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Sat May 2, 2015, 07:06 PM

Here, Socialism meant honest, frugal government

Sanders' entry in the race and identification as a Socialist, combined with a thread about Milorganite got me thinking about a wonderful piece by a great local historian. I fully support Sanders, especially his alignment with Socialism. Full disclosure: I also support Clinton. I think that either would make a great POTUS, likely for different reasons. But, I digress... as the RW demonizes and completely mangles the definition of the word yet again, I thought this is a great piece to revisit.

"Are We All Socialists Now?" That was the plaintive title of a panel discussion at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. The word "socialist" is being heard all over America these days as the federal government takes over banks, tells automakers what to do and tightens regulations in an effort to pull our economy out of its current tailspin. The label is not generally intended as a compliment. To many Americans, socialism means being governed by the government - suffocating under layers of bureaucracy that sop up tax dollars and smother individual initiative.

And that's the positive view. Some critics carelessly lump socialism together with anarchism or even communism. After invoking the "s" word at the recent conservative conference, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said, "Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff." He conveniently forgot, or perhaps never knew, that most American socialists were sworn enemies of Soviet Communism.

The view from Milwaukee is radically different. I'm not a socialist and never have been, but I can testify that Socialism - with a capital "S"- was one of the best things that ever happened to this city. Without realizing it, even the most red-blooded capitalists are enjoying the fruits of their efforts, from spacious parks to clean streets and from a working infrastructure to an expectation, however frequently disappointed, of honest government.


Underlying their notion of public enterprise was an abiding faith - curiously antique by today's standards - in the goodness of government, especially local government. The Socialists believed that government was the locus of our common wealth - the resources that belong to all of us and each of us - and they worked to build a community of interest around a deeply shared belief in the common good.

The results were plain to see. After years in the political sewer, Milwaukee became, under "sewer Socialists" Seidel, Hoan and Zeidler, a model of civic virtue. Time Magazine called Milwaukee "perhaps the best-governed city in the U.S." in 1936, and the community won trophy after trophy for public health, traffic safety and fire prevention. The health prize came home so often that Milwaukee had to be retired from competition to give other municipalities a chance.


The Socialists governed well, and they did so without breaking the bank. Contrary to another popular myth, these were not tax-and-spend radicals intent on emptying the public coffers. They were, in fact, every bit as frugal as the most penny-pinching German hausfrau. The Socialists managed civic affairs on a pay-as-you-go basis, and in 1943, Milwaukee became the only big city in America whose amortization fund exceeded its outstanding bond obligations. It was, in other words, debt-free.

More at link: http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/42448437.html

Gurda also wrote: Socialism before it was a four-letter word and is interviewed here in John Gurda on How the Socialists Saved Milwaukee

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Reply Here, Socialism meant honest, frugal government (Original post)
PeaceNikki May 2015 OP
Jackpine Radical May 2015 #1
PeaceNikki May 2015 #4
1939 May 2015 #2
PeaceNikki May 2015 #3
Jackpine Radical May 2015 #5

Response to PeaceNikki (Original post)

Sat May 2, 2015, 07:21 PM

1. Thank you.

I heard Frank Zeidler speak on WPR a number of times. He was in his 90's the last time.

What a wonderful, insightful, compassionate man.

Of course, you have to remember that Milwaukee socialism was imported directly from Germany in 1848. The "Achtundvierzigers" (48'ers) came to Wisconsin after a failed socialist revolution.

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Response to Jackpine Radical (Reply #1)

Sat May 2, 2015, 07:43 PM

4. I have had the pleasure as well.

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Response to PeaceNikki (Original post)

Sat May 2, 2015, 07:35 PM

2. The arfticle conflates two different things

The labels are often confused by both the right and the left.

"Social democracy" is the expansion of government for civic purposes like health care, safety net, guaranteed income, welfare, etc.

"Socialism" is where the government takes ownership of the means of production.

The Milwaukee "socialists" never took over the means of productions, they just used taxes to establish a revenue stream to fill civic needs.

The phone company, the electric company, the railroads, and the factories in Milwaukee (i.e. the means of production) were still in private hands.

If President Obama was a "true socialist" (as the right claims), he would have taken control of GM and Chrysler and operated them as government entities.

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Response to 1939 (Reply #2)

Sat May 2, 2015, 07:42 PM

3. They were called "Sewer Socialists".

With the creation of the Socialist Party of America, this group formed the core of an element that favored democratic socialism over orthodox Marxism, de-emphasizing social theory and revolutionary rhetoric in favor of honest government and efforts to improve public health. The Sewer Socialists fought to clean up what they saw as "the dirty and polluted legacy of the Industrial Revolution",[3] cleaning up neighborhoods and factories with new sanitation systems, city-owned water and power systems, and improved education. This approach is sometimes called "constructive socialism".[4]The movement has its origins in the organization of the Social Democratic Party, a precursor to the Socialist Party of America.


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Response to PeaceNikki (Reply #3)

Sat May 2, 2015, 09:24 PM

5. The term "sewer socialist" was a term of pride.

The Milwaukee socialists were renowned for making the city work, from the sewer system on up. Small businessmen were among their strongest supporters because they appreciated having a well-functioning infrastructure and institutions that worked.

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