This is just a few pages out of a book where most of the plot follows the more successful struggles of the party branches rooted in labor, specifically a character involved in the Unemployed Councils during the Depression and the Railroad Branch. The work of the rank and file labor activists for interracial unity and justice for all workers often brought them into conflict with the white union leadership, and building support among the workers was painfully slow. Yet, through the novel, we see it happening. But spang in the middle, we see this (pp 216-219 of the 1997 University of Illinois Press reprint; I hope this is not too long an excerpt to legally post):
A few days after Stephanie’s initiation into the Communist Party, she received an assignment to her neighborhood branch. …. Her branch met every second week in an apartment on Lake Park Avenue, not far from Richmond Court. The apartment belonged to the branch organizer, a housewife named Minnie Gardiner, who had two children, one in kindergarten and one in the second grade.
… Minnie, emerging from the bedroom, would close the door firmly behind her. The branch then convened around the dining room table and Minnie proposed an agenda: education, circulation of the Daily Worker, fund drive, literature sales. ... They did not bother with motions and amendments. If anybody had anything to add to the agenda, they added it. The branch was a small one, consisting of half a dozen housewives and five men, one of them Minnie’s husband. All the men worked in offices downtown. After he first meeting, Minnie took Stephanie aside and told her, “This is a middle-class white collar group, Stephanie, and we find it hard doing real work in the neighborhood. I hope you can help us.” In spite of her protests, the branch immediately appointed Stephanie educational director, with the duty of making reports on such subjects as “The Problem of India” or “Wage Labor and Capital” or “The Position of Women under Capitalist Society.” But most of the time of each meeting was spent on the two ever-recurring problems—circulation of the party newspaper and the raising of funds.
Minnie advised Stephanie to tie these into her educational reports as much as possible So they would discuss a dozen different methods for coping with the problem. They would argue the whole matter back and forth, reach complete agreement on the necessity for maintaining finance and circulating their press. How else could they counter the propaganda of the commercial newspapers and the radio? The only question that remained was what to do about it. So they ordered a big bundle of newspapers and set a day for the mobilization of the entire branch to sell them across Forty-Seventh Street. But Stephanie, reporting to the mobilization point, found only two others besides herself. They had more papers than they could possibly sell; so they sold fifteen or twenty and left the others on doorsteps. Even Minnie had been among the missing; her youngest child had come down with tonsillitis the day before.
At the next meeting of the branch, the members one after another reviewed their excuses. Stephanie at first looked askance at the excusemakers; this was a fine kind of revolutionary unit, she thought, where they couldn’t even bring eleven people out to sell a bundle of newspapers. But within a few weeks she found herself making excuses also, and was grateful to Minnie for understanding that her excuses were valid. She taught two nights a week at the People’s School, helped Dave one or two nights a week on his material for the railroad wage movement. In addition to that, she was trying to hold down a job and complete her courses at the University. She learned that most of the others were at least as busy as she. It was easy to make lighthearted promises about what one would do two weeks hence, but when the time came, that was quite different.
Minnie told her it was always this way; there were more jobs than people to do them. To build the circulation of a newspaper, in a sizable section of Chicago, they needed a high-pressure publicity office, delivery trucks, and newsboys. But intsead they had six housewives and five men who worked all day downtown.
It was the same with the fund drive. Members of the organization were always contributing cash in one emergency or another, so the purpose of the fund drive was to scare up a few greenbacks from outside sources. They planned a bazaar to raise money, and Stephanie volunteered the use of the attic in Richmond Court. Dave, although he was not a member of the same branch, pitched in as bartender and brought some railroad workers along with him. A lot of people came, danced and drank and went swimming off the rocks. When they counted up afterwards, they found they had cleared forty dollars; but to Stephanie, since most of the people who came to the bazaar were members from their own or from other branches, it seemed they had accomplished very little except to move the greenbacks out of one pocket and into another.
However, the success of the bazaar [in 1940, $40 was a lot more than it is today] buoyed up the spirits of the branch. When Minnie came in with her next fistful of bulletins from the state office warning them that the nation was facing the most critical days in its history, they were ready to tackle the twin problems of fund-raising and press circulation all over again. And they solved the problems on paper by assigning themselves a new set of quotas, which they all knew privately they could not meet.
Theoretically they were supposed to have established contact with a lot of rich and friendly sympathizers who would kick in at decent intervals. But the facts were quite different; and at the end of this drive—as at the end of all their other drives—the branch members dug down into their own meager pockets.