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Remembering the Haymarket Martyrs

by X341968

In the city of Chicago on the evening of May 4th 1886, a protest meeting was held in the Haymarket Square. The meeting was organized by the anarchist community to protest the murder and wounding of several workers by the Chicago police the day before. The murdered men had been protesting outside the Mc Cormick Reaper Factory, from which they had been locked out by the owners. As some scabs were leaving the factory a confrontation occurred involving fighting and rock throwing. The police attacked the locked out workers first with clubs and then with revolvers. August Spies a militant anarchist labor agitator witnessed the shootings, became infuriated and wrote up a circular calling for "Workingmen to Arms." A compositor unknown to Spies added the word, "Revenge!" so the circular read, "Revenge! Workingmen to Arms!!!" The evening of May 3rd at Greif's saloon on West Lake Street, at a gathering of German anarchists, it was decided to hold the protest in the Haymarket Square the following evening at 7:30 pm.

The meeting was not well attended, the sponsors had hoped for a crowd of 20,000 and only 4,000 at best had showed up. The meeting got started late and was attended by none other than Chicago's mayor Harrison. After listening to most of the speakers the mayor informed his police captain Bonefield he could dismiss most of his forces. Bonefield insisted on keeping his main force of men assembled at the police station only a block away for fear the meeting was only a diversion for some other violent activity. By ten o'clock a storm was blowing in and the crowd was down to only a few hundred listeners as Samuel Fielden was finishing up his speech. Having been informed by one of the many undercover officers in the crowd that Fielden had urged the crowd to "throttle the law," captain Bonefield marched his police force into the crowd and demanded they disperse. Fielden pleaded "but we are peaceful" and anyway he was just finishing up, he started to climb down from the wagon that was being used as a stage for the speakers. Just then someone (nobody knows to this day who) threw a bomb into the ranks of the police. What ensued was a police riot in which many civilians and several police were shot dead and wounded.

As a result of the bombing eight anarchists, Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab, Oscar Neebe, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg, were arrested, tried and convicted of murder. In his charge to the jury, Judge Gary declared of the defendants, "If they conspired to overthrow the law by force, and if, in the pursuance of such a conspiracy, a bomb was thrown by a member of the conspiracy, resulting in the death of Officer Degan, then the defendants were accessories to the murder whether or not the identity of the bombthrower had been established. Further and even more damaging, if the defendants, by print or by speech, advised, or encouraged the commission of murder, without designating time, place or occasion at which it should be done, and in pursuance of and induced by such advice and encouragement, murder was committed, then all of such conspirators are guilty of such murder, whether the person who perpetrated such murder can be identified or not." Of course not knowing the identity of the bombthrower, makes it impossible to know the motive of the said bombthrower and therefore whether he actually was a part of the alleged conspiracy.

The judge was as partial as any judge could be, ruling every contested point in favor of the prosecution and making hostile remarks about the defendants throughout the trial. He allowed the prosecutor to heap abuse on the defendants throughout the trial. During the opening and closing statements he allowed the prosecution wide latitude as well in the presentation of evidence. The defense was strictly limited to specific points in cross examination while the prosecution was allowed to wander to questions which were not relevant to the questions put to the witnesses. The audience was never reprimanded when it applauded the prosecutor's prejudicial remarks. During the trial the judge surrounded himself with women, who giggled and ate candy, while the judge joked with them, and drew pictures during testimony.

The major media of the day consisting mainly of newspapers, convicted the defendants before the trial even began, and helped create an atmosphere of hatred and hysteria against them. The media conveyed the feeling to the public that neither life nor property would be safe until these anarchists were hung. The New York Times offered the following solution to the anarchist threat, "In the early stages of an acute outbreak of anarchy a Gatling gun, or if the case be severe, two, is the sovereign remedy. Later on hemp, in judicious doses, has an admirable effect in preventing the spread of the disease." The St Louis globe said, "There are no good anarchists except dead anarchists." The Chicago Daily News, stated, "The anarchists are amenable to no other reason except that taught by the rifle and the club."

The verdict was a forgone conclusion resulting from the conspiratorial nature of the trial and the selection of the jury. Instead of selecting the jury by the traditional method of drawing names from a box, Judge Gray decided they would be handpicked by a special bailiff, nominated by the states attorney and appointed by the court. The appointed bailiff Henry L. Ryce was reported by a Chicago businessman, Ottis S. Favor who was examined for the jury, to have stated, "I am managing this case, and know what I am about. These fellows are going to be hanged as certain as death. I am calling such men as the prosecution wants." The final jury consisted of all middle class men who freely admitted to being prejudiced against the defendants and holding preconceived opinions that they were guilty. One of the jury members was a friend of one of the police officers killed in the police riot, following the bombing. On August 20th all the defendants were found guilty of murder in the manner and form as charged and with the exception of Oscar Neebe were sentenced to death. Oscar Neebe received a sentence of fifteen years in the penitentiary.

An appeal was filed with the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois and a great international movement was created to save the lives of the anarchists. Despite all efforts on September 14th 1887 in a unanimous opinion the court upheld the verdict of the lower court and denied the motion for a new trial. The court set the date for the executions for November 11th 1887. An appeal was filed with the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled on November 2nd 1887, that it lacked jurisdiction in the case because no federal issue was involved. Critics pointed out that, during the arrests and trial, fundamental constitutional rights had been violated, including freedom of speech and assembly, protection from illegal search and seizure, and due process of the law.

On November 10th 1887, Luis Lingg finished smoking a cigar in his cell and then took a dynamite cartridge put it in his mouth and lit the fuse. Half his face was blown away and after six hours of pure agony he passed away. Lingg had said as an anarchist he did not believe the state had the right to take his life and he had sworn he would not allow it to happen. Michael Schwab and Samuel Fielden applied for clemency and received it from the then Governor of Illinois Richard J. Oglesby. They were both sentenced to long terms in the penitentiary. Despite a monumental international effort to save their lives and gain the remaining four anarchists their freedom, the governor refused to grant them clemency unless they appealed for it. But Parsons, Spies, Engel and Fischer were resolute, they had done nothing wrong and would not appeal for clemency for a crime they had not committed. The state without any real proof had convicted them and they would rather face death than beg for their lives. They all had families and children and loved life dearly but they would live up to their beliefs and principals as anarchists.

On November 11th 1887, Black Friday, these four symbols of the future and hopes of all working people of the world stood on a scaffold ready to be lynched by the state and to die for their ideals in the cause of anarchy. Their heads hooded their legs bound with leather straps and ropes around their necks they spoke for the last time. Spies called out "The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today." "Hurrah for anarchy!" cried Fischer. "Hurrah for anarchy!" shouted Engel even louder. "This is the happiest moment of my life!" exclaimed Fischer. Then Parsons spoke, "Will I be allowed to speak, O men of America? Let me speak, Sheriff Matson! Let the voice of the people be heard! O---." The trap doors opened and four of America's greatest labor martyrs passed into history.

On the morning of June 26th 1893, the governor of the state of Illinois, John Peter Atgeld, issued an unconditional pardon for the three Haymarket Martyrs, who were imprisoned in Joliet penitentiary. When asked by his Secretary of State, "Do you think it is good policy to pardon them?" Atgeld answered, "It is right!" Governor Atgeld issued a statement outlining the reasons he had for issuing the pardon. The historian Allan Nevins called it, "One of the best state papers ever written in America. Among the reasons Atgeld for freeing the three men were, conviction by a packed and prejudiced jury, they had not been proven guilty, no reliable evidence had been produced linking them to the bombthrower or to show he was acting on their advice. He further stated that witnesses had been thrown in jail by police and threatened with torture if they didn't agree to falsely testify against the defendants. Those that agreed to commit perjury were rewarded with money and employment. Much of the evidence given at the trial therefore was pure fabrication. He also found that the police had created fictitious conspiracies so they could get the glory of discovering them. As to the conduct of Judge Gary, Atgeld stated, Gary had conducted the trial with, "malicious ferocity," he had compelled all eight men to be tried together, he had permitted the states attorney to go into matters entirely foreign to the case, every contested point was in favor of the state, the record was full of insinuating remarks made by the judge in front of the jury, in order to bring them to his way of thinking. Most important Atgeld found that there was no precedent for Judge Gary's ruling, that it was not necessary for the state to prove who the actual perpetrator was or to prove he had acted under the influence of the defendants. Atgeld stated, "In all the centuries during which government has been maintained among men, and crime has been punished, no judge in a civilized country has ever laid down such a rule. He had pardoned the three men not out of mercy, but because they had been wrongfully convicted and innocent of the crime they had been imprisoned for. His statement exonerated not only the three men who had been imprisoned but the four men who had been murdered by the state, as well.

For those of us who oppose the death penalty, this is probably one of the most important events in American history. No mistake made here the state knew exactly what it was doing this was an act of judicial homicide, with malice aforethought. From the police captain Bonfield, to Judge Gary, to the men on the jury, to Henry Ryce who appointed them to the jury, to the justices of the Illinois Supreme Court and finally to the justices of the United States Supreme Court, all knew these men were innocent and all conspired to murder them, for believing in social justice, and working and advocating for it. They were murdered for reason of state no doubt, but if it can happen to them, what about us today?

Since the defeat of the Lyndon Johnson's Great Society's War on Poverty, and Richard Nixons declaration of a War On Drugs, to Bush's War On Terrorism and its USA PATRIOT act, all our rights under the Constitution are disappearing. Dissent is being criminalized, which means the practice of democracy is now a criminal act. Opposing the globalization of the world's economy, militarism, imperialism and world hegemony of the United States in the name of the new corporate state makes you a terrorist. People are being disappeared off the streets of America, and for their families it must be like a nightmare out of some Kafkaesque novel. The executive branch of the government stands in defiance of the Judicial branch, which seeks an answer as to where the disappeared might be.


Regardless of the consequences we must find within ourselves the same kind of spirit, dedication and resolve as those four Anarchists, who gave their lives in the name of social justice and freedom and anarchy. The anti-globalization movement for us must be an anti capitalist movement and an anti state movement, for as this case only too well demonstrates the state is the hand maiden of the rich and powerful.

Let us not forget that the Haymarket Affair was about the struggle of workers for a better life a life free of the bondage of a system of wage slavery. Today the conditions of labor throughout the world are horrendous. Many corporations are now abandoning countries like Mexico, where workers have become successful in forming independent unions, for countries like Marxist-Leninist capitalist China. No need to worry about unions there the Communist Party will take care of any attempt to better the lives of the working class. Today in most of the world being a labor organizer is one of the most dangerous occupations, hundreds are murdered and tortured every year by armies, governments, and death squads.

Many labor unions have become business unions that function not to end the system of wage slavery, but to sign contracts that deprive workers of their most powerful weapons such as the strike. These unions seek to provide the employers with a well trained, non political, obedient, and punctual work force. While the wages and benefits for the members of these unions may be much better than those not in the union in the same industry they do little to promote the betterment of any workers outside their general membership. They are not the enemies of the Anti Globalization movement but they are part of the system of exploitation and wage slavery that must be overcome if democracy is to survive and all people can realize the social benefits of a society based on freedom and equality.

In today's postmodern world the idea of class identity or class struggle is considered irrelevant, the worker is no longer viewed as a producer but rather a consumer. Class no longer defines reality, culture is the defining consciousness for the intellectuals and students they influence. With the collapse of the Berlin wall, and the victory of capitalism, history ends, all the contradictions between working class and the employing class are said to have ended. Tell that to a factory worker in China trying to survive on a dollar a day for a ten hour shift, under dangerous conditions without health care or a pension. Tell it a maquiladora worker in Mexico whose factory was closed down and moved to communist China because after years of struggle she and her fellow workers had succeeded in forming a union and bettering their lives. Tell it to the family of a labor organizer in Columbia who took a bullet in the head from some government supported death squad, because she wanted to give workers a chance for a better life.

The choice between democracy and freedom or the corporate state and dictatorship is what the Anti-Globalization/Anti-Capitalist movement is really all about. Part of the organization of that movement will necessarily have to include the organization of the working people world wide at the point of production as well as the point of consumption. The Industrial Workers of the World offers one form of that organization, along with anarcho-syndicalism, the goals are clear, the end of the system of wage slavery and the creation of a workers democracy. The Teamsters and the turtles came together in Seattle, today the leader of the Teamsters is close with Bush. The Teamsters as well as other Craft Unions have joined Bush in supporting the oil drilling and exploration in the Alaska Wildlife Preserve. The Wobblies do not support the destruction of Alaska's environment for the benefit of corporate greed and never will. Built on the principal of "an injury to one is an injury to all," the Industrial Workers of the World, is an organization that can well represent labor in the Anti Globalization-Anti Capitalist Movement.

As we all struggle forward to bring about our vision of a just world for all people lets keep in mind those who sacrificed and gave their lives, for our cause, people like the Haymarket Martyrs. Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, August Spies, Carl Engel, Luis Lingg, Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab, Oscar Neebe. Hurrah for Anarchy! Hurrah for Anarchy! Hurrah for Anarchy!

All quotes and historical material in this piece was take from: "The Haymarket Tragedy" by Paul Avrich, Princeton University Press, 1984 ISBN-0-691-04711-1 OR ISBN-0-691-00600-8 (pbk)