Victor Berger
Born: February 28, 1860
Famous For: Socialist Congressmen
Political Beliefs Socialism
Died August 7, 1929

Victor Berger was a Socialist Congressman in the USA. He is the man who introduced Eugene V Debs to Socialism.

Early Life[]

He was born in Nieder-Rehbach, Austria-Hungary, to conservative innkeepers who lost their business when he was young. He was educated at the universities of Budapest and Vienna. He emigrated to the United States in 1878 and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconisn, in 1880.

Early Political Work[]

He joined the radical labor movements that were ever-present in Milwaukee at this time and in 1889 joined the Socialist Labor Party (SLP). He broke with the SLP soon afterwards, but continued to edit socialist journals such as Wisconsin Vorwärts and the Social Democratic Herald. For a short time, he joined the Populist movement led by William Jennings Bryan, but quickly joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1898. In 1901, the SDP became the Socialist Party of America.

A reformist and rather right-wing social democrat, Berger felt that Marxism should be revised in the manner in which Eduard Bernstein was doing in the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). He also took rather right-wing stands on issues such as race, immigration, and women's suffrage. In Milwaukee, Berger worked to create a strong connection between the Socialist Party and local sections of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The union/party appartus which he created succeeded in electing many Socialists to the city government (including the mayor); Berger himself served for a short time on the city council.


Thanks to the Milwaukee party, Berger was the first Socialist to be elected to the US House of Representatives in 1910. He reelected to five terms and promoted public-works jobs, old-age pensions, and shorter workdays, among other things.

Victor Beger congress campaign poster

During World War I, Berger (an ardent pacifist) was one of the main endorsers of the Socialist Party's anti-war stance and was a founding member of the peace movement's People's Council. He ran a strong campaign for US Senate in 1918, but only managed to get reelected to the House. He was refused admission to the House in 1919 due to his anti-war views. In 1919, he was convicted to conspiracy under the Espionage Act, and sentenced to twenty years in prison. However, the sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court long after the War ended (in 1921). Berger was again elected to Congress and served from 1923 to 1929. In 1911 he introduced a bill to abolish the senate.[1]

Following the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, the rift between the revolutionaries and reformists in the party grew substantially. Berger became the bastion of the party's right-wing, anti-Bolshevik section. He opposed SP membership in the Communist International, and thanks to his political maneuvering on the party's National Committee, he succeeded in expelling almost all of the Leninists by the 1919 National Convention. Most of these Leninists went on to create the Communist Party USA.

Berger was a founder of the Conference for Progressive Political Action (CPPA), a farm/labor alliance, and was one of the largest Socialist supporters of the 1924 Presidential campaign of Senator Robert M. La Follette (R-WI).

Between 1927 and his death in 1929, Berger was the chairman of the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party. Voice and Pen (1929) is a collection of Berger's speeches and essays. He died on August 7, 1929, the victim of a traffic accident.


Congress Biography

Wisconsin History Page