Lifelong Communist Dorothy Healey Dies at 91


Dorothy Healey, 91
Lifelong Communist Fought for Working People

Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times

Dorothy Healey, a onetime labor organizer, civil rights activist and
Marxist radio commentator who was chairwoman of the Southern
California district of the Communist Party USA from the late 1940s
through the 1960s, has died. She was 91.

Healey, dubbed "the Red Queen of Los Angeles" by headline writers
during her heyday, died Sunday of pneumonia in the Greater Washington
Hebrew Home, said her son, Richard. She had been a resident of
Washington, D.C., since 1983.

The diminutive Healey, who stood just under 5 feet tall and once wore
a pendant that pictured a clenched fist raised as a symbol of
solidarity and militancy, fought a lifelong battle against what she
called the oppression of the middle class and minorities."She was a heartfelt revolutionary of her time," Donna Wilkinson, the
widow of national civil liberties leader Frank Wilkinson, told The
on Monday. "She was always so fiercely partisan for working
people. Yes, of course, she cared about war and peace and women's
issues, but she was always concerned about working people."

The daughter of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, Healey was born in
Denver on Sept. 22, 1914. Her father was a traveling salesman, and
the family moved from Denver to California when she was 6. Constantly
on the move because of her father's work selling smoked meat and
cheese, Healey attended 19 schools. Her father died when she was 16.

Healey, whose Socialist mother was a founding member of the Communist
Party in America, joined the Young Communist League in 1928, when she
was 14.

"I joined the Young Communist League out of a feeling of hate and
love," she told an audience at Golden West College in Huntington
Beach in 1977. "I hated the system that reduced all humans to a
feeling of total helplessness
of fear over what each day would bring.

"I loved the humans who lived under these [conditions] and I
respected their potential."

She was arrested for the first time at 14 — for selling the Daily
newspaper and making a speech on skid row in Oakland.

At 16, she dropped out of school and helped organize a union and a
strike at a cannery in San Jose, where she worked.

By 1933, she was organizing agricultural workers in the Imperial
Valley. By the end of the decade, she was international vice
president of the Congress of Industrial Organization's Cannery,
Agriculture and Packing House Workers union.

Healey was brought into leadership of the party in Los Angeles at the
end of World War II. She became leader of the Communist Party USA's
Southern California district, the second largest after New York. She
also became a member of the party's National Committee.

In 1951, Healey and 14 other Californians were indicted and convicted
under the Smith Act for conspiring to advocate the overthrow of the
government by force and violence. Although she was sentenced to five
years in prison and fined $10,000, her sentence was reversed by the
U.S. Supreme Court in 1957.

"The decision was the government had to show — and they had not shown
— that the advocacy was intended to motivate people immediately to
action, not merely the reading of old Marxists texts," her son said.

From 1956 on, when Healey learned the truth from Soviet Premier
Nikita Khrushchev's so-called "secret speech," in which he revealed
Stalin's crimes to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party,
Healey became an advocate for democratizing the American Communist
Party and sought more independence from Soviet control.

That led her to become an outspoken critic of the 1968 Soviet
invasion of Czechoslovakia, a country she had visited the previous
year. Because of her opposition to the national leaders of the
American Communist Party, she resigned as chairman of the Southern
California district.

In 1973, she resigned from the American Communist Party. She said,
however, that she remained a staunch communist and was as much an
enemy of capitalism as ever.

"My resignation from the Communist Party will not bring comfort to
anti-Communists on either the right or left," she said on her
semimonthly commentary broadcast over radio station KPFK-FM (90.7).

"My hatred of capitalism, which degrades and debases humans, is as
intense now as it was when I joined the Young Communist League in
1928," she said. "I remain a communist, as I have been all my life,
albeit without a party."

Healey then joined the New American Movement, a nationwide
organization for democratic socialism, co-founded by her son. She
later joined the Democratic Socialists of America and became a vice
president of the organization.

"Dorothy was a rebel, and it was her rebellious nature that made her
such an effective union leader in the 1930s," Maurice Isserman,
coauthor, with Healey, of the 1990 book Dorothy Healey Remembers: A
Life in the Communist Party,
told The Times on Monday.

Isserman, a historian at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., said
Healey's union activism in the '30s "led her to become an advocate of
black and Chicano rights at a time when few other people were
speaking out on such issues."

In 1979, a collection of Healey's papers and other material,
purchased by the Cal State Long Beach library for an estimated
$11,000 to $14,000, was dedicated at the library, where she was guest
of honor and keynote speaker.

The last time Healey had appeared on the Long Beach campus — at the
invitation of a radical student group in the late '60s — she had been
heckled and jeered.

But by 1979, according to a Times account of the dedication, "she
hardly raised an eyebrow among an audience of 100 students and
faculty members."

In his review of Healey's 1990 book in The Times, Jonathan Kirsch
wrote that it "is essentially a political testament by a witness to
history, a memoir by an Old Bolshevik who was never a true believer
because she was cursed with an unrelenting conscience and a ribald
sense of humor."

But at its most touching moments, Kirsch wrote, Healey's book "is
more nearly a melodrama — the struggle of a zealous, principled and
compassionate woman to make sense of life and love in a world utterly
devoted to radical politics."

Wilkinson, who knew Healey for more than 40 years, said "old age had
ravaged" Healey's body, "but she read four newspapers up to the end
and knew exactly what's going on in the Mideast and South Central Los
Angeles. She paid attention to what was going on."

Married and divorced three times, Healey moved from Los Angeles to
Washington to be near her son, who, along with two grandsons,
survives her.