egendary Communist and, later,
legendary ex-Communist Dorothy Healey died August 6 at age 91. At
barely five feet tall, with piercing blue-gray eyes, a razor sharp-intellect,
often a pipe or a panatela in her hand, Dorothy was a power-house
orator, a relentless organizer, and fireball of political energy
The most notorious figure in the Southern California Communist Party,
she had already made her mark as an agitator while in her teens.
Steinbeck fashioned one of his farm labor organizer characters of
In Dubious Battle
directly from Dorothy’s real-life
I first met her in the mid 1960s as an upcoming radical teenager.
I sat transfixed in her South Central LA apartment and though she
was 35 years older than I, we batted around for hours at a time
what the meanings of socialism, communism, and revolution were.
She was still in the Party back then. Most of my New Left friends
and I looked upon the CP’ers as dinosaur Stalinoids. But not
Dorothy. Among the surviving Old Guard from the 1930s, she was the
only one who showed us yung’ins any real respect. She knew
she had something to offer us from her decades of battle, but also
knew we had something to offer her.
No one, at least no one I knew, could conduct any ideological debate
with half the gravitas and wit that Dorothy could conjure. She knew
her stuff and was always ready to patiently prove it. She never
recruited me or any of my close friends into the Party. We were
way too rebellious and way too enamored of freedom to get sucked
into that stuff. But we, nevertheless, considered Dorothy to be
our den mother—we were all proud to be known around LA as one
of “Dorothy’s kids.”
She was already having her doubts about the Party when the Soviets
crushed the Czech students and intellectuals in the summer of 1968.
She started backing out of her life-long commitment to it and within
a few years was totally out. Her principles led her then to directly
challenge the Stalinist and authoritarian structures of the CP and
of what was then called “actually existing socialism.”
Instead, Dorothy committed the rest of her life to working for a
humane, just, and democratic socialism which placed the notion of
individual liberty above the interests of a Goliath state.
Dorothy had a radio show on the Pacifica network for decades where
she argued for socialism, feminism, and peace. She never flinched
or ran away from her past. She never ceased to propose a better
future. We already miss her.
Whether it’s heaven or hell, Dorothy, make ’em sweat!
Cooper is a journalist, author, and currently host and executive producer
of Radio Nation.