James R. Barrett, William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999). Pb. Xiii+352 ISBN 0-252-02046-4.
This book by James Barrett, a professor of history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is another volume at the series The Working Class in American History, edited by David Brody, Alice Kessler-Harris, David Montgomery, and Sean Wilentz.
It traces the early career of William Foster (the "Z." was a selfaddition at the beginning of his career in the leftist press), a selfeducated wage earner raised in the slums of a large industrial city who became a brillant union organizer and helped build the American Federation of Labor and, later, the radical Trade Union Educational League. Rising through the ranks of the Wobblies and the AFL, Foster eventually became a high-ranking member of the American Communist Party, replacing Earl Browder as party leader. His political jouney, according to Barrett, encapsulates the rise and fall of radicalism in the United States.
Barrett aims at presenting the twins strands of native radicalism and subservience to Communist Party dicta that ran through William Z. Foster's career. Political ideology is here closely related to labor activism. The book is well researched but rather complex. As a leftwing historian, Barrett often seems to look at history through the prism of working class mythology, which makes it difficult for him to pass a reliable judgement on the real place of Communism and of William Z. Foster in American history Although it does use a number of new sources, Barrett's book is a minor contribution after the biography of Foster already published by Edward P. Johanningsmeier (Forging American Communism).
Université Paul Valéry-Montpellier III