Ella Goldberg Wolfe, 103, who with her husband, Bertram Wolfe, was a key witness to the romantic rise and crashing collapse of U.S. communism, died Jan. 8 at her home here. The cause of death was not reported.
From the "lyrical left" of New York in the early 1900s to the Reagan Republicanism of California in the late 1970s, Bertram and Ella Wolfe's political odyssey took the couple from the highest levels of the Comintern, communism's international governing body, to the front ranks of anti-communist critics.
Along the way, they met everyone from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (who she thought had the yellow eyes of a mountain lion) to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and they formed an important part of the political intelligentsia that helped to shape the Cold War era.
Bertram Wolfe, who died in 1977 at the age of 81, was one of the seminal figures in the American communist movement. The author of the 1919 manifesto that created the Communist Party of the United States, he also wrote the 1948 book, "Three Who Made a Revolution," which has been hailed as one of the most influential critiques of the communist movement ever written.
Ella Wolfe was always at his side, helping to edit his dozens of books and commentaries while maintaining her own prodigious output of articles and letters.
"The politics were more Bert's interest. She was more people-oriented," said Robert Hessen, a senior research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, where Bertram Wolfe took an appointment in the mid-1960s.
Ella Goldberg was born in Ukraine, but grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1917, she married Bertram Wolfe, joining the artistic and social revolutionaries who became known as the "lyrical left" of prewar New York.
The Sedition Act of 1918 ushered in an era of arrests and crackdowns against U.S. communists, forcing the Wolfes to use false identities and move underground.
The Wolfes decided not to have children so they could dedicate themselves to promoting communism, which they did with energy. They moved secretly between New York, Washington and San Francisco.
They also lived several times in Mexico City, where they became friends with the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who was then having an affair with Leon Trotsky. "Frida Kahlo was sort of a messy person, but Ella liked her," said Ronald Hilton, a retired professor at Stanford who knew the pair, adding that the sale of a Kahlo painting helped to pay Ella's bills late in life.
By 1929, the Wolfes had moved to Moscow, and Bertram Wolfe had taken a post on the Comintern, the international governing body of communism. But when he called for democracy within the U.S. communist movement, he fell out with Stalin. The couple found themselves under house arrest for six months, after which Bertram Wolfe was expelled from the party. Ella Wolfe remained a party member for two more years until she quit when asked to betray her husband.
Bertram "was sort of henpecked. She would bawl him out and tell him he didn't know what he was talking about. But she always had great respect for him," Hilton said. "He left the Communist Party before she did, and she said that proved he was brighter."
The Wolfes' shift toward anti-communism was cemented by the Soviet Union's alliance with Nazi Germany just before the Second World War, and they moved further right as the years progressed.
Hessen, who helped to organize the Wolfes' papers, said that in her later years, Ella Wolfe delighted visitors with her tales of political high jinks from Moscow to Mexico City.
Mrs. Wolfe, who had once worked as a secretary of the Comintern, had by the early 1970s become a staunch Reagan Republican. She was interviewed extensively by researchers for the movie "Reds."