Victor L. Berger, born on this day in 1860, was a co-founder of the Socialist Party of America and the first socialist member of the House of Representatives. A white supremacist, Berger sought to ban Asian immigrants from the Party.
Born in Austria-Hungary, Berger immigrated to the United States as a young man and became an influential journalist in Wisconsin, helping establish the “Sewer Socialist” movement. In 1910, he was elected as the first socialist to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing a district in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Berger was a white supremacist, defending segregation on the grounds that “negroes and mulattoes constitute a lower race – that the Caucasian and even the Mongolian have the start on them in civilization by many years.”
Historian Sally Miller notes that Berger also drafted an unsuccessful resolution to ban Asian immigrants from the Socialist Party, stating “If we admit the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Korean…it will be clear to America’s workingmen that the party does not want to help them”.
In 1919, Berger was convicted of violating the Espionage Act for publicizing his anti-interventionist views surrounding World War I. As a result, he was denied his seat in the House of Representatives. The verdict was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court in 1921, and Berger was elected to three successive terms in the 1920s.