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

J. Henry Stump, Socialist Mayor of Reading, Pennsylvania

By Jason Sibert

Reading, Pennsylvania – a city of 95,112 residents as of the 2020 census – and the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania behind Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Allentown  hardly makes national news today. Reading Hospital, East Penn Manufacturing, Carpenter Technology Corporation, and the Reading School District are among its biggest employers.

However, the city, which could be called a part of a mini-metro area, played a role in the history of the political movement known as sewer socialism. Sewer Socialist J. Henry Stump served as mayor of the city for the first time from 1927 to 1931 with two socialist councilmen, one being James Maurer, also a trade unionist and state legislator, making Reading the only city with a majority Socialist government at the time. In that election cycle, Reading also elected two socialist school directorships and a socialist city comptroller. In 1929, the party captured the two remaining seats on the city council.

By 1931, the Republicans and Democrats united in a fusion movement to turn the Socialist Party out of office, and Stump and the socialist councilmen lost their jobs. However, Stump returned as a mayoral candidate in 1935 – this time, winning. However, the Socialist candidates for council lost in that cycle. Stump suffered another defeat in 1939 but returned to the office for a third time in 1943. The up-and-down cycle of his political career continued with Stump being defeated for reelection in 1947 – by 200 votes!

Stump did have some accomplishments as a sewer socialist. Reading gained with a new city hall, new firehouses, an outdoor auditorium in City Park, a new branch library at Schuylkill Avenue and Windsor Street, and a tower on Mt. Penn. The taxpayer won through the municipal collection of garbage, improvements in the sewer and water systems, modernizations of the fire and police alarm systems, including two-way radios for police patrol cars, the Glenside housing development, and improvements to the airport.  The children of Reading enjoyed new recreational opportunities – the improvement of the playground on Lance Place, the installation of field houses on several other playgrounds, and the purchase and equipping of the Eleventh and Pike playground.

The former Mayor of Reading parted ways with the Socialist Party of America (SPA) in 1936 and joined the splinter group – the Social Democratic Federation (SDF). At the SDF founding convention in 1937, he said: “We came here because we could no longer square our Socialist conscience with remaining in the party which has fallen into the hands of disruptors, of people who do not believe in the idea and ideals of democratic Socialism. I am confident that at this convention, we will build an organization that will truly represent these ideas.” The split occurred because of the conflict between the SPA “Old Guard” and “the militants,” a younger faction that favored sabotage and cooperation with the Communists on some issues. Including dissident Communists, like the Trotskyists and Lovestoneites, in the party was also an issue.  At its founding conventions, the SDF supported expanded social security, slum clearance, and opposition to Fascism.

J. Henry Stump passed away in 1949

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

The City on the Horizon


By Michael Mottern

Greater Buffalo includes the Town of Tonawanda, which has its own municipal government and a thriving boulevard that leads directly to Niagara Falls.

For years people have been secretly fighting any proposed NFTA [Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority] extension of the metro rail that would lead to an uptick in economic development, however, and are scared of extending the metro rail to deter another “Main Street Effect”, when it comes to keeping local businesses in Tonawanda and the town of Amherst which are right across the street from one another on Niagara Falls Boulevard. The “Main Street Effect” occurred in 1984 when the NFTA metro rail subway made certain that traffic is not allowed to go down a particular stretch of narrow thoroughfare being dug up…

The Buffalo NFTA metro rail system is not old. The current system has been with us since 1984 when it opened and was welcomed by Governor Mario Cuomo. The hope was it would eventually extend further out into the suburbs like Tonawanda and Amherst, maybe even into the South towns. But that project fell short due to costs. Normally, Westchester County chips in for its Metro service, Metro-North directly to Grand Central because it benefits the commuters who otherwise do drive cars, but Erie County does not. 

Historically, the people in the town of Tonawanda and the greater Buffalo area have depended upon cars due to their being manipulated by the automobile industry. This is very evident considering it was the automobile industry which tore up the tracks in the original system that had the longest lifespan in Buffalo trolley history, the IRC system (International Railway Company), that had the longest lifespan in trolley history in the Buffalo area including Tonawanda and Kenmore, a village inside Tonawanda.

But that was 1922 through 1950. What the automobile industry did was offer the town of Tonawanda manufacturing jobs at the General Motors plant. Because in Buffalo one could get a job one day and get fired the next day, only to get a really good job in the automobile industry with hours of being fired. That’s what my grandfather went through when he was a young man in the 1950s when jobs were plentiful in Buffalo. The automobile industry ruled the roost burning the trolley cars to be exact and tearing up the tracks! But getting people from one point to another with a great car industry, that is now just a distant memory!

Map for proposed NFTA Extension out to University of Buffalo North campus

While the number one employer in the Western New York area nowadays is the healthcare insurance industry like Kaleida, back in the day Buffalo’s politicians would give into things like lucrative deals with the automobile industry, not giving a crap about the aesthetics or the job growth that a metro rail system would bring and economic development. The IRC went bankrupt by 1947.The saddest part is the last trolley went down Broadway Avenue in 1950 and was a huge success when it came to “last minute nostalgia.”

Citizens waited minutes to get rides on the old trolley car system from 1922 to 1947. Operators would make personal stops for riders along local routes. In both Buffalo and the Town of Tonawanda, Tonawanda’s Gateway Park which features the Erie Canal, and Buffalo’s Erie Canal commercial slip on the Buffalo waterfront are tourist highlights as well as major resident stops. Both Buffalo and Tonawanda, of course, have Niagara Falls for sightseers.

But that brings us back to Niagara Falls Boulevard and the Main Street Effect. Commercial travelers in Buffalo only travel by car the majority of the time, and don’t want to be inconvenienced in one of the only shopping districts with retail stores like Christmas Tree Shop or Dick’s Sporting Goods. When I was a kid I had to settle for Kmart; I can never get out to Dick’s by streetcar or tram.  I hope one day Tonawanda will get out of its small town effect and care about real job growth in the community. Some citizens depend on it for their livelihood, just like commuters and people that work downtown in Buffalo and live in the suburbs. A metro rail is the least they can do!

Michael Mottern is the first vice-chair of SDUSA.

Opinion: Capitalism and America

By Allen Coleman

Capitalism in America is said to be founded on a free market, low government interference, and conscious leadership. These are what makes capitalism successful, but centuries later how has that turned out? It’s actually a system of slavery and poverty.

Firstly, the free market might offer things like individual rights to consumerism and innovation. The consumer can buy certain products and due to supply and demand, if we aren’t buying (supplies) certain products (demand) then that shows the corporations that we are not interested in said product. We have the right to buy what we want and with our money, we tell the big corporations that we do/do not support a product. This allows the consumer various options like if they rather buy a canned product or a plastic product, if they want the product corporation X sells or Y does, or if they can afford the said product.

The market has so many options for the same product, which is concerning because this runs up against innovation, a key concept of capitalism Innovation means new products hitting the market; as corporations compete to buy products that they sell, it is inhibited due to similar products hitting the shelf. Capitalism is halting growth, due to a lack of motivation to improve the dying market.

Secondly, low government interference, which is great for big corporations. The role of government is to improve the lives of its citizens and improve the well-being of society. They’re good things about it like general safety, freedom, and welfare. It’s their job to protect us and have our best interest at heart, as they work for us through taxes. The people we elect in our government act as our voice, they are supposed to use that voice to stand up for the people, the workers, the individual. Those we trust to lead a nation of tomorrow that is better than it was before.

However, that government is corrupted and bought out by the capitalists. Our government doesn’t interfere with us while we continue to work for low wages and increasing inflation. The working class works for these corporations, while they take advantage of us by not paying their fair share of taxes. The workers stay in a cycle of wage slavery and poverty, while our congress enjoys donations from lobbyists.

Furthermore, capitalism only works with conscious leadership. That conscious leadership comes from the workers, who support big corporations/governments through our work/taxes. The government no longer represents us, but instead represents an oligarchy that big corporations rule over. We are no longer a true democracy; where the individual is represented.

All things considered, democracy is the key. We the people have a basic right to vote and with that, the working class can stand up against corruption and greed. We can free the shackles of capitalism and unite together for a common good; to better each other. It’s time we grab the key and free ourselves.


Desmond, Matthew. “American Capitalism Is Brutal. You Can Trace That to the Plantation.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019,

SARWAT JAHAN is a senior economist in the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department., and AHMED SABER MAHMUD is associate director of the Applied Economics Program at Johns Hopkins University. “What Is Capitalism?” IMF, 10 May 2018, s%20of%20capitalism.

Solow, Barbara Lewis. “Capitalism and slavery in the exceedingly long run.” British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery, 1988, pp. 51–78, Capitalism and Slavery in the Exceedingly Long Run – British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery (

Allen Coleman is a member of Kansas City, Kansas SDUSA.

Voting and Democracy

If we don’t vote, our power is no greater than disconnected light bulbs.

By Kansas City, Kansas SDUSA

What’s the best tool we have in a democracy? The power to vote. When we use that tool to show our government that we’re listening, it allows us to shake the system. The only time our representatives listen to our complaints and concerns is during election cycles. The people we elect shouldn’t play this game of smoke and mirrors but be transparent with us all year.

Our government knows that they’re bought out by these special interests because they too profit from it. They call these special interests “lobbyists” and receive loads of donations. They repeatedly acknowledge it (see source #1). The government represents not us — but, instead, big monopolies. We, the worker, drive the profits of our government and big monopolies, through our work and taxes. Yet, the working class remains in a system of slavery with low wages and high taxes. The system only cares about itself; while giving the burden of capitalism to the workers alone. We are working our backs out for a system that doesn’t care about us. 

Why doesn’t the working class hold all the power when we contribute the most to the system with our money (wages/taxes)? Why do we carry the burden alone? Because our government doesn’t help, nor do corporations. Our strength is in our numbers: this is why when we vote: they listen. We don’t live in a theocracy, oligarchy, or monarchy. We live in a democracy. If we want change, then we need to vote. The American public needs to show up to vote and use the greatest weapon against corruption and greed. The working class can free themselves with this power to trade our shackles for freedom.

Source #1:
Audio recording of Kanas representatives acknowledging lobbyist

“The day I found the White House comment line, to demand action!” 

By Michael Mottern

This week I phoned the White House comment line. It was a volunteer staffer that took the calls, and I was brief. Most people are not; but I will assume that those are the ‘unhinged’ people and the conspiracy theorists in the Republican Party. It was a Tuesday morning at 11:00 a.m. after I had my coffee and a long conversation with Mark Talley (the son of Geraldine Talley, a victim of the Tops massacre in Buffalo, New York last year) about how Peyton Gendron is being treated in federal custody. 

The Justice Department and President Biden for understandable reasons decided to seek the death penalty, and some of the victims’ families like Mark Talley have mixed reactions about how he’ll be treated while in federal custody.

He will be awaiting death row in a capital case, and for a hate crime. There is growing fear the DOJ will be letting Gendron off a little easily, considering the circumstances of that fatal massacre. So Mark Talley and I believe that Singsing Prison, the state penitentiary in New York State, would be a more appropriate correctional facility for his crime; after all he lived and committed the crime in New York state.

It just took two minutes on the phone for me to explain who I was as an organizational leader, and a member of Bernie’s faction within the Democratic Party, SDUSA. I wanted to explain it was an understandable but flawed decision on behalf of the president, considering how life in prison without the possibility of parole is probably worse than  lethal injection.

Gendron is probably going to go down like Timothy McVeigh did before he got executed. “Life without the possibility of parole,” and NOT seek the death penalty, is the better way. Either way, may he rot in hell… 

Michael Mottern is the first vice-chair of SDUSA.