Good for the Reds!

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/November 11, 1910

The Victory In Milwaukee

 For the first time in the history of the United States a Socialist has been selected to Congress. He is Victor L. Berger, of Milwaukee, and his election must be accepted as an impressive demonstration, not only of the spread of the socialist theory among us, but also of the success of socialism in actual practice, for Milwaukee has had a Socialist mayor and city council since last spring and it is only upon the assumption that their management of the city’s affairs has been satisfactory to the citizens that we can account for Berger’s victory. In brief, socialism seems to have proved itself. The people of Milwaukee, having tried the new cure, are satisfied with the result and cry aloud for a larger dose. So Berger goes to Congress, and 13 Socialists go to Madison to represent the city in the Wisconsin legislature.

Milwaukee is now as thoroughly socialistic as Atlanta is Democratic or Philadelphia Republican. It has a Socialist mayor, 21 Socialist city councilmen, 11 Socialists on the Board of Supervisors and two Socialist judges. The 21 Socialist councilmen completely dominate the council, the total membership of which is but 35, and the 11 Socialist supervisors likewise control the board, which has but 16 members in all. In addition, a full Socialist county ticket, including candidates for the shrievalty, the court clerkships and so on, has just been elected; the city delegation in the State legislature has been made Socialistic by the election of a Socialist state senator and 12 Socialist assemblymen, and of the two city members in the lower house of the next Congress one will be a Socialist. Needless to say, all appointive offices of any consideration are already in the hands of faithful Marxists.

How The Vote Increased

Victor Berger, the new Congressman, has been the head and front of the Socialist movement in Wisconsin for a dozen years, and under his shrewd leadership each year has seen it gain adherents. In 1898, when the Socialists first put forward a candidate for the mayoralty, they polled but 2,414 votes, and two years later they polled but a few hundred more. But in 1902 their vote jumped to nearly 8,500, in 1904 to 15,000, in 1906 to nearly 17,000, in 1908 to 20,887, and in the spring of the present year to 27,622—and victory. Emil Seidel, the winning candidate, was Berger’s chief aide in the long battle. Berger himself has been the candidate in 1904, when the vote was nearly doubled, and in other years he had run for congress or for other office. He is now a Milwaukee city councilman.

Berger ascribes Tuesday’s victory to the campaign of education begun back in the 90s. He said on Wednesday:

The working classes of Milwaukee have been educated by a literature propaganda extending over many years. They have been patiently taught the cardinal truth of Socialism, which is nothing more or less than the political economy of the working class. Economic conditions, the trusts and trust prices did the rest. These things furnished examples of the theory we expounded.

The New York Call, the principal Socialist organ, hails Berger’s election to Congress as the most notable victory ever gained by Socialism in the Western Hemisphere. It said yesterday:

His entrance into Congress will mark the beginning of a new and more hopeful era. His words and acts will attract attention to the grand historic movement of which he is a representative. His responsibility will be great, but no one who knows Victor Berger doubts his ability to discharge it with credit to himself and the movement. Finally, his appearance at Washington will place the United States abreast of other civilized nations, in which Socialism has for decades past been recognized as the only great force working for national regeneration and international peace and brotherhood.

A Total Vote of 850,000?

Here is enthusiasm, indeed, but Tuesday’s returns offer plenty of excuses for it. Not only in Milwaukee did the Socialists surprise their opponents and themselves. In the state of New York they piled up a vote larger than that of the Hearst Independence League, and thus jumped to the top of the list of so-called third parties. In Connecticut their candidate for governor, Robert Hunter, the muckraker, polled nearly 11,000 votes. In Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts they elected members of the state legislature—35 in all. In San Francisco one of their candidates for Congress scored a plurality of 8,000—only to see it overcome in that part of his district lying beyond the city line. In one of the New York city districts a Socialist fell but 643 votes short of unseating Julius Goldfogle, the sitting Democrat. This candidate, London by name, polled 3,322 votes, or 1,478 more than the Republican candidate. In the Twelfth District of Ohio, Bachman, a Socialist, polled 10,927 votes. In another Ohio district another Socialist came even nearer to victory. In towns as widely scattered as Indianapolis, Elizabeth, N. J., Helena, Mont., Allentown, Pa., and Syracuse, N. Y., the Socialist vote was doubled. Altogether, the disciples of Marx rejoice today, and with excellent excuse, and some of them claim that the complete returns will show that they polled 850,000 votes in the United States on Tuesday.

No doubt the election of Berger will be of good effect. The two-party system has worked well in the United States and its successful working has been accepted as proof of our capacity for self-government. Unlike the Spaniards, Italians, Austrians and Germans, who are constantly splitting into innumerable small parties, we believe in compromise and discipline, and so we have always managed to divide roughly into two huge groups. But that grouping, it is obvious, has disadvantages as well as advantages. It works against free speech, against the rise of new leaders, against a frank and thorough threshing out of ideas. The appearance of an uncompromising Socialist in Congress will reveal some of the weaknesses of the system. He will be unable, of course, to accomplish anything of direct value, but he will at least serve to keep us reminded that, in dealing with the larger affairs of government, the expression of two diametrically opposite opinions by no means exhausts the possibilities of discussion.

(Source: University of North Texas, microfilm collection)

The works of H.L. Mencken and other American journalists are now freely available at The Archive of American Journalism.