Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Bringing In The May: The Heroes of Haymarket

(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

By thanatokephaloides

One hundred and twenty-nine years ago today, history was made at the Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois.

This piece of history was so critically important to the lives of working men and women ever since that time that almost every nation on Earth, the United States of America alone excepted, celebrates its laboring population on the first of May.

I feel that we here on the Anti-Capitalist Meetup and related Groups here on Daily Kos need to remember what happened on that fateful May evening in 1886, and the heroes who sacrificed their lives so that their fellow workers might have access to reasonable working and living conditions.

For more on this important story, please join me below the fold.

NOTE: To my best knowledge, belief, and available information, all materials in this Diary not of my direct manufacture are in the Public Domain (USA), or other license terms tolerant of my use of the same (Wikipedia/Creative Commons).


The task of rendering a reasonably concise telling of the Haymarket story is a daunting one, and I ask my readers’ forebearance while I attempt to do just that.

Wikipedia has this passage as the introduction to a very long article:

The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) was the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day and in reaction to the killing of several workers the previous day by the police. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; scores of others were wounded.

In the internationally publicized legal proceedings that followed, eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy. The evidence was that one of the defendants may have built the bomb, but none of those on trial had thrown it. Seven were sentenced to death and one to a term of 15 years in prison.


A more sympathetic telling of the Haymarket story.

The IWW organ The Industrial Worker of November 9, 1910 (Volume 2, number 35 source) had an article on the Haymarket Affair. I will now include the transcript of that article, inserting appropriate commentary as we go along.


Twenty-three years have elapsed since the execution of the four men in the county jail at Chicago. Twenty-three years, ample time for the world to correct its errors of misinformation. And yet, only a comparatively small portion of the people as a whole; yes, it may be said that only a minority of the so-called “revolutionists” are possessed of the true status of the affair. It is for the purpose of briefly outlining the facts of the Haymarket “riot” and the resulting murder of four innocent men, and to commemorate their death that this Anniversary Number is issued. The facts are as follows:

The years 1884 – 1886 were years of industrial anarchy, commonly known as “hard times”. Among the working men and women were found extreme hunger and want. Thousands of destitute and desperate workers out of a job thronged the city streets and wandered over the country hoping against hope that somewhere there was a place where a worker might have a chance to produce a living. The tramp was not the established functionary that he is today, and men who had been accustomed to having the chance as well as the “right” to work were indeed desperate and in despair.

This more or less new state of affairs, where many workers were forced to tramp the streets and tracks while others labored an unbearable number of hours gave impetus to the movement toward the reduction of the hours of labor, this action being the logical one for a state of affairs in which some worked overtime while others starved from lack of work.

This sounds quite a bit like the situation of modern American industrial workers! While those who are considered “lucky” enough to not have their jobs packed off to some lower-wage country to be worked by some virtually unpaid demi-slave end up working their you-know-whats off for ever decreasing compensation, while their fellows end up reduced to poverty because there are no jobs for them!

As the French say, plus ça change, plus le même chose…..

In 1884, the convention of the Federated Trades and Labor Unions had decided to revive the agitation for an eight-hour work day, and later, the first of May, 1886, was set for the inauguration of the new time scale. As the momentous day approached, the movement grew like a morning glory over night. The labor unions doubled and trebled their membership. Eight-Hour Leagues were formed, while the labor press and other means of propaganda strenuously furthered the agitation.

So it seems that in 1886, May Day was already evolving into a laborers’ holiday, even before our Haymarket Heroes sanctified it further by their blood!

During this time, the capitalists pf the country had seen the trend of affairs,, and became seriously alarmed over the militant attitude of the organized workers. Their magazines, newspapers and other periodicals spat forth a perfect torrent of venom and calumny upon the heads of the workers who dared to try to better conditions where the boss had made a miserable failure.

Again, the parallels with the current day are both daunting and more than a little frightening. All that the people of 1886 were missing was Fox “News”. Or maybe not even that, as we will see from Albert Parsons’ remarks below…..

On the first of May, the international holiday of labor, many factories were tied up by strikes, the employees attempting to inaugurate the eight-hour system. Chicago, being in a sense the representative industrial city, was the center of the movement. In this city was congregated some of the most militant figures that the labor movement has yet developed. Naturally, therefore, the struggle was more acute in the city in Illinois than elsewhere. Furthermore, capital had tasted the fruits of unlimited exploitation in this city that had grown like a mushroom and in the money lust passion, they were reckless and merciless in their efforts to get even more of their blood money.

Count on our Fellow Workers in the IWW to tell it like it was — and is!

When the strikers in the city of Chicago attempted a demonstration showing the solidarity of labor, the police were ordered out and men, women, and children were shot and trampled under foot. This happened on the 1st and 2nd of May, 1886.

Shades of Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, and others from far more recent times! WORKERS’ LIVES MATTER! CIVILIANS’ LIVES MATTER! And we need to get the police to understand this today, just as much as we needed to do so in 1886! Although today, it is our African-American brothers and sisters who are receiving this treatment, in the Chicago of 1886 it was the labor unionists and the Germans. Comrades, it is the same cry, it is the same demand; and if August Spies or Albert Parsons or Samuel Fielden were here today, I can assure you they would be marching with our Black comrades in Baltimore, Ferguson, Washington, New York City, Chicago, etc., demanding of the police that BLACK LIVES MATTER! too! There is only one struggle, and one is either in it — to win it, for all workers of every kind — or against it!

(I hope that when I am no more, it may be said of me that I was in it.)

One of the principal figures in the eight-hour movement was August Spies. Spies was the editor of the Arbeiter Zeitung, at that time a revolutionary paper and an ardent supporter of the eight-hour movement. Spies was the speaker at a meeting where the police brutally opened fire on unarmed citizens and in desperation and outraged by this cold-blooded slaughter, Spies hastened to his office and wrote an article advising the workers to resent being shot down like dogs, and if the police were murderers, that they, the workers, would have every justification for protecting themselves, even to the extent of arming themselves.

A minor note: Mr. Spies, being of recent German extraction, would pronounce his surname as if it rhymed with “peas”.

A significant point: Although Mr. Spies advocated arming the workers as a desperation measure — because it was patently obvious that the government and the police clearly sided with the factory bosses and owners — it is also well established that he strongly opposed violence, and only advocated arming workers as a deterrent to the violence he had already seen inflicted on them. Today, the evidence can be seen in these two flyers for the Haymarket rally below:

The left-hand flyer, with the phrase “Workers, arm yourselves and appear in full force!” is the earlier one. However, August Spies made it clear that if that flyer was not withdrawn and another one published without the call for everyone to arrive fully armed, he would not appear or speak at the event. The flyer was recalled and the flyer on the right was re-published. Only a few copies of the original flyer remained at large, and these became far rarer ever since, as they are today. This is permanent artifact evidence that Mr. Spies did not want this meeting to become violent in any way.

source, citing Avrich, Paul (1984). The Haymarket Tragedy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00600-8.

On the 4th of May there was a mass meeting at the Haymarket, at which August Spies, Albert R. Parsons, and Samuel Fielden spoke. Carter Harrison, mayor of Chicago, was present and seeing that the meeting was a peaceful one, left the place, satisfied that no mischief was intended. After he had left, a squadron of police charged the crowd of three or four thousand people, shooting and clubbing indiscriminately. At this time some unknown person, but supposed to be an agent of the ruling classes, threw a bomb into the ranks of the blue-coated murderers, which exploded, killing and wounding several, and in the riot that followed several more, both police and civilians, were hurt.

This, O Reader, is “the Haymarket Riot”. A peaceful demonstration deliberately sabotaged by the owning and ruling classes, even at the cost of several of the lives of what amounted to their own soldiers!

Immediately the ruling powers seized the opportunity to create a psychology of blood hunger by means of the press and vicious misrepresentations and distortions of the truth. All the prominent members of the eight-hour movement were seized and jailed. At all costs the eight-hour movement must be crushed. This was the cry of the boss.

And in 1886 Chicago, what the boss classes wanted, they got — even if people on both sides had to be hurt or killed! “Profits over People” in very deed!

Among the men seized were August Spies, Albert R. Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab, Oscar Neebe and Louis Lingg.

These eight men are “The Heroes Of Haymarket”. These were the men who were willing to place their lives and their freedom on the line so we, their posterity, might have lives that were capable of being lived. More than anything else, I am writing this Diary to make sure that these heroes aren’t forgotten.


(August Spies has already been introduced and profiled above)

Parsons was the editor of a revolutionary paper called the Alarm. He was a most militant worker in the cause of the eight-hour movement, had published a paper defending the rights of the negroes after the close of the Civil War, organized the Chicago Trades Assembly of the Knights of Labor and had been prominent in the foremost ranks of the revolutionary works for many years.

Reader, please do note that the references to “rights of the negroes” was according to the language forms used in 1910. Respectable and thoughtful people use different terms today out of respect for these comrades of ours. But the point is still a valid one: Mr. Parsons knew that black lives matter, and the owners of those lives deserve the same rights as everyone else. This was not a safe or easy public stance to take in 1865 or 1886, but Mr. Parsons stood up and took it anyway! This is, indeed, indicative of the moral and ethical fiber of our Anarchist Revolutionary Heroes.

Schwab was a German who assisted Spies on the Arbeiter Zeitung. He had been known as one of the most devoted workers in the cause of freedom and lived but for the revolution.

And such an assistant as Mr. Spies had in Mr. Schwab, a thoroughly cause-committed comrade and brother, is a rare treasure indeed. Few of us will ever know this, but August Spies did know it.

Engel, a man fifty years old, had spent a lifetime of bitter suffering in the class struggle and as a result of this had a wholesome hatred for existing society.

I must admit that this is my very favorite sentence in this entire section of the article! “A wholesome hatred for existing society” indeed! My complements to the un-identified author of the original Industrial Worker article for this one!

Oscar Neebe was a well known labor organizer of Chicago and had been instrumental in establishing the Arbeiter Zeitung. He was and is a thorough-going and class conscious rebel against conditions as they are and against the rule of the boss.

Lingg was an enthusiastic boy of twenty-two years and while young in the movement was known as one of the most ardent workers for the cause.

Louis Lingg would pay for his devotion to the cause of labor with his life, choosing to take his own life rather than allow the bosses and their crooked courts the satisfaction of executing him. He would not see the age of twenty-five.

Fielden and Fischer were likewise feared and hated by the ruling class for their efforts toward educating the workers and toward establishing the eight-hour day.


These seven men (Lingg committed suicide in jail), therefore, were indicted on the charge of conspiracy to murder the police. It was not claimed that they threw the bomb, or even that they knew that it was to be thrown or that they conspired to murder any particular party. All that was claimed and that constituted the indictment was, as in the case of Francisco Ferrer, that their writings and speeches tended to make the workers resentful of the yoke of the boss and therefore liable to take action against their oppressors. It was shown that the capitalistic papers had been far more guilty of advocating violence than had the most revolutionary papers, but inasmuch as the trial was a farce and its purpose to take the lives of the prominent agitators of the eight-hour movement such evidence was immaterial.

The speech of Albert Parsons at his trial

The following, taken from the speech of Parsons before the court, is an indictment of the state that was strangling these martyrs of the working class:

“Only yesterday the packing house bosses, who employ 25,000 men, called for an array of Pinkerton men to go down there, and advertised for them to come. That was before the strike — in mere contemplation of it, Your Honor. This in America — the United States! Why, is it surprising that the working people should feel indignant about these things and say to Mr.Gould or to Tom Scott: ‘If you are going to give me a rifle diet instead of a bread diet, as was asked of Christ, when we ask for bread you give us a stone, and not only give us a stone, but at the point of a bayonet compel us to swallow it, where is the constitutional right of resistance to these outrages?’ If I am to be deprived of my right to defense against the administration of a rifle diet, and strychnine be put upon my bread and food, which was advocated by the Chicago Tribune: if I am to be deprived of my right, what shall I do?  Are not such expressions as this calculated to exasperate men? Is there no justification for that which you denominate violent speeches? Did not these monopolists bring about the inception of this language? Did they not originate it? Were they not the first to say: ‘Throw dynamite bombs among the strikers, and thereby make a warning to others’? Was it not Tom Scott who first said: ‘Give them a rifle diet’? Was it not the Tribune which first said ‘Give them strychnine’? And they have done it. Since that time they have administered a rifle diet; they have administered strychnine. They have thrown hand grenades, and the hand grenade upon the Haymarket on the night of the 4th of May was thrown by the hand of a monopolist conspirator sent from the city of New York for that specific purpose, to break up the eight-hour movement and bring these men to the gallows in this court. Your Honor, we are the victims of the foulest and blackest conspiracy that ever disgraced the annals of time. If these men will preach these things; if the Tribune thinks that strychnine is good enough for us; if the Times thinks that hand grenades are good enough for us, why have we not got a right to say they will use it? They say they believe in it. They say they think it. What right have we to say that they will not hire some mercenary to carry out what they think, and put into practice what they believe?”

Above, dear comrade Reader, I asserted that there was no such thing as Fox “News” in 1886. But Albert Parsons has belied my assertion here. Although the technologies Fox “News” uses to pipe their useless, tasteless, and meaningless dreck into our homes, offices, and workplaces did not exist then, it appears that the ancestors of Fox “News” were very much in evidence in the Chicago of 1886. Hand grenades? Rifle diet? Strychnine? Perhaps I am even guilty of giving insult to Fox “News” at this point; I must admit that I have never seen anyone on Fox “News” openly advocate shooting, grenading, bombing, or poisoning pro-labor activists for being just that. At worst, perhaps I am missing some sort of “dog-whistle” signal; but there are no “dog-whistles” here; the signals are explicit. Explicit, and from publications of the respectability level of the Chicago Tribune into the bargain! Veritably, the boss class had the “respectable” press wrapped around their fingers!

The remainder of the trial and the executions.

Then follows a long list of evidences showing the VIOLENT methods the boss used to suppress the workers and keep them in subjection. In the trial the judge by every means in his power showed partiality to the prosecution and by insinuations and direct remarks indicated to the jury that they were to bring in a verdict of guilty, which they did in October of the year 1886. One year later, on the 11th of November, 1887, four of our fellow workers were hanged at the county jail at Chicago. The others were sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment. The men who met death that day faced their ordeal unflinchingly, defying the murderers to the last and declaring their faith in the working class movement.

The last words of August Spies, as he stood on the scaffold, were: “There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today”, while Albert Parsons said: “Let the voice of the people be heard.”

The four of our comrades, our fellow workers, who were murdered by the Judiciary of the State of Illinois were:

August Spies

Albert R. Parsons

George Engel

and Adolph Fischer.

This left each of Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab, and Oscar Neebe to be sentenced to long imprisonment terms.

I now take us back to the Wikipedia narrative for this important development in our story:

A friend and comrade takes the stage in a very important way.

On June 26, 1893, Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld, the progressive governor of Illinois, himself a German immigrant, signed pardons for Fielden, Neebe, and Schwab, calling them victims of “hysteria, packed juries, and a biased judge” and noting that the state “has never discovered who it was that threw the bomb which killed the policeman, and the evidence does not show any connection whatsoever between the defendants and the man who threw it.” Altgeld also faulted the city of Chicago for failing to hold Pinkerton guards responsible for repeated use of lethal violence against striking workers. Altgeld’s actions concerning labor were used to defeat his reelection.

source, citing:

Morn. The Eye That Never Sleeps. p. 99. ISBN 0-253-32086-0.

ACT V Raising the dead: Absolute Pardon, Chicago Historical Society (2000)

Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld National Governors Association (2011).

The Debs Case: Labor, Capital, and the Federal Courts of the 1890s, Biographies, John Peter Altgeld Federal Judicial Center.

Returning to the Industrial Worker‘s narrative:


These human fiends, these blue coated assassins, were killed as a direct result of the psychology bred by the ravings of the capitalistic editors and by their own deeds of violence, having shot in cold blood several men, women, and children on the day previous. But, as usual, the advanced thinkers of the day were slated to martyrdom, being condemned because they were the heralds of better things and of the dawn of a better day.

Yet today the prophecy of August Spies, made while he was standing with the hangman’s noose around his neck, has come to be. Truly, their silence booms like the thunder of an approaching storm, and while their voices are stilled by death, their memory is the grim nemesis of the rule of despotism and the sway of the boss.

It’s true, all of it.

The fiendish Chicago policemen of 1886, who hurled their indiscriminate brutality against all classes and conditions during the early days of May of that year, ended up paying with the lives several of their own for doing what they did. However, there’s an old Spanish proverb which applies here:

“El que es causa de la causa es causa del mal causado”

“He who is the cause of the cause is the cause of the evil caused.”

And here we see that the ruling and owning classes in 1886 spared no one in their headlong quest for ever greater oppression for ever greater profits. Even those who marched forth to protect them — the Chicago police — were not to be spared, nor did even their lives matter. When it was to the interests and convenience of ownership to make it happen, there was no second thoughts given to deliberate murder of their own people. It is one of the great ironies of this entire event, the Haymarket Affair, that the policemen who rained this oppression on the industrial workingmen really had more in common with these people than they had in common with the boss class whose interests they were fighting for.

But August Spies spoke the truth. His voice, and the voices of his comrades of the Haymarket, are still heard loud and clear today. Many of the fortunes of the owners of the times of which we speak have dwindled into nothing, victims of the vagaries of the never-ending gambling games of rent-seeking capitalism. Yet the voices of the Haymarket Heroes resound on, ever and forever, not to be forgotten ever again. Truly, these most gentle men, these heroes, these soldiers for the freedom of the ordinary working human being, have achieved what immortality can be had in the real world.

Your humble scribe celebrates them! I opine, O Reader, that you should, too!

Postscript: The ANARCHISTS Of Chicago

I would like to remind my Readers that these men were always recognized as Anarchists, both by their contemporaries and by nearly all future commenters. Yes, they were labor unionists; yes, they were socialists; modern Syndicalists see them as their earliest ancestors; but first and foremost, they were Anarchists. And they were Anarchists in the purest sense, if you will; in the sense of the Greek words from which the English term “Anarchist” was coined: an archon, “no master”. These men maintained that no human being was inherently entitled to rule any other human being, whether by virtue of race, color, bank account, stock portfolio, inheritance, or any other factor whatsoever. And they recognized that substitution of the oppression by the Employer for the oppression of the State was not acceptable, that all oppression of any kind is wrong because it is oppression. This definitely qualifies them as true Anarchists. The Spanish anarquistas of fifty years later certainly would recognize these men as fellow Anarchists and comrades in the one struggle for freedom, peace, and a decent life for everyone. Likewise every Anarchist since; at least, I have yet to encounter any commenter — certainly any serious commenter — who considers these men anything save Anarchists.

But, no matter what you may call them, I respectfully submit that these men are moral, ethical, political, and social exemplars for our times. Their actions should be emulated and the thoughts which inspired them should be learned and propagated.

Gentle Reader, I thank you for reading this Diary!

(A list of sources for the material in this diary is available, but is difficult to format.  I’ll be happy to provide it by request. -ek)