Dorothy Ray Healey

American politician

Dorothy Ray Healey September 22, 1914 – August 6, 2006) was a long-time activist in the Communist Party USA, from the late 1920s to the 1970s, and later became a national vice-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America. In the 1930s, she was one of the first union leaders to advocate for the rights of Chicanos and blacks as factory and field workers.



California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party with Maurice Isserman (1990)

  • As she explained to Joel Gardner a few months after she had resigned from the Communist Party: “If I were to write a book, I'd make the title of the book... a phrase out of the Communist song "The International." . . . The phrase goes, "No more tradition's chains shall bind us." Well, I would make the title of my book "Tradition's Chains Have Bound Us," because my argument would be that just as... capitalism operates through the false consciousness that it gives the majority of people who aren't able to perceive the reality of their own lives..., so the same thing happens with Marxists. . . . They, too, substitute a false consciousness for a real consciousness . . . . A real revolutionary party [has] to be able to constantly keep alive that challenging, questioning and probing of the real scene around it. . . . Our theory never will quite match the reality, but at least one strives to approximate it, to see what is the substance, and not just the form. (p 13)
  • My concept of what it meant to be a revolutionary was based on a montage of the organizers from the Sinclair novels, along with my childhood memories from Denver. I also began to read an enormous amount of history around this time. I was very taken with Charles Beard-at that point his writings seemed to me to represent great Marxist truths because he talked about the things that high school history never talked about, the underlying economic motives of history makers. I read everything he and his wife Mary Beard wrote. I had started reading Marx and Lenin, but at that point I think Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau had more effect on me. What I responded to in my readings were emotional rather than theoretical questions. I was developing a hatred of the brutality of the existing economic system, a hatred of the impersonal degradation of human beings. That's what moved me as a teenager, and stayed with me.
  • It seems to be that Lincoln's definition of democracy, "Government of the people, by the people, and for the people," is as good a summary as any of an essential element of the kind of socialism I would like to see established in the United States. Socialist democracy means democracy in the economic as well as in the political sphere.
  • Hitler's triumph made terribly clear the danger of our earlier notions, as well as the very stark differences between a fascist regime and "bourgeois democracy" as represented by someone like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. By the mid-1930s the issue of anti-fascism permeated all our mass work. In countries like France and Spain where big socialist movements existed, Communists sought to unite the Left into antifascist united fronts. In the United States we sought to work with the socialists, and we also began to reevaluate our earlier, highly critical assessment of the New Deal.
  • The challenge for American socialists will be to come up with ways to make use of modified market principles and coordinated (rather than "central") planning to guide decision making under circumstances vastly different than those faced by the pioneers of 1917. (p 252)
  • Socialist politics should mean more not less debate; socialist democracy will involve an ongoing debate over all the important issues confronting the nation. Genuine democratic debate requires a genuinely free press. My travels to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union convinced me of the necessity for the independence of the mass media from state and Party control. Most people did not believe what they read in the official press or saw or heard on radio or television. Their daily lives belied the "official" facts. A socialist America should not only ensure a free press, it should guarantee as well something that does not exist today under capitalism, and that is the widest possible access to popular communication for individuals and groups. Real democracy is impossible unless people know the facts behind proposed policies, unless they hear all the relevant arguments pro and con-which is something that our own corporate-dominated media has almost as little interest in promoting as the Party-dominated media in the pre-glasnost Soviet Union. (p 252)
  • I won't see socialism in my lifetime; I don't know if my son will see it in his, or even my grandchildren in theirs. There is no way to foretell what kind of political developments and issues will galvanize a future generation to turn towards socialism. The model I embraced in my youth, the vision of a vanguard party of the working class seizing power in the midst of a great social and political crisis like the one that had overtaken Russia in 1917, is no longer relevant. But I still believe that working people must be at the center of any real movement for socialism, for they are the majority for whose well-being that government "of, by, and for the people" should be concerned. Ultimately I have faith that people, given the understanding of how they can help bring it about, want to live in a better world. People can change the world, but they can't do it as individuals alone. They have to join with others to do it. One thing I have not changed my views on over the years is the belief that organization is the key to winning victories for social change. That's why it was such a tragedy that so little in the way of organized radicalism survived the collapse of the New Left. (p 252)
  • People must have a channel through which they can express themselves if there is to be any hope that they will transcend the sense of powerlessness and apathy encouraged by our dominant ideological myths. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition has come closest in recent times to serving as this kind of channel. One could see a glimmer of the possibilities for the future, watching the young people who were Jesse Jackson delegates at the Democratic conventions in 1984 and 1988. Many had never participated in any political movement before, and you could see how the Jackson campaign had opened things up for them and gave a whole new dimension to their lives. The Rainbow Coalition has had its share of internal problems, but it has been far more successful than any of the more explicitly ideological groups on the Left in teaching people to give an affirmative answer to the old Biblical question, "Am I my brothers [and sisters] keeper?" One keeps oneself only by keeping others. That means we have to learn to look upon the societies of this world as things which have been created by humans and which are therefore subject to being changed for the better by humans. (p 254)
  • my loyalties are to a vision of socialism, not to a particular organization. There's a phrase I've always liked in the revolutionary anthem "The International." It goes, "No more tradition's chains shall bind us." As Communists we argued that the survival of capitalism depended on the false consciousness of the majority of the people who weren't able to perceive the reality of their own lives. Ironically, the Communists also found themselves bound by "tradition's chains," and substituted a false consciousness for a real understanding of the world around them. The challenge that faces the Left in the future-if it is to have a future-is to base itself on the knowledge of what collective action by human beings can mean, rather than on faith in the infallibility of either its dogma or its leaders. If I were allowed just one piece of advice to give a new generation as to how to sustain a life-long commitment, I would suggest the cultivation of those two essential virtues of a good revolutionary, patience and irony. (p 254)
  • Few histories that have been written about the labor movement in the 1930s have focused on the intensity of the employer violence against the labor movement. Employers in the United States have historically been far more violent in their repression of the labor movement than employers in any other Western country. There was far more solidaritv between workers who were on strike, far more awareness of the meaning of the slogan "an injury to one is an injury to all."
  • (Today labor is often looked at as merely an arbiter for wages and benefits. Do you think labor leaders today have defined the mission of the labor movement too narrowly?) That is not new, that was started under Samuel Gompers who said that the purpose of the labor movement was "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work." But you can't separate the worker and the community. I think it is a survival question. The labor movement must awaken in its ranks and leadership a broader awareness. Workers need to understand what causes the export of jobs so they can unite to prohibit the export of jobs to places that do not allow workers to organize to get decent working conditions. The leadership must recognize that without that, the labor movement is cutting its own throat. It's not a question of abstract protectionism-it's a question of protecting both the foreign worker and the American worker. Even the United Auto Workers (UAW) has recognized there has to be a global approach to the problems of the automobile industry, that it can't be solved country by country. Workers have to be organized because the corporate interests are already organized-multinationals are far more class-conscious than the workers have been.
  • Daytime meetings and the demand for child care facilities would open enormous doors for women. Again, we have to judge how many unions are really on the cutting edge of such issues-not how much lip service they can give-but how many issues they really make into significant contractual questions in collective bargaining.
  • What is so long overdue is this pressure to put women in official positions, particularly in unions such as the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union.
  • you have to look at the differences that exist among women and figure out how to organize to diminish the differences, to transcend the differences, to have policies that overcome them. That's very difficult, it means constant thinking, and studied awareness of what the realities are. It's not a short-term struggle, it's not meant for people who are going to fight today and run away and do something else tomorrow. It's a long-term struggle that requires tenacity and courage.
  • I have an incurable belief in the potential of working class people. I believe that ultimately, the need to organize, the need to strike, it may get detoured, it may be a very long detour but ultimately it gets back on the road again.
  • Corporations couldn't care less about welfare-community welfare, the nation's welfare. In the absence of any countervailing pressure, I don't see any way they can be held accountable. The public must be educated to understand that the most fateful decisions in their lives are being made not by politicians sitting in Congress whom they can watch and see, but by corporate executives who make the major decisions affecting their lives-whether they will have jobs, whether their children will have jobs, where they are going to live, whether they are going to live in a healthy atmosphere. Until people in great numbers start to understand the significance of the corporate decisions made privately, I don't see much likelihood of any important regulation of them.
  • You've got to accompany any demand for privatization with worker and community control. It shouldn't only be the worker, it should be the worker and the community participating together.
  • when push comes to shove I still believe that until there is no longer the private control of the commanding heights of the economy, you can't fundamentally solve anything. Public or social ownership is needed-and that is a lot different than state ownership.

Quotes about Dorothy Ray Healey

  • The late Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a longtime CPUSA official, once remarked that Healey was a good leader in her District but was afflicted with a psychosis when she attended national meetings, because she insisted on challenging the leadership. FBI memorandum, August 6, 1969. I had seen many women in the Party who worked very hard and were intelligent and developed theoretically and politically, but I hadn't seen anyone with quite Dorothy's energy and charisma. I do remember very clearly certain Party conventions that I was at in the sixties where I saw her as the "embattled female." It was like this sea of cigar smoke, and she smoked these little cigarillos, and there was something about that, her being little, and she'd barge into these circles of men conversing on something or other, whatever caucus it was, she'd barge in there, and I just loved it. I thought that was great, just great. I didn't care what she said.
    • Bettina Aptheker attributed p 172 in California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party (1990)
  • One of the things I'd say about Dorothy is that she has a great capacity to listen sympathetically and to be able to see the other person's point of view. She might have disagreed with ideas that people were articulating (not just these young Black people; it was true of many people that she would encounter), but she could see from the point of view of their culture and who they were personally why they were saying the things they were. At the same time she would be able to articulate alternative ways of thinking. That's a great gift. It's very helpful to people. It allows them to see things in a different way than if you come at people with your line and bash them over the head with your pickax and say, "You're wrong, you're counter-revolutionary, you're petit bourgeois." You do that with people and they say, "Bye."
    • Bettina Aptheker attributed p 172 in California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party (1990)
  • The knowledge I gained about the Che-Lumumba Club did not satisfy me completely, because I had little firsthand knowledge of the larger Party. Kendra and Franklin, therefore, introduced me to some of the white comrades. I began to pay visits to Dorothy Healey, who was then the District Organizer of Southern California. We had long, involved discussions-sometimes arguments-about the Party, its role within the movement, its potential as the vanguard party of the working class; its potential as the party that would lead the United States from its present, backward, historically exploitative stage to a new epoch of socialism. I immensely enjoyed these discussions with Dorothy and felt that I was learning a great deal from them, regardless of whether I ultimately decided to become a Communist myself.
  • Dorothy Healey, a 1930s communist union organizer of the migrant workers and head of the southern California region of the Communist Party for two decades, including the four years I lived in L.A., recounted the 1938 cotton strike and celebrated the militancy and solidarity of the

Okie cotton pickers, hardly mentioning that the strike was lost, or that two decades later, the children of the pickers were serving as L.A. police officers or were active in the John Birch Society. Furthermore, Dorothy and other Communist Party people perceived the 1930s Okie migrants as responsive to the Communist Party.

  • A successful teach-in on campus during that fall of 1966 helped raise consciousness, although only a small percentage of students and faculty were involved. Noam Chomsky and Herbert Marcuse were the main speakers, but there were dozens more, and the event went on for fourteen hours, with thousands crowded into the student union cafeteria. I was distressed that none of the speakers were women. Dorothy Healey of the Communist Party was scheduled to speak but the Progressive Labor Party people-the Maoists-disrupted her presentation. That was my first personal encounter with infighting on the Left.
  • one of the American left's most brilliant and fearless women-a pioneer in the '30s and role model for activists in the '90s.
    • Barbara Ehrenreich blurb for California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party (1990)
  • To me she represented what was most appealing about the Old Left — commitment, dedication, selflessness...In devoting herself to working for peace, and against economic and racial inequality, she provided a fantastic model for the rest of us. I will always remember her fondly.
  • Beginning in 1937, UCAPAWA-CIO offered hope. Four decades later, I asked Dorothy Ray Healey to recall her most rewarding experience as a labor organizer. Her answer: "To watch the disappearance or at least the diminishing of bigotry... watching all those Okies and Arkies and that bigotry and small-mindedness-all their lives they'd been on a little farm in Oklahoma; probably they had never seen a Black or a Mexicano. And you'd watch in the process of a strike how those white workers soon saw that those white cops were their enemies and that the Black and Chicano workers were their brothers."
    • Vicki L. Ruiz From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America (1998)
  • “She was a heartfelt revolutionary of her time,” Donna Wilkinson, the widow of national civil liberties leader Frank Wilkinson, told The Times 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.”
    • article in Los Angeles Times (2006)
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