William Z Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism

&nbsp.The life of William Zoster is, therefore, a tragedy, not only a personal tragedy in the diminishing importance that was accorded to his views but also an American tragedy in that Foster’s commitment to the working class deviated during his life towards the embracing of power and the elitist movement in Communism. (Barrett, 1999)&nbsp.The life of William Zoster is, therefore, a tragedy, not only a personal tragedy in the diminishing importance that was accorded to his views but also an American tragedy in that Foster’s commitment to the working class deviated during his life towards the embracing of power and the elitist movement in Communism. (Barrett, 1999)

William Z Foster, the son of a poor Irish immigrant father and a Catholic mother, was born in 1881 in Taunton, Massachusetts. Foster began as a regular worker at the young age of ten and by the time his twenties were over, he had been a metal workers, worked in a foundry and in fertilizer plants, had driven a streetcar and had also held a variety of railroad jobs, shipping out to various countries like Australia, England, South Africa, and Chile. (Freeman, 1995).&nbsp. When he was a young man, he joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and was the leader of a very successful organizing drive in the Chicago stockyards in the signing up of immigrant, unskilled workers. This was later expanded on a national scale and culminated in the 1919 steel strike.&nbsp. He secretly joined the Communist Party, however as a result of the growing sectarianism within the Party and conservatism of the union movement, he began to feel increasingly isolated. According to Johanningsmeier, Foster’s “…physical and political powers were diminished, when his dream of a powerful movement for industrial unionism arising from within the AFL was reaching fruition.” (Johanningsmeier 276).

After a trip to Europe, Foster became convinced that an overthrow of capitalism could be achieved by a strong and militant minority working within the reformist trade unions. According to Barrett (1999), Foster’s radical beliefs during his youth became informed by syndicalism rather than labor republicanism.