The Haymarket Martyrs: George Engel

George Engel (1836-1887) was one of the four Chicago anarchists hanged on November 11, 1887 for his alleged participation in the Haymarket bombing in May 1886, despite the fact that he was at home playing cards when the bomb went off. Engel, as with the other Haymarket Martyrs, was a member of the International Working Peoples Association (Anarchism, Volume One, Selection 55). Engel expressly rejected any plea for clemency and shouted “Hurrah for anarchy!” as he was being hanged. The following excerpts from his trial speech show that Engel was not one to compromise his beliefs, not even when facing death. As with the other defendants, Engel denounced the hypocrisy of his prosecutors and the so-called justice system, which turned a blind eye to striking workers being shot dead and workers being maimed and killed on the job, but condemned him and his comrades to death for urging the workers to overthrow their oppressors.

George Engel

All that I have to say in regard to my conviction is that I was not at all surprised; for it has ever been that the men who have endeavoured to enlighten their fellow man have been thrown into prison or put to death, as was the case with John Brown. I have found, long ago, that the working man has no more rights here than anywhere else in the world. The state’s attorney has stated that we were not citizens. I have been a citizen this long time; but it does not occur to me to appeal for my rights as a citizen, knowing as well as I do that this does not make a particle of difference. Citizen or not—as a working man I am without rights, and therefore I respect neither your rights nor your laws, which are made and directed by one class against the other: the working class.

Of what does my crime consist?

That I have laboured to bring about a system of society by which it is impossible for one to hoard millions, through the improvements in machinery, while the great masses sink to degradation and misery. As water and air are free to all, so should the inventions of scientific men be applied for the benefit of all. The statute laws we have are in opposition to the laws of nature, in that they rob the great masses of their rights to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’

I am too much a man of feeling not to battle against the societary conditions of today. Every considerate person must combat a system which makes it possible for the individual to rake and hoard millions in a few years, while, on the other side, thousands become tramps and beggars.

Is it to be wondered at that under such circumstances men arise who strive and struggle to create other conditions, where the humane humanity shall take precedence of all other considerations. This is the aim of socialism, and to this I joyfully subscribe.

The state’s attorney said here that ‘anarchy’ was ‘on trial.’

Anarchism and socialism are as much alike in my opinion, as one egg is to another. They differ only in their tactics. The anarchists have abandoned the way of liberating humanity which socialists would take to accomplish this. I say: Believe no more in the ballot, and use all other means at your command. Because we have done so we stand arraigned here today—because we have pointed out to the people the proper way. The anarchists are being hunted and persecuted for this in every clime, but in the face of it all anarchism is gaining more and more adherents, and if you cut off our opportunities of open agitation, then will all the work be done secretly. If the state’s attorney thinks he can root out socialism by hanging seven of our men and condemning the other to fifteen years’ servitude, he is labouring under a very wrong impression. The tactics simply will be changed—that is all…

If anarchism could be rooted out, it would have been accomplished long ago in other countries. On the night on which the first bomb in this country was thrown, I was in my apartments at home. I knew nothing of the conspiracy which the state’s attorney pretends to have discovered.

It is true I am acquainted with several of my fellow defendants; with most of them, however, but slightly, through seeing them at meetings, and hearing them speak. Nor do I deny that I too have spoken at meetings, saying that if every working man had a bomb in his pocket, capitalistic rule would soon come to an end.

That is my opinion, and my wish; it became my conviction, when I mentioned the wickedness of the capitalistic conditions of the day.

When hundreds of workingmen have been destroyed in mines in consequence of faulty preparations, for the repairing of which the owners were too stingy, the capitalistic papers have scarcely noticed it. See with what satisfaction and cruelty they make their report, when here and there workingmen have been fired upon, while striking for a few cents increase in their wages, that they might earn only a scanty subsistence.

Can anyone feel any respect for a government that accords rights only to the privileged classes, and none to the workers? We have seen but recently how the coal barons combined to form a conspiracy to raise the price of coal, while at the same time reducing the already low wages of their men. Are they accused of conspiracy on that account? But when workingmen dare ask an increase in their wages, the militia and the police are sent out to shoot them down.

For such a government as this I can feel no respect, and will combat them despite their power, despite their police, despite their spies.

I hate and combat, not the individual capitalist, but the system that gives him those privileges. My greatest wish is that workingmen may recognize who are their friends and who are their enemies.

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