Foster, William Z. (ON HOLD)


Led US Communist Party 1921-56, Party 1924, 1928 & 1932 US presidential candidate


Autograph ID: 4654
Condition: Very good, light uniform toning, pale corners
Description: (1881-1961) Communist labor organizer and politician, General Secretary of the Communist Party USA 1921-30, Chairman 1945-56, Party presidential candidate 1924, 1928 & 1932. He became a committed syndicalist after touring Europe in 1910-11 and formed the Syndicalist League of North America (SLNA), whose policies strongly resembled anarchist views of the day. The SLNA, never effective, folded in 1914. The Chicago Federation of Labor, headed by John Fitzpatrick, was a nest of numerous labor causes, including organizing thousands of unskilled workers in the City’s packinghouses, steel mills and other industries. Foster created a Stockyards Labor Council to fuse all interested unions into a single body able to organize the industry, but by 1922, it was defunct. Foster turned to organizing steel workers, proposing a national campaign to organize all of basic steel simultaneously. Foster sent organizers to Gary, Indiana, and South Chicago, where they received much support in August 1918, but the Chicago area was not the Monongahela Valley, heart of the steel industry. When he sent organizers there, the influenza epidemic led authorities to bar all public meetings, and announcement of the Armistice led to widespread mill layoffs. When the companies refused to meet with union officials, 250,000 steelworkers struck on Sept. 22. Authorities attacked with customary violence and vigilantes expelled Foster from Johnstown, Penna, at gunpoint, and he was the focus of a congressional inquiry to study causes of the strike. The strike lost steam and it was ended in Jan. 1920. He founded the Trade Union Educational League (TUEL) and had contacts with members of the new US Communist Party after its 1919 split from the Socialist Party of America. After Earl Browder invited him to a conference of the Profintern, the Red International of Labor Unions, in Moscow in 1921, he was appointed its US agent and in 1923, TUEL became a Profintern affiliate. He joined the Party on his return to the US. TUEL sought to encourage development of left activists within existing unions and unite those already there around a platform of industrial unionism, and to support workers’ rights. Its first test, the Railway Shopmen’s strike of 1922, was crushed by employers. TUEL intervened in the internal politics of the United Mine Workers of America against John L. Lewis in 1923. His relationship with Fitzpatrick broke with the Party’s decision to pack the convention that Fitzpatrick called to form a new Farmer-Labor Party. The Comintern directed Foster to make the CPUSA an important player in the new party, and the Party newspaper, The Worker, published a 1923 article that identified him as a Communist. Foster and the CP dominated the founding convention, and when the CP seemed to have taken over the new party, Fitzpatrick walked out. Fitzpatrick fought TUEL and the AFL began expelling Communists. The Party split the Minnesota-Farmer Labor Party and after a poor showing in 1924 elections, the Party dismantled the Federated Farmer-Labor Party it created. Allying with a smaller faction led by James P. Cannon, Foster controlled the majority of the Party leadership in 1923 and 1925. The CP, which once had leadership positions in every major NYC local of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (except one local led by David Dubinsky), was routed. Foster played a major role in the revolt against Lewis’ leadership of the United Mine Workers of America, founding its own National Miners Union in 1928. A firm supporter of Stalin, Foster split with Cannon in 1928 and backed his expulsion for Trotskyism. He became Party General Secretary in 1929 with the support of the Comintern, and in 1930, ran for Governor of New York on the Communist ticket. He suffered a heart attack in 1932, stepped down in favor of Earl Browder, and went to the USSR for treatment. He returned in 1935, but became estranged from Browder. The CP built a personality cult around Browder who supported the New Deal and, to a lesser extent, the Roosevelt Administration, both of which Foster hated. He was most vocal of Browder’s 1944 decisions to rename the CPUSA as the Communist Political Association (CPA) and propose continuation of the no-strike pledge after WW II. Party leaders backed Browder, and the Comintern directed Foster to withdraw his criticisms. Foster’s letter to the National Committee as the Cold War began in 1945 signaled the USSR’s change in line. Party members who denounced Foster a year earlier now condemned Browder as a class traitor. The CPA reestablished itself as the Communist Party USA and expelled Browder, and Foster nominally shared power with Eugene Dennis and John Williamson. During his leadership the Party shed much of the “Americanist” rhetoric of Browder’s leadership and campaigned vigorously for Henry A. Wallace’s 1948 candidacy for president. In 1948 Foster was among Party leaders indicted for subversive activity under the Smith Act, but because of his poor health, he was not tried. Many leaders went underground after the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of the first tier of Party leaders in 1951. Foster presided over a number of internal purges, supported Stalin, and rallied the Party faithful during the USSR military intervention in Hungary and Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin at the 1956 20th Party Congress. He retired in 1957 and became Party Chairman Emeritus (1957-61). When he died in Moscow, the USSR gave him a state funeral in Red Square and Khrushchev headed the honor guard. His ashes were interred with John Reed and Bill Haywood.

Signed 3 x 5 card, undated but mid-1940s. A scarce autograph!
Type: Signed Card

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