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Gitlow, Benjamin (1891–1965)

ONE OF THE COFOUNDERS and most prominent early leaders of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA or CP), Benjamin Gitlow later broke with communism and became one of its harshest critics, allying himself with McCarthyite anti-communism. Today, he is best remembered for having instigated a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that expanded constitutional protection for freedom of speech—even though he lost the case.

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants and ardent socialists, he worked as a cloth cutter while studying law at night and joined the Socialist Party. In 1917, he was one of ten Socialists elected to the New York State Assembly; by the end of his term, however, he had quit the party after an unsuccessful attempt, together with fellow Bolshevik supporters John ...

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