Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Two important figures on the American left , Dorothy Healey and John Cort, passed this week. Both were in their 90s. I had the pleasure of knowing both.

Marc Cooper has some words about Dorothy Healey

Legendary Communist and, later, legendary ex-Communist Dorothy Healey died last Sunday 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 and optimism.

She was also a friend of mine.

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 charatcters of his In Dubious Battle directly from Dorothy's real-life persona.

I first met her in the mid 1960's as an upcoming radical teenager. I sat transfixed in her South Central L.A. 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 1930's. she was the only one who showed us yunngin's 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 L.A. 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.

The Boston Globe had an obituary for religious socialist John Cort

Standing before a group of eager workers in Boston, John Cort hoped to send a powerful message that would rally the first state-sponsored service corps in the nation. It was the summer of 1965, and he had just been appointed the organization's executive director, so he wanted to find the words that would adequately convey his wishes for the new state program.

``The poor, the defeated, and the discouraged in the state are counting on you," he excitedly told the first batch of recruits. ``You are in a war against powers of darkness, against prejudice, disease, discouragement and despair. These are deadly enemies."

Over the years, Mr. Cort became a central figure in a variety of social movements, and his work to combat poverty, in particular, made him well known among academics, politicians, and community organizers.

He was also a familiar face in Boston media circles as a former business agent for the Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston, and an editor of a number of publications, including Commonweal, a Catholic journal.

He retired in the mid-1970s and turned his attentions to a book project, meticulously researching what would become ``Christian Socialism: An Informal History," published in 1988. In more recent years, he poured the ups and downs of his own journeys into ``Dreadful Conversions: The Making of a Catholic Socialist," published in 2003.

Mr. Cort was amiable in nature, had a fondness for singing sea shanties, and always had a quip at the ready, family and former colleagues said.

``Even though he was a little more formal, kind of a tall, straight, ramrod kind of guy, he was right there with the joking and the joshing," said Fuchs, now a professor emeritus at Brandeis.

``The thing about John is we could disagree so agreeably," Fuchs said. ``It was just wonderful to have somebody with such strong convictions and a good sense of humor at the same time."

``He was deeply religious and deeply committed to his belief that society and government have an obligation to ensure the welfare and well-being of everyone, and that's what he devoted his life to."

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