Study Guide

Victor Berger in Eugene V. Debs' Statement to the Court Upon Being Convicted of Violating the Sedition Act

By Eugene V. Debs

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Victor Berger

Calling Bernie Sanders

Victor Berger, who played a crucial role in Debs' early days as a Socialist, was the first Jewish Socialist elected to the U.S. Congress (in 1910). Mazel tov, Vic.

Thanks in part to his European background and education, Berger had read and studied Marx (in the original German, naturally). Berger was the person who introduced Debs to the Socialist ideology in 1895, while visiting Debs in prison.

As Debs lovingly recalled:

It was at this time, when the first glimmerings of socialism were beginning to penetrate, that Victor L. Berger—and I have loved him ever since—came to Woodstock [prison], as if a providential instrument, and delivered the first impassioned message of socialism I had ever heard—the very first to set the wires humming in my system. (Source)

Berger brought Debs a copy of Das Kapital—not exactly fun, light jailhouse reading, but a book that changed Debs' life.

Berger was Debs' co-founder of the American Socialist Party and was the party's most prominent political success story. Milwaukee was a city full of German immigrants, and they kept electing Berger to office…even after he was indicted under the Espionage Act and the U.S. Congress refused to seat him. Unlike Debs, Berger's conviction was overturned on a legal technicality, so Berger never went to jail.

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