Victor Berger, the son of an innkeeper, was born in Nieder-Rehbach, Austria-Hungary, on 28th February, 1860. His father's fortunes declined during his childhood. After attending the universities of Vienna and Budapest, Berger emigrated to the United States in 1878.
Berger's family settled in the German-speaking city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He became a language teacher and in 1889 joined the Socialist Labor Party. Berger's involvement in radical politics resulted in him losing his job. In 1892 Berger established his own German-language daily newspaper, the Wisconsin Vorwarts. When this closed Berger replaced it with the Social Democratic Herald.
Berger was a political reformist and revisionist who supported the theoretical views of Eduard Bernstein. As his biographer, Sally M. Miller has pointed out: "Berger advocated educating the enfranchised proletariat while pursuing electoral politics. As a pragmatist, he believed that Marxist principles must be modified to meet the opportunities presented by changing political and economic conditions, an approach that led orthodox Marxists to call him an opportunist."
In 1901 Berger joined with Eugene Debs and Morris Hillquit to establish the American Socialist Party. The party was very strong in Milwaukee and played a major role in the city's government for the next fifty years. In 1910 Berger became the first socialist in the United States to be elected to Congress. The following year he proposed a bill to provide old age pensions.
Sally M. Miller has suggested that Berger was a "virulent bigot, believing that groups were innately unequal." He argued that "white civilization" in the United States was threatened by the influx of "new immigrants". Berger also believed in the "absolute inferiority of American blacks".
Berger was a strong opponent of America's involvement in the First World War, describing it as a "the wholesale murder in Europe". However, as Shane Hamilton has pointed out: "the main thrust of Berger's anti-war stance was socialistic, not pacifistic."
In 1918 Berger was charged under the Espionage Act and after being found guilty was sentenced to twenty years in prison. While free on appeal, Berger was elected to Congress in 1919 with an increased majority. In 1921 the Supreme Court overturned Berger's conviction.
As well as representing the people of Milwaukee in Congress, Berger edited the Milwaukee Leader (1911-1921) and served as chairman of the American Socialist Party (1927-1929). He was a strong opponent of the American Communist Party and warned against the "folly of imitating Soviet models, condemning the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat." A collection of his speeches and editorials, Voice and Pen, was published in 1929.
Victor Berger died on 16th July, 1929, from injuries sustained in a streetcar accident in Milwaukee.