William Z. Foster

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William Z. Foster
William Z Foster.png

Born February 25, 1881
Taunton, Massachusetts
Died September 1st, 1961
Moscow, Soviet Union
Political Party CPUSA
Spouse Esther Abramowitz Foster[1]

William Z. Foster (February 25, 1881 - September 1, 1961) was a highly influential leader of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) as well as a prolific author.

Early life

William Foster was born in Massachusetts in 1881 to poor European immigrants and began to work full-time from the age of 10. As he entered his twenties he began to subscribe to socialist views, joining the Socialist Party in 1901 but was expelled in a faction war, and later the Industrial Workers of the World in 1909, leaving the latter organisation when his plan to infiltrate the American Federation of Labor was turned down. Prior to becoming a Communist, Foster turned to syndicalism and founded his own Syndicalist League of North America (SLNA).[2] Later, he joined the AFL in 1919 and led the very large, but unsuccessful Steel Strike.

Communist years

Document 54 from Soviet Archives. Alexander and Earl [Browder] to [William] Foster, 11 July 1928, RTsKhIDNI 534–6–137. Original in English. At this time Browder was working for the Comintern and serving as the first general secretary of the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat. "Alexander" was the alias of a Profintern official named Keetagnian.[3]

Foster played a lead organizing role in the Steel Strike of 1919,[4] following which he blamed blacks, who dismantled it, as "a race of strikebreakers."[5] (see: Labor unions and racism) Foster described black attitudes towards labor unionism as "indifference, often verging into open hostility."[6][7]

After the steel strike, Foster joined the newly formed American Communist Party (CPUSA). An aspiring politician, he ran for the U.S. Presidency on the CPUSA ticket in 1924 and 1928 with Benjamin Gitlow for Vice President, and 1932 with James W. Ford.

After the third attempt to run for president he suffered a serious heart attack and was relieved of his post. Foster was always loyal to Joseph Stalin, and Stalin brought him back in 1945 to replace Earl Browder.


William Foster's middle initial "Z." was added as a way to distinguish himself as a Communist author, as well as to avoid snail-mail confusion with another William Foster who lived in Spokane at the time. It was never officially intended(nor legally changed) to signify a middle name.[8]


In 1948, Foster was indicted under the Smith Act of 1940 for subversion, but did not go on trial due to poor health. He later lost his post in the Communist Party for refusing to condemn the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution.


He died on September 1, 1961, in the Soviet Union.[9] His remains were honored together with other Communist sympathizers "Big Bill" Haywood, Charles Ruthenberg and John Reed.


Further reading

See also


  1. From Street Fighter to Stalinist, The New York Times
  2. Red Chicago: American Communism at Its Grassroots, 1928-35
  3. The Soviet World of American Communism, Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, Kyrill M. Anderson, Yale University Press, 1996, p. 187, 190.
  4. October 26, 1919. SEES STEEL STRIKE AS UNIONS' CRISIS; William Z. Foster Tells Workers That Autocracy Will Reign if Strike Fails. SAYS 300,000 MEN ARE OUT Overflow Crowds at Cooper Union Addressed by Abraham Lefkowitz. The New York Times. (archived version available here)
  5. Moreno, Paul D. (2006). Black Americans and Organized Labor: A New History, p. 1. Google Books. Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  6. 1923. Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life: Volumes 8–9, p. 272. Google Books. Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  7. Reyes, G. Mitchell (2010). Public Memory, Race, and Ethnicity, p. 55. Google Books. Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  8. Forging American Communism: The Life of William Z. Foster
  9. American Economic History: A Dictionary and Chronology: A Dictionary and Chronology

External links