THOUGH HE DID NOT join the American Communist Party (CPUSA or CP) until he was 40 years old, William Z. Foster rose quickly through the ranks. Already a veteran of class-war struggles, he was the CP's first-ever presidential candidate, in 1924; after World War II, and a series of ideological battles, he was named the party's top leader, only to face the threat of criminal prosecution for advocating the overthrow of the government.

Born in Taunton, Massachusetts, to poor immigrants who had 23 children (his father was Irish, his mother British) and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Foster was selling newspapers on the street by age 7. He spent his youth working at a series of odd jobs; in each case, he later claimed, he organized the ...

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