OBITUARY: Mikki Doyle

Ken Gill
Tuesday 12 December 1995 00:02 GMT

Mikki Doyle was the Women's Editor of the Morning Star in the days when it had one. "When the feminist movement started the Women's Page was full of the usual shopping, fashion and cosmetics crap," she said. "We got rid of all that." She waged a campaign for women on the paper and raised the consciousness of her male colleagues to introduce issues of interest to women in its pages. She was determined to get the women's page out of the ghetto.

Doyle was an important participant in founding Women in Media, an organisation which had a lasting effect on contemporary journalism. Her close relationships with "female comrades" as she put it, ranging from the radical Guardian journalist Jill Tweedie to the devout Catholic the Marchioness of Lothian, was typical of her capacity to "embrace everyone with a good heart".

Mikki Doyle was born Miriam Leventhal in 1916 in New York, of East European Jewish parents. Her father, a formidable pool player, worked on the Social- Democratic Jewish daily the Forward.

The family was the training-ground for debate when the young Mikki became influenced by Communists and took her views home to her father. Her conversion came about when, aged 16, she met her first husband, an ex-Wobbly English Communist sailor. Her children were born in the Depression, the elder when she was 17.

The Second World War saw her in a variety of occupations (including that of bus driver), but brought the bitter experience of two broken marriages.

Her life was dominated by intense political activity which included campaigns from the Spanish Civil War to the execution of the Rosenbergs. She took her children on picket lines against racist bosses, and they were raised in a house where "the woman question" was always to the fore.

In 1949 she met and married the Glasgow-born Charlie Doyle, a loving companion until his death in 1983. He was her one-way ticket to Britain when he became the first deportee under the McCarran Act. McCarthy purges had taken him from the leadership of the Gas, Coke and Chemical Workers Union to an Ellis Island prison. Mikki married him by proxy while he was in gaol, then accompanied him to London.

After a couple of years as an industrial worker she entered advertising to supplement Charlie's wages which, as a militant shop steward in the power industry, usually needed supplementing. Her entry, without any training or experience was, she said, "easy, because of years writing political pamphlets and just being an American". After a brief period as trade attache to the new revolutionary Cuba, in 1967 she joined the Communist Morning Star, then the Daily Worker. She remained with the paper until retirement in 1985.

The life of Sojourner Truth, a woman born into slavery, and the genius of the underground slave railway, who suffered brutally but never surrendered, was Mikki Doyle's girlhood inspiration. This example of a woman's lifelong struggle against injustice was the standard by which she always judged the issues she faced.

This slave heroine also set the twin directions of her obsessions. When she set foot in Britain, she became immediately indignant at the prejudice and ignorance surrounding the two major questions of racism and the oppression of women. Her long friendship with Claudia Jones, perhaps the most brilliant black Communist activist of her generation, profoundly influenced her.

Her feminism was deep and practical. In the Seventies she was criticised for her refusal to be anti-man and for her emphasis on economic equality. She was upbraided for exaggerating the racism in British society. Few would raise such criticisms today.

Most of all, she was a big personality. She could dominate discussion by her simple, sometimes vulgar and usually funny interventions. She was scathing in her comments on the hypocrisies of English class, but tolerant of human weaknesses and always ready to absolve her many friends of guilt.

Marjorie Proops had nothing on Doyle when it came to homely advice, and young men and women beat a path to her door. She had an internet of telephone friends and contacts. She was an endless source of gossip, and the provider of quick fixes for political hang-ups.

Doyle's disappointment at the collapse of the Communist world in which she had invested her hopes saddened her in later years. She did not lose her faith in working people, her belief in Socialism and the ability of women to win equality.

Ken Gill

Miriam Leventhal, journalist and activist: born New York 15 January 1916; married thirdly 1949 Charlie Doyle (died 1983) (one son, one daughter); died London 8 December 1995.

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