Black Friday of 1887

It shall never be forgotten that on the 11th of November, 1887, four men were hanged in Chicago because by spoken and written word they voiced their conviction that the wealth of this country is owned by a handful of non-producers and that the liberty of the republic is a mere sham. Their crime consisted in saying to the poor, You are being robbed and exploited, and telling the people that the republic is a refuge for a thousand big and small despots. They wrote and spoke the truth. But wherever the truth is spoken, the masters have ever been afraid that it would lead to Anarchy. That was the reason why they demanded the blood of our comrades. Had the Chicago martyrs conformed to patriotic convention, had they joined in hurrahing for our wonderful institutions, had they lied and exploited, they would still be alive and respected as model citizens. They might even be found worthy to be honored by President Wilson as Peace Commissioners to the Colorado mine regions, the Tsardom of the Rockefellers.

Hail to them that they did not join the chorus. Hail to us that in the dead of Waldheim we have forerunners who set us the example how rebels should live, struggle and die. Revolutionists are mortal, but immortal are liberty and revolution. These did not perish on the 11th of November on the gallows of Chicago. They march on, through this and other lands, towards their goal.

The Haymarket bomb and the Eleventh of November are the subject of a chapter in the recent book by Charles Edward Russell, These Shifting Scenes.[*] The author is an experienced journalist and a less experienced Socialist—altogether a combination sufficient for the party to choose him as its candidate for the United States Senate, where he would no doubt prove a shining light. Unfortunately it’s dead sure that he will fail.

The chapter is an elaboration of notes that Russell had made while a newspaper reporter at the time of the Haymarket events. He was then connected with the New York World.

Two things distinguish him as a Socialist historian of The Haymarket Bomb and After: the spirit of the labor movement of the ’80’s is totally foreign to him, and he understands but very little of the character of August Spies, Albert Parsons and their comrades. The rich bourgeoisie of America understood them much better than Russell. Hence their furious determination to make a bloody example of the spokesmen of the Chicago movement—at any cost: by means of perjury, bribery and packed juries.

The eight-hour movement, especially in Chicago, was then strongly permeated with social-revolutionary, anti-political tendencies. The strikes initiated on the 1st of May, 1886, bore the character of the General Strike. It was the economic power of labor that gave open battle to capital. During the first few days of the strike more than fifty thousand men joined the movement. It spread daily like wildfire. The workers were inspired by the spirit of what today is known as Syndicalism. A great number of employers were forced to grant the demands of the strikers. August Spies in those days described in the columns of the Arbeiter Zeitung how the politicians sought to steal into the movement in order to use it for their own interest and that of the bourgeoisie. They were bitterly disappointed when they learned that it was not a question of political gain, but a direct economic struggle—a social war. Similarly disappointed were the political tricksters of the Knights of Labor. Under the pretext that the movement was un-American they stabbed it in the back and later openly applauded the shameful trial of Spies and comrades.

Against such a movement, which could not be politically corrupted or bribed, no other policy would be successful—thought the leading capitalists of the time—except the mailed fist of the State and Law. They saw their privileges and profits in danger. Therefore they raised the cry of Anarchy, confident thus to secure the voluntary and paid support of the press, and to have the police and courts on their side.

They knew how to set about it. Immediately after the Haymarket explosion several hundred prominent capitalists came together to form the Citizens’ Association with the object of annihilating Anarchy. Within a very short time they collected over a hundred thousand dollars. It was this blood-money that was chiefly responsible for the judicial murder of the Chicago Anarchists. In that pile of gold lay rooted the moral incentive of that arch-scoundrel, Police Captain Schaack, and his fellow criminals.

This all-important phase of the trial Russell misses entirely. He says that he has wondered whether Captain Schaack’s delusions resulted from a kind of self-hypnotism or mere mania. We suspect very strongly that Schaack suffered not at all from delusions. What he thirsted for was recognition, advancement and money, especially money. To accomplish this purpose he fed that collective ass, public opinion, with the most shocking tales of Anarchist conspiracies, dynamite and bombs, and Anarchist armies that raged to destroy the beautiful city of Chicago. He was the pet of the good citizens, and the proceedings of the trial showed that large sums of money were put at his disposal which he used to buy the perjured testimony of eye-witnesses.

Had Charles Edward Russell even an iota of class-consciousness in his guts, he would have understood the situation a good deal better, but the development of Socialism into petty political trading and election maneuvers makes class-consciousness on the part of Socialist representatives superfluous. Russell sees in the Black Friday of 1887 only the tragic result of misunderstanding between men and classes. He writes: The letters are red and smeared, but they are sufficiently legible; and the first thing they tell is what may come when men will not make the least effort to understand one another, while one class accumulates a sense of injustice and another unlimited power.

Cheap reform twaddle. But that is the Socialism of today.

An experienced old journalist gave Russell at the beginning of his career this professional advice: Be interested but not concerned. The advice evidently did not fall on stony ground. Even now, with Russell the journalist keeping modestly in the background to make room for Russell the Socialist, the effect of the advice is apparent. The characterization of August Spies, and especially of Louis Lingg, as given by Russell, might have come from the pen of any reporter who is only interested. Russell was so interested in Louis Lingg he was very anxious to interview him; but Lingg refused. Of this experience Russell writes: To any question or remark he (Lingg) was wont to respond with a silent stare of malignant and calculating hatred, rather disconcerting, and I think that in those days few strangers observed him without a secret feeling of relief that he was on the other side of the steel bars.

The silent stare of malignant and calculating hatred is not difficult to explain. Lingg knew the kept press long before Russell ever dreamed of using the term. He knew that reporters and detectives are often made of the same piece, and as he considered his death sentence a foregone conclusion, he had no use for the imps and pimps of public opinion.

In another place Russell refers to Lingg as a wild beast. This wild beast was of that proud, uncompromising revolutionary character that is too far removed from reporter souls for the Russells to understand. Lingg wrote a few days before the executions, in reference to the proposed appeal for pardon: I consider it beneath my dignity to consent, even by silence, to a pardon which must react harmfully on the whole labor movement.

One must be somewhat concerned to understand such an attitude.

The author of These Shifting Scenes has probably written many good newspaper stories, but that does not necessarily prove that he understands anything about the psychology of the social revolutionist.

Russell repeats the old legend that Lingg had manufactured the Haymarket bomb and that Rudolph Schnaubelt threw it, without the least attempt to verify or prove the oft-repeated story. He also says that Schnaubelt made his way to Germany, there to live and die in peace. As a matter of fact, Schnaubelt never lived in Germany, nor is he dead. Certain it is that he emphatically protests against the story of his bomb-throwing.

At the end of the chapter on the Haymarket bomb, Russell has the following to say on Anarchism: It remains now as it was on May 4, 1886, the delusion of a few diseased or unbalanced minds, which, if they had not this, would be obsessed of some other form of dangerous dementia.

It is clear that Charles Edward Russell, the Socialist candidate for United States Senate, will not be too good, in case of emergency, again to write for some capitalist magazines or newspapers. He still knows the password to take him back inside the walls of Law, Order and undisturbed sterility of mind.

Our Dead of Waldheim, we greet you as the torchbearers of indomitable revolutionary life force.

[*] Geo. H. Doran, N. Y. $1.50.