- Paperback: 556 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; Centennial edition (May 1, 1986)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691006008
- ISBN-13: 978-0691006000
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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The Haymarket Tragedy Centennial Edition
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"What makes [this book] so valuable is that Avrich has shown us a time when anarchism breathed life into American politics, and not simply when it drew its last breath in Chicago."--The New Republic
"Critics have been asking, where are the studies of American working-class history that arc also in the best literary tradition? Where among serious scholars today is the art of historical narrative? Here is the answer, in Paul Avrich's finest book."--Paul Berman, Village Voice Literary Supplement
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Professor Avrich, the dean of American anarchist chroniclers, has scoured massive archives of personal accounts, biographies, and hitherto unavailable official records to write his account of an incident that marked a low light in the history of labor and anarchists in their fruitless struggle against the late 19th century American conservative power elite.
Much has been written about the Haymarket affair. This is THE definitive account. Adapting a biographic approach, Avrich brings to life the personalities of the 'anarchists' as well as of members of the trial's prosecution and defense. The humanity reflected in his personal biographies highlights the magnitude both of the railroading of the defendants and the unrestrained violation of basic judicial rights and the U. S. Constitution.
Avrich commences by focusing on two of the principal protagonists: Albert Richard Parsons, with a distinguished American heritage, and August Spies, a recent immigrant from Germany. The Great Railroad Strikes of 1877 were a personal catalyst for them both. The spontaneous explosion of these strikes and then the brutality of their crushing led them both, on separate paths, to justify anarchism in response to the hopelessness of the working class in opposing the judicial, government, media, and business community juggernaut that confronted them.
They and their compatriots were swept into a maelstrom after strikers at the McCormick Reapers Plant in Chicago were killed and wounded by a vengeful police assault. Virulent anarchist leaflets called for a protest meeting at Haymarket Square for the following evening. The poorly organized gathering drew relatively few attendees, many of whom disperse when rain started to fall. Suddenly a bomb exploded. An awaiting police squad commenced firing helter skelter. Almost all of the dead and wounded were victims of police bullets.
In the resulting hysteria, a number of anarchists were rounded up, a majority of whom were not at Haymarket Square when the bomb exploded. Subsequently, a kangaroo court was convened in which violation of constitutional rights, unbounded perjury, and a complete absence of judicial restraint resulted in eight convictions, of which seven were to hang the defendants.
Though none of the defendants were linked to the actual bombing, Judge Joseph Gary, in a legally unprecedented charge to the jury, stated that if the defendants "by print or speech advises 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."
After the verdict, the prisoners remained in jail for eighteen months heavily guarded and with liberal visiting rights. Over the months there was a swelling initiative to reverse or mitigate the seven death sentences. Among the many petitions was a letter from Samuel Gompers, long-time leader of the American Federation of Labor, to Governor Richard Oglesby: I abhor anarchy, but I also abhor injustice when meted out to even the most despicable being on earth...No discrimination should be indulged in favor of one nor the law strained to shield another class."
The governor, to commute a death sentence, required that the condemned submit a formal appeal for clemency. Despite strong pressure from their supporters, five of the condemned seven refused to seek clemency. As Albert Parsons expressed it: 'If guilty he preferred death to imprisonment; if innocent, he was entitled to nothing less than freedom.' "I am innocent!"
One of the condemned, Louis Lingg, using a small bomb smuggled to him in a cigar, blew himself up shortly before the scheduled execution. On November 11, 1887, the four condemned died with dignity for being anarchists.
While the national press heartily applauded the executions, over time, especially within the labor movement and with the support of some lawyers and distinguished Americans, a groundswell developed against this judicial calumny. Irrefutable evidence of perjury, police misconduct, and Judge Gary's extraordinary behavior fueled this backlash.
A culmination was Governor John Peter Altgeld's pardoning of the remaining three prisoners on June 26, 1893. His pardon statement reviewed the essential facts of the case. Benjamin Tucker described it as "probably the most merciless message of mercy ever penned.' Historian Allen Nevins called it '"one of the best state papers ever written in America." Altgeld told Clarence Darrow that, if he granted the pardons, "fro that day I will be a dead man." Politically he was correct.
The Haymarket affair left an indelible impact on American history. Anarchism, in the public's mind, was immutably linked with terrorism. This was evident in the post-World War I 'Palmer raids' and the Sacco-Vanzetti trial of the 1920s, about which Avrich wrote a poignant account. The Haymarket affair had a profound impact on Emma Goldman, about whom Avrich wrote in SASHA AND EMMA (212). A statue dedicated to the policemen killed at Haymarket was erected in 1889. After various attacks on the monument, in February, 1972 it was removed to the safety of the lobby of Chicago police headquarters.
As Avrich described it: "Haymarket was more than a test of the American judicial system.It threw a glaring light on the nation's moral condition, which likewise was found to be wanting. Its impact, moreover, was far reaching, engaging the passions of men and women around the world....Haymarket assumed the dimensions of historical tragedy. No one who was touched by it remained the same. It was, as contemporaries noted, the greatest social drama of the era."
On May 4, 1886, anarchists and workers conducted a meeting in Haymarket Square. They protested the police shooting of striking workers at the McCormick Reaper Works. At the conclusion of demonstration, police interrupted the last speaker and told crowd to disperse. A bomb was thrown at the police and exploded. The police opened fire. Over sixty casualties were reported, including the deaths of seven police officers. The press, business community and politicians provoked a Red Scare.
Nine Chicago anarchists were accused. One fled the country. One turned states' evidence. At the trial, the prosecutor presented evidence to sway the jury by concentrating on the background of the defendants, without proving the state's case. The judge further prejudiced the proceedings to ensure a conviction. After the trial, one man committed suicide. One received a lengthy prison sentence. Six were condemned to die. The governor of Illinois commuted two of their sentences to life in prison. Four were hanged. The outcry against this incident inflamed American and European liberals and radicals.
Avrich documents this information in meticulous detail. He offers biographies of all the individuals involved in the incident, including the condemned men, their families, the prosecution, the defense, and other related anarchists and socialists.
To provide a background for the incident, he traces the development of the anarchist movement in the United States and explores its ties with socialism. He evaluates the doctrines of the anarchists, who organized in the International Working People's Association. Anarchists desired an alternative society based on freedom, brotherhood, and equality against the forces of privilege and authority. They espoused violence as the means to bring about this revolution, because bourgeois capitalists would fight to retain their power.
Based on this material, Avrich offers several conclusions about the incident and its influence on American society. He asserts the police instigated the violence, because they disrupted a peaceful demonstration, and by their random shooting of people. Avrich contends that the anarchists were convicted because of their social and economic beliefs rather than because of hard evidence. The trial concluded that none of the seven men could have thrown the bomb. The trial revealed the inequalities of capitalism and the limitations of American justice. He concludes that the affair inspired liberal activism and revealed the inequalities of the American capitalist system.
I also read "The Pullman Strike: The Story of a Unique Experiment and of a Great Labor Upheaval" by Almont Lindsey.
The Wobblies: The Story of the IWW and Syndicalism in the United States by Patrick Renshaw
History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Industrial Workers of the World by Philip S. Foner
The Molly Maguiresby Anthony Bimba
Despite their radical views, the labor activists and political agitators who were put on trial for the Haymarket bombing were simply scapegoats. The actual bomb thrower was never apprehended. The farcical trial was conducted in a circus like atmosphere that could be best characterized as mass hysteria. Governor John P. Altgeld eventually pardoned the remaining Haymarket prisoners, but several of their fellow defendants had already been executed before Altgeld took office.
One unexpected surprise that I discovered after reading this book is that one of my close friends is a lineal descendant of former Chicago Police Superintendent Frederick Ebersold.