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The Haymarket Martyrs


The Haymarket Martyrs

MAYDAY — the first of May — is recognized around the world as a day to celebrate international workers’ solidarity. It is often forgotten that this day of commemoration of working class revolutionary awareness originated with the movement for the eight-hour day and the other basic rights of labor that are taken for granted by American workers today — the movement that was centered in Chicago and that reached its peak in 1886.

Anarchists were a major force in this movement, and much of what has been gained by workers worldwide is owed to their struggles and their sacrifices — although their contribution has been all but obliterated from the history books.

A massive general strike was called for May 1, 1886, and it was supported by nationwide demonstrations. On May 3, striking workers at the International Harvester plant in Chicago were fired on by police, killing four and wounding many. A protest rally was held May 4 in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. Three leading Anarchists spoke: Albert Parsons, August Spies, and Samuel Fielden. The rally was nonviolent, but it was broken up by the police, and it ended in violence after someone (perhaps an agent provocateur) threw a bomb into the police lines. A Chicago policeman was killed in the explosion.

This disrupted demonstration was followed by the biggest “red scare” rampage in US history. In the process, eight Anarchist leaders were rounded up, arrested, and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Five were eventually killed by the State; four — August Spies, George Engel, Adolph Fisher, and Albert Parsons — died on the gallows on November 11, 1887; one — Louis Lingg — died in his cell, allegedly by his own hand.

With the noose around his neck, Fischer cried out: “Hurrah for Anarchy! This is the happiest moment of my life.”

Parsons said: “Will I be allowed to speak, O men of America? Let me speak, Sheriff Matson! Let the voice of the people be heard!”

From inside his hood, Spies made a short statement which would be heard for decades in workingclass circles: “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”

This use of State murder to eliminate Anarchists — despite a preponderance of evidence of their innocence of any crime — was repeated against Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in Boston in 1927.

The message sank deep into the American consciousness: to speak out against the State, to propose humanitarian alternatives, was a capital offence.


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