We are republishing here a series of articles that originally appeared in April 1986 under the title “One hundred years since the Haymarket frame-up.” The articles were published in the Bulletin, the newspaper of the Workers League, forerunner of the Socialist Equality Party in the US. Part I, Part II, Part III.
On the night of May 4, 1886, a crowd of several thousand workers gathered for a public rally at Haymarket Square in Chicago. Because the crowd was smaller than expected, it was moved to a different location a short distance away, to Desplaines Street and Crane’s Alley behind the Crane Brothers metal products factory.
The rally had been called by the International Workingmen’s Party of America and its two leading organs in Chicago, the Alarm and the German-language Arbeiter-Zeitung.
A day earlier, at least two workers had been killed in a violent confrontation with police at the McCormick Reaper Works on Blue Island Avenue. The workers had been locked out since February by the owner, Cyrus H. McCormick, Jr., scion of the famous inventor, who had brought in 300 Pinkertons to escort the scabs. These were, in turn, reinforced by hundreds of police.
On May 1, the first May Day, more than 300,000 workers nationwide, including 40,000 in Chicago, walked off the job in support of the demand for an eight-hour day.
On May 1, the first May Day, more than 300,000 workers nationwide, including 40,000 in Chicago, walked off the job in support of the demand for an eight-hour day. While the Eight-Hour Day Movement was led officially by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the US and Canada, the immediate forerunner of the American Federation of Labor in Chicago, it was under the leadership of the anarchists, in particular, those associated with the Alarm and Arbeiter-Zeitung.
The rally at Haymarket was called in response to the police violence the previous day at the reaper works and was proceeding peacefully, despite the buildup of tensions fueled by a vicious campaign in the capitalist press designed to provoke violence against the leaders of the movement in Chicago. The most prominent and popular of these leaders were the anarchists Albert Parsons and August Spies.
Despite the turmoil surrounding the eight-hour struggle in Chicago, it appeared as though the evening rally would end without incident. Samuel Fielden, another prominent anarchist, was addressing the crowd, which had dwindled to less than 1,000.
Fielden was finishing his remarks when police began advancing without warning on the remaining workers. As the workers began to disperse, a bomb exploded in the midst of the police, seriously injuring a number of them. One of the officers, Mathias J. Degan, died moments later from his wounds, and six more were to die over the next two weeks.
The police, led by the notorious Inspector John Bonfield, retaliated furiously, firing indiscriminately into the crowd, killing as many as eight workers and injuring many more. Later, a total of 67 casualties killed or wounded were counted.
What followed the bombing was the first great political witch hunt and frame-up trial involving working class fighters in the United States.
Eighteen months later, on November 11, 1887, four leading anarchists—Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George Engel—were executed by hanging at Cook County Jail. Another defendant, Louis Lingg, committed suicide the day before his scheduled execution. These men were the Haymarket Martyrs, and they occupy an honored place in the history of the class struggle both in the United States and internationally.
Two more anarchists, Michael Schwab and Samuel Fielden, were also convicted of murder in the death of Officer Degan. Also sentenced to death, they received a last-minute commutation from Governor Richard J. Oglesby. An eighth defendant in the trial, Oscar Neebe, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Neebe, along with Fielden and Schwab, were later pardoned by Oglesby’s successor, Governor John Peter Altgeld.
May 4,1986, marks the 100th anniversary of the Haymarket incident. What followed the bombing was the first great political witch hunt and frame-up trial involving working class fighters in the United States. It matched, in terms of the ferocity of the class hatred exhibited by the ruling class, the notorious Palmer Raids in 1919 and the frame-up and execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in the 1920s.
The centenary of Haymarket has produced a large number of publications, both articles and books. Among the most valuable is The Haymarket Tragedy, by Paul Avrich, Princeton University Press, which not only vividly details the Haymarket incident and the subsequent execution of four working class fighters, but also brings to life this formative period in the history of the American proletariat.