FORGING AMERICAN COMMUNISM

THE LIFE OF WILLIAM Z. FOSTER

Johanningsmeier (History/Delaware) ponderously depicts Communist leader and three-time Presidential candidate William Z. Foster (1881-1961) as a ``thoroughly American radical'' whose journey through trade unionism and the Wobbly movement to an idiosyncratic Communism exemplifies the course of US radicalism. Foster, perhaps deliberately, said little about his early life in Massachusetts and the working-class Irish slums of Philadelphia, but the author explains that Foster's immigrant father infused his son with Irish revolutionary ideology and a hatred of authority. Deeply affected by the Philadelphia railway strike of 1895, Foster abandoned the Catholicism of his boyhood to plunge into radical politics, becoming a prominent union organizer and an eloquent soap-box orator. Traveling throughout the US and the world as a railroad worker, seaman, and hobo, Foster absorbed the literature of socialism and emerged, in the 1910's, as an effective labor organizer for the Wobbly movement and for the American Federation of Labor, particularly in the steel and meat-packing industries. Foster also became a leading advocate of ``syndicalism,'' a quasi- socialist movement which called for organization of production by unions. In September 1919, in what the author describes as his ``high point as a radical,'' Foster led a massive, though unsuccessful, strike of unionized steel workers, the failure of which led to the departure of Foster and other radicals from the mainstream union movement. By 1921, Foster was a self-professed Communist revolutionary, although still, according to Johanningsmeier, a ``free-lance'' radical who defied easy classification. The author follows Foster through his career as a leader of the Communist Party of the USA, his intra-Party conflicts with Earl Browder, and his runs for President. Foster went to Moscow in 1961 for medical treatment and died there, where he received a state funeral. Much ado about a marginal American political figure, important more for his early career as a labor organizer than for his later one as a Communist.

Pub Date: April 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-691-03331-5

Page Count: 353

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1994

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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