Tuesday, January 31, 2023
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Socialism is Back in the Wisconsin Legislature

'Socialism has failed everywhere in the world that it has been tried...'

(Headline USAAfter taking their oaths of office Tuesday, two freshman Assembly members made it their first order of business to revive a socialist caucus that has been dormant since the 1930s.

As self-identified socialists — a movement that has been regaining popularity in the U.S. with the help of young Democrats — Reps. Ryan Clancy and Darrin Madison plan to hold their own meetings to advance their policy goals while also caucusing with Assembly Democrats.

Clancy, a Milwaukee County supervisor, was optimistic about bringing to the Assembly ideas he has successfully pushed for at the local level.

“The things that we can get done are things which are common sense and have not been looked at as bipartisan fights,” he said.

But Republicans don’t see it that way.

“Socialism has failed everywhere in the world that it has been tried,” Republican Majority Leader Rep. Tyler August said. “It is not what makes our country great.”

Clancy and Madison both hail from districts in Milwaukee, a city with a storied past as home to one of the most prominent socialist movements in the nation’s history.

In 1910, during socialism’s heyday in the United States, Milwaukee sent the first socialist to Congress and was the first major American city to elect a socialist mayor. Two years later, it took Democrats and Republicans joining forces behind a single candidate to oust Mayor Emil Seidel, who went on to run for vice president on a socialist ticket.

“Cities from Reading, Pennsylvania, to cities on the West Coast had prominent socialist politicians, but even in that landscape, Milwaukee stood out,” said Philip Rocco, a professor of political science at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

Socialist politicians sat in the Wisconsin Legislature as early as 1878, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, but most socialist state lawmakers held office between 1917 and 1935, when the first socialist caucus appeared.

Branding themselves as socialists hasn’t always been easy, Madison and Clancy said, especially on the campaign trail where socialism is still a dirty word. Even in the Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee, where Clancy ran unopposed and Madison’s only challenger was in a partisan primary, the socialist label was often a tough sell to voters.

“There were folks who were really close to me and cared about me who knew that carrying this label would put a target on my back,” Madison said. “They heavily encouraged me, ‘Don’t do it. Be a socialist internally, but don’t push that out into the world.’”

Madison and Clancy’s victories mirror a national resurgence in democratic socialism’s popularity over the past decade, with longtime stalwarts of the movement like Sen. Bernie Sanders joining U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a younger generation drawn to socialism.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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