3 to 5pm
Lost Worlds?: Touring the Radical Past with Milwaukee’s Most Recent Socialist Mayor
Dr. Aims McGuinness, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
The proposed paper uses the walking and driving tour as an analytical tool and literary device to explore the history of socialism and radical politics more generally in Milwaukee and the broader world of radicalism and revolution from 1848 to the present. Historians know Milwaukee as a city that was governed by socialist mayors for longer stretches of time than any other city in the United States. From 1910 to 1912, 1916 to 40, and 1948 to 1960, Milwaukee was led by mayors who were members of the Socialist Party. In 1910, the election of Emil Seidel as mayor and Victor Berger to the U.S. House of Representatives made Milwaukee arguably the most socialist city in the world. In the immediate aftermath of these victories, Milwaukee socialists confidently proclaimed that Milwaukee was poised to lead the world and the working class into a revolutionary future. While World War I and its aftermath largely ended these messianic dreams, Milwaukeeans continued to elect socialists to public office with greater frequency than citizens anywhere else in the United States, and well into the Cold War. Yet Milwaukee has been curiously marginalized in scholarship on socialist, radical, and revolutionary politics in the United States. Ignored or dismissed as insufficiently radical by scholars associated with the New Left, socialism in Milwaukee has been explained away by more mainstream historians as an idiosyncratic anachronism or a relic from a Germanic past, similar to the beer and bratwurst for which the city has become famous.
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