William ("Bill") Pelz

— Patrick M. Quinn and Eric Schuster

BILL PELZ, A well-known socialist activist and prolific scholar in the field of European and comparative Labor History, died at the age of 66 in Chicago on Sunday, December 10, 2017 following a heart attack. Bill was born into a working class family on the South Side of Chicago. After graduation from high school he became a bus driver, aspiring to make as much money as his father had as a union machinist, “but later,” he said, “I lowered my expectations and became an academic historian.”

He joined the Chicago branch of the International Socialists (IS) at the beginning of the 1970s and soon became one of the best known leaders of the Left in Chicago. He was a founding member of the Red Rose Collective along with the historians Mark Lause and David Roediger, and a member of the New World Resource Center. Both Red Rose and New World were radical book stores and important local organizing and information centers. He helped organize Chicago’s first Rock Against Racism concert, and later joined Solidarity, the Socialist Party, and served as Chicago Political Education Officer for the Democratic Socialists of American (DSA).

Bill became an academic scholar and professor of history and political science at Roosevelt University and DePaul University, where he was Director of the Social Science Programs. For the last 20 years he was a popular faculty member at Elgin Community College. He earned a Ph.D. in History at Northern Illinois University, where he studied under the Marxist historians Meg and C. H. George and wrote a dissertation on the German Revolution and the Spartakusbund. He founded and became the head of the Institute of Working Class History, co-founded the International Association for the Study of Strikes and Social Conflicts, and was one of the editors of the Encyclopedia of the European Left.

As a scholar Bill produced many books and articles, including A People’s History of Modern Europe (2016), Karl Marx: A World to Win (2011),  Against Capitalism: the European Left on the March (2007), The Spartakusbund and the German Working Class Movement (1988), and Wilhelm Liebknecht and German Social Democracy: A Documentary History (1988). Also of note, Bill edited the Eugene V. Debs Reader (2000) (2007), and for many years wrote film reviews for Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies At the time of his death he had just completed A People’s History of the German Revolution for the Pluto Press. He served on the editorial board for The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg and was a longtime member of the board of the Illinois Labor History Society.

Generations of young leftists and students in Chicago looked to Bill for inspiration, humor, generous friendship, and political guidance. In the international academic community, he was widely admired for his commitment to revolutionary principles and was known as a careful, serious, and rigorous historian. He will be sorely missed. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Adrienne Butler. A memorial service for Bill will be held in Chicago in January 2018.

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