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William Z.Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism

William Z.Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism

Hardback Working Class in American History

By (author) James R. Barrett, Edited by David Brody, Edited by Alice Kessler-Harris, Edited by David Montgomery, Edited by Sean Wilentz

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  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Format: Hardback | 384 pages
  • Dimensions: 161mm x 237mm x 30mm | 801g
  • Publication date: 1 February 2000
  • Publication City/Country: Baltimore
  • ISBN 10: 0252020464
  • ISBN 13: 9780252020469

Product description

In this trenchant work, James Barrett traces the political journey of a leading worker radical whose life and experiences encapsulate radicalism's rise and fall in the United States. A self-educated wage earner raised in the slums of a large industrial city, William Z. Foster became a brilliant union organizer who helped build the American Federation of Labor and, later, radical Trade Union Educational League. Embracing socialism, syndicalism, and communism in turn, Foster rose through the ranks of the American Communist Party to stand at the forefront of labor politics throughout the 1920s. Yet by the time he died in 1961, in a Moscow hospital far from the meat-packing plants and steel mills where he had built his reputation, Foster's political marginalism stood as a symbol for the isolation of American labor radicalism in the postwar era. Integrating both the indigenous and the international factors that determined the fate of American communism, "William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism" provides a new understanding of the basis for radicalism among twentieth-century American workers.

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"Drawn from private papers, FBI files, court records, Soviet archives, contemporary press accounts, congressional reports, etc., this gem of a biography is an illuminating and judicious study of a major figure in 20th-century American radicalism... [Barrett's] rich and complex portrait should be required reading for advanced students of modern American radicalism." -- Choice "If historian Jim Barrett had never written anything before ... or ever again ... his reputation would be secure with this title alone. This is more than a biography, it is a look inside the radical left world through which Foster travelled including the Socialist Party, IWW, syndicalism, anarchism and the Communist Party... A must read for all those interested in radical history!" - Emily Juares, The Socialist " "As much a study of American radicalism as it is of Foster himself." -- Michigan Historical Review "The strength of Barrett's biography lies in his analysis of Foster's radicalism. Barrett captures Foster's commitment to industrial unionism, his gentle elitism, his passion for organizing the unorganized, his willingness to follow Soviet policy directives, and his crusading zeal undeterred by defeat." -- Ralph Scharnau, Journal of Illinois History "A valuable contribution to the history of American communism, as well as labor history more broadly. Well researched and well written, it is likely to become the standard biography of the man who sought to become the American Stalin." -- John E. Moser, Pacific Northwest Quarterly "James Barrett has provided a gripping account of America's most important radical of the first half of the twentieth century. ... Barrett's account of Foster provides a new synthesis in the approach to the history of American Communism, a synthesis that is not a bland compromise, but one that provides a methodology which provides historians with a valuable tool in their continued labours to understand America's radical past." -- Andy Strouthous, American Studies ADVANCE PRAISE "An impressive accounting of the life of perhaps the leading figure in the American Communist Party. It is a broad and deep contextualization of Foster the individual, situating him in the general currents of working-class mobilization and political radicalism of his time." - Bryan Palmer, author of The Making of E. P. Thompson: Marxism, Humanism, and History "Barrett's work stands in sharp contrast to any previous work on Foster. Instead of writing a history of a U.S. Communist leader, he has produced, through Foster's complex career and ideological developments, a history of the radical 'militant minority' in its multiple forms ... during the first half of the twentieth century."-Fraser Ottanelli, author of The Communist Party of the United States: From the Depression to World War II