Socialists in the House: A 100-Year History from Victor Berger to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ( )

On Tuesday, November 6, Rashida Tlaib, born and raised in Detroit, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, won election in Michigan’s 13th district, making her one of the first Muslim women, as well as the first Palestinian-American woman, elected to the House of Representatives. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose father was born in the Bronx and whose mother was born in Puerto-Rico, won election in New York’s 14th district and will be the youngest woman ever to serve in the House.

There’s something else that sets them apart from their new colleagues in Washington, DC: Both are members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).  As a result, he 116th Congress will consist of two socialists and four hundred and thirty-three representatives of other persuasions. It’s a start.

Socialists in Congress are a rare but not unknown phenomenon in American political history (although never until now Congresswomen). Two served in the years leading up to the First World War, an era which saw over a thousand members of the Socialist Party elected to local and state offices. In 1910, two years before socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs attracted over a million votes (6 percent of the total cast) in the presidential race, Victor Berger, an immigrant from Austria-Hungary and founding member of the Socialist Party, was elected to Congress from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Defeated for re-election in 1912, six years later the “sewer socialist” was again voted in, though he would go on to be indicted for violation of the Espionage Act, a federal law targeting anti-war dissenters. Democratic norms counted for little in the hysteria of wartime and the post-war Red Scare, and the House of Representatives twice refused to seat him, even