Title: The Chicago Anniversary
Author: Freedom Press
Date: December 1, 1888
Source: Freedom: A Journal of Anarchist Socialism, Vol. 3 -- No. 27, retrieved on August 29, 2019, from RevoltLib.com.
Notes: Freedom Press, London

Since the Paris Commune no event in the world-wide evolution of the struggle between Socialism and the existing order of society has been so important, so significant, as the tragedy of Chicago. Standing as we do to-day at more than twelve months' distance from the series of events which culminated in the judicial murder of the Eleventh of November, we are able to estimate their meaning with a calmer certainty than amid the storm of horror, indignation and pity which the wrongs of our comrades aroused last year, not only among Socialists but among all workmen aware of the facts. Good men are being murdered for their devotion to the cause of freedom; let us save them, or if that may not be, at least let us protest against the crime. Such was the feeling which at the moment united Socialist and Radical, Revolutionist and Parliamentarian.

First, as to the facts of the Chicago affair itself. Fuller inquiry, more complete and detailed information have served to confirm the statements laid before the public by the English Socialist press and repeated at the South Place meeting of protest.

The eight Anarchist Socialists picked out by the Chicago police as victims of the rage and terror inspired in the propertied classes by the growing energy of the labor movement, had absolutely nothing to do with the throwing of the bomb at the Haymarket meeting in May, 1886. The prosecution utterly failed to connect these eight men with the fatal bomb in any sense which did not equally apply to the 20,000 revolutionary Socialists of the Chicago Central Labor Union, or indeed to any active revolutionary propagandist in the world. They were simply selected as the most energetic and earnest advocates of opinions obnoxious to the ruling classes, opinions gaining ground so fast as to threaten the very existence of property and wage-slavery. These opinions were, (1) Socialism, i.e., common property of the workers in the instruments of labor; (2) Anarchism, i.e., the destruction of all arbitrary authority and the substitution of cooperation by free consent and decision by unanimity; (3) that these great social changes can only be brought about by the direct action of the workers; (4) that if the monopolists of property and upholders of authority resist the demands of the people by armed force, the people are right in defending themselves by armed force, and for this contingency they must be prepared.

For these opinions, of which the first, third and fourth are shared by the Revolutionary Socialist party throughout the world, those eight men were condemned to death and imprisonment, on the plea that the holding and preaching of such views "set causes to work" which might result in the death of some of the defenders of the existing order of society, and possibly had so resulted in the actual destruction of eight police officers in the Haymarket, though of this no proof could be obtained.

Exactly of the same nature was the moral quibbling by which in the worst days of monarchical absolutism, during the shameful reign of the second Charles Stewart, the court lawyer, secured the condemnation of Algernon Sidney, the Republican. The revival by the American democracy of such a dangerous instrument of despotism as "constructive conspiracy," with no basis in fact but the openly proclaimed opinions of the accused and the overt act of some person unknown, was felt by the whole Socialist party and, indeed, by every lover of freedom, as a common danger to the progress of humanity. It is idle to talk about freedom of opinion or of speech when for the mere utterance of opinions distasteful to the ruling minority or majority men can be condemned and executed, on the excuse that the utterance of those opinions may "set causes to work" which threaten the established social order and the lives of its defenders. The whole affair was regarded, and justly, as part of the general attack then being made by the ruling classes in Europe and America on the free utterance of the people's grievances. It was felt that our comrades were the martyrs not only of Anarchism but of freedom of speech and opinion and especially of the expression of the wrongs of labor.

It was recognized by all schools of Socialists that the only effectual means of securing an opportunity for peaceful Socialist propaganda and thus preparing men's minds to accept without bloodshed the inevitable social changes--was to make a firm and united stand against the revival of this method of tyranny; to protest against it with so much energy and perseverance as to secure a decided public opinion in our favor. Not of course among the rulers and masters whose interests and prejudices have blinded their eyes and arrayed their sympathies against Socialism and all true freedom. But among the workers and those earnest and sincere men and women born in every class, who seek truth and right rather than wealth, respectability, or ease. For even the admirers of written codes admit that law is a two edged instrument cutting both ways and in the hands of a ruling class affords no security to the liberties of the people, unless its administration for class purposes is effectively controlled by a courageous and enlightened public opinion.

Last year the foundations of such a strong and honest public view of the question at issue were laid. A vigorous cry of indignation was raised by the workers of every European country. Here in London 16,000 workmen added their voices to the protests of their American comrades. And on the platform Anarchists, Revolutionary Socialists, Christian Socialists, Social Democrats, Land Nationalizers, Freethinkers, Radicals, stood side by side to denounce the condemnation of the Chicago Anarchist Socialists as a wrong to humanity.

To this united protest of the supporters of progress the organs of capitalism and reaction opposed the usual tactics of those who are hired to defend a bad cause. First they ignored the facts, and then when that was no longer possible, they misrepresented them, obscuring the truth with hinted suspicions and general accusations. The middle-class press is paid to invent excuses for the crimes of its supporters. When the triumphant middle-class of France attempted to terrorize the workers of Paris by the massacres which followed the Commune, the middle-class press throughout the world justified, and has never ceased to justify the inhumanity by throwing suspicion on the motives and misrepresenting the deeds of the victims. The same in the case of the Chicago murders. To relieve the fears and to drug the conscience of the propertied classes not only must the workers be terrorized, but their cause must be discredited by the moral as well as the bodily destruction of its champions. The capitalist press was equal to the occasion. The middle-class American papers vied with one another in misrepresentation and abuse, and the like organs of opinion across the Atlantic followed suit in a tone softened by distance, but none the less hostile and unscrupulous.

Thus the forces of the new social order and the old stood face to face last year. This year the situation is still more clearly defined, we begin to distinguish it as one of those crises which signal a now departure.

The old facts remain unchanged, but in addition we now know (and the information has been within the reach of every London Socialist) not only that the Haymarket bomb was not thrown by or at the instigation of the murdered and imprisoned men, but that it was not thrown by any of the Chicago Anarchists, and that the throwing of it was contrary to the policy upon which the whole revolutionary party there were at that time agreed. We have said that they believed it right to withstand armed force by armed force; and to be prepared for that emergency the workers of Chicago have been armed since 1877. But the Anarchist Socialists did not consider the eight hours agitation an event of sufficient importance to justify street fighting. They hoped but little from a mere compromise with capitalism, and though they energetically threw in their lot with the workers in the struggle, they felt convinced that it had not in it the elements of success. It might be useful propaganda; but its immediate outcome could not be a real social revolution. In this belief they resolved not to use arms even in self-defense and did not depart from that decision even after six strikers had been shot dead and many wounded by the police. They simply called a peaceful meeting at the Haymarket to protest against the brutal violence of the police. At this meeting a bomb was thrown by some person who to this day remains entirely unknown.

Whilst our knowledge of the facts of the Chicago affair has thus been enlarged and confirmed, the enthusiasm of the workers for the men who died in their cause, has grown and spread. The ennobling elevating effect on the whole Socialist movement of these men's devotion and heroism; has deepened and widened. As Spies foretold, their "silence has been more powerful than speech." The principles for which they laid down their lives have been branded into men's hearts by their death. This year the eleventh of November has been observed by the most awakened portion of the working class throughout the world as a solemn anniversary, a day when men with one accord out their eyes upon the past, that they may draw therefrom fresh courage, fresh inspiration for the future.

The scene at the graves of the five martyrs, of Freedom in the cemetery a few miles from Chicago was impressive and touching in the extreme. Even the middle-class newspapers were forced to minister to the general interest by detailed descriptions of the dense crowds, the impassioned speeches, the intensity of the sympathy manifested, the mass of wreaths and emblems sent by working class organizations, the display, in spite of stringent police orders, of the red that signified adhesion to Anarchism.

In England this first anniversary has been rendered the more impressive by the visit of our honored comrade Lucy Parsons, who has addressed great and enthusiastic meetings in London, Norwich, Ipswich and Edinburgh; everywhere stirring a deeper chord of social and revolutionary feeling by her noble personality and the simple directness of her heart-felt eloquence. Everywhere the workers have met her with the enthusiastic sympathy due to her suffering, her courage and her devotion. Everywhere she has caused those who heard her to realize the true-hearted earnestness of the men and women who have been most energetic in the Chicago labor movement, and deepened the sense of solidarity between them and the English workers.

Of course this unseemly excitement among the wage-slaves, this perverse respect and admiration showered upon men and deeds which the respectable of the earth have agreed to cover with ignominy, has called forth the renewed hostility of the middle-class press and the repetition even in professedly Radical papers, like the Star, of the ancient misrepresentation, suspicion, and abuse. That was a matter of course. Their readers pay for the careful spicing of their dishes of truth. But it is a burning disgrace to English Socialism that certain English Social Democrats have deliberately lent their aid to the work of calumny and played into the hands of the foe.

Not the Social Democrats as a party. The Socialist workmen of London have displayed the warmest sense of solidarity with their Chicago comrades. J. Burns and J. Blackwell, our well-known Social Democratic comrades, stood on the platform with Mrs. Parsons at the Store Street Hall; branches of the S. D. F. held capital local commemoration meetings, Justice, the official organ of that body, hailed the Chicago men as brother Socialists and martyrs of the Socialist cause. No, it is a small clique of middle-class politicians who have done this thing.

Last year it was Henry George who, when he was seeking office in New York, turned traitor and used the influence of his labor paper, theStandard, to aid the manufacture of that middle-class opinion which enabled the capitalists of Chicago to murder the enemies of capitalism.

This year it is the middle-class Social Democrats, some of whom stood with us on the platform at the Chicago meeting last year, who have turned traitors and helped the middle-class press in the manufacture of that adverse public opinion which may in the end permit English capitalism to reproduce here the murderous policy of Chicago.

The attack of the middle-class press has from the first taken two main lines. First; it accuses the Chicago Anarchists of setting up a false defense, and if it does not absolutely ignore facts to the extent of stating that they really did throw the Haymarket bomb, at least hints that the charge of conspiracy was proved, and that the condemned men instigated the deed. Secondly; if this accusation falls through, the papers covertly insinuate or, like the Evening News last year, loudly suggest that tolerance of opinion and freedom of speech are all very well, but there are limits, and those limits are reached at Revolutionary Socialist Anarchism. It is not to be suffered that a man be permitted to advocate the overthrow of all private property, of all authority, and that he urge upon the people to act directly with a view to obtaining this result and to defend themselves by force if they are forcibly restrained. This doctrine if a man preach he shall constructively be held guilty of complicity in the action of any person who under whatever circumstances and with whatever intentions, in whatever place and under whatever provocation, is guilty of any act of violence against any of the ruling classes or their hired defenders.

In each of these lines of attack the enemies of Socialism have received support from men and women calling themselves Socialists. We speak especially of the correspondence in the Star, and the ungenerous and misleading attack on Mrs. Parsons, on the Chicago martyrs, and on revolutionary Socialists in general, which disgraced the Link on the eve of its disappearance and left a lasting stain on a journal that during its year of existence had borne a brave part in the struggle against oppression.

And yet this sophistry tends to produce an effect on public opinion which is dangerous not to Anarchists alone, but the whole party of progress. In the eyes of the middle-class during times of any popular excitement every active revolutionary Socialist, however much he may have talked about parliamentary action and constitutional means in quiet times, is an Anarchist; and he can only save himself from the fate of an open enemy of the existing social order by casting principles and conviction to the wind and compromising in word and deed with the wrongs and injustice upon which that order is based. He must consent to play into the hands of the rulers when the time comes to set for the people, or he will be classed with the more plain-spoken revolutionists whom be has been so careful to disown. In times of panic minor differences are obliterated in the headlong rush of conflicting class interests, and all those who work honestly and openly for the deliverance of the oppressed are in the eyes of the oppressors guilty in exact proportion to their earnestness and zeal.

Those Social Democrats who are abetting the capitalist press in its misrepresentation of Anarchism, its insinuations against the good faith of Anarchists--even the dead--and its attempt to deny revolutionists the right to speak openly of their ideas, are preparing a trap for themselves and moreover taking the most effectual means to usher in the coming social revolution by deeds of cruelty which will provoke bloody and violent reprisals.

We fully understand the considerations which lead Democratic politicians to adopt this attitude of hostility towards revolutionists. They believe that a social revolution can be brought about by a certain amount of parliamentary and municipal wire-pulling. They actually think that if they can change the form of existing government institutions and introduce into them all active majority rule, that then they will he able to introduce the economic reforms which they understand by a social revolution, and moreover to paralyze the resistance of those capitalists and landlords who are too foolish to compromise.

Now this fine scheme depends at the present time very largely on the support of the lower middle-class and of the aristocracy of labor--these forming the majority of actual electors--and these are just the classes who having with difficulty gained what little they possess by means of a desperate struggle with their fellows, cling to their narrow vantage ground with blind tenacity, and turn sick at the vaguest idea of any change which may interfere with their hard won sense of security. They are ready to support extensive land taxation, even nationalization of railways, etc., if these changes can be brought about without disturbing their small savings. But a real revolution in the existing order of society, Anarchy, Communism! The very shadow of such an idea scares them into reaction. Therefore it is that those Socialists who seek the suffrages of these shy birds, not only publicly dissever themselves from revolutionary Socialism, but even allow themselves to slip from that fair, if somewhat cowardly position of neutrality, into the treason of actually joining the reactionary party in crying down their comrades. As Mrs. Besant says in that article in the Link to which we have referred, "Socialism is now playing a part in all our political and municipal contests." And of course on the eve of such a contest as for example the London School Board, it is extremely inconvenient to Social Democrats seeking office to have their constituents reminded of Anarchism, Communism, and revolution in connection with the new social idea.

It may be inconvenient, but is that a reason why we, who do not believe in this democratic program and who do believe in revolution, should hold our tongues and conceal our convictions? or that we should be called "foolish and wicked" by our fellow Socialists for refusing to do so?

The Socialists who in their blind pursuit of the narrower expediency, of immediate practical advantage, lose sight of the wider expediency of good faith, justice, and the claim of every honest man and woman to full and free expression of their opinion, are no longer comrades of ours. We can no longer trust them. They are following the downward path which in every country has opened before those who attempt to mingle the fresh life of Socialism with the current politics of a decaying social order. They are on their way to join that army of ambitious office-holders and place-seekers who began their careers as champions of the people. We part from them with regret, but with no surprise. Their action is but another instance of the ill effect upon the best: of men and women of that compromise with the evil spirit of domination which ruins the life work of so many a noble nature, and continually delays the day of deliverance.