On this day 162 years ago, Victor Luitpold Berger was born to a Jewish family within the Austrian Empire. When he was 18, he would immigrate to America with his parents to avoid military conscription, spending some time in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1881, he would then settle down in Milwaukee, which was a prime place for Socialism to take a foothold, due to their large German American Population. Berger would then join with the Socialist Labor Party and became the editor of Socialist Publications that he would freely distribute to people in Milwaukee. However Berger’s prominence would only grow after a fateful meeting in 1894.
That was the year he would visit Union Organizer, Eugene V Debs in prison. While there Berger gave an impassioned speech about Socialism and left a copy of Marx’s Kapital for him to read for the reminder of his sentence. Afterwards he found a comrade for life, one who would help him create the Socialist Party of America, however early on there was a divide within on where the focus of the party should be. Berger was of the revisionist wing of his party, that wanted to focus on electoral politics to transition the US towards socialism rather than the hardliners who were anti-electoral. Berger’s version of socialism, which would later be dubbed Sewer socialism, would become very prominent in Milwaukee, electing quite a few elected officials including three mayors, and a member of congress.
Said member was Berger himself, who was elected in 1910 to serve in the 5th District, becoming the first of two members of congress the party would elect. While Berger was considered a moderate in his party, in congress he was anything but: introducing bills to end the Presidential Veto, Abolishing the Senate, an old-age pension bill, and nationalizing of radio-wireless. The last one brought upon by the Titanic, arguing that a government owned wireless system would prevent another disaster like that from happening again. Berger’s radical actions led to the Democrats and Republicans uniting to support the previous representative William H. Stafford to defeat him. But Berger remained undeterred, running against him three more times, winning his seat back in 1918, however an issue would arise that would not be in Bergers favor.
Berger, being a Socialist, was against US involvement in World War 1, and mad his opposition vocal. Due to said activism, he was indicted under the Espionage Act. Despite this: Berger won, but when he went to go serve, he was refused due to his conviction, which triggered a special election to fill in the seat. Which resulted in another victory for Berger, which just left that seat vacant until the next cycle in which Stafford won. But Berger would end up winning the seat again in 1922 where he continued to push for the old age pension, unemployment insurance, and public housing. However after losing the seat a fourth time: he would not seek it again deciding to continue being a newspaper editor. Berger would end up passing away in 1929 after being struck by a street car.