Oral Histories

Interview of Dorothy Healey (1972)

Chair of the Southern California chapter of the Communist Party.
Tradition's Chains Have Bound Us
Z: Orphan Interviews pre 1999
Social Movements
Communist Party
Biographical Note:
Chair of the Southern California chapter of the Communist Party.
Gardner, Joel
Healey, Dorothy
Persons Present:
Gardner and Healey. Bernard Galm, senior editor, Oral History Program, operated video equipment at the second video session. Barbara Nestor, Healey's mother, dropped in on several sessions, and Philip Connelly, Healey's third husband, was present at the session of December 15, 1972.
Place Conducted:
Healey's home in Los Angeles, California; Powell Library, UCLA [video session].
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Joel Gardner, editor, Oral History Department, UCLA; B.A., M.A., French, Tulane University; M.A. journalism.Gardner prepared for the interviews by familiarizing himself with historical patterns in the United States generally, and in California particularly. He then read histories of communism, the Communist party, and the California labor movement.
Processing of Interview:
Lawrence Weschler, assistant editor, edited the verbatim transcript, checking it for accuracy and editing for punctuation, paragraphing, spelling, and verification of proper nouns. The final manuscript remains in the same order as the taped material. Words or phrases introduced by the editor have been bracketed.Healey reviewed and approved the edited transcript. She made few additions or deletions, and she provided or confirmed spellings of names not previously verified. Healey specifically requested that the word black, used as a noun with reference to the Negro race, be capitalized. The Program complied, although its style, consistent with that of the University of Chicago's Manual of Style, calls for the initial letter to be lowercase.The index was compiled by Deborah Young. The introduction was written by Al Richmond, author of A Long View From the Left. Front matter was prepared by program staff.
42 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Family background--Mother's rebelliousness as dominant family influence--Childhood in Denver: Socialist colony--Move to California: homes in Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Oakland--Brothers and sisters.
Bossy brother and maternal sister--Mother's emotional traumas: pregnancies and self-abortion--Schoolwork and awkward socializing--Joins Young Communist League at fourteen: distributing leaflets-­High school: contempt and bad grades--Unemployed demonstrations--May Day arrest of Dorothy Ray.
Agitating in juvenile hall--Sex and Lenin--YCL regimen--Drops out of high school--Cannery strike in San Jose--Scottsboro case and "Hands off Nicaragua"--Red Sundays--Tom Mooney--Marries Lou Sherman and moves to L.A.--No time out for babies-­Organizing East Los Angeles and Imperial Valley.
Moves to south L.A.--Police raids on leftist organizations: routine repression--Red Hynes and the Red Squad--Hunger marches--Death of father-- Party leadership--Brawley lettuce strikes--Jailed in El Centro.
Cooperation among workers of different ethnic groups--The arrest, cont’d.--Assessing weakness of tactics--Pea strikes in Calipatria--Okies--Trials begin in Brawley; convicted--Jail: Emma Cox and the diary--Jail experiences in general: good opportunity to read and talk with prisoners-­Overall effects of the strikes.
Strike tactical errors--"Nonnegotiable demands," no compromise--1934: rejection of AFL and EPIC campaign--Social fascism--Left factionalism-- United front in the wake of EPIC--Competition among leftist groups--Impact of widespread strikes on non-working-class sector--1935: divorces husband-- Organizing San Pedro unemployed seamen; meeting with ILWU--Organizing fish cannery on Terminal Island--Interunion violence--Move to San Francisco to work for YCL--UCLA Communist activity--Naive acceptance of party leadership line: Stalinism of the world movement--Alaska Cannery Workers Union.
YCL national plenum--Family feuds--CIO starts organizing--California Sanitary Canning Company-­Organization of walnut workers--Thoughts on women in union activity; interaction with rank and file vs. union leadership--0range pickers' strike in Orange County--Cotton strike in Kern County: mobilizing broad support--Miscarriage--Farm Security Administration--Elected an international vice-president of UCAPAWA--1938: antifascist coalitions--Spanish Civil War.
Mass meeting in the Imperial Valley fairgrounds--UCAPAWA: stabilizing a transient work-force union-¬Works for Labor's Non-Partisan League--Citizens' committee coalition to recall Mayor Shaw--Sam Yorty and Jack Tenney: the "Red" assemblymen--Elect Fletcher Bowron mayor--Tom Mooney pardoned-- International Labor Defense: Angelo Herndon case, Scottsboro case--White chauvinism; Finnish Hall "trial"--Self-determination in the Black Belt-- Blacks and the Communist party--Spanish-speaking people's movement--Appointed state deputy labor commissioner.
Mythology of the "Red decade"--The Roosevelt aura-- Left oversights: the consciousness of the masses and the American heritage--Effects on the United Front of the Soviet-German Non-Agression Pact and the Soviet-Finnish war--Deputy labor commissioner, cont'd.--Tenney Committee--Starting the Tom Mooney Labor School--Securing party permission to become pregnant; Richard is born-International representative for Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers.
Gods' Committee--Win the War at All Cost; the Teheran Line--Comintern dissolved; 1944: Communist party becomes the Communist Political Association-¬Jacques Duclos's attack on Browder and revisionism ---Ideological battle--Emergency convention--Elected county committee org secretary--Geographical distribution of party.
Joining the internal party leadership--Trade-union Communist vs. Communist trade unionist; hothouse Communists--Structure of the California CP; eventual division of California into northern and southern districts--Democratic centralism--Org secretary functions--Civil rights organizing--"Iron Curtain countries" and the cold war begins--Spread of McCarthyism--Hollywood Ten--Maltz Controversy-- Switch from First to Fifth Amendment defense-¬Walter Reuther's election as president of UAW-CIO.
UAW and Reuther; isolation of Left and deterioration of labor movement--CIO right-wing movement--Henry Wallace minimizes hysteria over Czechoslovakia and possibility of Soviet invasion--1948: organizing a third-party campaign.
"Lesser evil" concept and the two-party system in America--Norman Thomas--Liberals and the fifties hysteria--Smith Act; Foley Square trials--Local arrests; going underground--Separation from Richard --Becomes chairman of the county CP by flip of the coin--Underground chairman--Tensions in marriage-- Slim Connelly--Richard gets mumps; Dorothy surfaces --Grand jury subpoena--Contempt-of-court jail sentence--Taking the Fifth--Arrested for violating Smith Act--Turning the tables on the FBI--Bail fights.
Nationwide Communist roundup--Jail...again--Prison life for Communists: women in prison, thirties vs. fifties--Defendants: Dobbs, Carlsen, Kusnitz, Connelly, Fox, Lambert, Lima, Richmond, Schneiderman, Spector, Stack, Steinberg--Bail hearings, continued--Jail and preparing for the defense--Trial commit tee--The law team in L.A.-- California Emergency Defense Committee.
Conspiracy as a charge; stool pigeon prosecution-- New York-California policy debates--01eta Yates and the prosecution--Lengthy jury deliberation--Sentencing--Dedicated volunteers--Concerns over Richard--Planning appeals strategy: First Amendment vs. insufficient evidence--Supreme Court victory in Yates case--Inner-party fights shake Communist and Progressive parties: white chauvinism, Korean War--Underground CP leadership calls for dissolution of Progressive party.
Party line on the Progressive party--Communist purge in CIO--Marcantonio 's break with the CP--L.A. differs with California on Helen Gahagan Douglas campaign--Liberals and Socialists in the fifties; providing the ideological rationale for attack on Bill of Rights--Thoughts on the Quiet Generation and the extent of activism in the fifties-¬Continues as county chairman: becomes increasingly critical of the party line on war danger and fascism around the corner, Left Centers--Growing doubts about Soviet reports: trials, anti-Zionism, Russian chauvinism--1955: first national meeting in five years.National plenum of April 28, 1956; Dennis's unprecedented criticism of party policy: "left sectarianism," "five minutes to midnight" miscalculation, Left Centers--Foster, Gates, and Dennis positions.
Stalin's betrayal revealed--Discussion of Khrushchev's speech to the Twentieth Congress-- Self-criticism: reflecting on local party abuses--Stalin and the cult of the individual-- Disaffection among party members engendered by Khrushchev, Dennis speeches and Hungary--Inner-party struggle: positions and proponents delineated--Southern California position: right to dissent--Invasion of Hungary.
Divisions over Soviet invasion of Hungary: "tragic but necessary action"--Yugoslavia-- Relation of the American CP to the Soviet Union--Debates at the national convention: how to estimate past errors--Jacques Duclos's letters--Beginnings of bitter factionalism in L.A. district--Leadership elections: victims of voting slates--Split.
Sixteenth National Convention debates: preamble wording ("Marxism-Leninism"), democratic centralism, "monolithic" differences within the ruling class and their importance--California party divided into Northern and Southern districts--Ponomarev's denunciation of Bill Schneiderman--Factional fight in New York district; spreads to L.A. district--Daily Worker dispute--The "twelve party statement"--Imre Nagy executed; Worker article--League of Communists of Yugoslavia congress--Exodus of middle generation from L.A. party--Dirty jokes at party meetings--Gus Hall.
SGus Hall "campaigns" for General Secretary--1959 convention: debate on Black liberation, independent youth movement--Martin Luther King-¬Passive resistance as a tactic--Caryl Chessman and the question of capital punishment--More on the convention: labor policy--Attached by Hall--1960: National Committee meeting in Chicago-- Campaign tactics--Digression: session with Khrushchev--Cuban Revolution of 1959.
China's influence--China vs. the Soviet Union--Eighty-one Party Conference--Defending the Soviet Union--Concept of peaceful coexistence--Soviet and Chinese influence over North Vietnam and the PRG; the question of national rivalry among socialist countries--"My favorite socialist country" game--Strengths of world Communist parties: Japan, Italy, Australia, Spain--Future of world dominance of Soviet and Chinese parties --Fight over Alexander Bittleman.
1961: "responsible secretary" with delegation to Soviet Union--Russian protocol--Meetings with party leadership--Collective farms--Factories-- Moscow--Debates over the cultural movement, death penalty--Factory ambience and productivity--Sanitation facilities--Housing crisis--Problems stemming from huge loss of men in World War II--Stalin--Pedagogical indoctrination--Leningrad.
Soviet Union as nation of contrasts: pull of the, old and new--Socialist Man--Emergence of a new society from the old: honor system, "comradely courts"--Medieval hangover: death penalty, role of women--Anti-Semitism and the Jewish situation--Cultural life--Worker consciousness; low level of productivity.
Supreme Court upholds foreign-agent registration section of McCarran Act--Defensive organizational changes--Goes before Subversive Activities Control Board--Appearance before HUAC--Advent of sixties: growth in solidarity from non-Communists--Black struggles and student demonstrations; debates within the CP--CORE--SNCC--Split between radicals and reformists--Activist groups: ACLU, NAACP, Urban League--Martin Luther King--Malcolm X and the Black Muslims; dealing with the dilemma posed by Black nationalism--SDS--Vietnam.
Daily routine of a Communist organizer--Local policy meeting; communicating policy to rest of CP members--Making speakers available in friendly and unfriendly arenas: outside organizations, television--TV forums: Tom Duggan, Les Crane, Louis Lomax, Joe Pyne, Dan Lundberg--1962 elections ---Proposition 24 (Francis amendments)--Cuba blockade--"Carrot vs. club" theory--Bombing of L.A. CP headquarters and other radical offices--Threats and frameups--McCarran Act hearings, cont'd --Elizabeth Williams and Lulu Mae--Problems associated with working at KPFK.
Controversy brings in big audiences at speaking engagements: Boulder, UCLA, Nevada, Ventura, Irvine--Reassessing previously held positions-¬Campaign for county assessor--Anti-Communist mystique in America--Cuba blockade and heightened Sino-Soviet split--Bomb shelters, nuclear testing, disarmament--Antiwar campus teach-ins--Trotskyist organizing.
Letter from the Communist party of the Soviet Union to all Communist parties concerning the Communist party of China: 1) definition of character of the epoch 2) questions of war and peace 3) peaceful coexistence, the possibility of disarmament, the nature of local wars 4) different forms of transition to socialism 5) attitude of Chinese Communist party toward international democratic organizations 6) departure of Chinese from other parties.
6) continued 7) need for closer unity in socialist camp and within the international Communist movement--Aid from communist giants to neutral countries--Intervention in other Communist parties--More on "my favorite socialist country" syndrome--1964 elections: dispute over difference between Goldwater and Johnson--Consequences of political apathy--Modification of party communications--Antiwar activities; importance of teach-ins--Left factionalism in antiwar movement--Communist party and the student movement.
Student movement and CP, cont'd--Old Left and New Left--Low profile role of CP--Being a Communist vs. being an independent radical--Failure to accommodate to the new radicalism--DuBois Clubs--College activism: commuter and noncommuter campuses--Conflict between Northern and Southern California Districts--New Politics Conference and call for boycott of Brown candidacy: People' s WorId article and debate-- Mainstream politics: does it matter?--Scylla and Charybdis of revolutionary movement-Watts riots (1965); widespread urban rebellions--LBJ's War on Poverty--Party activity in the wake of the riots.
Brown-Reagan gubernatorial race--Ultra-Right within the parties--Peace and Freedom party--New Politics Conference--"Which Way for the Left?" debate: Scheer, Genovese, Healey--Panglossism--Dissent within the party: unity unanimity-¬Questions concerning party policy--Issues raised at 1966 conventions, local and national.
SConvention debates continued: labor unions and no discussing the weaknesses of the working class--Racism as the single most important question facing America--Black Power and the party--World socialist movement-- Need for more criticism of USSR, e.g., anti- Semitism--Stern words for the drug culture-¬ Problems with democratic centralism-- Running for county assessor--Indonesia-- Report to the convention on, among other things, the new radicalism--Fights take on subjective tone; becoming a nonperson in party history--Refusal of old to make way for the new--Representative to East German congress.
East German congress--Kisses from Brezhnev--Debate over trade with the west, in particular West Germany--Difference of opinion over Hy Lumer's speech to the congress--Impressions of East Germany--Discussion with Gerhart Eisler--Ollie Harrington and reaction to Black Power in East Germany--Berlin--Prussian communism--Bourgeois culture evidenced in East Germany--Egypt under Nasser--Israel, Zionism, and the Middle East situation: a Syrian's point of view--Georgia Feet's recounting of treatment of German Jewish Communists as a result of the Nazi-Soviet pact.
Visits Czechoslovakia--Paul Jarrico; Yvette Jarrico on the effects of injustice in a socialist country--Radovan Richta and the research team on the nature of power in a socialist country--Meeting Ota Klein--Trip to the Writers' Castle--Problems discussed with Richta's team: authority of the Politburo, providing incentives to go into professional fields, contradictory attitude toward education--Czech vitality contrasted to East German experience--Credibility gap--Critical discussion among Communists vs. among non-Communists --Wide spread discontent--Cultural Revival--George and Eleanor Wheeler--Flies to Moscow--American delegation in-fighting--A Soviet interpretation of the Cultural Revolution--Ernst Henri--0n to Italy.
Visiting members of Italian Communist party --Candor about problems and openness to dissent: Leninist tradition--Party within a party--Shop clubs experiment--Florence-- Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Rome and march from Perugia to Assisi--Dodging the Italian FBI--Pietro Ingrao and family-- France: impressions of Paris and the French-- Meeting French Communist party leadership-¬Commiserating with Yugoslav Communist-- Skips visit to England; returns to U.S. for National Committee debate on Israel and the Six-Day War--Family falling-out.
Circumstances leading to resignation from the party--Clash with party line on Al Richmond's A Long View from the Left--August 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia; Southern California district schism with national party line--Split in Southern California membership--1969 National Convention: challenge of Southern California delegation--Pariahs of the convention-¬Resolutions Committee fight--Gus Hall--Declines nomination for reelection to National Board.
National brings campaign against Healey's remaining in leadership to 1969 local convention--Democratic centralism, in theory and in practice-Controversy over Al Richmond's dispatches to People's World from Czech party Congress--Healey's broadcast criticizing arrests in Czechoslovakia: attacked as violation of democratic centralism--Pressures for and against Healey's participation in leadership--Long View from the Left: charged as racist, Johnny Gates revisionist--District Committee meeting: executive board condemnation and Venceremos resolution--KPFK resignation broadcast: public response and appearances--Working outside the party: New American Movement and Mass Party of the People.
New Politics Conference, Chicago, 1967—50 percent vote demand from Black delegates—Israel motion--Electoral perspectives: grass roots; third-party or third-ticket nationwide approach—Walkouts over Black demands — Third party/ticket split— Communist party response to conference--Postponement of national convention—Black Communists push for separate club within party; Che-Lumumba club formed—Angela Davis; the Soledad Brothers.
Selecting lawyers for Davis trial—Black Panther party—Revolutionary rhetoric—"Lumpen" elements and dedicated activists—Panther leadership; antagonism with BP party—Lack of far-reaching appeal to Black working class—Newton-Seale versus Cleaver--Ron Karenga and US—Political generation gap; rise of uneven consciousness—Black activism in antiwar movement--Chicago Moratorium--Ineffectiveness of Weathermen tactics—Collapse of SDS.
Sports Arena meeting of Black militant organizations; >> Carmichael's speech and its impact on Communist party members—Lost opportunity of the sixties: formation of a lasting, cohesive mass movement--Century City demonstration (June 3, 1967)— Circumstances leading to Johnson's decision--Uneven development of consciousness among Left groups—Eldridge Cleaver chosen as Peace and Freedom candidate—Rival candidacies of Kennedy and McCarthy—1968 Democratic National Convention —Communist party's lackluster presidential campaign: Charlene Mitchell—Ballot access obstacles—Plight of Peace and Freedom party.
Retreat of "conservative" sector at '68 CP convention—Cleansing of anti-Soviet tendencies following invasion of Czechoslovakia—Daces Hall forum; National Committee travesty—Southern California forces ostracized—Debate over characterization of American working class; definition of character of the epoch; Lenin's "aristocracy of labor"; antimonopoly coalition--Gus Hall's rise to leadership—Tactical blunders surrounding '69 convention: illegal election of Southern California delegates; refusal of dissident elements to accept leadership positions.
Speech to second session of '69 district convention: historical approach to criticism :: of party (and Gus Hall)—Ben Dobbs; character of district in general—Venceremos club and structure of club network—National appoints Lou Diskin organizer--Defense campaign for Angela Davis—Accusations from Political Committee (Discussions Unlimited journal) and Gus Hall (phone calls to Prague)—Peace movement.
Fragmentation of peace movement—Socialist Workers party perfidy and opportunism—Peace Action Council—Run-ins with Socialist Workers party—Work with Angela Davis defense committee —A prison Song of Solomon--Committee shortcomings --Effect of campaign on Davis—Preparation for 1972 Communist national convention: Venceremos club's objections to party resolution on Black Liberation--Pressures to run for district leadership, be delegate to national convention.
1972 local convention, continued--Declines position on district committee—Sympathy defections from older comrades--Bill Taylor elected district chairman—Ambivalence about importance of staying to fight within the party—Gus Hall's "Lame Duck" speech—Contrasting party lines on Nixon's visits to China and Moscow--Resigning from party versus forcing expulsion—Motion to expel following resignation--Family reaction—Richard's National Science Fellowship scholarship to Tulane cancelled; appeals decision and wins—Richard's education and inclinations—Supportiveness of Bernard— Update on husbands.
Comments on lack of political introspection and analysis among individuals in communist movement—Faith in the inevitability of socialism and omniscience of leadership—Little Stalins— Proposed detective story tracing history of world communist movement—Party attack on Sidney Hook's Toward the Understanding of Karl Marx—Analyzing personal response to own expulsion—Overstatement and loss of nuance.
Reading tastes and habits: personal and as a communist—Role of the intellectual in Communist parties—Crisis of Marxism--Party interpretation of Lenin's What Is to Be Done; temporary made permanent—Need for democracy within party— Lenin and innerparty democracy—Safeguards against centralized and self-perpetuating bureaucracy—Individual and collective roles— Debate and Action--Vulgarization of Marxism: economic determinism, man's being as determining consciousness.
Marxism and the issue of consciousness--Stalin, Trotsky, and Lenin: ideologies and antagonisms —Dialectical versus static approach—Situation in Chile; Popular Unity government—Revolutionary tactics in a technologically advanced economy.
Discussion of Richmond/Healey expulsion resolution, passim--Communist party intolerance toward other left organizations—Party policy under Gus Hall— Further discussion of party accusations--Voting on the resolution—Faith, loyalty, and the Communist party.
Marxist false consciousness; faith, continued— Problem of defining mass revolutionary consciousness —Marxists with and without organizational affiliations—The question of balance—Fallacies of Gus Hall's "crisis" theory of capitalism— Energy crisis: potentially the spark which starts the prairie fire—Healey's report to 1969 national convention: thoughts on the powers of positive thinking and proletarian internationalism.
Dialectical condradiction of primary and secondary goals of all organizations; self-perpetuating bureaucracy—Cases in point: Harry Hunt, Bill Taylor—Leninist concepts of organization and democratic centralism—Relinquishing of individual responsibility and independent thought—Primacy of survival of the bureaucracy—Dialectical balances—Challenges posed by 1968 Prague Spring— The issue of Lenin and innerparty democracy— Solzhenitsyn--Socialist America vs. socialism in underdeveloped countries.
Ideal communist society—Changes necessary within Communist party USA: customize policy and organizational structure to suit American scene; inner-party democracy; theory to match reality— Tradition's Chains Have Bound Us—Assorted U.S. Trotskyist and Maoist groups—New American Movement —Chicano and Black organizations—What constitutes a future revolutionary situation in America.
On being a woman organizer—Strains on husband-wife relationships: Don Healey, Slim Connelly— Political activity and raising Richard-~Attitudes toward feminist issues, then and now: women and the Communist party; thoughts on the women's liberation issue—Motherhood, womanhood and a sense of self—Invitation to China.
Richmond's and Healey's formal response to party expulsion--Post-expulsion-resignation effects on relation to party, friends, and family—Attacks from Gus Hall—Limitations of oral history-¬Greatest contribution—Summing up.
Second thoughts—Problems of historiography in dealing with the radical movement—Reluctance to discuss personalities—Current activities and future plans--Penalties suffered by many associated with Healey—Final thoughts on being a woman in the Communist party—Belated awareness of importance of Marxist theory: balancing activist and theorist.