Summer in Lorain

Steel mill interior in Lorain, Ohio

So here I was at age 22, as Jimmy Zarichny and I hitch-hiked to Toledo, Ohio, and then east, along the shore of Lake Erie to Cleveland. After camping for one night in a cheap downtown hotel, next day we tramped over to the state headquarters of the Communist Party of Ohio housed in the second story of a centrally located office building. Jimmy’s fame from the Michigan State Senate hearings had preceded him, so we had no problem in gaining the confidence of the Ohio CP bureaucracy.

(On the third floor above the CP headquarters was the Cleveland office of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The Wobblies had organized a number of small stove manufacturing plants in Cleveland which was their only significant industrial base left in the country. The best known IWW activist who had a significant hand in signing them up was Canadian-born Fred Thompson. Immediately following WWI, Thompson was among a number of Wobblies who had served hard prison time under the Criminal Syndicalist Act, he at San Quentin. I got to know Fred in the early 1950s in Chicago where I had joined the Socialist Party after breaking with the CP in 1950. I became good friends with him and eventually Fellow Workers when I joined the IWW in 1969.

The IWW had no use for the CP because of its record on the authoritarian left, and the CP considered the Wobs in 1948 as a shrunken irrelevancy with admirable beginnings but with the successful ascent to power of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia it saw itself as the logical successor to the IWW and European syndicalist movements. They were opponents on the left as the anti-authoritarian IWW had no use for the totalitarian USSR under Stalin. Even as a member of the CP I always remained sympathetic to the Wobblies for their rank and file militancy in the working class movement.)

The staffers at the Cleveland CP had no problem in lining us up with a place to stay. An immigrant Hungarian couple belonging to the International Workers (IWO), a CP-impacted non-profit insurance agency which also held social and cultural social programs for the foreign-born and their families, agreed to be our hosts while we sought work. We immediately called Ann Fagan Ginger at her law office and made an appointment to see her.

Ann couldn’t help us too much,but she did indicate that there was a CP port agent at the NMU hiring hall. However, he was alone hemmed in by three other staffers who belonged to NMU President Joe Curran’s majority faction who was out to oust all CPers on the payroll and hopefully from the Union. Curran originally had worked together with the Communists in the early organizing and founding of the NMU. However, as the Cold War intensified Curran freaked out and with Taft Hartley adding fuel to the fire, and along with CIO President Phil Murray also out to purge CP influence throughout the Federation, this mission soon became a blood sport for “Lunchbox Joe.” Actually in the founding of the CIO, John L. Lewis and Phil Murray both had hired Communists as organizers and functionaries as most were competent in their tasks. But the early salad days were over. The pressure on the CP port agent at the Cleveland NMU was one of the early skirmishes in the purging game.

Our port agent contact, looking nervously at his watchdogs across the room, also said he couldn’t do much for us. Lake shipping crews were all set for the season, and the only openings that came was when a crew member cashed in at a port and a replacement was needed from the hall. We tried to hit some factory gates with no takers, either.


After we’d exhausted our job finding efforts for the day, we’d often hang out at CP Headquarters. So inevitably we ran into Gus Hall, chair of the Ohio party and National Committee member. A fellow Finn, he was born in Cherry, MN as Arvo Kustaa Halberg in 1910, a son of Matti and Susanna Halberg, Finnish immigrants. His father had been blacklisted in an IWW strike so with ten kids they were existing on starvation level. Gus’s parents were founding members of the Communist Party, so Gus had to quit school at 15 to help feed his hard-scrabble family. Matti had recruited his son into the CP at age 17. As an active YCLer, Halberg’s rise in communist circles was meteoric. At 19, he ended up in the International Lenin School in Moscow where he spent two years being trained as a CP operative in the States. Also blacklisted for strike activity, he changed his name to Gus Hall and was an organizer for the fledgling CIO Steel Workers Organizing Committee, involved in the Little Steel campaigns in Ohio in 1937.

Now at 48, I was able to talk with Hall in Finnish. But the couple times I met him he talked little about politics. The Cleveland Indians were in thick of the fight for the American League pennant, and had hired their first Afro-American player, slugging outfielder Larry Doby and Hall was ecstatic in his excitement for the Indians and Doby, and that’s most of what he talked about. On another day, Jimmy and I helped out Hall and a few Party staffers lay new linoleum on the floors of the party headquarters.

I don’t want to digress much further into Hall’s political history at this point since readers can get its full scope by googling his name on line. Wikipedia has a good summary. But it’s a pretty sordid history. Hall was an ardent supporter of Joseph Stalin and never relented despite the Soviet dictator’s murderous record with the blood of millions on his hands. As CP National Secretary during the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev and his glasnost and perestroika reforms, Hall sided with Soviet hardliners and purged the American CP supporters who belonged to the Committee of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism who sided with many of these reforms. At that 1989 purge convention in Cleveland, Hall had hired a bunch of the city’s off-duty cops to help him control the proceedings at registration. So it’s puzzling, what kind of politics was taking place that allowed Hall to be that chummy with capitalist city cops?


Our cash running low and with no sign of a job, Jim and I had lunch one day in a cafe that was located on the first floor of the building that housed the CP headquarters. We were wearing our Wallace for President buttons on our lapels. Sitting across from us at the counter was a portly man in his mid-forties who was also flashing a Wallace button. A conversation ensued and centered on our unlucky job hunt. He introduced himself as Reuel Stanfield and said he worked at the National Tube Company steel mills in nearby Lorain, Ohio, a subsidiary of US Steel. He said National Tube was doing a lot of hiring, and urged us to take a bus to Lorain and apply. We jumped at the possibility.

Turned out Stanfield was also a long-time CP member and was in Cleveland on his day off to pick up some literature at the headquarters upstairs. As we got to know him better we learned he’d really “been around” as a union agitator and revolutionary. A Southerner by birth, replete with drawl, he had been involved in the San Francisco General Strike of 1934 and had spent time in San Quentin prison, I suspect because of scab-bashing. He had been active in union organizing in the Southern states for the CIO’s Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers, an inter-racial union, one with CP leadership. In 1946 he had been President of Local 15 of that union in Charleston, South Carolina. Reuel was an incredibly brave man, telling of a nocturnal car chase in the South when he and one or more Black members of the union were pursued for miles along country backroads by a carload of armed Ku Klux Klansmen before outrunning their pursuers. If they’d been caught sure death would have been their lot, either by lynching or shooting.

Reuel is one person I’m identifying as a party member in this Memoir because of his colorful history, although googling references about him are sparse. Most members unless they’re prominent I won’t even mention by name, except in some cases where I’ll give them a first-name pseudonym. I’ll never forget Reuel for his great dedication and earthy sense of humor. His involvement in politics and labor was sincere and he deserves some recognition for his role in US labor history.

Working in the Mill

Getting hired at National Tube was a cinch. I don’t even remember taking a physical. I was hired as an open hearth laborer to start the next morning. Jimmy got a laboring job in another category in a different building nearby. The company offered barrack housing near the main gate at a reasonable rate to single men who wanted it. So Jimmy and I became roommates for the summer in one of them. Our room housed double-decker bunk beds for two with spartan cooking and refrigeration facilities.

There were I remember 11,000 workers in the huge sprawling mills, mostly men with a few women, the remnants of large female work crews in the production process with many younger men serving in the armed forces. When Johnny Steelworker came marching home again after D-Day most of these women were laid off to return to “home and hearth” or crappily paid “girl jobs” after making some decent money in the mills. We were all ethnic and racial groups, with black and Puerto Rican workers segregated into unskilled and semi-skilled gangs. Some years ago I wrote a lengthy poem about National Tube and its working community which appears outside of these Memoirs in another part of, entitled “Lorain, Ohio, 1948–49”. It gives a comprehensive sociological look at the National Tube working community plus the life and culture of this teeming blue collar working class city in itself. Do check it out.

Three shifts were working in full swing around the clock in the mill with us steelworkers changing shifts every week in rotation so that most of us worked them all, day, swing and grave yard. This constant weekly rotation made it impossible to established reasonable sleep patterns, so we were generally always sleep-deprived even those of us with strong, young bodies. This kind of weekly shift rotation pattern was not unusual in the basic steel industry as I found out when I worked at US Steel’s South Works open hearths in Chicago during 1953-54.

The ubiquitous steel town bars were spread out along the street opposite the mill gates for several blocks where many single workers particularly would cash their pay packets with at least one double shot and a beer chaser called the “boilermaker”. Some would consume half their check at the bars on pay day. Others who had gone broke and been drinking on the tab for most of the preceding week would pay up their bar debts before being served their first round of boilermakers. Jimmy wasn’t much of a drinker, so my drunks were few and far between that summer and I stuck pretty much to beer as I was unable to handle the boilermaker combos.

Most meals we’d cook on hot plates in our barracks room, and during work hours would depend on plant cafeteria meals. On days off there were many working class cafes around Lorain where one could get a plain meat and potatos-style meal quite inexpensively. I’d sometimes go to the ethnic Slovenian Hall to dances where Frankie Jankovic, the Polish polka king of Cleveland and other bands would play for dancing and listening.


Soon Reuel introduced us to other leading CP activists in the Lorain branch. We were readily and heartily accepted primarily because Jimmy’s trials at Michigan State were widely known about throughout the country and as a “newby” to the party I thus rode in easily on Jimmy’s coat tails. One of the most colorful of our new comrades was:


Joe was in his early fifties and was also a fairly new hire at National Tube. A native of Archibald, PA in 1897 to an Irish coal mining family, his father and grandfather having been members of the violently militant Molly Maguires. He only had a fourth grade education before he had to go to work in the pits. A WWI Navy vet, he followed that up with an Army infantry hitch of four years. He joined the CP in 1930. He soon became a CP section organizer in the mines. In 1937 he volunteered for the international brigades in Spain to fight Franco’s fascism and ended up a commander in the MacKenzie-Mackinaw Canadian brigade. He was severely wounded in combat and returned to the States in 1938. Back home he continued his party work on both the CP’s mining and steel commissions where he earned the enmity of up-and-coming strong man Gus Hall. He was a maverick member of the CP’s National Committee when I met him, and his rebellious role earned him an assignment to work in the Lorain steel mills as punishment by the higher powers in the party, as I learned much later. As a middle-aged man the physical work on rotating shifts was much harder for him than for us twenty-somethings. But being a disciplined Bolshevik “democratic centralist” he accepted his fate.

I don’t want to go too much further into Joe’s bio but suggest another source for further detail. Years later he broke with the CP denouncing its leaders for arrant opportunism and joined a more narrowly doctrinaire sect, the breakaway Communist Labor Party which lasted for about 20 years, which ran out of steam in the latter 1970s. For a more detailed account of his life visit Google and find a complete pamphlet, “Joe Dougher: A Veteran Communist Speaks,” published by the CLP in 1974. Google also indicates that Joe died in 1978 in Scranton, PA. I was only in contact with him this summer of 1948,and in 1949 when I dropped out of college for two quarters and went back to work at the mill in Lorain-- (but more on that in Installment #10.) During the time I knew him, he had nothing but praise for his CP and Spanish Civil War comrade Steve Nelson, a political commissar of the Lincoln Battalion.


But in his CLP pamphlet Dougher denounces Nelson severely. The reason? It seemed that long-time CP functionary Nelson who had even been a Soviet spy, resigned from the CP in wake of the 1956 student-worker uprising of the Hungarian Revolution and the Kruschchev revelations of Stalin’s persecution of the old Bolshevik leadership. Dougher denounced Nelson with the CLP seeing Hungary as a Cardinal Mindzenty-Horthyite counter-revolution against a workers’ state. Yet it was Peter Fryer, a young British reporter for the London Daily Worker who was an eyewitness to the events in Hungary saw it as being a genuine worker and student uprising against the Soviet repression which he amply documented in his 1956 book, “The Hungarian Tragedy.” The students and citizens took over the streets of Budapest while the workers occupied the factories proclaiming: “These are now ours!” None of Fryer’s reports were acceptable to the Daily Worker. He resigned from the British CP but was able to publish his observations in the Laborite “New Statesman.” The British CP lost 7000 members over Hungary and the US CP resignations were in the thousands. Fryer remained a committed independent Marxist until his death in 2008. I was active in the Socialist Party of Los Angeles at the time of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution over which we rejoiced but were saddened when the Soviet tanks rolled back in and renewed their repression. But the CLP supported the Soviet military re-invasion as it was dedicated to the concepts of the Third International and Leninist democratic centralism. Yet I liked Joe despite his obtuse despotic political outlook as he and his wife Flossie were always kind and generous-hearted in their personal welcome to me and I shared many an excellent meal with them in their apartment. True believer Joe paid some heavy dues for his political activism and affiliations. He was one of the second-string CP leaders who did hard jail time under the Smith Act as his pamphlet recounts.


Another of the CP Lorain Branch leaders we soon met was George Edwards a machinist at National Tube and one of the founding members of the United Steelworkers of America Local 1104 in 1942 which represented the workers at the mill. He was a WWII veteran and was married with three young children and lived within walking distance from work. He was the first elected vice president of the Local and edited the Union’s monthly newspaper, Lorain Labor Leader. When I met him he had lost his vice president’s position in the union because of his communism but still edited the paper.

He was born in 1918 in South Dakota, according to Google accounts, grew up in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains where his clergyman father who worked in American Indian services. George earned his B.A. at the University of Tennessee and a graduate degree from Ohio’s Oberlin College with plans of also becoming a clergyman. He went to work at National Tube where he planned to found a “labor church” for steel workers. But instead was caught up in a unionization drive of the CIO’s Steel Workers Organizing Committee and was hooked for life in the labor movement. In those heady times it was quite natural for young radical militants to get caught up in the Popular Front Communist Party which recruited heavily among them. So George Edwards got caught up in this political religion as a “true believer.” So the CP became his "labor church” for a lifetime. For further information on Edwards, check out “George Edwards — Communist” in Google. He died still a CP member in his 90s in 2012.


This young just married couple close to my age who were newly active in the Lorain CP, only stayed in its ranks about as long as I did so I give them pseudonyms. I lost track of them for several decades after I left Lorain for the second and last time in the summer of 1949. About 1972 when I was married to Tina and living at Castro and 22nd Street in San Francisco, Saul saw a letter I had published in the S.F. Chronicle, got my phone info and called me. So we all became fast friends again for many years until Betsy, then Saul, passed away a few years back. They had both left the CP long time ago but remained active non-party progressives for the rest of their lives. Though they made no secret of their affiliations during their Lorain period, I’ve created aliases for them for the purpose of this Memoir.

When Jimmy and I met them in 1948 they had both just earned their bachelors degrees at nearby Oberlin College in Ohio, gotten married and were very much in love, which lasted through their lives together. Betsy was an American Anglo Saxon who had been born in Tennessee. Saul again was a Jewish teen-age refugee from Czechoslovakia around 1938 with his parents and younger brother. His father had been a prominent biologist and professor in Prague. He was a Czech Social Democrat who had published articles against the growth of and menace of Nazism. Many of his colleagues were into eugenics and pro-fascist. The family escaped Czechoslovakia just in time by train, then escaping to England and eventually to the United States where his father secured a position as a university biology professor. Death camps would have been a certainty for them in perhaps a matter of hours as they fled the country. Saul used to tell me he still had nightmares as he saw men in Nazi uniforms guarding the train route during their escape. Saul later served in the US Army during WWII and had studied at Oberlin on the GI Bill as Jim and I were doing at Michigan State.

When the FBI pursued its witch hunt against Communists in Ohio in the late 1940s and into the 1950s, Saul and Betsy fled Lorain, but were unable to hold jobs anywhere, as the Feds reported on them to all their employers around the country and they’d be fired. McCarthyism was in full terroristic bloom through the 1950s and CPers were indicted and jailed under the Smith Act. Saul told me after we reconnected that in desperation he asked his father for a part of his legacy so he could go to graduate school as government harassment had made it impossible to work.

So he followed his father’s field of biology all the way to a PhD as he was brilliant in the field and at Harvard pioneered in some new studies on the common mosquito which gave him considerable renown, but his political past may have caught up with him as he was denied a sizeable grant which made further research impossible for him. Saul finally secured a teaching job at San Jose State University, where he was when we met again and from which job he eventually retired as a professor. Betsy was a talented artist and illustrator and did volunteer art work with her talents for the United Farm Workers and anti-war movements in the San Jose area. In Lorain Saul was active in Local 1104 of the Steelworkers and during the summer of 1948. Betsy did some volunteer work for the Wallace for President campaign , utilizing her artistic skills in that endeavor.


Local 1104 had union membership meetings either weekly or bimonthly in those days. CP branch members who worked at National Tube were meeting regulars unless they were working on shift during meeting times. Paul Schremp was president of Local 1104 during both periods I worked in the mill. He was part of the Murray machine in the International Union but in my experience ran the meetings democratically and denied no one the right to speak on the meeting floor. Joe, Reuel, George, and Saul were frequent speakers on union matters. They were recognized as a pro-CP current although none flouted their membership on the union floor. Cold War and witch hunt fears had their affect in curbing any outspoken radicalism. It was contrary to the Party line anyway and termed as “adventurism.” The only committee I volunteered to serve on was the Veterans Committee, made up of the Local’s WWII vets. I’d attend its occasional meetings which amounted to informal bull sessions. They came up with no special programs.


Joe Dougher on the left, wearing a
Lincoln Battalion uniform.

Joe Dougher and George Edwards were comrades but not exactly fast friends. George was the college educated worker-intellectual whereas Joe only had a hard-scrabble fourth-grade schooling before having to work in the Pennsylvania mines and it showed in their personalities. George frequently took the bus to Cleveland to browse in its bookstores as his cosmopolitan literary tastes went beyond the political and into classic philosophy and literature and the arts. Joe’s reading was more or less focused on the party press and theoretical works in books and pamphlets. I once commented to Joe favorably about George’s diverse reading tastes. He grudgingly admitted that George reads some good stuff but “also reads a lot of shit” without directly accusing him of “petty bourgeois” tendencies.

I don’t recall whether the conversation occurred during my first or second stretch in Lorain, when in Joe’s opinion something George had said was heretical to the party line, and admonished him for violating “democratic centralism.” George angrily retorted: “Democratic fascism!” I never saw George Edwards again after I departed Lorain for the last time, but that conversation stuck in my mind for years that George would not be a “lifer” in the CP. When I learned of the 1989 split when the democratic reformers were expelled by the Gus Hall machine, I felt sure that George would be in that number. But I was wrong, he stuck it out to the end of his lengthy life, according to Google accounts. In fact, he was praised up and down in his People’s World obit for his long, outstanding service to the CP. It was Joe who left for a more doctrinaire Stalinoid Marxist sect.

So this eventful summer came and went in my then political life and Jimmy and I returned to East Lansing to resume our Fall studies at Michigan State.


Jim, front and center (click on photo to view full size)

Harry’s friend Jimmy Zarichny died in January, 2014 in Boulder Colorado at age 89. Here’s an e-mail Jimmy sent Harry in December, 2006.

On Fri, 12/29/06, James Zarichny wrote:

“Hi Harry.

I have been meaning to write to you for quite a while. I am living in Boulder, Colorado now. By 1956, I was out of the CP. I decided to return to a university. But with my record, a degree from an ordinary university would be worthless. I moved to New York and worked part time and got into an ivy league school (Columbia University). on a part time basis and graduated with good grades in 1960, ( math degree).

In 1958, a study group started in my apartment. It was the best study group I ever was part of. Steve Max and Jim Brook were in it. For a long time we were small. Then two girls whose name I no longer remember joined. They brought their friends and pretty soon my apartment was too small. About 80 people would come to a meeting and we became the FDR Four Freedoms Club. When Al Haber came to New York, he convinced Steve and Jim that we should join Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), So I was in SDS before Tom Hayden.

I graduated from Columbia in 1960 and went to work as a computer programmer for Lamont Geological Observatory which overlapped with the geology department at Columbia. My boss and I worked together on his projects. (He had a PhD from MIT). If I made a significant contribution, he would put me down as a co-author on some very important papers.) I even once got my name into a footnote in an article he wrote for Science magazine. I panicked when the boss (Dr. Richard L. Pfeffer) told me that the head of Lamiont Geological Observatory wanted us to work on how acoustic gravity waves are propagated thru the atmosphere. These are the pressure waves caused by powerful explosions. They completely circle the earth. Was I being set up to be another Rosenberg? But I decided to go ahead because the project funding did not require security clearance and everything we did would be published. If you are curious, use the special Google Book Search program and type in Zarichny. You will see that the work of two teams Pfeffer-Zarichny and Press-Harkrider did some of the research that led to a ban on nuclear testing in the atmosphere. We got identical results. Frank Press later became Pres. Carter's science advisor.

The project later moved to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Institute at Florida State University where I got faculty status, even though I had only a bachelor's degree. I got heavily involved with faculty organizing. The president of the union, Ken Megill, was a talented organizer. We became the first state university system in the South to get a union contract.

Because the FSU computers weren't gigantic enough, for massive projects, I was sent for very long periods to work on the computers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. I bought a house there as a retirement residence. In Boulder, I helped to found Left Hand books. The store recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. If you look at the web page of Left Hand Books, you will see that they very generously credit me as the founder.

At age 65, I retired in 1988. I moved to Amherst to take some econ courses in economics at U. Mass. In 1992, I went to Kiev and enrolled in the intensive Ukrainian program at Shevchenko University. I then moved to Khmelnitsky where my relatives live and taught high school English for seven years.

I hope everything is well with you and have a happy New Year.


End of Installment 9