Sewer Socialism Works

Thinking about the Flint, MI lead poisoning government water system I remembered the Sewer Socialists and did a little cut and paste research.

“Often referred to as ‘sewer socialism’ for their back-to-basics strategy, Milwaukee Socialists sought to reform the legacy of the Industrial Revolution on the local level by cleaning up neighborhoods and factories with new sanitation systems, municipally-owned water and power systems, community parks, and improved education systems. Progressivism and Socialism had different leaders and spoke different languages, but were, in many ways, remarkably similar in practice. Socialists rejected the Progressive idea of government regulation of industry. Instead, they sought to replace the capitalist system with a planned economy of state-owned industries that would protect workers from business monopolies.”

Seems to me that Bernie Sanders fits within this history and tradition of American Socialism. Look at the way he governed as a mayor in Burlington, VT and you will see, most likely, what he would be as President.

“”The term was coined by Morris Hillquit at the 1932 Milwaukee convention of the Socialist Party of America, as a commentary on the Milwaukee socialists and their perpetual boasting about the excellent public sewer system in the city.””

“In 1910, the Socialists won most of the seats in the Milwaukee city council and county board. This included the first Socialist mayor in the United States, Emil Seidel, who also received the nomination for Vice-President on the Socialist Party ticket in the 1912 election, when the Socialists netted 6% of the vote, their highest-ever percentage. Seidel and [Victor] Berger both lost their campaigns in 1912, but in 1916, a new Socialist mayor was elected, Daniel Hoan, who remained in office until 1940. Socialists never regained total control over the local government as they did in 1910, but continued to show major influence until the defeat of Daniel Hoan in 1940. The Sewer Socialists elected one more mayor in Milwaukee, Frank P. Zeidler, who served for three terms (1948–1960). A Socialist has not been elected mayor of a major American city since the end of Zeidler’s tenure.

“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’, 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’”.

Daniel Webster “Dan” Hoan (1881–1961) was the Socialist mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin from 1916 to 1940, the second-longest serving mayor of Milwaukee, and, at 24 years, the longest continuous socialist administration in the history of the USA. He earned a reputation for honest and efficient government.

“Hoan implemented progressive reforms, including the country’s first public housing project, Garden Homes, started in 1923. He also led the successful drive towards municipal ownership of the stone quarry, street lighting, sewage disposal and water purification.

“During Hoan’s administration, Milwaukee implemented the first public bus system in the United States.

“Today, Hoan is remembered as one of the best mayors in American history. In 1999, author Melvin Holli and a group of experts on local government, voted Hoan as the eighth best mayor in United States history. Holli wrote:

‘Although this self-identified socialist had difficulty pushing progressive legislation through a nonpartisan city council, he experimented with the municipal marketing of food, backed city-built housing, and in providing public markets, city harbor improvements, and purging graft from Milwaukee politics. Perhaps Hoan’s most important legacy was cleaning up the free-and-easy corruption that prevailed before he took office.’”

Another Socialist mayor who could be called a Sewer Socialist is Jasper McLevy (March 27, 1878 — November 20, 1962), the mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut who won his first election in 1933 and carried a Socialist majority onto the Board of Aldermen with him. McLevy continued as mayor until 1957, another reformer rather than a revolutionary.

“In a time of reduced revenue due to the Depression and, with city coffers depleted by corruption, McLevy managed to meet the City’s obligations and balance the books, even reducing taxes. He withheld the lucrative contract for trash hauling, instituting municipal trash collection, saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. He took over Pleasure Beach where concessionaires had been reneging on taxes and rent for years. He began the process of putting all city purchases out for competitive bidding. In one instance when asphalt suppliers all supplied identical bids, he threatened to create a municipal asphalt supplier and broke their cartel. He championed transparency, opening all board and commission meetings to the press and the public (‘Operation Goldfish Bowl’). He sold the expensive limousine his predecessor had used. He instituted a merit system in the police and fire departments. McLevy went on to be reelected eleven times.

“While he was a Socialist, McLevy was known for his fiscal restraint. When asked, after a snow storm, when the City would begin plowing snow, McLevy allegedly replied, ‘God put the snow there, let him take it away.’ McLevy gained a reputation for balancing budgets, reducing spending and micromanaging city affairs. In the vernacular of the time, McLevy was referred to as a “sewer socialist”, a pragmatist who focused on the details of running a city.