The Haymarket Martyrs: Adolf Fischer

Adolf Fischer (1858-1887) was one of the Chicago anarchists executed on November 11, 1887. His trial speech has often been cited for his comment that “every anarchist is a socialist but every socialist is not necessarily an anarchist,” emphasizing that by the mid-1880s, anarchism was clearly regarded by most of its proponents as a form of revolutionary socialism. Fischer quotes from the International Working People’s Association’s Pittsburgh Proclamation (Volume One, Selection 55), which had effectively become the program of anarchist revolutionaries in North America. In his speech he contrasts anarchist communism to the “middle class” anarchism of Proudhon and the mutualists, but makes no mention of the anarchist collectivists, such as Johann Most (1846-1906), who also advocated armed struggle but thought that each worker should be entitled to the full product of his or her labour, rather than distributing goods on the basis of need. The trial speeches of the Haymarket Martyrs demonstrate the degree to which by the mid-1880s anarchist communism had become the prevalent point of view among those anarchists who advocated a far-reaching social revolution, by force of arms if necessary.

Adolph Fischer

The capitalist press, and even numerous labour journals, define anarchism as murder, plunder, arson and outrage upon society in general. These ‘learned’ journalists, or at least a majority of them thus defining anarchism, misrepresent the object and aims of this teaching maliciously. Anarchism does not mean plunder and outrage upon society; contrarily, its mission is to uproot the systematic plunder of a vast majority of the people by a comparative few—the working classes by the capitalists. It aims at the extermination of the outrages committed by the reigning classes upon the wage-slaves, under the name of ‘law and order.’

Murder, plunder, robbery, outrages. ‘Is an anarchist really the impersonation of all crimes, of everything dastardly and damnable?’ The International Working Peoples’ Association, the organization of the anarchists, has the following platform, which was agreed upon at the congress at Pittsburg in October, 1883. Let this platform be the answer to the question I have raised before:

“I. Destruction of the existing class rule, by all means, i.e., by energetic, relentless, revolutionary and international action.

2. Establishment of a free society based upon co-operative organization of production.

3. Free exchange of equivalent products by and between the productive organizations without commerce and profit-mongery.

4. Organization of education on a secular, scientific and equal basis for both sexes.

5. Equal rights for all without distinction of sex or race.

6. Regulation of all public affairs by free contracts between the autonomous (independent) communes and associations, resting on a federalistic basis.”

Does this sound like outrages and crime?

In the course of my observations I will dwell more thoroughly on the aims and objects of anarchy.

Many people undoubtedly long to know what the relationship between anarchism and socialism is, and whether these two doctrines have anything in common with each other. A number of persons claim that an anarchist cannot be a socialist, and a socialist not an anarchist. This is wrong. The philosophy of socialism is a general one, and covers several subordinate teachings. To illustrate, I will cite the word ‘Christianity.’ There are Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, and various other religious sects, all of whom call themselves Christians. Although every Catholic is a Christian, it would not be correct to say that every Christian believes in Catholicism. Webster defined socialism thus: ‘A more orderly, equitable and harmonious arrangement of social affairs than has hitherto prevailed.’ Anarchism is aiming at this: anarchism is seeking a more just form of society. Therefore every anarchist is a socialist but every socialist is not necessarily an anarchist.

The anarchists again are divided into two factions; the communist anarchists and the Proudhon or middle-class anarchists. The International Working Peoples’ Association is the representative organization of the communist anarchists. Politically we are anarchists, and economically, communists or socialists. With regard to political organization the communist anarchists demand the abolition of political authority, the state; we deny the right of a single class or single individual to govern or rule another class or individual. We hold that, as long as one man is under the dictation of another, as long as one man can in any form subjugate his fellow man, and as long as the means of existence can be monopolized by a certain class or certain individuals, there can be no liberty. Concerning the economic form of society, we advocate the communist or co-operative method of production.

As to the distribution of products, a free exchange between the organizations of productions without profit-mongery would take place. Machinery and the means of production in general would be the common servant, and the products certainly the common property of the whole of the people. In what respect do the social democrats differ from the anarchists? The state socialists do not seek the abolition of the state, but they advocate the centralization of the means of production in the hands of the government; in other words, they want the government to be the controller of industry. Now, a socialist who is not a state socialist must necessarily be an anarchist. It is utterly ridiculous for men like Dr. Aveling to state that they are neither state socialists nor anarchists. Dr. Aveling has to be either one or the other [Aveling toured the United States in 1886 with his companion, Eleanor Marx].

The term ‘anarchism’ is of Greek origin and means ‘without government,’ or, in other words, ‘without oppression.’ I only wish that every workingman would understand the proper meaning of this word. It is an absurd falsehood if the capitalists and their hired editors say that anarchism is identical with disorder and crime. On the contrary, anarchism wants to do away with the now existing social disorder; it aims at the establishment of the real—the natural—order. I think every sensible man ought to conceive that where ruling exists on the one hand, there must be submission on the other. He who rules is a tyrant, and he who submits is a slave. Logically there can be no other outlet, because submission is the antithesis of rule. Anarchists hold that it is the natural right of every member of the human family to control themselves. If a centralized power—government—is ruling the mass of people (no matter whether this government ‘represents the will of the majority of the people’ or not) it is enslaving them, and a direct violation of the laws of nature. When laws are made there must be certain interests which cause their issue. Now every statute law, and consequently every violation thereof—crime— can be traced back to the institution of private property. The state protects the interests of the owners of private property (wealthy class), and therefore does not and cannot possibly protect the interests of the non-possessing people (the wage-workers), because the interests of both are of an opposite nature. The capitalists who have taken possession of the means of production—factories, machinery, land; etc., are the masters, and the workingmen who have to apply to the capitalists for the use of the means of production (for which they receive a small compensation in order to live), are the slaves. The interests of the capitalistic class are backed by the state (militia, sheriffs, and police) while the interests of the non-possessing people are not protected. Anarchists say that there should be no class interests, but that every human being should have free access to the means of existence and that the pantries of mother-earth should be accessible to all of her children. One part of the great human family has no right to deprive their brothers and sisters of their legitimate place at the common table, which is set so richly by generous mother nature for all. Anarchists, as well as all other thinking people, claim that in the present society a great number of people are deprived of a decent existence. We demand the re-installation of the disinherited! Is this a crime? Is this an outrage upon society? Are we therefore dangerous criminals, whose lives should be taken in the interests of the common good of society?

Yes, the anarchists demand the re-installation of the disinherited members of the human family. It is, therefore, quite natural that the privileged classes should hate them. Why, do not wrong doing parties always hate those who disclose the nature of their transactions and open the eyes of their ignorant victims? Certainly they do. The anarchists are very much hated by the extortioners; indeed, they are proud of it. To them, this is a proof that they are on the right road. But the ruling classes very cunningly play the role of the thief, who, when pursued by his discoverers, cries out, ‘stop the thief,’ and by this manipulation succeeds in making good his escape. The anarchists have proven that the existing form of society is based upon the exploitation of one class by another; in plain words, upon legalized robbery. They say that a few persons have no right whatever, to monopolize the resources of nature; and they urge the victims, the toilers, to take possession of the means of production, which belong to the people in common, and thus secure the full benefit of their toil. Anarchists do not want to deprive the capitalists of their existence, but they protest against the capitalists depriving the toilers of their right to a decent existence. Should the communistic form of production prevail, the capitalists of today would not have to starve; they would be situated just as comfortably and would be just as happy (yea, happier than they are now) as the rest of the people. But, certainly they would have to take an active part in the production and be satisfied with their respective share of the results of labour, performed in common with their fellowmen. The strongest bulwark of the capitalist system is the ignorance of its victims. The average toiler shakes his head like the incredulous Thomas, when one tries to make plausible to him that he is held in economic bondage. And yet this is so easily to be seen if one only takes the pains to think a little. Working at my trade alongside my colleagues, whom I tried to convince of my ideas, I used to tell them a story about some foxes:

‘Several foxes, in speculating about some scheme whichwould enable them to live without hunting for food themselves, succeeded at last in discovering one. They took possession of all the springs and other water-places. Now, as the other animals came to quench their thirst, the foxes said unto them: The water-places belong to us; if you want to drink, you must bring us something in return, you must bring us food for compensation. The other animals were foolish enough to obey, and, in order to drink, they had to hunt the whole day fat food for the foxes, so that they themselves had to live very meagerly.’

I asked one of my colleagues, who was prominent as a denunciator of socialism, what his opinion was concerning the just mentioned story. He said that the animals who were thus swindled by the foxes were very foolish in obeying them, and ought to drive the latter away from the water-places. When I directed his attention to the fact that a similar practice was being cultivated in modern society, with the only difference that the role of the foxes was occupied by the capitalists, and the water-places were represented by the means of production, and that he (my colleague) was very inconsistent in condemning the one and defending the other, he owed me the answer. This, for instance, illustrates the ignorance and indifference of average workingmen. In the case of the foxes, they see no more and no less than robbery in their schemes, while in the case of the capitalists they approve of their methods.

Many inconsistent objections to anarchism are being made by its opponents. Some people have the impression that in an anarchistic society, where there is nobody to govern and nobody to be governed, every person would be isolated. This is false. Men have implanted by nature an impulse to associate with their fellow men. In a free society men would form economic as well as social associations; but all organizations would be voluntary, not compulsory. As I have asserted before, laws and the violations thereof, crimes, are attributed to the institution of private property, especially to the unequal distribution of the means of existence, to degradation and want. When the institution of private property will be abolished; when economic and social equalities will be established; when misery and want will belong to the past, then crime will be unknown and laws will become superfluous. It is a wrong assertion when people claim that a man is a criminal because of a natural disposition to crime. A man, as a rule, is but the reflex of the conditions which surround him. In a society which places no obstacles on the road of free development of men, and which gives everybody an equal share in the pursuit of happiness, there will be no course which will induce men to become bad.

The legalized private-property system gives birth to crime and at the same time punishes it because it exists. The mother punishes her own child because it is born. Do away with the systems that produce evils and the latter will vanish. The removal of the cause is synonymous with the removal of the effects; but the social diseases will never be cured if you declare war against the victims and on the other hand defend the cause which produced them. If one has small pox it would not cure the disease if one would scratch the scabs off. The disease in this case is the system of private property, and the scabs its evil effects.

How will the anarchists realize their ideas? What means do they intend to employ to accomplish the realization of a free society? Much has been written and talked on this subject and, as an avowed anarchist, I will in plain terms give my individual opinion… ‘Anarchism’ itself does not indicate force; on the contrary it means peace. But I believe that everybody who has studied the true character of the capitalistic form of society, and who will not deceive himself, will agree with me that now and never will the ruling classes abandon their privileges peaceably. Anarchism demands a thorough transformation of society, the total abolition of the private property system. Now, history shows us that even reforms within the frame of the existing society have never been accomplished without the force of arms. Feudalism received its death blow through the great French revolution a century ago, which at the same time gave form to modern capitalism. Capitalism now is speedily attaining its most extreme character, that is, it is developing into monopolism. Wealth concentrates itself more and more in a few hands and the misery and poverty of the great mass of people is consequently enlarging in the same degree. The rich get richer and the poor poorer. Like the ruling classes in the eighteenth century, so the same classes at the eve of the nineteenth century are deaf to the complaints and warnings of the disinherited, and blind to the misery and degradation which surround their luxuriously outfitted palaces. The natural result will be that perhaps before the nineteenth century will wing its last hours the people will arise en masse, expropriate the privileged and proclaim the freedom of the human race. It is wrong if people assert that the anarchists will be responsible for the coming revolution. No, the drones of society are the parties who will have to answer to the charge of being the cause of the prospective uprising of the people; for the rich and mighty have ears and hear not, and eyes and yet see not.

To abolish chattel slavery in this country a long and awful war took place. Notwithstanding the fact that indemnification was offered for their losses, the slaveholders would not bestow freedom upon their slaves. Now, in my judgment, he who believes that the modem slave holders—the capitalists—would voluntarily, without being forced to do so, give up their privileges and set free their wage-slaves, are poor students. Capitalists possess too much egotism to give way to reason. Their egotism is so enormous that they even refuse to grant subordinate and insignificant concessions. Capitalists and syndicates, for instance, rather lose millions of dollars than to accept the eight-hour labour system. Would a peaceable solution of the social question be possible, the anarchists would be the first ones to rejoice over it.

But is it not a fact that on the occasion of almost every strike the minions of the institution of private property—militia, police, deputy sheriffs, yea, even federal troops—are being called to the scenes of the conflict between capital and labour, in order to protect the interests of capital? Did it ever happen that the interests of labour were guarded by these forces? What peaceable means should the toilers employ? There is, for example, the strike. If the ruling classes want to enforce the ‘law’ they can have every striker arrested and punished for ‘intimidation’ and conspiracy. A strike can only be successful if the striking workingmen prevent their places being occupied by others. But this prevention is a crime in the eyes of the law. Boycott! In several states the ‘courts of justice’ have decided that the boycott is a violation of the law, and in consequence thereof a number of boycotters have had the pleasure of examining the inner construction of penitentiaries ‘for conspiracy’ against the interests of capital. ‘But,’ says some apostle of harmony, ‘there is something left which will help us; there is the ballot.’ No doubt many people who say this are honest in their belief.

But scarcely did the workingmen participate in the elections as a class, many representatives of ‘law and order’ advocate a limitation (in many instances even the total abolition) of the right of the proletarian to vote. People who read the Chicago Tribune and Times and other representative capitalistic organs, will confirm my statement. The propaganda among capitalists in favour of limiting the right to vote to tax payers—property owners—only, is increasing constantly, and will be realized whenever the political movement of the workingmen becomes really dangerous to the interests of capital. The ‘Law and Order League’ of capitalists recently organized all over the country to defeat the demands of organized labor, has declared that the workingmen must not be allowed to obtain power over the ballot box. They have so resolved everywhere.

The anarchists are not blind. They see the development of things and predict that a collision between the plebeians and patricians is inevitable. Therefore in time for the coming struggle—to arms! If threatening clouds are visible on the horizon, I advise my fellow man to carry an umbrella with him, so he will not get wet. Am I then the cause of the rain? No. So let me say plainly that, in my opinion, only by the force of arms can the wage slaves make their way out of capitalistic bondage.

As the court as well as the states attorney have plainly said, the verdict of death was rendered for the purpose of crushing the anarchistic and the socialistic movement. But I am satisfied that just the contrary has been accomplished by this barbarous measure. Thousands of workingmen have been led by our ‘conviction’ to study anarchism, and if we are executed, we can ascend the scaffold with the satisfaction that by our death, we have advanced our noble cause more than we could possibly have done had we grown as old as Methusalah.

The Chicago Anarchists: Michael Schwab

Michael Schwab (1853-1898) was the co-editor, with August Spies, of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, the German language anarchist newspaper published in Chicago from 1884 t0 1910. He only briefly attended the May 4, 1886  Haymarket protest meeting, and left before the bomb was thrown. Nevertheless, he was convicted and sentenced to death, commuted to life imprisonment. He was pardoned by Governor Altgeld in 1893, and died in 1898 from a respiratory disease he contracted in prison.

Schwab was a proponent of the “Chicago Idea,” the proto-syndicalist doctrine which saw the role of trade unions as pressing for the immediate betterment of working conditions, such as the achievement of the 8 hour day, while preparing the workers to overthrow the capitalist system, replacing it with anarchist communism. In the following excerpts from his trial speech, Schwab describes the misery of the working classes in Europe and the United States, and sets forth a socialist critique of capitalism based on the labour theory of value. He regarded anarchy as a society based  on reason without any coercive authority.

We contend for communism and anarchy—why? If we had kept silent, stones would have cried out. Murder was committed day by day. Children were slain, women worked to death, men killed inch by inch, and these crimes are never punished by law. The great principle underlying the present system is unpaid labour. Those who amass fortunes, build palaces, and live in luxury, are doing that by virtue of unpaid labour. Being directly or indirectly the possessors of land and machinery, they dictate their terms to the workingman. He is compelled to sell his labour cheap, or to starve. The price paid him is always far below the real value. He acts under compulsion, and they call it a free contract. This infernal state of affairs keeps him poor and ignorant, an easy prey for exploitation.

I know what life has in store for the masses. I was one of them. I slept in their garrets, and lived in their cellars. I saw them work and die. I worked with girls in the same factory—prostitutes they were, because they could not earn enough wages for their living. I saw females sick from overwork, sick in body and mind on account of the lives they were forced to lead. I saw girls from ten to fourteen years of age working for a mere pittance. I heard how their morals were killed by the foul and vile language and the bad example of their ignorant fellow workers, leading them on to the same road of misery, and as an individual I could do nothing. I saw families starving and able-bodied men worked to death. That was in Europe. When I came to the United States, I found that there were classes of workingmen who were better paid than the European workmen, but I perceived that the state of things in a great number of industries was even worse, and that the so-called better paid skilled labourers were degrading rapidly into mere automatic parts of machinery. I found that the proletariat of the great industrial cities was in a condition that could not be worse. Thousands of labourers in the city of Chicago live in rooms without sufficient protection from the weather, without proper ventilation, where never a stream of sunlight flows in. There are hovels where two, three and four families live in one room. How these conditions influence the health and the morals of these unfortunate sufferers, it is needless to say. And how do they live? From the ash barrels they gather half-rotten vegetables, in the butcher shops they buy for some cents offal of meat, and these precious morsels they carry home to prepare from them their meals. The dilapidated houses in which this class of labourers live need repairs very badly, but the greedy landlord waits in most cases till he is compelled by the city to have them done. Is it a wonder that diseases of all kinds kill men, women and children in such places by wholesale, especially children? Is this not horrible in a so-called civilized land where there is plenty of food and riches? …What these common labourers are today, the skilled labourers will be tomorrow. Improved machinery that ought to be a blessing for the workingman, under existing conditions turns for him to a curse. Machinery multiplies the army of unskilled labourers, makes the labourer more dependent upon the men who own the land and the machines. And that is the reason that socialism and communism got a foothold in this country…

Socialism, as we understand it, means that land and machinery shall be held in common by the people. The production of goods shall be carried on by producing groups which shall supply the demands of the people. Under such a system every human being would have an opportunity to do useful work, and no doubt would work. Four hours’ work every day would suffice to produce all that, according to statistics, is necessary for a comfortable living. Time would be left to cultivate the mind, and to further science and art…

Is it not strange that when anarchy was tried nobody ever told what anarchy was. Even when I was on the witness stand, and asked the state’s attorney for a definition of anarchy, he declined to give it. But in their speeches he and his associates spoke very frequently about anarchy, and it appeared that they understood it to be something horrible—arson, rapine, murder. In so speaking, Mr. Grinnell and his associates did not speak the truth. They searched the Alarm and the Arbeiter-Zeitung… In the columns of these papers it is very often stated what we, the “anarchists,” understood by the term anarchy. And we are the only competent judges in this matter. As soon as the word is applied to us and our doctrine, it carries with it the meaning which we, the anarchists, saw fit to give to it. “Anarchy” is Greek, and means, verbatim, without rulership; not being ruled. According to our vocabulary, anarchy is a state of society in which the only government is reason.

A state of society in which all human beings do right for the simple reason that it is right, and hate wrong because it is wrong. In such a society, no laws, no compulsion will be necessary. The attorney of the State was wrong when he said: “Anarchy is dead.” Anarchy, up to the present day, has existed only as a doctrine, and Mr. Grinnell has not the power to kill any doctrine whatever… Anarchy is a dream, but only in the present. It will be realized. Reason will grow in spite of all obstacles. Who is the man that has the cheek to tell us that human development has already reached its culminating point? I know that our ideal will not be accomplished this or next year, but I know that it will be accomplished as near as possible, some day, in the future. It is entirely wrong to use the word anarchy as synonymous with violence. Violence is one thing and anarchy is another. In the present state of society violence is used on all sides, and, therefore, we advocated the use of violence against violence, but against violence only, as a necessary means of defence.

If I had never seen life as it is, I never would have taken to foretelling the coming downfall of this murderous system, and might now cry out like the learned and the ignorant mobsters: “Hang the anarchists!” instead of living in the shadow of the gallows. Seeing the terrible abuses with my own eyes, seeing how girls became prostitutes, before they knew it, observing the slaughter of the little ones, the killing of workingmen by slow degrees, corruption, misery, crime, hypocrisy, poverty, dirt, ignorance, brutality and hunger everywhere, and conceiving that all those things are the legitimate children of the capitalistic system, which, by establishing the right for single persons to possess the means of production and the land, makes the mass of the people wretched, I became a “kicker.” For an honest and honourable man only one course was left, and I became an opponent to the existing order of things, and was soon called an anarchist.

What are my views? If we socialists, communists and anarchists held the views malicious or ignorant hirelings impute to us in their writings, we would simply be madmen who should be confined in an insane asylum forever…

The modern communist holds that labour is the fountain of all wealth and all culture and that, because useful labour only is possible by association of all mankind, the fruits of labour belong to all mankind. Even land has no value except where it can be put into use by labour. No empty lot in a city would have the least value, if labour had not built around it houses and streets, if business was not going on near that lot. We know further, that labour is not paid its full value; if this were the case, it would be unprofitable to employ labour and would not be done. Let one man work alone for himself, he never could grow rich, although even in such a case his knowledge would be the fruit of the work of others, the labour of generations. And because the latter is the case, the communist wants education, culture and knowledge for all…

The sentence: ‘Property is robbery,’ is literally true… The socialists and communists know further that the capitalistic system requires always expansion. The so-called profits—that is, the fruit of the labour withheld by the employer—are transformed into capital, to gain for him new profits. New factories are built, more machines set to work, new markets are sought for, if necessary by war. More and more nations are drawn into competition. It begins to become difficult to find buyers for the goods; each nation, each corporation, each capitalist wages war against the other for supremacy. He who sells cheapest holds the market. But not only this is required; he who is first in the market, he who can supply the demand in any emergency quick and cheap, will win the battle.

This brings in speculation. The demand of the market is but limited, but the capitalists of all industrial countries are busy to glut it, to overflood it with the products of their factories. To come out all right from this insane race for money, it is necessary to supply cheap and quick, so as to leave other competitors behind. The greater the plant, the better the machines, the cheaper the workmen, the more probable is victory. The smaller manufacturer is soon driven from the contest and forced to close his establishment; new inventions of labour saving machines throw workmen out of employment and compel these forces to look out for new work, as machines tend to transform skilled labour into common labour. The competition for work among workingmen grows to fearful dimensions and brings wages down to a minimum. But this in turn has its effect on production, and the battle wages more fearful than ever. But now reaction sets in. Millions of workmen are starving and leading the lives of vagabonds. Even the most ignorant wage-slave commences to think. The common misery makes it clear to them that they must combine, and they do it. The great levellers, the machines, destroyed the guild-pride of olden times. The carpenter feels that he has a common interest with the farm hand, and the printer with the hod-carrier, the German learns that his interest is that of the Negro, of the Frenchman, of the American… The workingmen learn that the capitalistic system, although necessary for some time, must make room for universal co-operation; that the land and means of production must pass from the hands of speculators, private individuals into the hands of the producing masses; this is communism.

Any thinking man must concede that strikes, boycotts, co-operation on a small scale and other means will not and cannot better the condition of the working-classes, not even so-called factory laws can bring the sought for result about. It is true the workingmen cannot help to use these insufficient means, often enough they are forced upon him. They must be looked on as means of education. Man learns by failures. A little baby who commences to stand on his feet, tumbles down many and many a time, before his limbs gain sufficient strength to walk. Many and many a time it tries to raise itself, till at last the great feat is accomplished. In all these fights, in striking, boycotting, going into politics, yes, even in street riots, the young Hercules collects strength to throttle the serpent— the capitalistic system. The workingmen may be sometimes wrong, why not, the baby sometimes tries to raise itself by means of the table-cloth, thus bringing down the dishes, but his impulse to raise is all right, and therefore the workingman should continue to try raising his condition, even if he sometimes brings down the dishes.

Now as to anarchism. Anarchism is order without government. We anarchists say that anarchism will be the natural outgrowth of universal co-operation (communism). We say that, when poverty has vanished and education is common property of the people, that then reason will reign supreme. We say that crime will belong to the past and that the misdeeds of erring brethren can be righted by other means than those of today. Most of the crimes of our days are engendered directly by the system of today, the system which creates ignorance and misery.

We anarchists do believe that the time is near at hand when the working people will demand their rights of their exploiters, and we further believe that the majority of the people will rebel against the slave-holders of today, aided by the slums of the cities and duped people of the country. This struggle, in our opinion, is inevitable.

The Haymarket Martyrs: Anarchy on Trial (1886)

On May 3, 1886, the Chicago police shot and killed several striking workers. At the time, Chicago was the centre of a militant working class movement with significant anarchist involvement. The Chicago anarchists had been instrumental in creating the North American International Working People’s Association (IWPA) in 1883, which drew its inspiration from the anti-authoritarian wing of the so-called First International, in which Michael Bakunin (1814-1876), Carlo Cafiero (1846-1892) and many other anarchists played a prominent role (Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE to 1939), Chapter 6). The IWPA’s program was largely written by the anarchist collectivist and advocate of armed struggle, Johann Most (1846-1906). Consistent with the view of the anarchists in the First International, the IWPA declared that the workers “must achieve their liberation by their own efforts.” But because, as “in former times a privileged class never surrendered its tyranny, neither can it be expected that the capitalists of this age will give up their rulership without being forced to do it,” the IWPA invoked the example of the American Revolution and War of Independence in support of a new revolution of the toiling masses: “By force our ancestors liberated themselves from political oppression, by force their children will have to liberate themselves from economic bondage. ‘It is, therefore, your right, it is your duty,’ says [Thomas] Jefferson-‘to arm!'” (Anarchism, Volume One, Selection 55).

On May 4, 1886, a protest meeting was held in the Haymarket area of Chicago to denounce the police violence. Two prominent IWPA members, August Spies and Albert Parsons, spoke at the meeting. While another Chicago anarchist, Samuel Fielden, was making his concluding remarks, the police ordered the crowd to disperse, a bomb was thrown, the police opened fire into the crowd and scores of people were killed and injured. Despite the fact that most of the victims, including several police officers, had been shot by the police themselves, eight Chicago anarchists were arrested, tried and convicted of murder. After four of them  (Parsons, Spies, George Engel and Adolph Fischer) were executed on Novermber 11, 1887 (a fifth, Louis Lingg, committed suicide before the executions), they became known as the Haymarket Martyrs.

Originally, I had planned to devote an entire chapter to the Haymarket Martyrs in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Ideas, but due to space limitations was unable to do so (I did include the IWPA’s program, the “Pittsburgh Proclamation,” as Selection 55). The Haymarket Martyrs made lengthy speeches at their trial in which they presented a clear exposition of views then current among revolutionary anarchists in Europe and the Americas. As a result of their trial and executions, their expositions of anarchist ideas received wide publicity, particularly within the international anarchist movement, which commemorated their executions every November 11th. The Chicago anarchists advocated armed struggle, as noted above, but also worked for immediate change to benefit the working class, such as the 8 hour day. For them, anarchism was a form of socialism. Their critique of capitalism was informed not only by the writings of European anarchists, but by Karl Marx’s analysis in Capital. In his book, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis, which Albert Parsons wrote and edited while awaiting execution, he included extensive excerpts from both Marx’s Capital and the Communist Manifesto. Bakunin himself had translated the Communist Manifesto into Russian, Johann Most had published a popular summary of the main themes from Marx’s Capital, and the Pittsburgh Proclamation itself contained passages taken from the Communist Manifesto. Errico Malatesta was later to remark that anarchists of this era, himself included, and Bakunin before them,  were “too Marxistin their “political economy and in the interpretation of history” (Life and Ideas, page 209).

It was Peter Kropotkin who developed a more original anarchist “political economy” in The Conquest of Bread (first published in 1892), in which he  also criticizes Marx’s analysis in Capital (the 1995 Cambridge University Press edition includes additional critical remarks on Marx’s Capital taken from Kropotkin’s Memoirs). In Modern Science and Anarchism (first published in 1901), Kropotkin presents a critique of Marx’s theory of surplus value. At the time of the trial of the Chicago anarchists, Kropotkin’s writings were just being introduced to English language readers. In 1886, Kropotkin help found and began writing for the venerable English anarchist publication, Freedom, in London. Parsons included two articles by Kropotkin in Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis, “The Scientific Basis of Anarchy” and “The Coming Anarchy,” which had only just been published in the February and August 1887 editions of the English journal, The Nineteenth Century, while Parsons was awaiting execution (Kropotkin’s two articles were reprinted in 1891 as a single pamphlet, Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles). Parsons also included in his book an 1884 essay by Elisée Reclus, “An Anarchist on Anarchy,” which I hope to post at a later date.

What follows is the first in a series of excerpts I will be posting from the speeches the Haymarket Martyrs delivered at their trial. This first post is taken from the speech of August Spies (1855-1887). He refers to Police Inspector Bonfield, a sadistic brute who specialized in cracking the heads of striking workers, and whose men were responsible for shooting on the crowd, and prosecuting Attorney Grinnell, who orchestrated the conviction and judicial murder of the Haymarket Martyrs. During the trial itself, Grinnell was successful in preventing the defendants from explaining their anarchist views, arguing that they and not anarchism were on trial. Yet in his concluding address to the jury, he said that “anarchy is on trial,” urging them to convict the defendants and to condemn them to death on the basis of their political views, as there was no real evidence connecting them to the bomb that was thrown on May 4, 1886. Spies was immortalized by the words he cried out just before he was hanged: “the day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”

August Spies


It is not likely that the honorable Bonfield and Grinnell can conceive of a social order not held intact by the policeman’s club and pistol, nor of a free society without prisons, gallows, and State’s attorneys. In such a society they [would] probably fail to find a place for themselves. And is this the reason why anarchism is such a ‘pernicious and damnable doctrine?’

Grinnell has intimated to us that anarchism was on trial. The theory of anarchism belongs to the realm of speculative philosophy. There was not a syllable said about anarchism at the Haymarket meeting. At that meeting the very popular theme of reducing the hours of toil was discussed. But, ‘anarchism is on trial’ foams Mr. Grinnell. If that is the case, your honor, very well; you may sentence me, for I am an anarchist. I believe with Buckle, with Paine, Jefferson, Emerson, and Spencer, and many other great thinkers of this century, that the state of castes and classes—the state where one class dominates over and lives upon the labor of another class, and calls this order—yes: I believe that this barbaric form of social organization, with its legalized plunder and murder, is doomed to die, and make room for a free society, voluntary association, or universal brotherhood, if you like. You may pronounce the sentence upon me, honorable judge; but let the world know that in A. D. 1886, in the State of Illinois, eight men were sentenced to death because they believed in a better future; because they had not lost their faith in the ultimate victory of liberty and justice!

‘You have taught the destruction of society and civilization,’ says the tool and agent of the Bankers’ and Citizens’ Association, Grinnell. That man has yet to learn what civilization is. It is the old, old argument against human progress. Read the history of Greece, of Rome; read that of Venice; look over the dark pages of the church, and follow the thorny path of science. ‘No change! No change! You would destroy society and civilization!’ has ever been the cry of the ruling classes. They are so comfortably situated under the prevailing system that they naturally abhor and fear even the slightest change. Their privileges are as dear to them as life itself, and every change threatens these privileges. But civilization is a ladder whose steps are monuments of such changes! Without these social changes—all brought about against the will and the force of the ruling classes—there would be no civilization. As to the destruction of society which we have been accused of seeking, sounds this not like one of Aesop’s fables—like the cunning of the fox? We, who have jeopardized our lives to save society from the fiend—the fiend who has grasped her by the throat; who sucks her life-blood, who devours her children—we, who would heal her bleeding wounds, who would free her from the fetters you have wrought around her; from the misery you have brought upon her—we her enemies!!

Honorable judge, the demons of hell will join in the laughter this irony provokes!

We have preached dynamite. Yes, we have predicted from the lessons history teaches, that the ruling classes of today would no more listen to the voice of reason than their predecessors; that they would attempt by brute force to stay the wheel of progress. Is it a lie, or was it the truth we told? Are not already the large industries of this once free country conducted under the surveillance of the police, the detective, the military and the sheriffs—and is this return to militancy not developing from day to day? American sovereigns—think of it—working like galley convicts under military guards! We have predicted this, and predict that soon these conditions will grow unbearable. What then? The mandate of the feudal lords of our time is slavery, starvation and death! This has been their program for the past years. We have said to the toilers, that science had penetrated the mystery of nature—that from Jove’s head once more has sprung a Minerva—dynamite! If this declaration is synonymous with murder, why not charge those with the crime to whom we owe the invention? To charge us with an attempt to overthrow the present system on or about May 4th by force, and then establish anarchy, is too absurd a statement, I think, even for a political office-holder to make. If Grinnell believed that we attempted such a thing, why did he not have Dr. Bluthardt make an inquiry as to our sanity? Only mad men could have planned such a brilliant scheme, and mad people cannot be indicted or convicted of murder. If there had existed anything like a conspiracy or a pre-arrangement, does your honor believe that events would not have taken a different course than they did on that evening and later?

This ‘conspiracy’ nonsense is based upon an oration I delivered on the anniversary of Washington’s birthday at Grand Rapids, Mich., more than a year and a half ago. I had been invited by the Knights of Labor for that purpose. I dwelt upon the fact that our country was far from being what the great revolutionists of the last century had intended it to be. I said that those men if they lived today would clean the Augean stables with iron brooms, and that they, too, would undoubtedly be characterized as ‘wild socialists.’ It is not unlikely that I said Washington would have been hanged for treason if the revolution had failed. Grinnell made this ‘sacrilegious remark’ his main arrow against me. Why? Because he intended to inveigh the know-nothing spirit against us. But who will deny the correctness of the statement? That I should have compared myself with Washington, is a base lie. But if I had, would that be murder? I may have told that individual who appeared here as a witness that the workingmen should procure arms, as force would in all probability be the ultima ratio; and that in Chicago there were so and so many armed, but I certainly did not say that we proposed to ‘inaugurate the social revolution.’ And let me say here: Revolutions are no more made than earthquakes and cyclones. Revolutions are the effect of certain causes and conditions. I have made social philosophy a specific study for more than ten years, and I could not have given vent to such nonsense! I do believe, however, that the revolution is near at hand—in fact, that it is upon us. But is the physician responsible for the death of the patient because he foretold that death? If anyone is to be blamed for the coming revolution it is the ruling class who steadily refused to make concessions as reforms became necessary; who maintain that they can call a halt to progress, and dictate a stand-still to the eternal forces, of which they themselves are but the whimsical creation…

If the opinion of the court given this morning is good law, then there is no person in this country who could not lawfully be hanged. I vouch that, upon the very laws you have read, there is no person in this courtroom now who could not be ‘fairly, impartially and lawfully’ hanged! Fouche, Napoleon’s right bower, once said to his master: ‘Give me a line that any one man has ever written, and I will bring him to the scaffold.’ And this court has done essentially the same. Upon that law every person in this country can be indicted for conspiracy, and, as the case may be, for murder. Every member of a trade union, Knights of Labor, or any other labor organization, can then be convicted of conspiracy, and in cases of violence, for which they may not be responsible at all, of murder, as we have been. This precedent once established, and you force the masses who are now agitating in a peaceable way into open rebellion! You thereby shut off the last safety valve—and the blood which will be shed, the blood of the innocent—it will come upon your heads!

…This verdict against us is the anathema of the wealthy classes over their despoiled victims—the vast army of wage workers and farmers. If your honor would not have these people believe this; if you would not have them believe that we have once more arrived at the Spartan Senate, the Athenian Areopagus, the Venetian Council of Ten, etc., then sentence should not be pronounced. But, if you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement—the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery—the wage slaves— expect salvation—if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there, and there, and behind you, and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.

The ground is on fire upon which you stand. You can’t understand it. You don’t believe in magical arts, as your grandfathers did who burned witches at the stake, but you do believe in conspiracies; you believe that all these occurrences of late are the work of conspirators! You resemble the child that is looking for his picture behind the mirror. What you see, and what you try to grasp is nothing but the deceptive reflex of the stings of your bad conscience. You want to ‘stamp out the conspirators’— the ‘agitators?’ Ah, stamp out every factory lord who has grown wealthy upon the unpaid labor for his employees. Stamp out every landlord who has amassed fortunes from the rent of over-burdened workingmen and farmers. Stamp out every machine that is revolutionizing industry and agriculture, that intensifies the production and ruins the producer, that increases the national wealth, while the creator of all these things stands, amidst them, tantalized with hunger! Stamp out the railroads, the telegraph, the telephone, steam and yourselves—for everything breathes the revolutionary spirit.

You, gentlemen, are the revolutionists! You rebel against the effects of social conditions which have tossed you, by the fair hand of fortune, into a magnificent paradise. Without inquiring, you imagine that no one else has a right in that place. You insist that you are the chosen ones, the sole proprietors. The forces that tossed you into the paradise, the industrial forces, are still at work. They are growing more active and intense from day to day. Their tendency is to elevate all mankind to the same level, to have all humanity share in the paradise you now monopolize. You, in your blindness, think you can stop the tidal wave of civilization, and human emancipation by placing a few policemen, a few gatling guns, and some regiments of militia on the shore—you think you can frighten the rising waves back into the unfathomable depths, whence they have risen, by erecting a few gallows in the perspective. You, who oppose the natural course of things, you are the real revolutionists. You and you alone are the conspirators and destructionists!

…[S]ocialism does not mean the destruction of society. Socialism is a constructive and not a destructive science. While capitalism expropriates the masses for the benefit of the privileged class; while capitalism is that school of economics which teaches how one can live upon the labor (i.e., property) of the other; socialism teaches how all may possess property, and further teaches that every man must work honestly for his own living, and not be playing the ‘respectable board of trade man,’ or any other highly (?) respectable businessman or banker, such as appeared here as talesmen in the jurors’ box, with the fixed opinion that we ought to be hanged… Socialism in short, seeks to establish a universal system of co-operation, and to render accessible to each and every member of the human family the achievements and benefits of civilization, which, under capitalism, are being monopolized by a privileged class and employed, not as they should be, for the common good of all, but for the brutish gratification of an avaricious class. Under capitalism the great inventions of the past, far from being a blessing for mankind, have been turned into a curse! Under socialism the prophecy of the Greek poet, Antiporas, would be fulfilled, who, at the invention of the first water-mill, exclaimed: ‘This is the emancipator of male and female slaves’; and likewise the prediction of Aristotle, who said: ‘When, at some future age, every tool, upon command or by predestination, will perform its work as the art works of Daedalus did, which moved by themselves; or like the three feet of Hephaestus, which went to their sacred work instinctively, when thus the weaver shuttles will weave by themselves, then we shall no longer require masters and slaves.’ Socialism says this time has come, and can you deny it? You say: ‘Oh, these heathens, what did they know?’ True! They knew nothing of political economy; they knew nothing of christendom. They failed to conceive how nicely these man-emancipating machines could be employed to lengthen the hours of toil and to intensify the burdens of the slaves. These heathens, yes, they excused the slavery of one on the ground that thereby another would be afforded the opportunity of human development. But to preach the slavery of the masses in order that a few rude and arrogant parvenues might become ‘eminent manufacturers,’ ‘extensive packing-house owners,’ or ‘influential shoe-black dealers,’ to do this they lacked that specific Christian organ.

Socialism teaches that the machines, the means of transportation and communication are the result of the combined efforts of society, past and present, and that they are therefore rightfully the indivisible property of society, just the same as the soil and the mines and all natural gifts should be. This declaration implies that those who have appropriated this wealth wrongfully, though lawfully, shall be expropriated by society. The expropriation of the masses by the monopolists has reached such a degree that the expropriation of the expropriators has become an imperative necessity, an act of social self-preservation. Society will reclaim its own, even though you erect a gibbet on every street corner. And anarchism, this terrible ‘ism,’ deduces that under a co-operative organization of society, under economic equality and individual independence, the ‘State ‘—the political State—will pass into barbaric antiquity. And we will be where all are free, where there are no longer masters and servants, where intellect stands for brute force, there will no longer be any use for the policemen and militia to preserve the so-called ‘peace and order’—the order that the Russian general spoke of when he telegraphed to the Czar after he had massacred half of Warsaw, ‘Peace reigns in Warsaw.’

Anarchism does not mean bloodshed; does not mean robbery, arson, etc. These monstrosities are, on the contrary, the characteristic features of capitalism. Anarchism means peace and tranquility to all. Anarchism, or socialism, means the reorganization of society upon scientific principles and the abolition of causes which produce vice and crime. Capitalism first produces these social diseases and then seeks to cure them by punishment…

It is true we have called upon the people to arm themselves. It is true that we have told them time and again that the great day of change was coming. It was not our desire to have bloodshed. We are not beasts. We would not be socialists if [we] were beasts. It is because of our sensitiveness that we have gone into this movement for the emancipation of the oppressed and suffering. It is true we have called upon the people to arm and prepare for the stormy times before us.

This seems to be the ground upon which the verdict is to be sustained.

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce the people under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government and provide new guards for their future safety.”

This is a quotation from the Declaration of Independence. Have we broken any laws by showing to the people how these abuses, that have occurred for the last twenty years, are invariably pursuing one object, viz: to establish an oligarchy in this country as strong and powerful and monstrous as never before has existed in any country? I can well understand why that man Grinnell did not urge upon the grand jury to charge us with treason… You cannot try and convict a man for treason who has upheld the constitution against those who try to trample it under their feet. It would not have been as easy a job to do that, Mr. Grinnell, as to charge ‘these men’ with murder.

Now, these are my ideas. They constitute a part of myself. I cannot divest myself of them, nor would I, if I could. And if you think that you can crush out these ideas that are gaining ground more and more every day, if you think you can crush them out by sending us to the gallows—if you would once more have people to suffer the penalty of death because they have dared to tell the truth—and I defy you to show us where we have told a lie—I say, if death is the penalty for proclaiming the truth, then I will proudly and defiantly pay the costly price! Call your hangman. Truth crucified in Socrates, in Christ, in Giordano Bruno, in Huss, Galileo, still lives—they and others whose number is legion have preceded us on this path. We are ready to follow!