Milwaukee’s Brand of Socialism
Socialism in One City
by James Boulton
First printed in Fourth International, Vol.I No.7, December 1940. Copied from http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/fi/vol01/no07/boulton.htm
We particularly recommend this 1940 Trotskyist polemic with US social democracy to supporters of groups historically associated with the late Ted Grant. To those familiar, the parallels in the politics critiqued are quite striking.
1. A Tenor Sings Socialism Away
The morning of April 3, 1940, broke dismally in the city of Milwaukee, heralding the defeat of Mayor Daniel W. Hoan and the return to capitalism. Dan, the Socialist mayor toward whom Norman Thomas could point with pride in every speech, the mayor whose treatise on City Government has now become a classic, who as City Attorney after the election of 1912 indicted and convicted hundreds of corrupt politicians and thereby ushered into office for over two decades the Milwaukee Socialist Party, its elected and appointed officials, and made the name of Milwaukee a star in international encyclopedias, the mayor, however, whose twenty-four years in office failed to produce any change in the life of Milwaukee’s proletariat.
When the final count came in, the beer parties in the wards were already ebbing and the golden haired thrush, Mayor-elect Carl Zeidler, had decreed the abolition of socialism. The major setback was not felt among the more “stupid” proletariat, but it did forebode ill among the many party Gifte Shoppe, butcher, book, and barber shop, tavern keeper, insurance salesman, and law suite members. Panic reigned in the City Hall and other municipal buildings; and in the offices of the stunned comrades of Norman Thomas there swelled a wave of defeatism that rolled right through the heart of the party convention which took place right afterward.
“What happened in Milwaukee?” was the paramount question put to delegates from the Cream City. Why had the workers cast their ballots for a tenor instead of for Dan?
When the initial delirium subsided, there still lingered a feeling of strength: Police Chief Kluchesky and “the Force” remained firmly entrenched in municipal power. All is not lost so long as comrade Police Chief Kluchesky remains at the head of the Force.
“Klooch,” as his comrades of the Socialist Party fondly call him, is expected to persist in waging the fight to liquidate the six mounted policemen, introduced by reactionaries to break the monotony of socialist civic life. Whole elections have been fought on this issue. The mounty funds, contend the Hoan men, could best be used in solving the problem of unemployment. Milwaukee Joe, when he is not busy “settling” strikes, will undoubtedly have something to say on this issue.
2. History and Achievements of Milwaukee Socialism
Pulling through the World War with very little to mar their record except the ride of Dan Hoan at the head of a Preparedness Day parade, the Milwaukee socialists continued on their march toward clean and efficient city government and a bigger and better convention city.
The first political boss of the Milwaukee local of the Socialist Party was Congressman Berger, who shared the job with Hoan until his death. Hoan now shares it with Andy Biemiller, Progressive caucus chairman in the assembly and author of the famous plea: “We must give aid to the Allies, our comrades!” Otto Hauser, ex-preacher and Hoan’s secretary to the Mayor, helps manage the dwindling machine, although he is mainly preoccupied with selling real estate.
“Old Vic” Berger merely bossed the party. Joe Kluchesky extended the practice of democracy against the general populace.
Frank Zeidler, State Secretary of the Socialist Party and a Sunday school teacher, readily concedes that nothing much was done in socializing the means of production. Nevertheless by the time Hoan retired to law practice in 1940, Milwaukee was the proud possessor of a socialized sewage disposal plant and many publicly owned streets.
Under the influence of comrade C.B. Whitnall, first elected in 1910 as City Treasurer, great strides were made in expanding the county parks; and today the Socialist county towers above the nation in quantity and quality of sweetheart’s rests.
In the course of this development Ernest Unterman, who reminds everyone that he is the Editor of the Fourth German Edition of Capital, was appointed Director of the Washington Park Zoo. Besides painting murals and collecting ostrich eggs, Unterman has also produced a work called Lenin’s Maggot.
In 1935, in a convention with eight other organizations, Milwaukee’s socialists gave birth to the Farmer-Labor Progressive Federation. The name was changed to Progressive Party Federation at the last convention when Comrade Hoan suggested that they should not give the impression of existing for farmers and workers alone. As a mass party the FLPF disappointed many. Some found it difficult to draw the line between the SP and the FLPF, the former usually meeting after the latter, often in the same hall or tavern as the case may be. A late comer was often heard questioning: “Is this the meeting of the SP or the FLPF?”
In all fairness to the party it must be added that much has been accomplished in placing 500 salaried election booth clerks, winning aldermanic, supervisory, and assemblymanic seats, appointing many tried and true men to various civic committees, administrative boards, and executive offices.
The achievements of the party culminated in the appointment of Joe Kluchesky and the completion of a really efficient police force, as the workers well may testify.
3. A Socialist Police Chief
Comrade Kluchesky is notable for his unique construing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and for his view that transients do not vote and consequently are of no value to a crime-free socialist city.
The Socialist Party spent $10,000 for Norman Thomas’ New Jersey fight in which he contended handbill ordinances were undemocratic. But in the stronghold of Norman Thomas socialism, not a cent was spent to fight against such a handbill ordinance. As a matter of fact the Milwaukee comrades appreciated the ordinance’s value in keeping socialist streets litter-free and were inclined to favor it; so that, when the US Supreme Court invalidated that type of ordinance, comrade Kluchesky dissented and proposed an alternative ordinance to prevent the littering of public streets. The Milwaukee Young People’s Socialist League, at the instigation of a group who subsequently became Trotskyists, issued a statement to the press, repudiating the Police Chief’s action. The culprits were admonished before the SP’s Executive Board by Ed Knappe, who stated plainly: “The point is you cannot attack public officials.”
Klooch demonstrated his socialist efficiency during the Allen-Bradley strike. A trade union leader and member of the Socialist Party testified before the Party’s County Central that, in a conference with himself, Klooch, and President Bradley of the struck corporation, Klooch said:
“If law and order are not preserved I will have to put the police at the disposal of Mr. Bradley.”
Another act for which Hoan’s appointee has been criticized by some people was, in reality, not as arbitrary as it may seem, but logically arose from the Kluchesky theory that people ought to at least vote if they would breath Cream City rarefied air. This act took place at the Catholic Worker Family House, a haven for underprivileged transients. On March 23, 1940, a police detail under orders from the Chief raided the house without warrant and arrested seventeen inmates, on charges, substantially, that they were non-voters, unemployed, transient, loiterers, and defiled by their presence the grand beauty of a fair city. During the raid some people were mishandled, insulted, questioned and searched in violation of constitutional rights which apply to transients as well as voters.
When this act was brought (by those who later became Trotskyites) to the attention of the Party County Central with the pointer that under capitalism there is a fundamental antagonism between police and workers, and when the naively. indignant complainant vainly pressed for action, an Executive Board member objected to the use of Marxist formulas and windbagging, suggesting ejection of the disrupter.
At present Comrade Kluchesky’s force is cooperating with the FBI in cataloguing Socialist Workers Party street corner speakers and Socialist Appeal salesmen, no doubt crushing Trotskyism before it breeds Stalinism.
Recently there was a solemn ceremony, when 260 party members received “diplomas” for membership in the party of twenty-five years or more. One of those, grown gray in the service, was Comrade Police Chief Joe Kluchesky.
Believe it or not, some of those old boys who hold those diplomas aren’t able to figure out why the party didn’t once more this year win the election!