How I Became a Rebel: William Z. Foster


William Z. Foster
Originally uploaded by Tobias Higbie

How I Became a Rebel. A Symposium. Part 2. The Labor Herald, July 1922, p. 24-25.

By Wm. Z. Foster

FOR me to become a rebel was an easy, natural course. My father was an Irishman and an ardent patriot. He was driven from Ireland in the latter ‘60’s, because he was implicated in a plot to overthrow all the English garrisons in the country. Upon its exposure he had to flee post haste to escape jail. In later years, as his family grew up in the United States, he fed us on hatred for the oppressor England. It was the intellectual meat and drink of our early lives. I was raised with the burning ambition of one day taking an active part in the liberation of Ireland. As I grew older and began to notice what was going on about me I was quick to realize that everything was not as it should be. The wrongs of the workers made a ready appeal to me. It seemed as natural to hate capitalistic tyranny in the United States as English Tyranny in Ireland. From my earliest recollection I was militantly partial to striking workers. Particularly was I impressed by the many strikes in the nearby anthracite coal fields–I was raised in Philadelphia. To my boyish conception the coal operators were inhuman monsters, and after all, I was not far wrong. The free silver agitation in the the ‘90’s attracted me greatly.

But I never got by bearings until one Saturday night in the summer of 1900, when I was 19 years old. Walking along South street I ran into a Socialist soap boxer at the corner of Broad street. He was the first Socialist I had ever heard speak and I listened amazed. The whole thing was a revelation. Whatever prejudice I had been taught to have against Socialism melted away like snow before a summer sun. The thing was clear at last. My rebellious spirit saw the broad way to its goal. Though I said nothing to the men conducting the meeting–I have often wondered since who they were–I left a convinced Socialist. After that the rest was easy. I plunged head over heels into revolutionary literature, reading everything indiscriminately and gradually swinging from right to left in my conception. I was “made” that Saturday night in Philadelphia. That’s how I became a rebel.

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3 Responses to How I Became a Rebel: William Z. Foster

  1. Tim Lacy says:

    Toby,

    I’d dearly love to know who Foster heard on the Broad St. soapbox. Any ideas from the summer of 1900 in Philly?

    Foster said: “My rebellious spirit saw the broad way to its goal.” …Nice line, considering the location of hearing!

  2. My father, Prof. Harold J. Berman, took the family to Moscow for the year 1962.
    What a chilling slide I just found in his album of the funeral of
    Wm Foster in Red Square from our balcony at the Hotel National.. want to take a look?
    Susanna

  3. Toby Higbie says:

    Susanna: I would be fascinated to see the slide. You can contact me via email at higbie (at) ucla (dot) edu. Thanks.

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