Victor Louis Berger Biography


Who is Victor Louis Berger? Information on Victor Louis Berger biography, life story and political career.

Victor Louis BergerVictor Louis Berger; (1860-1929), American Socialist leader and editor. One of the most prominent Socialists in the United States during the formative years of socialism in the early 1900’s, Berger was the first Socialist elected to the U.S. Congress.

Berger was born in Nieder-Rehbach, Austria-Hungary, on Feb. 28, 1860, and was educated in Vienna and Budapest. He emigrated to the United States in 1878, eventually settling in Milwaukee, Wis., where he taught school and became active in various Socialist groups. He was editor of the daily Wisconsin Vorwärts (1892-1898) and the weekly Social Democratic Herald (1901-1911), as well as its successor, the daily Milwaukee Leader (1911-1929)—all Socialist papers.

After a split with the Socialist Labor party, Berger and Eugene V. Debs founded the Social Democratic party, which in 1901 merged with a dissident group of the parent party to form the Socialist party.

In 1910, Berger was elected to the House of Representatives. In Congress he was an early proponent of the eight-hour day, child labor laws, old-age pensions, and federal relief for farmers. Berger failed to be reelected in 1912 and 1914. He was elected again in 1918 but was refused admission to Congress because of his antiwar stand during World War I. He was tried for sedition, found guilty, and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. Released on appeal to higher courts, he was reelected in 1919 to fill his own vacant seat but again was refused admission. In 1921 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction. Berger was then elected to Congress in 1922 and this time was admitted, serving three successive terms. He died in Milwaukee on Aug. 7, 1929.

Berger steadfastly supported his party’s ideals despite persecution. He stressed the importance of social reforms as the means of achieving a socialist society. He rejected extremism and violence, advocating peaceful transition through the ballot. His editorials and congressional speeches are collected in Voice and Pen (1929).

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