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Socialist and Radical Alternatives Previous Next
Digital History ID 3198


The rise of the American Federation of Labor did not spell the disappearance of more radical groups. Two organizations offered a more radical vision. The Industrial Workers of the World, formed in 1905, clamored for "one big union" to oust "the ruling class" and abolish the wage system.

The Socialist Party, founded in 1901, had, by 1912, grown to 118,000 members. By that year, it had elected 1,200 public officials, including the mayors of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Flint, Michigan.; and Schenectady, New York. More than 300 Socialist periodicals appeared. A weekly socialist newspaper, the Appeal to Reason, reached a circulation of over 700,000 copies in 1913.

Socialist support was concentrated between two immigrant groups: Germans, who had left Europe in the 1840s, and East European Jews, who were refugees from Czarist repression. The largest daily socialist newspaper in the United States, the Jewish Daily Forward, which had a circulation of 142,000 in 1913, was published in Yiddish, not in English. The Socialist Party's first major electoral victories occurred in Milwaukee, which had a large German community. In 1910, the city elected a Socialist mayor and member of Congress.

The Socialist Party declined in influence during Democratic President Woodrow Wilson's first term, as many reforms enacted by Congress diminished the party's appeal. Support for the party briefly surged during World War I, but had dissipated by 1919 as a result of federal, state, and local campaigns to suppress the party and internal disputes involving how the party should respond to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

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