it was freedom-loving.

WALLACE: It was freedom-loving for who? After all, the crushing of freedom, authoritarianism that has been going on in the United States Communist Party and in Communism generally, Mr. Gates, as we all know and I think probably ninety-nine percent of us will admit for a good many years, for instance, Earl Browder was kicked out back in Nineteen forty-five for disagreeing with the Party line. How under those circumstances can you say that it -- that it has been a free Party all along?

GATES: Well the kicking out of Earl Browder was one of the biggest mistakes that the Party ever made. As a matter of fact, it helped to dig its own grave when it did that. But you see many of us thought in the years that we belonged to the Communist Party that it was necessary to sacrifice freedom within the Party in order to achieve freedom later on.

WALLACE: Mr. Gates, is there any doubt in your mind that the American Communist Party over the period of the twenty-seven years when you were in the Party followed every twist and turn of the Soviet Communist Party Line?

GATES: Oh, that -- that vas so up until two years ago.

WALLACE: Well then how in the world can you suggest that there is freedom involved if they follow the Communist line as set up by a foreign power?

GATES: Well you see you have to understand how and why it followed that line. It's not a matter that -- uh -- someone gave orders over there and we followed it over here. It's much more subtle than that. Uh -- we followed that line because we thought it was right. It's more or less like a relationship "between two people. One is an aggressive, brilliant personality and the other worships that person, and that person becomes sort of an idol for him and he tends to imitate and ape everything that he does ....

WALLACE: But you...

GATES: Well that kind of relationship is a bad relationship for both people.

WALLACE: Certainly not a free relationship.

GATES: Certainly not.

WALLACE: No. Well now, answer again this question, why did it take you, John Gates twenty-seven years to get fed up with a group that destroyed freedom and dignity, the Communist Party of the United States? Why twenty-seven years?

GATES: Because in those twenty-seven years, I and the Communist Party did a great deal to uphold the freedom and dignity. When I joined in nineteen thirty-one, as you said before that was in the midst of the depression, the biggest one this country ever had; nobody had any answers for what to do. The country was in a panic. The only people that seemed to me to have any kind of a solution were the Communists, and not only did they have a solution but they did things, and I joined because of that and I began to do things too. I went to Youngstown, Ohio when I was nineteen, I left college, I left home, I didn't know where I was going to live, I didn't know how I was going to live. I hadn't a penny in my pocket but I went there to organize the unemployed. I went there to try to organize the steel workers into an industrial union, a few years later I volunteered to fight in Spain against Fascism. A couple of years after thatI volunteered in World War Two, a week after Pearl Harbor. Well these were good things that the Party did.

WALLACE: No, these were good things that in your mind you did, but you didn't necessarily have to be a Communist in order to do any or all of those things. There were other people who worked in behalf of labor; there were other people who volunteered to join the American Armed Forces, and yet they didn't have to be Communists to do it, and the fact of the matter is, isn't it, Mr. Gates, this is what I'm trying to understand, that in -- you were after a certain end, an understandable end, but the means that you employed to achieve that end were bent upon destroying the very American heritage of freedom which is the most important thing that we possess in this country.

GATES: Well again that's -- that a contradictory question because -- uh -- because we did things to uphold American traditions of freedom and we also did things to destroy them. For example, we pioneered and you said everybody did these things that we did, but that wasn't true.

WALLACE: Not everybody....

GATES: ...true in nineteen thirty-one.

WALLACE: ...I said a good many...

GATES: All right, that's true...

WALLACE: ...other people did

GATES: ...In nineteen thirty-one there was a kind of vacuum in the country which we filled, we stepped into this vacuum.

WALLACE: You partially filled...

GATES: That's true, I would say that.

WALLACE: ...and you were certainly in the -- you were certainly in the minority even then.

GATES: But on this question of freedom, for example, well the Communist Party in nineteen thirty-one was one of the first organizations in this country to dramatize the whole issue of civil rights for Negro people, equal citizenship, and that certainly was upholding traditions of American freedom and American democracy. Now in doing that we did a lot of other things which tended to destroy all the good things that we did...

WALLACE: And that's...

GATES: ...and finally discredited us amongst the American people.

WALLACE: That's the point and why? What I'm trying to find out if I can is why you, and why so many thousands of others failed to understand that in doing those things you were destroying the bulwark of America, which is its freedom. Why did it take you as long as it did? That is what I'm trying to understand.

GATES: It took me a long time, it took me twenty-seven years because in those twenty-seven years -- uh -- we did a great deal to uphold American democracy and to advance...

WALLACE: It begins to sound ...

GATES: ...our country.

WALLACE: It begins to sound a little bit like a broken record playing and playing. Tell me this, -- uh -- In a sense your story is similar to that of the Novelist, Howard Fast who quit the Party last year. Is Fast a man whom you respect?,

GATES: I admire him as a writer and I admire him as a person even though I disagree with some of the things that he's said and done...

WALLACE: Well in his new...

GATES: ...but I think he's an honest man.

WALLACE: You think he's an honest man?


WALLACE: In his new book, "The Naked God", Howard Fast writes this about what it takes to be a leader in the Communist Party. He says this, quote: "He must be driven by a lust for power for there are few other rewards for party leadership. Power, he says, is the drug, the spur, and the goal. And he goes on to say, power-hungry, dictatorial, inhuman and anti-human, he calls Communist leaders, in no matter what country." Could it be that you simply stayed in the Party because you craved a sense of power, of importance?

GATES: No, I don't think so and that's one of the things I disagree with Mr. Fast on. I don't think it's a question of power. I think that what kept people in the Communist Party was something much more important and fundamental than that. Uh -- When I sacrificed my life, including going to two wars and going to jail, that wasn't a question of power .Uh -- I could probably have made a lot more money -- uh -- working somewhere outside the Communist Party than I made in -- than I made inside the Communist Party...

WALLACE: How much as Editor of the Daily Worker did you make in take-home pay, if I may ask?

GATES: My average take-home pay was sixty-five dollars a week.

WALLACE: For the past five years, let's say?

GATES: That's right.

WALLACE: Sixty-five dollars a week?

GATES: That's right.

WALLACE: A competent newspaperman, editor?

GATES: Well people may have their own opinions as to how competent I was.

WALLACE: And yet you were willing - you were willing for what you conceived to be an ideal to work for that kind of money? You say you didn't want power. Is it possible that you were just caught up in the apparatus, that you were on a treadmill and you didn't know how to get out?

GATES: No, I -- I got out when I wanted to get out and when I thought it was necessary to get out. Nobody forced me to and I wasn't compelled to.

WALLACE: You see, what I'm trying to find out is - a little bit of the History, American History of the past 25 years, why some men got in, why they stayed in as long, how they could have been as wrong as you now confess yourself to have been, but why it took you as long as you did to get out. Uh - the distinguished American Psychiatrist Robert Lindner wrote this about American Communists: He said, "With the tenacity of faith recalling the passion of Hebrew Prophets and Christian Martyrs they believe - even in the face of brutal realities the belief of these many remains unshaken. So what he does in a sense is like Communism to a religion. Was it for you a religion? Is it for people who still remain within the party - that kind of a faith?"

GATES: It is in a sense a kind of faith like that and especially in a sense that - uh - it is an unshaken faith. That's one of the things that helped the Communist Party go down the drain - and that is that it - uh - although it - uh - it contributed a great deal in the past 25 years to change America - it was unable to change itself and lost touch with American reality. It kept believing in things that it was no longer possible to believe in.

WALLACE: I know, and we keep coming back - the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, Norman Thomas Socialists, also have contributed to the progress of America for the past 25 years - but none of these people found it necessary, none of these groups found it necessary to abridge our freedoms, and you preached the abridgement of freedoms.

GATES: Oh, not at all. Uh - we uh - uh - never preached the abridgement of American freedoms.

WALLACE: Well, that's why you're out - that's why you're out of the Party right now. Uh - let me ask you this. There are skeptics here in New York particularly, skeptics who say John Gates has left the Communist Party now because he had a bitter factional fight with the foster group, the William Z. Foster group, and he left really for -for very personal - uh - factional reasons rather then because he is really sick to death and fed up with Communism. How do you react to that?

GATES: It's true that it was a bitter fight, but behind that bitter fight, there were not personal reasons primarily. There were political reasons, and it had to do with the relationship between the American Communists and Communists abroad, especially Communists of the Soviet Union. This worshipful - worshipful admiration that I spoke of before - uh -that the - uh - Communists - uh - had of the Soviet Union for the last 25 years - uh - finally resulted in alienating - uh -the American Communists - uh - from the American People.

WALLACE: I think you're making it sound a little too simple, sir. You wrote in your series for the New York Post, which will appear next week, that when you were in the Communist Party-you worked for a Soviet System in the United States. That's a quote from you. You admit that for years you doggedly followed the Soviet Russian line. Now, think for an instant, if you and the rest of you had had your way, would not the United States now be a dictatorship or a Satellite Country? Wouldn't we all be living in fear without freedom, without dignity?

GATES: Yes, if we had had our way in 1931, that would have been the case.

WALLACE: Or for 25 years after that.

GATES: But, but the point I'm trying to make is that something happened in this Party in the last two years, and - uh - a convention took place a year ago, which constituted a break from that kind of policy.

WALLACE: You pointed that out before.

GATES: But something has happened since that convention which has - uh - resulted in - in the betrayal of that new program.

WALLACE: Let me ask you this, please if there - maybe it's an over simple question but, I would like a straight answer to this. What is bad about Communism?

GATES: What is bad about Communism as it had been practiced so far - is that it does not have Democracy. What is good about it

WALLACE: - I'm not asking -

GATES: Well, I want to tell you what's good about it because then you can't understand what's bad about it and - uh - why - uh- I still believe in Socialism. What's good about it is the fact that - uh - production is for use and is planned. And - uh -is not held by private owners who operate the economy on behalf of a few.

WALLACE: We understand that and these are the - uh - aspirations of the Socialists led by Norman Thomas, a good American, a respected American who found that he could achieve his aims he believed through the ballot rather than the bullet. So in a sense that is the difference between Communism and Socialism, that is what is bad about Communism and yet you seem reluctant. You - you - you appear to me - as a man

GATES: I'm not reluctant at all, that's why I quite the Communist Party, and I've been very vigorous in - uh - presenting my views on this for the last two years - publicly.

WALLACE: There are - there are five to eight thousand Communists left in the Party in the United States, we're told. Who are these people in the rank and file and what I mean by that is, where do they live mostly in the United States, what economic professional groups do they come from?

GATES: About half of - uh - the present membership of the Communist Party is in New York City. Most of the others - uh - are in- uh - Chicago, California.

WALLACE: What professional groups?

GATES: I would say half of them are workers, and - uh - half of them are housewives.

WALLACE: People of moderate or low income?

GATES: Moderate, I would say.

WALLACE: And I understand that there are very few young people - you're 44 and you're one of the youngest members I understand in the present -

GATES: There are almost - there are almost no young people in the Party today, and very few even of my age level. Uh - the age level is in the late 50's and nobody is coming into the Party so that the Party is getting older, it's dying.

WALLACE: Well, those diehards who remain devoted Party members, even now, those who still look to the Soviet Union as Utopia. Suppose the United States and Russia went to war, is it not reasonable to assume that those diehards would remain loyal to Russia?

GATES: I'd like to answer that first by saying that it wouldn't make any difference what they would do if war broke out between the United States and Russia.

WALLACE: That we understand, but that's not the question.

GATES: I don't think you understand that. It would be too late.

WALLACE: I understand that.

GATES: Because once war broke out between the United States and the Soviet Union, within a few minutes - you and I and most other Americans, and for that matter humanity might not be alive.

WALLACE: But where would their loyalty be?

GATES: Nobody would be in a position to debate or talk about such things.

WALLACE: Where would their loyalty be?

GATES: I don't know where their loyalty would be, I know where my loyalty would be.

WALLACE: Where would your loyalty?

GATES: My loyalty - in any war of aggression against the United States of America would always be with the United States.

WALLACE: What if the United States were to go to the aid of a small country, one of our allies which had been attacked. Let's say that we decided to go to the defense of Hungary. Where would your loyalty be?

GATES: If we went to the defense of a country which was the victim of aggression, - uh - my loyalty would be with the United States.

WALLACE: Do you feel that Hungary was the victim of aggression - by Mr. Khrushchev and his troops?

GATES: Uh - my newspaper, the Daily worker, when I was the Editor of it, condemned - uh - the armed intervention of the Soviet Union in Hungary, although at the same time we opposed the use that John Foster Dulles was trying to make of that in order to destroy Socialism in Hungary.

WALLACE: I ask you now, was Hungary the victim of aggression? Just a yes or no.

GATES: Yes, it was.

WALLACE: John Gates, in just a moment I'm going to ask you - how you feel about yourself today - after giving your adult life to a swindle that still would seem to justify deceit and murder in place of dignity and the freedom, do you consider that you were a traitor, a dupe or possibly a kind of tragic fool? We'll get the answer to that question in just 60 seconds.

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WALLACE: John Gates, how do you feel about yourself today after giving your entire adult life to Communism? Do you consider that you were a traitor to the United States, a dupe or possibly do you consider yourself a kind of a tragic -- tragically foolish?

GATES: I don 't consider myself any one of those things. Uh - I am not ashamed of my 27 years in the Communist Party. I'm not ashamed of what I did in 1931 to help bring unemployment and Social Insurance to this Country, or my fight in Spain against Fascism or my fight in World War II. I'm proud of those things. I am deeply ashamed of many of the mistakes that I made and that the Party made - but, we made those mistakes thinking that we were doing those things in the interest of America.

WALLACE: As you know in the past we've interviewed Earl Browder who was thrown out of the Party, excommunicated back in 1945 --for preaching against the Soviet line. When we talked with Mr. Browder, we got the picture of a man who seemed to be trying to convince himself that he too had been right all along and that he had made some mistakes but that all in all he had been a good American. Isn't that really what you're trying to do yourself? Are you not proving yourself unwilling in a sense? And I certainly don't mean to preach, but unwilling to really confess your errors?

GATES: Not at all - uh - uh - on the contrary - uh - I think that - uh - the mistakes that I have made and that the Party have made - uh - have - uh been so big - uh - that it has resulted in the death of the Communist Party and that's why I quit it. And that's why I'm trying to do something new and different.

WALLACE: Did you ever go to Russia?

GATES: No, I've never been in the Soviet Union.

WALLACE: Were you never invited?


WALLACE: You had no particular yen to go there?

GATES: Yes, I would have liked to have gone but, somehow or other the opportunity never presented itself.

WALLACE: How do you think American Communists have been regarded by Russia, particularly how do you think they are regarded by the Soviet Communist Party now?

GATES: I don't think the Soviet Communists understand -- American Communists or for that matter Americans in general.

WALLACE: Do you think they value their Communist comrades here?

GATES: I think they - uh - don't value the right things about them, and for that reason they threw their weight behind those people in the Party who have really resulted in the destruction of the Party.

WALLACE: There are seven, eight thousand Communists left in the Party here. How do we get them out?

GATES: I can only think of one thing that's more futile than belonging to the Communist Party, and that is to devote one's life to getting people out of the Communist Party. I'm not gonna do that and for that matter I don't have to nor - nor does anybody yelse have to, because the Communist Party is doing such a good job of destroying itself and it doesn't need any help from anybody else. The best thing to do is let it alone and it'll die. However, I'd like to add another point on that, and that is that it's peculiar that as McCarthyism declined in this Country - and - uh - freedom expanded, that is at this moment that people began to leave the Communist Party more than during the height of the repression against it. So I would say the best -uh- way to handle Communism is to expand freedom.

WALLACE: To expand freedom.

GATES: In our Country and in the world.

WALLACE: They seem to be sensible, if somewhat paradoxical words coming from a man who spent 27 years in the Communist Party but, maybe you would understand better than all of us how valuable freedom is. What kind of a place now for a final question - what kind of a place do you think there is for you, John Gates, in American life?

GATES: I think there is a place - uh - from the reactions to my quitting the Party I know there is a place. I want to talk to people, find out what they want to do before I decide what I want to do. I want to devote my life to -- freeing from prison - uh - two of my former colleagues - uh - Gill Green and Henry Winston, who are still there for the false charge of - uh - advocating the overthrow of the Government by force and violence. I want to fight John Foster Dulles, I want to fight against the Cold War. I didn't quit the Party in order to switch on those things.

WALLACE: John Gates, I thank you for coming and spending this half hour. When John Gates quit the Communist Party an editorial in the New York Herald Tribune said this: They said, "There is plenty of room and plenty of need for men of courage in the genuine battle for peace." They went on to say, "We welcome John Gates to the battle and belated though it may be, to the company of free men." It probably should be added that though John Gates may now be in the company of free men, perhaps he will not be free himself until he realizes fully the role he played for twenty-seven long years in the fight against freedom. In a moment I'll bring you a rundown on next week's guest, one of America's top labor leaders who's heading for one of the toughest battles of his career.


WALLACE: Next week we go after the story of conflict between big business and big labor in fifty-eight. Our guest will be the President of the United Auto Workers, Walter Reuther, whose controversial new profit-sharing plan fo union working men is being called "foreign, radical, socialist and fascistic" by spokesmen for big business. If you're curious to know how Walter Reuther answers that charge and why he counter-charges that as things are going now, we're heading for over five million unemployed this year, we'll go after that story next week from Detroit. Till then for Parliament... Mike Wallace, good night.

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