By Michael Mottern

It is not every day you get to travel to Spain with the help of your comrades as the first vice chair of a national organization like Social Democrats USA – a “guest organization” at the 26th Congress of the Socialist International held in Madrid.

The trip began smoothly when I arrived at JFK airport on the busiest travel day of the year – the day before Thanksgiving, meeting with comrades like Sheldon Ranz, Susan Stevens, and Carolyn D. Hoffman. Whoever says train travel is bad has not ridden economy class on a commercial airliner. FYI – if you are claustrophobic this trip is not for you. But we managed to arrive there safe after a short layover in Brussels. There, the customs inspector told me his positive opinion of our itinerary, and who the next president should be of the United States and that he was also a member of the Blue Knights, an international motorcycle club started by law enforcement in the United States. That is when I told him my dad’s Navy buddy was in the Red Knights, a similar club for firefighters. No problems getting through customs there!

When we arrived in Madrid, with the help of Susan and Carolyn and their knowledge of Spanish we were able to make it to the hotel. The breakfast buffet, 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., was utterly amazing! Spain is like that, you get your food in 10 minutes – sometimes in just 2 minutes – and it is all fresh as can be with a variety of things from cold cuts to cereals, to eggs and croissants. The Thanksgiving evening meal was octopus with a very good salad. Tipping in Spain is sometimes seen as not necessary, the waiters being happy with only $5 possibly because their social democracy includes health care and education expenditures being taking care of, whereas in the United States wages are lower and those benefits are excluded.

We were able to navigate the subway better than expected. So when it came time not to take a taxi because it would cost more money, it was my job as a hunter and a guy who’s good with directions to find the nearest Metro station. On the first night we were a little lost, but on the second night Google maps came in handy!

During free time between events, we got to know the young volunteers at the merchandise table, selling SI T-shirts, posters of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, etc. They were quite intrigued that such a delegation would come from the United States, where social democracy is a comparatively small movement. The woman who was most excited about our stay in Spain was a government worker and a Party member who asked us how we relate to the Democrats in the United States. My answer was always, “we’re all registered Democrats in our organization, you have to be…”

As we got more acquainted with the SI Spanish delegation of youth government workers, the terrific Latifa Perry, who had been in touch with Sheldon over the years for our visit from the SI’s London office, escorted us right into the plenary hall, ushering us into the back with the other non-voting observers, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), mostly.

There was our name plate, sitting on a long table, in a room with the largest group of socialist heads of state – and other party chiefs – I have ever seen in my entire life! I mean meeting the Spanish youth was one thing but having a place at the table as guests is another! So we sat through every speech from every delegation from full member parties, whether it was Mexico or the Dominican Republic. I even got to shake hands with the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist Workers Party, after the first day’s event when he was being sworn in as the SI’s new president – how awesome!

Michael Mottern with Costa Rica SI delegate Ricardo Sancho

During the social hour, I met Mustapha Ben Jaafaar of Tunisia, several delegates from Africa and Spain and spoke to the delegate from Costa Rica, Ricardo Sancho, as well as the delegates from Colombia. All very nice people! Sancho went to Harvard and I could only imagine what the delegations from Colombia and Palestine were thinking specifically because of the hardships economically and the many dangers that lie with being a leftist in the Middle East and Latin America. There were four delegations from the DRC – all fighting for full member status.

I was proud to represent my country at the Socialist International: the Congress of Karl Marx and the original German SPD. It was an honor I hope to do again someday!


Carolyn D Hoffman, Michael Mottern, Sheldon Ranz, Susan Stevens

By Sheldon Ranz

Well, somebody out “there” noticed us. Overseas, that is, at the administrative headquarters of the Socialist International (SI) in London. SDUSA had not been a part of the SI since 2004 and since DSA had left the SI in 2017, there had been no American voice in it for the past five years.

But SDUSA nowadays consists of a different set of characters with a different mindset. We don’t adhere to the Cold War consensus of the past and don’t think the SI is hopelessly broken because of its past flirtations with neo-liberalism. With that in mind, we have been eager to rejoin the SI and so we applied for observer member status a while back. In October, SDUSA scored an invitation from outgoing SI Secretary General Luis Ayala to send an official delegation to its 26th Congress in Madrid during the Thanksgiving holidays. So off we went!

Arriving in Madrid in November 24 and staying at the Hotel Madrid Alameda Aeropuerto, our delegation consisted of our VP Michael Mottern, Kansas City Chair Susan Stevens, Monroe County (NY State) Legislator Carolyn D. Hoffman and yours truly. The Congress was held at the IFEMA Madrid Convention Center, from whose stages presentations were translated for those wearing headphones into either English, Spanish or French. 

Sheldon Ranz with SI Secretary General Benedicta Lasi

Newly elected SI Secretary General Benedicta Lasi and SI President – and Spanish Prime Minister – Pedro Sanchez  set the tone for the Congress with their keynote addresses on Day One. Lasi spoke about succeeding Luis Ayala as both the first woman and first African in this role as well as her background as a socialist from Ghana. Sanchez stressed that while social democracy was on the ropes in much of the world, it was still very much alive and needed to be reinvigorated by addressing it through new avenues like combatting climate change in addition to remembering our core values such as fighting the dismantling of the social safety net and strengthening democracy.

...and with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez

After that, our delegation went to work. As invited guests, we networked with as many other delegations as time permitted (the Congress ended on November 27), exchanging ideas and answering questions about each other’s countries, especially the state of each other’s Left.  Many delegates were as pleased about our presence as they were about US participation in the World Cup – which was all the rage in Spain while we were there – since, in their eyes, this would kindle hope that America would join the world, not avoid it.

One delegate that I ran into was Colette Avital from Israel. Currently a SI Vice President, Avital represents Meretz, which lost all of its seats in Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) in the latest elections. I had befriended her back in 1994 when I interviewed her on my WBAI radio program when she was Israel’s consul general during the historic but tragically ill-fated Yitzhak Rabin government.  Rather than ask her the usual questions about the peace process, I focused back then on what her government was doing to address the inequality that Israel’s Palestinian citizens were suffering. It was delightful that she remembered me after all this time (28 years!) She also assured me that while Meretz was down now, it would be back.

More importantly, Meretz and the SI’s Palestine delegation (the socialist factions of the PLO – Fatah and the Palestine Popular  Struggle Front (PPSF)) crafted a Two-State Resolution that the SI passed unanimously on the convention floor. What was different about this Two-State resolution was that there was no mention of the Oslo Accords or ‘land swaps’ whereby Israel gets to keep some settlements in a final arrangement. There was, instead, an emphasis on abiding by UN resolutions applicable to the settlements, the implication being that all the settlements must be disbanded since they are all illegal according to those UN resolutions. This is a bold step for Meretz, a party that has been sharply criticized by many on the Left (including me) for having been part of an apartheid Israeli government these past few years. It’s also a bold step for the PLO, since it has ties to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which on a day-to-day basis serves as a subcontractor for the Israeli military forces in the Occupied Territories. While the official policy of the PA under Mahmoud Abbas has been to oppose BDS, for instance, Bashar Azzeh of the PPSF was pleased with our support for it. And when Ahmad Majdalani of the PLO’s Executive Committee took to the podium to denounce the Israeli government as an apartheid regime, citing B’Tselem’s report, Colette Avital did not challenge him.  Why did this all happen? Because the aforementioned parties saw that when the old ways kept failing, they tried something new!

Needing to try something new was a theme in presentations made by British Labourite Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Ukrainian Social Democrat Yuri Buzdugan.  Russell-Moyle regretted that the Labour Party had exited the SI and looked forward to its eventual return. Buzdugan was careful not to mention President Zelenskyy by name or talk about military aid to Ukraine; this just days after it had been revealed that Zelensky had falsely accused Russia of having fired missiles at Poland. Instead, he struck a statesman-like note of reconciliation condemning the Russian invasion but not ruling out negotiations for its withdrawal.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle

Our Vice President Michael Mottern put me in touch with Dr. Mustapha Ben Jaafaar of Tunisia. He’s an Honorary President of the SI and from 2011-14 was the President of the National Constitutional Assembly of Tunisia, during the decade when Tunisia was a thriving democracy, the only success story of the Arab Spring. In those days, according to the V-Dem Democracy Institute run by Swedish researcher Anders Persson, Tunisia rated higher on the democracy scale than Israel, the so-called ‘only democracy in the Middle East’, and one reason was because the Tunisian cabinet included Rene Trabelsi, its Jewish Minister of Tourism. Pro-Israel propaganda claim that Muslim-majority countries forbid these arrangements, yet there it was. I spoke to Dr. Ben Jaafaar about Trabelsi. He said that since the coup d’etat from above by the current dictator, none of the people who served in that Cabinet are there anymore, but Trabelsi is doing fine, having served honorably for as long as he could.

Dr. Mustapha Ben Jaafaar and Michael Mottern

I made a point of trying to reaching out to Chile’s and South Africa’s SI parties since they’ve been attacked by pro-Israel organizations in their countries for being insufficiently accommodating to Israel.  While the South Africa delegation departed the Congress early, I chatted with members of the Chilean delegations.  I shared with them an insight we have discovered: one can be a Democratic Zionist and support full BDS against Israel, since apartheid is in violation of Israel’s own Declaration of Independence. Therefore, this is something that Chilean President Gabriel Boric can cite whenever he gets flak from those organizations. (Note: Despite talk of the SI not allowing countries to be represented by more than one party, Chile was represented by three; our own delegation was sandwiched between two from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.)

In a nutshell, that is how SDUSA contributed – and can continue to contribute – to the SI: by using what we know to help our fellow social democrats overseas, and they in turn, can help us here with what they know.  Come next spring, we’ll know more about whether we’ll be an Observer Member Party.

Sheldon Ranz is Director of Special Projects for Social Democrats USA and the editor of Socialist Currents.


Editor’s Note: Continuing our retrospective on the American “sewer socialism” movement.

By Jason Sibert

Former Milwaukee Mayor Daniel Hoan carved out a special place in sewer socialist and Socialist Party of America history. As the 32nd mayor of Milwaukee, he led the longest serving socialist administration in an American municipality in our history, as he led the midwestern city as mayor from 1916 to 1940.

Hoan began his political career with his election to city attorney for Milwaukee in 1910. This was the same year Emil Seidel was elected mayor of Milwaukee as the first socialist leader of a major city in the United States. Over the next six years, Hoan clamped down on the corruption of public officials. The sewer socialist broke with his party in World War I. While Socialist Party of America opposed the war, Hoan organized the Milwaukee County Council of Defense.

As mayor, Hoan developed a reputation for efficient government. He implemented progressive reforms, including what some call the country’s first public housing project. It would be more accurate to call it a government-supported housing co-op because today’s public housing is owned by the government. The project occurred at a time when Milwaukee’s population was increasing faster than its housing stock. As soon as he started his mayoral term, one of Hoan‘s major policies was city beautification and planning which he saw as a means to “maximize the use of the city‘s authority to reduce the high cost of living.”

In 1918, he renewed the idea for a city planned public housing project by organizing his Housing Commission.The Housing Commission was a ten-man collective of city employees and Milwaukee businessmen that had two goals. The first was to look at how to alleviate the housing problem in the short term, while the second was to look for long-term solutions for Milwaukee’s affordable housing shortage. After two years of research, the Commission believed they found their answer in a municipally funded and planned cooperative housing development.  In 1920 the Garden Homes Company was organized under Wisconsin law by Mayor Hoan to “promote the economic erection, cooperative ownership and administration of healthy homes.” The company was capitalized at $500,000 with the City of Milwaukee buying 500 shares for $50,000. Shares would also be purchased by the owners of the homes. After twenty years, all the stock would be retired, and the property of Garden Homes would then be fully owned by the residents. The Garden Homes Company bought twenty-nine acres of farmland north of the city limits in 1921 and Mayor Hoan presided over the groundbreaking in September of that year.

Architect William Schuchardt, a Milwaukee native and Chairman of the Garden Homes Company, planned the neighborhood. Schuchardt had traveled to Europe several times, both after graduation from Cornell University in 1895 and again in 1911. It was during these trips that he encountered the planned, cooperative Garden Cities of Ebenezer Howard, which were also being used in the United States during the City Beautiful movement at this time. Both put an importance on large areas of green space that would be open for anyone in the community to use.

There were problems with Garden Cities, and it is considered a mix of success and failure by many. Annexation of the area into the City of Milwaukee was controversial. The addition of street and sewer improvements that the occupants of Garden Homes were forced to pay for, though they were not included within the price of the house. Residents became disenchanted with the situation after realizing that any money they spent on improvements to their homes would be lost unless they stayed for twenty-five years to fulfill ownership. In June 1925, the state legislature enacted the Garden Homes Law Amendment which permitted the sale of the homes for private profit. The Garden Homes Company finally closed in 1933, only after functioning to sell the remaining housing stock and pay off their loans.

However, there was more to the Hoan Administration than housing. He also led the successful drive towards municipal ownership of the stone quarry, street lighting, sewage disposal, and water purification. During Hoan’s administration, Milwaukee implemented the first public bus system in the United States. This was prompted by dangerous accidents: pedestrians were run over by street trolleys that ran down the middle of the road. Among the victims of such streetcar accidents was Hoan’s fellow Socialist, Victor L. Berger, who was killed in 1929. The mayor also experimented with the municipal marketing of food and providing public markets.  

Hoan was defeated for mayor in 1940, and one year later he joined the Democratic Party. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1944 and 1946. In 1948 he ran for mayor another time and was defeated by socialist Frank Zeidler. Hoan lived until 1961 and will always be remembered for his prodigious list of accomplishments.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.


By Michael Mottern

Performed not too far outside of Buffalo, New York in the suburb of Williamsville,“Future Wars” is an anti-war two-acter presented by First Look Buffalo Theater Company, giving its first East Coast premiere right outside of the Queen City. It is a sci-fi drama, and the actors are all professional even though it is staged at a local high school theater. In Act I , called “Reset”, one of the main characters is a combination of Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren from “Universal Soldier”, itself a science fiction drama about future warfare, and the play “Waiting for Godot,” primarily because there are only two main characters, both of them robotic soldiers about to die in what seems a makeshift desert.

“Reset” has a tremendous amount of foul language, with soldiers dropping the f-bombs every 2 minutes. But it’s a good drama indeed, with its robotic soldiers sporting wires coming out of their feet and arms, waiting to “reset” Actor Jacob Applegate hits a grand slam for being the most out-there robot in a universal soldier type of world, as he is haunted by the spirit of the child he killed in the Middle East, (played by Madeline Allard Dugan. Bob Rusch is a seasoned actor who co-stars, reading from his cell phone,  informing his comrade (Applegate) that he  must “reset” in order to keep from overheating.

Written by Samantha Macher, “Reset” is directed by Mike Doben, who does an excellent job at the dramatization of modern-day warfare “robotically” and is truly going to reset your mind. But it is “Overlay” which makes you rethink the inequities of US immigration policy. The same way we got to rethink “reality” in the science fashion movie “They Live” starring Rowdy Piper.

Ms Dugan also appears in Act II, “Overlay,” as Kayla in a weird spooky dark story about two British citizens and the policy of US immigration. Steven Maiseke is Mo, a defense worker temporarily working as a war technician. Haunted by the Cold War, this isn’t a drama you’re going to want to miss. 

“Overlay” is directed by Drew McCabe and performed brilliantly by Madeline and Steven the two main characters desperately trying to get American citizenship to escape their war-torn countriesd before they realize the meaning of the word “home”. As Stacy in the play “Overlay”, Becky Globus does a fantastic job in playing the psychologist, in another way strange scenario of finding disembodies body parts like fingers and toes, to cope with the everyday stresses of war on a person’s mind. Also featured is actor Bruce Rusch from “Reset” as the disgruntled veteran Brock, who was told he and his fellow soldiers were killing stuffed animals (teddy bears), when they were really reaping havoc on people.

This brings to mind that for over 70 years “social democracy has kept us out of wars for the longest period of time pre-911, changing with the war in Afghanistan,” according to Sheri Berman, professor at Barnard college who explained it to our group (the SD), at our convention in 2014. War is not the answer!

Because of the amount of swearing and foul language I would recommend “Future Wars” for an audience of 16 years and up. This is a good Sci-Fi double feature you won’t want to miss!

Michael Mottern is the first vice chair of Social Democrats USA. 


Editor’s Note: Continuing our retrospective on the American “sewer socialism” movement.


By Jason Sibert

The early 20th century sewer socialist movement used socialist-oriented municipal politics to improve the lives of metropolitan residents. Sewer socialists fought for publicly owned sewers and electrical grids (so residents didn’t have to pay for the profit margins of a private systems), quality parks, quality education, quality public safety, quality infrastructure, a vibrant labor movement (sometimes achieved), and financially sound government.

A must issue for an updated sewer socialist movement is housing. Homelessness is present in our cities; rents are going up and putting pressure on the budgets of working people in metropolitan areas (in the rural areas as well); and buying seems out of reach for many.  Housing cooperatives are the answer to our housing affordability crises and should be a cause embraced by modern sewer socialists.

Back in 2013, I penned a story on coops during the great recession (Addressing Housing Affordability Using Cooperatives | Newgeography.com).  I detailed the efforts of Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt to expand homeownership and suggested federal involvement in housing cooperatives. According to the National Association of Housing Cooperatives, cooperative housing is defined as when “people join together on a democratic basis to own and control the housing or community facilities where they live.” According to the NAHC, 1.2 million families live in cooperative housing in the United States.

In my 2013 story, I suggested the creation of a Cooperative Housing Authority to promote coop housing. While I still think this is a good idea, creative sewer socialists could work to bring something similar about on the local level. Sewer socialist mayors and aldermen could allocate city funds to housing coop projects. Perhaps the coops could pay back the city funds within time. Housing coops usually charge so much to purchase a share in the cooperative and then a carrying charge (something like rent or mortgage in terms of monthly costs). Of course, each coop member is allowed a vote on the governing of the coop. By cutting an actual landlord out of the picture, housing coops offer working people cheaper housing. Keep in mind, housing coops could take the form of apartment complexes or single-family houses.

Low-wage workers in the restaurant, hotel and motel, healthcare, and retail sectors are currently attempting to organize unions, and these efforts have received attention in the media. In addition, Fight for Fifteen is a movement concentrated in low-wage sectors that fights for a higher minimum wage ($15 an hour). The movement has been successful, with California, Massachusetts, New York (downstate), Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Florida, and Delaware passing $15 minimum wage laws. Cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City have raised their minimum wages to $15. These movements should work hand in hand with a movement for housing coops, as the low-wage sectors of our economy have many workers in need of affordable housing.

Perhaps the unions in these sectors could allocate some money for coops.  Remember, the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative in New York City came about with the efforts of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union under the leadership of social democrat Sidney Hillman. It is the first co-op created by Founding President and Manager Abraham E. Kazan, known as “The father of cooperative housing in the United States.” New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt spoke of the coop in a positive manner: “Amalgamated Cooperative Apartment House is a significant development in this comparatively new sphere. It signifies the economic soundness of the cooperative conception as well as the assured success of both these housing undertakings which were inspired by the splendid ideal of mutual good and reciprocal benefit.

Let’s not forget the possibility of tenants’ unions playing a role as well. Tenants’ unions have made a different in California’s metros, known for high rents. Tenants in cities in California are organizing tenants’ unions in their buildings and communities and have been influential in passing new rent control ordinances for the first time in over 30 years. Organization has made a difference in the fight against landlord lobbyists, corporate developers, and realtors. Perhaps an alliance amongst sewer socialists, labor unions, tenants’ unions, non-profits that represent low wage workers could make a dent in the problem of affordable housing.

The original sewer socialists brought certain economic activities into municipal ownership that were natural monopolies or at least very capital intensive. We can use some municipal funds to tame the power of the real estate industry. It’s unrealistic to think that workers in low-wage sectors would have enough money to start apartment complexes and housing developments on their own, but several entities acting cooperatively could make a big difference.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.