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William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism (Working Class in American History) Hardcover – March 8, 2000


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Product Details

  • Series: Working Class in American History
  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press (March 8, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252020464
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252020469
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,533,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"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

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
Barrett helps the reader refocus on the essential character of working-class virtuosity in dialectical contradistinction to the vapid nonsense of post-modernist theory and the lost generation of young historians coming to age since the demise of the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China. To paraphrase Country Joe McDonald, bring back the Marxists, Jim. Barrett helps us keep up the good fight with a well-crafted piece of historical writing that is sure to bring the enmity of those who foolishly believe in the end of ideology.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Chris on August 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is around 279 pages of small print main text, packed full of details and analysis. It is the story of William Z Foster, one of the prominent leaders of the American Communist Party. The author is not a Communist sympathizer but makes clear that he is interested in social movements of the poor and oppressed and what makes for their success.

Barrett describes Foster's early life, when he grew up in extreme poverty in the slums of Philadelphia and became attracted to socialist doctrines in the first decade of the twentieth century. For most of the period 1900-1915, Foster engaged in the extremely hazardous and harsh life of an itinerant laborer and hobo while he developed a revolutionary strategy based on syndicalism and associated for several years with the IWW.

Foster reached the pinnacle of his achievements when he toned down his revolutionary ardor and become an organizer for the A.F of L. He oversaw the great A.F of L organizing drives in meatpacking, steel and mining in 1918-19 during and shortly after World War I. He firmly believed that workers needed to organize in industrial unions; in contrast the A.F of L had historically often been hostile to organizing anyone who was not a skilled white male worker of western European descent. Foster helped bring about a federal government mediation forum for the Chicago meatpacking strike and was able to use the forum so that workers could tell about the poor working conditions they endured. The Federal mediator imposed a union friendly agreement that lasted for around a year until the meatpackers moved to dismantle it and crush the union. In the midst of the post World War I Red Scare, Foster testified in front of a Senate committee investigating the steel strike.
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15 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
James R. Barrett is a competent historian. He is even, despite his tendency to confuse profundity with complexity of expression, a reasonably good writer. Unfortunately, these qualities are overshadowed in his book on William Z. Foster by his own romantic attachment to the mythology of the "Working Class". The work is well researched, but its interpretation is flawed by Barrett's insistence on viewing the past through rose-colored glasses (pun intended). Simply stated, Barrett's own rather extreme ideological predilections taint the book to the point that it says almost nothing about the real place of Communism and its leader in American history. Frankly, with Edward P. Johanningmeier's biography of Foster already published, there is no real justification for Barrett's book. It has its uses in providing some new detail, but essentially it is irrelevant as history, and stands merely as an interesting document of fading left-wing historicism.
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8 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Having been forced to read this book in a graduate class, I must say that I found it to be nearly impossible to read. The clearly Communistic slant makes this more of a political tract than a history.
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