Guy A. Aldred Archive
Source: PDF Scans from Marxists.org; OCR'ing and editing from RevoltLib.com.
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: RevoltLib.com; 2021
From 1887, down to the year before the outbreak of the world war, it was the custom, in Anarchist circles, to commemorate, every 11th of November, the death of the Chicago Martyrs. That day was dedicated, after 1918, to the fraud and farce of capitalist armistice celebration, until the second world war ended such tributes to the dead of 1914-18. In proletarian circles the Russian revolution anniversary dwarfed the importance of the Chicago commemoration. The worth of that revolution was liquidated somewhat by the retreat to capitalism via the New Economic Policy. Events must pass into history, however, and decline as mere celebrations. This late has overtaken the memory of the Chicago Martyrs. We celebrate their deaths no more. We no longer make a saints’ day of it. But we record it as a passage of Socialist history, a chapter of proletarian struggle.
May, even more than March, is Labor’s Red Month. It is the month of warmth, life, and beauty, the magic month of sun- shine and rebirth, of color and abundance, of energy and song. Because of its rich, warm call to life it is the month of labor. May is a satire on capitalist society, an irony on wage-slavery. It calls to active revolutionary opposition to the present economic order, and bids the proletariat awake to a knowledge of its economic might. Then shall we witness a real month of May, a month of labor at harmony with nature, an epoch of harmony in place of our present discord. The Sun, in all his glory, will shine no more on masters and slaves, on palaces and hovels, but on a world of freemen and freewomen, citizens of the earth, active, cooperative, and equal.
Fifty-one years have passed since the Paris Congress, at the suggestion of the American Knights of Labor, decided on the May Day demonstration. The idea was to symbolize the direct struggle of Labor against Capitalism, to usher in the social battle, to sound the note of victory. The symbolism has been crushed by economic conditions, and the call of May has lost its psychological significance. This was inevitable. Symbolism cannot satisfy for ever. The struggle towards emancipation is something more than a mere parade. The true import and essence of the May idea was lost when the parade became accepted. It menaced parliamentary careerism and so the opportunist parliamentary leaders falsified the meaning of the celebration. They liquidated its energy. To them the germinating of spring, the symbol of awakening labor, was an omen of evil. And so they dulled the workers’ enthusiasm, and advised, with lying tongue in cheek, that they would gain all those things to which they aspired just as soon as they made an effective demonstration at the ballot box. The First of May was to end in a voters’ parade.
And so parliamentarism, which has liquidated Socialism, has abolished May Day and the energy of the May call. Parliament is the enemy of Labor and of Spring. The First of May is no longer celebrated by the workers. "What’s the use of stopping work on this day and demonstrating,” the professional politicians, the parliamentary careerists, ask in a tone of disdainful wisdom. These folk dislike disturbance and inconvenience because they sense their own growing importance under capitalism, and want the social and political machinery to work harmoniously to their own individual advancement, and the more complete enslavement of the vast herd of voting, trusting proletarians. So the first of May has come to be, sometimes, Sunday, April 30; and at others, Sunday, May 2, and so on. Only by the connivance of the calendar is May Day now celebrated on May Day.
But we would revive May Day, not as a day of useless celebration, but as a call-day to revolution. We would make an epic of the day, so that it should fire men’s blood, and make it white hot with the flame of true enthusiasm. What more fitting theme can we select to achieve this end, unless it be the story of the Communards because of their number as well as courage, than the record oi the Chicago Martyrs?
It is no isolated message this message of Chicago. If it were it would not be a message of Maytime. It is only one of the many great tragedies that have been concluded in the name of class domination and authority. Not in the execution of four innocent men in the name of capitalist law and bourgeois ethic, but in the manner of their passing, does the inspiration for later laborers in the cause of freedom lie. It is well, then, that we should consider the story of their witnessing against capitalism, the better to realize how the shedding of their blood but served to fertilize the seed of human liberty.
On May the First, 1886, the Eight Hours Day Association of Chicago proclaimed a general strike in that city, as a prelude to the inauguration of the eight hours day throughout the United States of America. A mass meeting was convened at the Haymarket, at which Spies, Parsons, Fielden, and Schwab addressed twenty-five thousand strikers. Whilst pointing out that, short of Socialism, all was illusion, the speakers believed, mistakenly in our opinion, that it was their duty to encourage the revolutionary spirit implied in the movement. We consider it merely a movement of adaptation and reformism and not a revolutionary movement. In all such movements the revolutionary tendency of the workers, and their power of solidarity and extent of class conscious thought, is exaggerated.
On May the third, at a meeting attended by about fifty thousand strikers, stones were thrown at some “strike-breakers” employed at the McCormick’s Reaper Works. Police arrived on the scene in large numbers and used their revolvers, killing six strikers and wounding others. Burning with indignation. Spies rushed back to the Arbeiter Zeitung office, and wrote the “Revenge” circular. This was a very human, an all too human document. And it unquestionably rendered Spies life forfeit after the events of the following day, once the ruling class had decided on the victimization of the Anarchists. To our mind, it would have been wiser for Spies not to have written this circular. But who shall say? Against the folly of calling upon the workers to revenge deaths they had not the class conscious power or indignation to avenge, against the pettiness of revenge as compared with the abolition of class society and the misery it naturally entails, there remains the fact that good red blood surged through the veins of Spies, that his deep resentment of the wrong inflicted on the poor rose in revolt, and he dared to protest. The nervous excitement of his words we consider of small avail, but the courage of his protest we deem an inspiration. If he wrote foolishly, he died boldly, and the silence that resulted was more powerful than aught he wrote or spoke. Events are mankind’s teachers: and the name of Spies is the equivalent of an imperishable lesson. No man can ask higher fame than that.
The circular related the death of the six strikers. It described the police as “bloodhounds.” it denounced “the factory lords” as “lazy thieving masters.” It urged:—
“Revenge! Working men to arms! . . . If you are men, if you are the sons of your grandsires who have shed their blood to free you, then you will rise in your might, Hercules, and destroy the hideous monster that seeks to destroy you! To arms! We call you to arms!—Your Brothers.”
Alas! foolish words of righteous indignation, words of weakness and not of strength, stumbling forth, somehow, to advance the cause of working class emancipation, in a confused tortuous way. Words not to be censured without consideration, but to be judged in relation to the conditions that called them forth! Words not to be censured by those who caused the strikers to be murdered or afterwards upheld the murder of men against whose life they had conspired.
Spies was familiar with poverty-stricken hunger demonstrations, police brutalities, and the record of riotous, complacent self- indulgence by the wealthy class. Only the year before this fatal May Day, the Chicago Times suggested. editorially, that the farmers who were pestered with unemployed workers, turned tramps. during the winter of 1884-5, should poison them with strychnine in the food provided them. The Chicago Tribune vied with the Times in upholding the rights of the Vanderbilts and the Goulds against the working-class movement during this period of intensified class struggle and appalling proletarian misery.
Jay Gould had gathered wealth by fraud, and maintained it, and was maintaining it, by outrage and violence in Missouri, New York, Schuylkill, and Hocking Valley, Cincinnatti, Milwaukee, San Francisoo, Seattle, Portland, etc. A quarter of a century previous he had been a needy punter in gold operations. Now he controlled railroads, telegraphs, news agencies, legislatures, and the entire lives of thousands of men who worked on his various lines. He had qualified for the position of “Napoleon of Finance” by colossal roguery. And he maintained it by lying impertinence and callous brutality.
Jay Gould’s hired journalists blamed the eight hours and all other labor agitation on to foreign conspirators and called for extreme action in behalf of “public opinion.” But “public opinion” mattered little to these millionaire interests except to the extent that it was manufactured by them and served as their ramification. Petty respectability, and its puny void of conscience, was an excellent cur to set barking at the feet of Anarchists. But the millionaire controllers of the cur were more willing to kick it than- to humor it.
Once, when confronted with criticism, W. H. Vanderbilt said: “The public be damned.” His father, the old Commodore, when remonstrated with for treating the passengers on his railroad as it" they were hogs, answered: “By God, sir, I wish they was hogs.”
With such conditions oppressing the worker, violence was in- separable from the desperation that dictated the daily industrial reformist struggle of the workers. In 1880, that is six years before- events dictated Spies “revenge” circular, H. M. Hyndman, who certainly had no sympathy with either Anarchism or propaganda by deed, predicted, as a result of a tour in the United States, in the Fortnightly Review, that a conflict between capital and labor was brewing in America, which might attain to the dimensions of a civil war.
The New York Tribune, then jay Gould’s own paper, extracted some passages, and headed them with the lying comment: “England sends many fool travelers to the United States, but never such a fool as this one.”
Hyndman was right. The facts were with him. But the Gould interests did not want those facts broadcast.
The eight hours movement of 1886, the economic boycotting movement, and the strike on the Gould railroad were opposed vigorously by Powderly, the Chief of the Knights of Labor. This fact will acquit him of the charge of extremism. Yet, in the year 1880. Powderly expressed himself in these terms about preparations for strikes.
“I am anxious that each of our lodges should be provided with powder and shot, bullets and Winchester rifles, when we intend to- strike. if you strike the troops are called out to put you down. You cannot fight with hare hands. You must consider the matter very seriously, and if we anticipate strikes we must prepare to tight and to use arms against the forces brought against us.”
lt is clear, from these facts, that Spies wrote his “revenge” circular, not because he was an Anarchist, but because the idea of violence was impressed upon the working class movement through- out the United States by the very lawlessness of which the workers were the victims. The idea of violence was inevitable.
The circular was distributed widely and a committee of action meeting called that night. Waller, who turned informer, was chair- man. Engel and Fischer were present. The events of the afternoon were discussed and it was decided to call a mass meeting of protest at the Haymarket next night. This meeting proved a fatal one for all concerned.
The meeting was quiet and orderly. Spies, Fischer, Engel, Fielden, and Parsons spoke. The Mayor of Chicago, who attended sfor the purpose of dispersing the meeting should the need arise, went over to the police station and told Captain Bondfield that he had better give orders to his reserves to go home.
The crowd had dwindled to 1,500 persons, Parsons and his family had gone home deeming the protest at an end, and Fielden was concluding the meeting. One hundred and eighty police-- rightly termed by Marx, the civil bourgeois guard-—turned out of the station, and marched upon the meeting with loaded rifles and in fighting formation. The captain of the first row of police had just ordered the meeting to disperse, and his men, without waiting a reply, were advancing to the attack, when a small fiery body arched through the air, alighted between the first and second companies of the police, and exploded with a loud report. Sixty police- men were wounded badly, seven were mortally wounded, and one. E. J. Degan, was killed.
Firing by the police became general and the people scattered in all directions, the police firing at random as they pursued.
A reign of terror ensued. Persons suspected of Socialist or Anarchist opinions were arrested right and left, private houses were broken into without warrants, and ransacked for Socialist literature. The Haymarket speakers, except Parsons, who had left Chicago, were arrested. In Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York, Socialists and Labor organizers were hunted and imprisoned just because they were connected with the Labor movement. Socialist and Labor papers were submitted to a police censorship and their presses broken up. Everybody connected with the Alarm and Arbeiter Zeitung-—including printers, writers and office-boys---were imprisoned on a charge of murder. A newspaper campaign, virtually a campaign of murder, was conducted against Socialists and Anarchists, and all proletarian agitation was checked. Jay Gould’s hirer! journalists blamed the Chicago rioting on foreign conspirators and carefully ignored the fact that this description could hardly apply to Parsons and Fielden, the two principal orators on that occasion.
The Parsons family had played a conspicuous part in English speaking rebel movements since 1600, but time had honored and condoned those movements. Albert Parsons was of the same stock as the General Parsons of 1776 Revolution fame and the Captain Parsons of Bunker Hill. On his mother’s side also he was of American Revolution stock. Circumstances made him the most outstanding victim of this capitalist agitation. He was an excellent martyr but a rather strange foreigner.
O the 17th May, 1886, the Grand jury came together.
“The body is a strong one,” telegraphed Gould’s hired penman to his New York daily, “and it is safe to aver that Anarchy and murder will not receive much quarter at the hands of the men com- posing it.”
It is in times of crisis that the shivering mediocrity and despicable abjectness of respectability becomes so marked. Reaction, dictated reaction, organized anti-social interest triumphed, and termed its triumph public opinion. The poor creatures of the Grand Jury were flattered into importance by Gould’s thugs of the pen: and the more the creatures swelled, the more they aired their opinions. the emptier and the more despicable they became.
The word “strong,” applied to such a body, shows to what degraded use words may be turned. Well are we reminded of Paine’s indictment of the trade of governing, and, little as we may agree with him, of the magnificently true words of irony and reproach addressed by Ravachol to the jury that condemned him.
The indictment contained sixty-nine counts. It charged the defendants, August Spies. Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden, Albert R. Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Oscar W. Neebe, Rudolph Schnaubelt, and William Selinger with the murder of E. J. Degan.
Schnaubelt, who disappeared mysteriously and completely, and seems to have been the agent employed by the authorities to accomplish this wholesale murder and so secure for a time the triumph of reaction, was not in the hands of the police. Parsons surrendered in Court, on June 2l, 1886, when the empannelling of the jury before Judge Joseph E. Gary began. This lasted twenty-one days.
On July 15, States Attorney Grinnell began his address. He charged the defendants with murder and conspiracy and promised to show who threw the bomb. He did not do so.
The most important witnesses for the State were Waller, Schrader, and Seliger, former comrades of the defendants, turned informers from fear of the gallows and hope of gain. Waller was to prove the conspiracy to throw the bomb at the Haymarket. He admitted that the police were not expected at the Haymarket. He confessed that not one word was said about a bomb or dynamite when it was resolved to call the Haymarket meeting.
Schrader was to confirm Waller's story of the defendants’ guilt. But his testimony was so unfavorable to the State that the Assistant Attorney, losing his temper exclaimed to the defendants’ lawyers; “He is your witness not ours.”
The attempt of the State to connect the defendants with the Haymarket bomb completely broke down. But the fact remained that they had spoken strong words against the existing system and had been driven by their indignation to proclaim their belief in violence. Girls had been clubbed to death by the police and the workers had been shot down for the “crime” of assembling at a public meeting. Of course, the defendants, having red blood in their veins, were indignant. But their words were no evidence that they threw or conspired to throw a bomb.
To stupid respectability, apart from the menace to private property society, of their words and attitude, they were condemned by the fact that there were seven policemen dead and sixty wounded. But the class that was prepared to send these agitators to their death thought nothing of a few policemen. Agitators and policemen alike were sacrificed to make a capitalist joy-day.
The jury returned a verdict on August 20:
"We, the jury, find the defendants, August Spies, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, and Louis Lingg guilty of murder in the manner and form as charged in the indictment, and fix the penalty at death. We find the defendant. Oscar W. Neebe, guilty of murder in the manner and form as charged in the indictment, and fix the penalty at imprisonment in the penitentiary for fifteen years.”
A new trial was refused. An appeal was made to the Supreme Court of Illinois without avail.
Time passes, and the next act of the tragedy is enacted in Judge Gary’s court on October 7, 8, and 9, 1886, when the now historical figures of the agitation addressed the court in reference to the question of sentence.
Dignified in bearing, his handsome face now lighted up with satire, bold, defiant, and fluent in delivery, Spies indicts the perjury and conspiracy of the prosecution. His speech is rich in history, philosophy, and piquant, unwelcome truth.
Schwab also exposes the conspiracy of law and order against the life and liberty of the proletarian agitator.
Neebe follows, only to regret that he is deprived by the verdict of the jury, of the honor of dying.
Fischer, erect in bearing, is his successor; and he is proud to die for the cause of the people.
Lingg speaks in German. His is the passion of youth. He is proudly defiant and fiercely calm. His utterance is impassioned. “I do believe in force: hang me for it!” he declared.
Engel speaks easily and quietly. His is the calm stolidity of the stoic.
Then follow lengthy speeches from Fielden and Parsons.
Moderate in manner, Fielden’s speech is telling as an indictment of the prosecution. Grinnell, the State Attorney, declared “had it been made to the jury they would have acquitted him.” Luther Lafiin Mills, formerly State Attorney, declared it to be a masterpiece.
The intense power and latent passion of Parsons’ speech rightly entitles it to be deemed a brilliant agitation speech-the most powerful effort of a formidable propagandist.
It was known that, under no circumstances, would the death sentence be commuted in the case of Spies, Fischer, Engel, and Lingg. But it was intended to commute the sentence to one of imprisonment in the case of Parsons, Schwab, and Fielden. Under the constitution and statutes of the State of Illinois, it was prescribed, as a condition of the exercise of his pardoning power by the Governor, that the convicted person must sign a petition for the exercise of executive clemency. Fielden and Schwab signed a petition and were pardoned by Governor Oglesby, the death sentence being com- muted to imprisonment for fifteen years. Although repeated pressure was brought to bear upon him by his friends and counsel, Parsons refused to sign the petition necessary to reprieve.
State Attorney Grinnell, anticipating conformity with the statute, declared of the prisoners: “I want to make them do some- thing for which the Anarchists shall hate them.”
But Parsons. paying the cost with his life, denied him the pleasure. He defeated Grinnell: and the latter now stands at the bar of history, indicted by the memory of man, a figure like unto that of the state attorneys of all times and climes, poor, shriveled, sniveling soul. All tribute is paid to the memory of the man who died on the gallows rather than desert his comrades. What matter the laws of Illinois and the executive clemencies of governor against this fact of sterling manhood in the dock and on the gallows! What matter statutes and constitutions when character weighs them down!
Captain W. P. Black, leading Advocate for the Defense, made strenuous efforts to have Parsons save himself. So did Melville E. Stone, editor of the Daily News.
On Sunday, November 6, 1887, the latter spent two hours in Parsons’ cell, urging him to sign the petition, and promising the full support of his paper in favor of the commutation of the death sentence. Parsons refused to petition. He was determined either to hang with his comrades, Lingg, Engel, Fischer, and Spies, or to save them.
Two days later, Black paid a special visit to Parsons and pleaded for his signature in vain. Black added that refusal to sign the petition meant execution.
Parsons replied :-—
“I will not do lt. My mind is firmly and irrevocably made. up, and I beg you urge. me no further upon the subject. I am an innocent man—innocent of this offense of which I have been found guilty by the jury, and the. world knows my innocence. If I am to be executed at all it is because I am an Anarchist, not because I am a murderer; it ls because of what I have taught and spoken and written in the past, and not because of the throwing of the Haymarket bomb. I can afford to be hung for the sake of the ideas I hold and the cause I have espoused, if the people of Illinois can afford to hang an innocent man who voluntarily placed himself in their power. . . .
“If I should now separate myself from Lingg, Engel and Fischer, and sign a petition upon which the governor could commute my sentence, I know that it would mean absolute doom to the others- that Lingg, Engel and Fischer would be inevitably hung. So I have determined to make their cause and their fate my own.
"I know the chances are 999 in 1000 that I will swing with them; that there isn't one chance in a thousand of saving them, but if they can be saved at all it is my standing with them, so that whatever action is taken on my case must be taken, with equal propriety in theirs. I will not, therefore, do anything that will separate me from them. I expect that the result will he that I will hang with them, but I am ready."
Black could make no reply to this argument. He took Parsons by the hand, looked into his face, and said to him: "Your action is worthy of you.” He then came away.
He went to Springfield and saw Governor Oglesby on the Wednesday morning. The latter insisted on technical compliance with the law. Parsons must petition.
Black telegraphed Parsons to this effect. When Parsons received the telegram he placed it upon his cell table and beside it —the “Marseillaise”! That was his answer.
Black returned from Springfield that night and had his last interview with Parsons on Thursday morning. He saw also his companions, Lingg, Fischer, Engel, and Spies. They knew that they could not save themselves by signing a petition. But they were willing to do so, and so brand themselves as cowards if Parsons would sign, and so save himself.
Black had no heart to press Parsons to sign, since that would “do violence to the noble purposes he had framed.” Parsons said to him, “as simply and as quietly as he could have spoken in reference to some matter of no consequence”: “I can’t do it, Captain; I am ready for whatever may come.”
Black shook his hand and turned away.
That night Black went to Springfield again: and Parsons, in his cell in Cook County Jail, sang the song his singing has made an immortal symbol of the Labor struggle: “Annie Laurie.”
On the Friday morning, Black vainly urged Governor Oglesby to grant a reprieve for thirty days to enable him to adduce further proof that the convicted Anarchists had no complicity in the bomb throwing.
About the same time, Parsons received from Josephine Tilton the following telegram: “Not goodbye, but hail, brothers! From the gallows trap the march shall be taken up. I will listen for the beating of the drum.”
That day Parsons declaimed his last words from the gallows: “Let me speak, oh men of America! Will you let me speak, Sheriff Matson? Let the voice of the people be heard! Oh--”
“The drum tap,” said Benj. R. Tucker, in pursuing Josephine Tilton’s analogy to its logical conclusion, “has sounded; the forlorn hope has charged; the needed breach has been opened; myriads are falling into line; if we will but make the most of the opportunity so dearly purchased, the victory will be ours. It shall be; it MUST be.”
Shortly after the execution, Pauline Brandes, a sister of Waller, made a sworn affidavit before judge Eberhardt, upsetting the whole of her brother’s testimony, and denouncing it as perjury.
In November, 1892, the Chicago police wrecked Grief’s Hall. and broke up two peaceful meetings, arresting many persons against whom no charges could be brought, on the ground of alleged Anarchism. The result was that they had to pay 700 dollars damages, and the whole question of the Chicago Martyrs was reopened. The Chicago Herald unearthed the following facts:-—-
After the fatal Haymarket meeting, May 4, 1886, some three hundred leading American Capitalists met secretly to plan the destruction of the militant labor movement. They formed the “Citizens’ Association,” and subscribed 100,000 dollars in a few hours. This money secured the condemnation of the eight Chicago Anarchists. A like sum was guaranteed to the police and their agents every year: but in October, 1892, things being quiet, the subscriptions dropped off. Hence the police endeavored to revive the Anarchist scare.
Judge Gary was moved by these exposures to publish an apology in the Century Magazine for April, 1893. Never was the proverb, “He who excuses himself, accuses himself” better exemplified.
Finally, in June, 1893, the recently elected Governor of Illinois, John P. Altgeld, having thoroughly examined the evidence against the eight convicted Anarchists, decided to set the three prisoners, Neebe, Fielden, and Schwab, unconditionally free, as being the victims of false imprisonment. The jury which had tried them had been, in his opinion, packed; the jurors legally incompetent; the judge partial; the evidence insufficient. His conduct having been violently resented by a section of the American capitalist press, Altgeld published a pamphlet giving his reasons and containing interesting particulars of the struggle between Capitalists and Workers in 1886.
The facts related by Altgeld constitute a valuable lesson as to the sort of justice to be expected by revolutionists in a thoroughly democratic State, when the possessing class is scared by the misery it has created, and public opinion is merely the daily manufacture of a venal press. So long as this press functions, and function it will as long as capitalism continues, how poor a thing is parliamentarism!
Altgeld demonstrated, beyond the shadow of doubt, that the Chicago martyrs were the victims of ruling class hatred, put out of the way by the force and fraud of the profit-mongers and power lovers, who feared them.
His tardy revelation revives our faith in the struggle. We turn from the drab despair of chill November to the warmth and promise of May. After all, the message of Chicago is the message of May. Responding to its call of freedom and struggle, we recall the words of grim promise uttered by Proudhon :-—“Like the Nemesis of old. whom neither prayers nor threats could move, the revolution advances, with somber and inevitable tread over the flowers with which its devotees strew its path. through the blood of its champions, and over the bodies of its enemies.”