VERA BUCH's arrival at the train station in Passaic, New Jersey in December 1925 was an event of momentous significance in her life. Sent to Passaic by the Communist Party to speak to some female textile workers, she was met by Albert Weisbord, the 26-year-old Harvard Law School graduate who had argued the party chiefs into allowing him to organize the immigrant textile workers in Passaic and its surrounding towns. Within weeks, Vera was in Passaic to stay, working with Albert, beginning her lifelong commitment to him. Under Albert's direction, the strike became the most important - and probably the most violent - in the history of the textile industry. Responding to his persuasion, people like Norman Thomas, Roger Baldwin and Arthur Garfield Hays of the American Civil Liberties Union, Ben Gitlow of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Mary heaton Vorse traveled to Passaic to support the cause of the workers.
In her autobiography, Vera Buch Weisbord recounts the months in Passaic, the years of childhood, education, and illness in a trberculosis sanatorium which preceded them, and the years that followed.
The daughter of impoverished yankees who settled in New York, she recalls the frustrations of her parents' marriage, her only sister's hostility toward her, the successes of her studies at Hunter College, and the throbbing idealism with which she first encountered Communist doctrine.
Serious and dedicated, particualrly after she entwined her life with that of Weisbord, she tells also of he labors in Gastonia, North Carolina, where separated from Weisbord because of Party assignments and thus free of his shadow, she exercised her own powers as an organizer of textile workers. In 1929, she and 15 other defendants were tried for the murder of Gastonia's chief of police. Several of the defendants were giben sentences, ranging up to 20 years on the charge of second-degree murder, but Vera was allowed to leave for New York the next day.
once more united with Weisbord, their lives at first made harsh by his ouster from the Communist International and their inability to obtain or hold jobs because of the publicity surrounding the Gastonia trial and their earlier Communist connections, they fulfill their pledges to Communist theory and to each other. First in New Jersey and New York and then in Chicago, they take jobs, at one point, she as a factory operator on pocketbooks and blouses and he as a stevedore loading Ford cars. During the Depression, they go on relief. Only later (Albert died in April 1977 and Vera is 81) did they enjoy some leisuer, travel, and freedom from hardship.
Vera's story is absorbing for a number of reasons. People who created news, some years ago, appear in each of her chapters. (At one juncture, james Cannon and Jay Lovestone come to see Albert, each presumably to woo Weisbord into his faction of the Party.) Desptie its unpolished style, replete with dangling participles and startling non sequiturs, this book has an intensity and poignancy that few autobiographies achieve.
It is a story of passion: Vera's devotion to Albert and her fierce belief in communism despite his and Russia's failures. in her missionary fervor for the workers of the world, she weeks so little for herself that when she mentions a Sunday dinner of stew beef with rice and gravy that she enjoyed while in prison or an ivory chiffon dress with a black design that Albert bought for her in Passaic, she astonishes with these deviations into bourgeois normalcy. She seems, after all, to have had only one vibrant wish for herself: a child. Pregnant, she is intimidated by Albert into accepting his belief that a child would "inconvenience" their roles as active revolutionists. So, she submits to an abortion. Unanesthetized, she endures the procedure, then dwell on Albert's callousness toward her. Why had he not accompanied her to the doctor? Could one love and yet not feel concern for the loved one? Years later, she conceives again and this time miscarries. In the lightest of rebukes, she here, too, expresses resentment at Albert's actions.
While recording the life of a person devoted to ensuring the liberation of a particular social class, this book is inescapably ironic in effect. The person, a female, functioned in a resolutely male-dominated environment. That, near the end of her life, she can record her achievements as well as her losses, and despite incongruities maintain her dignity, is not a little impressive.