Benjamin Gitlow

Benjamin Gitlow

Benjamin Gitlow (1891 - 1965) was a prominent American socialist of the early twentieth century.


Benjamin Gitlow was born on December 22 1891 in Elizabethport, New Jersey. His father, Lewis Albert Gitlow, emigrated from Russia in 1888, followed by his mother, Kate Gitlow, in 1889.

Political career

Gitlow was a member of the Socialist Party. He became a member in 1909 at the age of eighteen, and served as the first president of the Retail Clerks Union of New York just four years later. He was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1917 as a member from the Bronx. Along with John Reed, Gitlow helped to publish "The Revolutionary Age", a leftist newsletter. In 1919 the more revolutionary socialists, led by Reed and Gitlow, split from the Socialist Party and later formed the Communist Labor Party. At the behest of the Communist International, the two parties later merged as the Communist Party USA. Gitlow was the Communist candidate for Vice President in 1924 and 1928.

Arrest and trial

He was arrested and convicted for violating the New York Criminal Anarchy Law of 1902, which made it a crime to encourage the violent overthrow of government, and was sentenced to 5-10 years in prison. He served three years at Sing Sing prison and was released in 1922. Just three years later, in 1925, the Supreme Court upheld his conviction in "Gitlow v. New York", arguing that the publication of a manifesto in the "Revolutionary Age" was incitement. Despite his conviction, New York's Governor, Al Smith, subsequently pardoned him and he returned to politics.

Dissent from the party

Although he was a founder of the Communist Party USA, Gitlow was permanently expelled in 1933 (along with Jay Lovestone) for openly criticizing the crimes of Joseph Stalin. Between 1933 and 1935, he continued to be active in politics, founding several small organizations, including the Workers Communist League, the Organization Committee for a Revolutionary Workers Party, and Labor Party Association. After rejoining the Socialist Party in 1934, he resigned.

He later became an anti-communist. In 1939, he publicly rejected the Communist Party in testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, or HUAC. He also published several books throughout the 1940s and 1950s rejecting Communism.


Gitlow died in Crompond, New York on July 19, 1965. His survivors included his wife, Badana Zeitlin, whom he had wed in 1924.


Newsletter, "The Revolutionary Age," 1920s.

Book, "I Confess: The Truth About American Communism," 1940.

Book, "The Whole of Their Lives: Communism in America: A Personal History and Intimate Portrayal of Its Leaders," 1948.

ee also

* [ J. Murrey Atkins Library: Benjamin Gitlow Manuscript Collection]
* [ Communist Party of America History, 1919-1946]

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