Jewish Socialism in the United States, 1880-1920

The birth and growth of American Jewish Socialism.

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Entering Politics

In the 1910s, the Socialist Party entered a brief electoral heyday, dominating politics in the Jewish districts of New York City. In 1914, the Lower East Side sent Socialist labor lawyer Meyer London to Congress with a pledge to represent both working class and immigrant Jewish interests.

In the following years, Jewish districts in New York elected numerous Socialist members to the state assembly and the city board of aldermen, and even a municipal judge. In 1917, Morris Hillquit, another immigrant lawyer, garnered more than 20 percent of the vote in a four-man race for mayor of New York. Hillquit would later serve as national chairman of the Socialist Party.

This electoral peak came to an end in the early 1920s, brought down by gerrymandering, Democratic-Republican coalitions in Socialist districts, government repression, and the bitter split with the Communists after the Russian Revolution. But Socialists continued to exert influence through their control of important communal institutions, such as the Forward, the Workmen's Circle, and the unions. Eventually, they joined the New Deal coalition under Franklin Roosevelt, bringing their brand of Social Democratic politics into the mainstream. The liberalism that American Jews exhibit to this day descends partly from this Socialist legacy.

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Daniel Soyer

Daniel Soyer is associate professor of history at Fordham University. He is the author of Jewish Immigrant Associations and American Identity in New York, 1880-1939 , and editor of A Coat of Many Colors: Immigrations, Globalization, and Reform in the New York City Garment Industry.