Michael “Mike” Gold (April 12, 1894 – May 14, 1967) is the pen-name of Jewish American writer Itzok Isaac Granich. A lifelong communist, Gold was a novelist and literary critic. His semi-autobiographical novel Jews Without Money (1930) was a bestseller. During the 1930s and 1940s Gold was considered the preeminent author and editor of U.S. proletarian literature.
Gold was born Itzok Isaac Granich on April 12, 1894, on the Lower East Side of New York City to Romanian Jewish immigrant parents, Chaim Granich and Gittel Schwartz Granich. He had two brothers, Max and George. Mike Gold published his first writings under the name Irwin Granich. He reportedly took the pseudonym Michael Gold at the time of the Palmer Raids on radicals in 1919-20 from a Jewish Civil War veteran whom he admired for having fought to “free the slaves.”
The Masses, a socialist journal edited by Floyd Dell and Max Eastman, published his first pieces in August, 1914. “Three Whose Hatred Killed Them” is a poem about anarchists killed in a Lexington Avenue tenement by their own bomb. Gold praised their pure intentions. Until his death he was an ardent supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and of the Soviet Union in all its phases. In 1921-22 Gold and Claude McKay became Executive Editors of Max Eastman’s magazine The Liberator. In 1922, Gold wrote: “The Russian Bolsheviks will leave the world a better place than Jesus left it. They will leave it on the threshold of the final victory—the poor will have bread and peace and culture in another generation, not churches and a swarm of lying parasite minister dogs, the legacy of Jesus.
In 1925 Gold visited Moscow. In 1926 he was a founding editor of The New Masses, which published leftist works and also set up radical theater groups. Gold served as editor-in-chief from 1928 to 1934. At both The Liberator and The New Masses, he favored publishing letters, poems and fiction by ordinary workers over works by literary leftists of bourgeois backgrounds.
One of the widely noted articles he wrote for The New Masses was “Gertrude Stein: A Literary Idiot”. Here he charged that her works “resemble the monotonous gibberings of paranoiacs in the private wards of asylums … The literary idiocy of Gertrude Stein only reflects the madness of the whole system of capitalist values. It is part of the signs of doom that are written largely everywhere on the walls of bourgeois society.”
In “Proletarian Realism” (1930), Gold said of Marcel Proust: “The worst example and the best of what we do not want to do is the spectacle of Proust, master-masturbator of the bourgeois literature.” He also assailed the Pulitzer Prize winner Thornton Wilder in equally vitriolic terms.
Jews Without Money
Gold worked on his one novel, Jews Without Money, a fictionalized autobiography about growing up in the impoverished world of the Lower East Side, throughout the 1920s.Published in 1930, shortly after the onset of the Great Depression, it was an immediate success and went through many print-runs in its first years and was translated into over 14 languages. It became a prototype for the American proletarian novel.
Jews without Money is set in a slum populated mainly by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. The father of the hero is a painter who suffers from lead poisoning. When he falls from a scaffold, he is disabled and can no longer work. His business fails and the family is pushed into poverty. The wife has to seek work in a restaurant. Although he is a bright boy, young Michael decides he must leave school. On the final page of the book, the poor Jewish boy prays for the arrival of a Marxist worker’s revolution that will emancipate the working class.
In his Author’s Note to the novel, Gold wrote, “I have told in my book a tale of Jewish poverty in one ghetto, that of New York. The same story can be of a hundred other ghettoes scattered over all the world. For centuries the Jew has lived in this universal ghetto.”
The popularity of Jews Without Money made Gold a national figure and cultural commissar of the Communist Party. He was a daily columnist for its paper, the Daily Worker, until his death.
Gold himself was fond of repeating a quote from the novel: “O workers’ Revolution!… You are the true Messiah!”
As a critic, Gold fiercely denounced left wing authors who he held deviated from the Communist Party line. Among those he denounced were Albert Maltz and “renegade” Ernest Hemingway, who responded with “Go tell Mike Gold, Ernest Hemingway says he should go fuck himself.” 
Death and legacy
Gold died in Terra Linda, California, on May 14, 1967, from complications following a stroke. He was 73 years old.
Gold’s papers reside at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives at New York University in New York City.
- Life of John Brown. Girard, KS: Haldeman-Julius, 1924.
- Proletarian Song Book of Lyrics from the Operetta “The Last Revolution.” With J. Ramirez and Rudolph Liebich. Chicago: Local Chicago, Workers Party of America, 1925.
- The Damned Agitator and Other Stories. Chicago: Daily Worker Publishing, 1927. —Little Red Library #7.
- Money: A Play in One Act. New York: Samuel French, 1929.
- 120 Million. New York: International Publishers, 1929.
- Jews Without Money. New York: International Publishers, 1930.
- Charlie Chaplin’s Parade. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1930.
- Proletarian Literature in the United States: An Anthology. (Contributor.) New York: International Publishers, 1935.
- Change the World! New York: International Publishers, 1936.
- “Battle Hymn”: A Play in Three Acts. With Michael Blankfort. New York: Play Bureau, Federal Theatre Project, 1936.
- The Hollow Men. New York: International Publishers, 1941.
- David Burliuk: Artist-Scholar, Father of Russian Futurism. New York: A.C.A. Gallery, 1944.
- Rhymes for Our Times. With Bill Silverman and William Avstreih. Bronx, NY: Lodge 600, Jewish People’s Fraternal Order of the International Workers Order, 1946.
- The Mike Gold Reader. New York: International Publishers, 1954.