(OPE-L) May Day, 1886 and its Aftermath

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sat May 01 2004 - 06:25:25 EDT

"The day will come when our 
silence will be more powerful 
than the voices you are throttling 
                  -- the last words of August Spies

On May Day, 1886, there was a parade of 80,000 workers in 
Chicago for the 8-hour-day.   Two days later, a clash at 
the McCormick Reaper Works ended with police beatings 
and the killing of 2 unarmed workers.   A protest meeting was
called for the following evening at Haymarket Square.  At the 
rally, a bomb exploded which killed one police officer.  The
police immediately opened fire on the workers -- killing 1 and
wounding many others.

The events of 1886 led to the infamous "Haymarket Affair" in 
which 8 radical leaders -- primarily anarchists and  socialists -- 
were falsely charged, tried, and convicted.  Four of the defendants

[George Engel, 
Adolph Fischer, 
Albert Parsons,  
August Spies] 

were condemned to death and went to the gallows -- and into history 
-- on November 11, 1887.  The day beforehand,   another defendant, 
LOUIS LINGG,  allegedly  committed "suicide"  in prison under 
mysterious circumstances.  The remaining 3 were pardoned ...
16 years later.   No evidence ever connected any of these men to
the bomb that exploded in Haymarket Square.  The events are described 
-- from a variety of  perspectives -- in the following pages.

August Spies -- the author of the above quote and one of the 4
who were executed -- became radicalized and politically active after 
Federal troops were used against workers in the Railroad Strike of 
1877.  Although often described as an anarchist, he was a socialist -- 
indeed, that same year (1877) he joined the Socialist Labor Party.  He 
went on to become a delegate to the Socialist Convention in Chicago 
in 1881, a delegate to the  International Workingmen's Party of America 
Convention in Pittsburgh in 1883,  worked with the 4,000 striking miners 
in the Hocking Valley Strike of 1884-5,  and for several years was the 
editor of the German-language newspaper for workers, Arbeiter-Zeitung.

Since the passage of the Patriot Act, and ongoing discussion 
about whether the Patriot II Act will be passed, the events of 
1886 seem to be highly relevant for today.  

Even before that  time, an eerie similarity existed between the 
circumstances concerning the  trial  of the Haymarket 8  and the 
arrest,  trial, and conviction of Mumia Abu-Jamal.   
Abu-Jamal,  a journalist, political activist and former  member of 
the Black Panther Party, has been condemned to death and is  
awaiting -- and fighting --  execution on death row in Pennsylvania.   
For more information about his case, see 

The Haymarket trial  was one event in which there was an 
*international* movement of solidarity by anarchists and socialists, 
including Marxists.  Some of the writings of the latter,  including 
an article by Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling, can be found at:

The speeches of the Haymarket defendants can be read at:

The most eloquent -- and lengthy -- speech was made by August 
Spies (described above). His defense was simple:

"My defense is your accusation."

His speech turned the words used in his indictment into
an indictment of his accusers and the system they represented.
In a sense, Spies offered a  *critique* of the state's case
against him.  The critique not only attempted to show the irrationality
and falsity of the charges against him but to use the opportunity
to condemn the very system that was trying him and to offer a
political alternative.   Perhaps in this sense, Spies' critique had
a similarity to *Marx's critique of political economy*: i.e. it was not
merely a defense and a criticism, rather it was an attempt to 
*surpass* the body of thought being subjected to critique and to
offer an *alternative*.  Of course, Spies' aim (which, after all, was just
a speech) was more limited than Marx's aim in writing _Capital_.  
Yet, both had *revolutionary* aims that can not be forgotten when 
assessing their speeches and writings.  How could it be that Marx
-- a revolutionary -- could limit himself to *only* exposing what was
*wrong* with political economy?  The answer, of course, is that
he didn't limit his aim in that way.  This insight, imo, is de-emphasized
or forgotten by those who think that Marx was either a classical
economist or someone whose aim was merely to critique (narrowly
understood) political economy.  In this sense, Marx had far more
in common with  August Spies and Mumia Abu-Jamal than with 
Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Do others agree?

The Haymarket Eight are, of course, long dead.  

Long live the Haymarket Eight!

Mumia Abu-Jamal STILL lives!

LONG LIVE and FREE Mumia Abu-Jamal!

Happy May Day everyone!

In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Mon May 03 2004 - 00:00:01 EDT