A Berkeley Radical Joins the Communist Party (Jack Radey, Part 1 of 3)

Jack: It’s the 22nd of June, 2016, the 75th anniversary of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Which brought about the demise of the Third Reich and eventually of the Soviet Union as well.

I know that you were living in Berkeley during the great days of the Vietnam Day Committee and the Free Speech Movement and so on. Do you want to start with that?

I could start earlier if you’d like. I grew up in on the south side of Chicago. My mother was German Jewish and fled Germany in ’33. Actually, she was at school in Switzerland and in ’37 went to Spain on vacation. And she and her sister were on, I believe Mallorca was the island held by the Republicans when the German battleship Deutschland bombarded the island. And my grandmother who had fled to England was in horror at what was going on and her husband in no way comforted her by saying, “Nah! Don’t worry about it. The girls are no doubt on the roof of the hotel watching the fireworks.” Which of course was precisely where they were.

My father was American of Yugoslav extraction. His whole family had been born in Croatia and they were all pretty much pro-Partisan. Pro-Tito. The Yugoslav partisans fought the Italians and Germans and the Yugoslav fascists. But, he skedaddled when I was quite young and so I was raised by my mother on the south side of Chicago, fairly near the University of Chicago, three blocks from the heart of the Southside [black] ghetto which is where we did our shopping.

if you walked in the other direction you were among some exceedingly wealthy people. Similarly, I could walk to school in the morning through the University of Chicago’s mock gothic castles and gargoyles, which was wonderful. But, I would walk past a newsstand run by an old blind black guy. Cause I had no father I was happy with any adult male paying attention to me and he would chat with me. But, I noticed his lunch consisted of a glass jar, it was mostly full of bacon grease with a few little specks of, perhaps, bacon in it. But, I mean specks smaller than the head of a pea. And if we drove downtown we drove past extensive yacht harbors.

It occurred to me something was wrong here! This made no sense at all. Why should some people live so badly and some people well? I had another important influence growing up, there was no television in my house. With no television, I played sports a lot and threw a lot of snowballs and had the largest toy gun in the neighborhood. But, I also read books.

Now, I should say for the record here, you’re a big guy. Were you big as a child also?

I was always big. In the latter part of elementary school, I think I was about a foot taller than a lot of my friends. I wasn’t fat then but I was not built skinny either. And so I loved playing football although never with pads, uniforms, rules, referees, or adults. And smashing into people was just a joy. [laughs] But I read books. Among the books in the house were things like John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World. And Quiet Flows the Don by Sholokhov — it got the Nobel Prize for literature – which I read as maybe an eight or ten year-old. I also read Till Eulenspiegel which is an ancient tale out of Holland that just tears the Catholic church up one side and down the other. And a lot of Mark Twain. And I must’ve understood about two words out of three in the books, but I found them fascinating. And kept going back to them.

Oh, and I also listened to WFNT, Studs Terkel, and all the music. So, I was ready for bear when I came out of elementary school.

I went to the University of Chicago laboratory school which is where Obama sent his kids. I went to school with Joe Louis’ son. With the heir to the Swift fortune. With the daughter of Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state. With Cab Calloway’s son. It was a very good school cause Rockefeller money paid for the best. We were taught to think. But we moved in the middle of my freshman year of high school to Eureka, California.

I got to Berkeley in the fall of 1964. The previous year I was on the March on Washington [for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. King made his famous “I have a dream speech]. That came about because I had gotten involved in the youth group of the Unitarian Church, Liberal Religious Youth. I went to the international LRY get together in Greensboro, North Carolina in the summer of 1963. The theme of the conference was about prejudice and we integrated the local public swimming pool.

There were very few black people in the LRY. Some but not many. But the local kids and us integrated the pool and had a great time. And then I had a ride from somebody up to an LRY camp in Maryland and from there I would somehow catch the Greyhound home but because the march was happening we were told, “We’re gonna send the bus in to be part of the march.” So I went to the March on Washington and it was an experience that I … some of that energy still carries me along. It was 250,000 people, black and white and just jaw dropping.

Yeah, I was there too. And I remember at the time that I estimated it was one-fifth white.

At least. I would’ve said more. The three largest organizations visible on the ground was the NAACP, the United Autoworkers and the Catholic Church. And it was exceedingly friendly, relaxed and powerful. And the day after the march I got kissed for the first time so that was a great, great time. Absolutely.

[laughs] What a wonderful time! Okay. So you arrived in Berkeley in the fall of ’64 …

And the Free Speech Movement began six weeks later. As soon as I arrived, the deans announced that there would be no card tables allowed and new regulations. You could not sell bumper stickers or buttons. You could not raise money. You could not endorse political propositions. You could not organize demonstrations. And the general feeling was, “You think not? Watch this.”

So the Free Speech Movement began. [During FSM meetings and actions] I was very attracted to Bettina Aptheker — her brilliance and her good, solid common sense as well as passionate militance. It was a combination I was looking for and did not find among many of the other groups in the Free Speech Movement. And she was from the W.E.B. Du Bois Clubs. And I said, ‘Aha. That’s the people I wanna check out.’

The Young Socialist Alliance had been trying to recruit me and there was lots of other groups and I was talking to all of them and reading their literature. But, the Du Bois Clubs looked like the interesting one. And it met at Conn Hallinan’s house. Conn’s nickname being ‘Ringo.’ And the first thing that impressed me was that there were two racks of rifles on the walls and I thought, ‘Oh yeah. I think this is the right place. Yes.’

So Conn Hallinan, Ringo, was living in Berkeley.

Ringo, and his brother, Matthew, known as ‘Dynamite,’ were roommates in Berkeley. 2806 A Street. I lived there that summer. I know it well. We hit it off. First of all, both Ringo and Dynamite are very nice people. They share many interests with me. Ringo is fascinated with the military and I’m a military historian. I’ve been his lifelong military mentor. And they’re also very good politicians, which is to say they make newcomers feel welcome. They go up to you and they talk to you and are interested in what you have to say and treat you like someone of importance.

In the Free Speech Movement, there were those who were political who treated you very well, and those who looked at you like you just were dragged in the door by the cat. Both Ringo and Dynamite treated me very well. And were very inviting and we hit it off just marvelously.

We have similar senses of humor, music [Jack plays the guitar and sings.] I was enthralled with their tales of brawling. I was very much taken by the Irish, even before I met them. Just a match made in heaven. We are friends still.

My recollection is they’re sons of Vincent Hallinan.

That’s correct. There were six sons of Vincent Hallinan. All given nicknames at birth. All taught to box. All except Danny, the youngest, who rejected his nickname and never learned to box. Which had something to do with him being born much later than the others. The others were all two years apart. Their father, Vincent Hallinan, had run for president in 1952 as the Progressive Party candidate, during the middle of the Korean War. And the eldest son, Patrick, known as Butch, had been 14 years old at the time and had been walking down the street, and a bunch of drunk Marines said, “Hey! Hallinan! You commie bastard!” Proceeded to knock him down, put his arm over the curb and stomp on it repeatedly, until they broke his arm into many pieces. It was then rebuilt with rods and the bone reformed around the rods and he still had 90% of his right hand punch.

His father said, “Okay. You kids are all gonna learn to box.” He hired a boxer and built a gym. Consequently, what they did in high school was they went around in a group with some of their friends and beat the crap out of everybody they ran into. It was their form of entertainment. [light laugh]

Vincent Hallinan was a very successful attorney.

Extremely successful attorney. Made his fortune suing the municipal railroad system on behalf of workers who’d gotten injured on the job and then became one of THE prominent attorneys in the Bay area. Brilliant at self promotion. And never particularly political until he was hired to defend Harry Bridges, who the government wished to deport. Harry being the head of the Longshoreman’s Union. And secretly a member of the Communist Party, which they charged him with, but couldn’t prove.

And the trial was just rigged. Start to finish. Lying witnesses. Trumped up material. The whole nine yards. And the judge finally turned to the defense attorney and said, “Mr. Hallinan! Are you trying to express contempt of the court with that remark?” And Vince replied, “Why, no, your Honor. I thought I was doing my best to conceal it.” And the judge sentenced him to a year. Yeah. Things were rough in the fifties. Yes, indeed.

I remember when I was living there in the early 60’s that Vincent Hallinan was somehow one of these San Francisco celebrities. He was untouchable because he was so famous. Everybody wanted to know about him.

He was a character. Absolutely. I got to know him fairly well. This is the guy who would walk from his house in Marin County over the Golden Gate Bridge to work in San Francisco through the middle of the ghetto every morning. And he was in his late seventies.

In the Hall of Justice he would regularly take young assistant district attorneys aside who he thought had treated his client poorly or acted wrong in court and smack ‘em in the face. During the HUAC riots [demonstrations against the House Un-American Activities Committee when they held hearings in San Francisco during the McCarthy era], Vincent happened to be in City Hall on some other business, and when they turned the hoses on the demonstrators, he just walked over to the hose and turned off the water. He’s a direct actionist.

[laugh] Cool. Very cool man. So, you got in the DuBois club because you were intrigued by Bettina Aptheker.

Yes. And the people who were in it were people who made sense? Were nice? And there were a lotta cute women in there, too.

You’ve said that at the time that you were in this group you had this sense that things were going on that weren’t openly discussed.

See, I had grown up in a pinkish household. No one had been in the Communist party. But my mother said all their friends had been. And the books certainly were of the right sort. And the idea of a Communist revolution was something I thought sounded like a pretty good idea. But, I also subscribed to the New Republic as the most leftwing journal I could subscribe to. And it insisted that there was no Communist Party. It had died long ago and was only populated by a few elderly FBI men.

Which is partly true. [laughs]

Well, there was an element of truth in that. The party at that time had about 14,000 members. Of whom some were certainly informers. But it was an illegal organization by the Smith Act, you were liable for one year in jail and $10,000 fine for every day that as a member of the Communist Party you did not go to the government and register yourself as an agent of a foreign power, specifically the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Also there was a loyalty oath and many jobs were barred to persons who were party members. Consequently, party membership was secret.

In addition, the party had the not unreasonable view that if people were going to speak for the party they would damn well be authorized to do so by the party leadership because statements had to be made with some care and thought. So party membership was a secret. And after going to some DuBois Club meetings I began to get the feeling that it was just possible there was another organization in the room with me. Because some people seem to wink wink, nudge nudge, go over in the corner and whisper some jokes, cause some people to laugh and not others? There seemed to be something that people were in the know about that I was not. So I thought there could be a secret Communist Party organization inside here. In which case who would be the members? Well, Bettina, obviously. Her father was the famous Herbert Aptheker.

Okay, let’s say what he was.

Dr. Herbert Aptheker was a historian. He curated the papers of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois. [An outstanding social scientist and a tireless activist for racial equality, Du Bois, born in 1868, was the first black to earn a doctorate at Harvard.] Aptheker was considered the Party’s leading “theoretician.” He was one of the few intellectuals in the Party leadership. Not a comfortable position to be in. But at any rate, Bettina was a logical candidate and there were several others in the room that seemed to be part of whatever it was.

I went to summer school that summer. Having totally screwed up for two semesters, paying no attention in classes whatsoever — I had more important things to do and was getting far too good an education to waste it on classrooms. So I was going to summer school and living with Ringo and Dynamite and one day Ringo said, “I’m gonna go shooting this Saturday, would you like to come?” Would I like to come! Haha! Would I like to go shooting, my god! Yes. I would. I’d only shot a .22 in my life and here were all kinds of serious weapons. And he said, “Yeah. Mickey Lima’s gonna come along, too.” I said, “Who?” He said, “Mickey Lima. He’s the chairman of the Communist Party in Northern California district. And he’s a good shot, too.”

Mickey had joined the Wobblies when he was in his early teenage years up in Humboldt County and had been in the sawmills. And then in fishing, and in fact he had founded the Fisherman’s Union on the West Coast and had been head of the Party in Northern California for quite some time. And Mickey liked to shoot. He was quite a good shot.

What was the connection between the Wobblies and the Communist Party, if any?

Oh, there was enormous connection! Big Bill Haywood who’d been head of the Industrial Workers of the World [also known as the Wobblies] was one of the leaders and founders of the Communist Party. Many of the Wobblies became founders of the Communist Party. The Wobblies were more of an anarchist ideology and once the Communist Party had been formed, there was a considerable division between what was left of the Wobblies and the Communists.

At that time, the world communist movement was anti-nationalist. It was an internationalist movement. It came out of World War I on the premise that working people had more in common with each other, no matter what country they were from, than their bosses did. Doctrine was set out for all of the world’s Communist parties from the Comintern, the Communist International. And one of those was you do not set up a left labor federation in your country.

You join the main labor federation and work to move it to the left. If you set up a separate left federation you will split the working class movement, you will end up in isolation, and under severe attack and you will accomplish bupkis. [The way non-communists perceived this, it seemed that communists were secretly infiltrating and trying to take over existing movements.]

However, that means if there is already a left labor organization you must quit it, even though you’ve been its main champions and founders in the beginning, you must quit it and denounce it.

Because it is a wrong thing, we need the workers together.

Consequently, American communists went to Moscow, including John Reed among others, and said, “Look. The IWW is something different. This is an industrial union — loggers and fishermen and garment workers and the whole nine yards, all together in one union — and it’s a big, important part of the American scene and for us to break with it and attack them, this is absolutely wrong. We can’t do that. We want dispensation for the United States Communist Party to handle this question differently.” Eventually, the Wobblies were smashed and it was no longer an important issue.

So Mickey started as a Wobbly but joined the Communist Party as soon as he could. So, we’ve gotten as far as shooting. So I went shooting with Ringo and Mickey Lima. There was no political discussion, particularly. When we came home, Ringo and I were sitting at the table cleaning the guns. And at that point, Ringo said something about Mickey being the head of the Communist Party and said, “By the way, Jack, you should know that I’m in the Communist Party and my wife is in the Communist Party.” My brother is in the Communist Party and these various other people are in the Party. They were all in their twenties.

Well, I was just flabbergasted. Here it is, what I was looking for. And almost immediately, yes, I wanted to join. I’d discovered that there was indeed a parallel organization and I was 18 years old and I was told you really shouldn’t join the party until you’re 21. I said, “I want in. I want in. I want to be part of this. These are the people who know how it’s done.” As he said, it’s really nice being part of the same movement as the Vietcong. Yeah. That’s what I wanna be part of. Sign me up.

And it was like, “Well, no, no, no. Wait.” A friend said, “At age 18 a young man’s testicles are descending and his consciousness is rising and everything in between gets lost. Wait.” But no, I was not gonna wait. So, that summer I joined. I went back east to Chicago to help set up the national convention of the DuBois Clubs and afterward went to a secret party camp outside of Chicago. We were escorted the whole way by Chicago police and probably FBI and, oh yeah, it was extremely secret! And I joined the Party when I came back to the Bay Area. That was in 1966. I stayed in for 10 years.


About Sylvia

Sylvia Hart Wright, the interviewer and blogger, has combined efforts to help achieve a more peaceful world and social and economic justice, with a career as a librarian, author, and longtime college professor. For more about her, please visit her website at sylviahartwright.com There you can also find the first chapter of her memoir-in-progress, ACTIVIST: Adventures at the Cutting Edge of Social Change.
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