Benjamin Gitlow papers
Scope and Contents
The Gitlow Papers document Gitlow's activities for almost half a century, both as a Communist and an anti-Communist. The papers include correspondence, speeches, writings, research notes, financial records, and a large amount of printed material. The material from Gitlow's Communist period is smaller in quantity than that from his anti-Communist years, and it consists predominately of his own writings. Among the highlights are correspondence between Gitlow and his family during the first two years of his imprisonment (series 1.3); letters he wrote to his wife while in Moscow in 1929 concerning his fight with Stalin (series 1.3); material about attempted Communist infiltration into labor unions (series 3); and copies of his speeches, essays, and pamphlets in praise of Communism (series 4). The collection also includes a small amount of correspondence with or material about James Larkin, Louise Bryant (wife of John Reed), Jay Lovestone, and Max Eastman. Except for material about his first book, I Confess, in series 1.1 and 4, the papers contain little substantive material from the mid 1930s until the late 1940s. The bulk of the collection dates from about 1949 through 1965, the year of Gitlow's death. Series 3, publications, is the largest series in the collection and contains hundreds of pamphlets, newsletters, reports, and other publications, most of which were issued by anti-Communist groups. The other series reveal in some detail Gitlow's own activities and his changed attitude toward Communism. Series 2 contains all of the working papers for Theatre for Freedom, a short lived organization Gitlow founded in 1950 to use the entertainment industry in his fight against Communism. Also of importance are the speeches, drafts of articles and books, and research notes in series 4. Significant correspondents from this period are Alfred Kohlberg, Herbert Hoover, Alf Landon, Adolphe Menjou, Senator Karl Mundt (R-SD), and Eugene Lyons. The UNC Charlotte Library purchased Gitlow's library and what was believed to be the complete collection of his papers from his widow in 1973. It was later discovered that the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University had previously acquired some of Gitlow's papers from Myers G. Lowman of the anti-Communist organization known as the Circuit Riders, Inc. Both collections include material from the same time periods, but they do not seem to duplicate each other as to content. The Hoover collection, however, does contain a substantial amount of material from the 1930s. (See Hoover Institution register appended to this description.) Gitlow's library consisted of more than 700 books, which were dispersed in the regular library collection. A partial list of these books is in the collection file.
- 1910 - 1968
- 1949 - 1965
- Gitlow, Benjamin (Person)
ca. 4050 items
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.
Biographical / Historical
Benjamin Gitlow was born in Elizabethport, N.J. on December 22, 1891 to Russian immigrants. His father, Lewis Albert Gitlow, emigrated to the United States in 1888, while his mother, Kate, followed a year later. In 1909, Gitlow joined the Socialist Party. He organized and served as the first president of Retail Clerks Union of New York in 1913. As a Party candidate from the Bronx, Gitlow was elected to New York State Assembly in 1917. A year later, he joined the Left Wing Faction of Socialist Party. In 1919, Gitlow became manager of Revolutionary Age. That same year, the Left Wing faction was expelled from Socialist Party and Gitlow, John Reed, and James Larkin established the Communist Labor Party. In November, 1919, Gitlow and Larkin were arrested and charged with violating the New York State Criminal Anarchy Act and sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison. He ran as the Communist Party candidate for mayor of New York City in 1921. Released from prison in 1922, Gitlow then ran for Vice President of the United States on the Communist Party in 1924 and 1928. Although the United States Supreme Court upheld Gitlow's conviction in 1925, New York Governor Al Smith subsequently pardoned him. He visited Soviet Russia for the first time in 1927 and returned in 1928 and 1929. He again ran for Vice President of the United States in 1928. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin expelled him from the Party in 1929. This provided the impetus for Gitlow, along with Jay Lovestone, Bertram Wolfe, and others, to organize Communist Party, USA (Majority Group). Gitlow again found himself being expelled, in 1933, by the Community Party, USA. Over the next two years, he was a founding member and principal leader of three successive small organizations: Workers Communist League, Labor Party Association, and Organization Committee for a Revolutionary Workers Party. After rejoining the Socialist Party in 1934, he resigned shortly thereafter. His first public rejection of Communist Party came in 1939 with testimony before U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities. The following year he published I Confess: The Truth About American Communism. During the 1940s and 1950s, Gitlow proved popular as writer and lecturer on anti-Communist topics. In 1948, he published his second book, The Whole of Their Lives: Communism in America: A Personal History and Intimate Portrayal of Its Leaders. Gitlow married Badana Zeitlin in 1924. He died on July, 19, 1965 in Crompond, N.Y. [For additional biographical information, see Gitlow's own books, his unpublished autobiographical sketch in series 4, folder 14, "Benjamin Gitlow," pp. 290-92 in Dictionary of American Biography, supplement 7.]
7.25 Linear Feet
Papers of a co-founder of the Communist Labor Party and the Communist Party, USA (Majority Group), who later became an avid anti-Communist. Consists predominately of printed material dating from 1949-65, but also includes correspondence, speeches, writings, research notes, and financial records from all periods of his life.
ca. 4050 items
Processed by Johanna Mims, 1985.
- Papers of Benjamin Gitlow
- Finding aid compiled by Johanna Mims
- Description rules
- Language of description