‘We are birds of the coming storm!’ These memorable words of our martyred comrade, August Spies, uttered at a meeting of Congregational ministers held in Chicago nearly a year before the Haymarket tragedy – a meeting at which I was also present – were the keynote of the then general revoluary spirit prevailing in this country.
The active revolutionary propaganda, more active perhaps in Chicago than elsewhere in the United States, was given a new impetus as a result of the Pittsburg Congress of the International Working People’s Association, held in October 1883. Both Parsons and Spies were delegates to the Congress, and both assisted in the famous manifesto issued by that body, Not only these two comrades, but all active members of the various International groups which were then and afterwards organized, based their revolutionary teachings chiefly upon that manifesto. To wage ‘energetic, relentless, revolutionary’ warfare against the existing class rule; to warn the tyrants of the world of the ‘scarlet and sable lights of the judgment day’; to urge the workers everywhere to unite against their oppressors – these were the tenets and this the spirit of revolutionary agitation which gave to our cause its martyrs.
A few ardent souls there were, like Louis Lingg and Adolph Fisher, who construing but a single meaning from the manifesto openly proclaimed the propaganda by deed, and there were not wanting those who waited but the opportunity to carry out desperate projects already conceived; but the great majority of our revolutionary comrades interpreted it more liberally, and were content, for the time being to speak and write in prophetic warning of the wrath to come, and to urge their hearers and readers to make thorough preparation for the revolution. Thus, comrade Parsons, in his famous lake front speeches, would point to the palaces which adorn that vicinity, and in his wonderfully persuasive and eloquent way would explain to the thousands of working people there assembled how their labor, their skill and their intelligence had planned, fashioned and built the costly edifices, and exhort them, as they loved liberty and justice, to prepare to wrest them from the hand of the exploiters. That Parsons was an earnest revolutionist there can be no doubt, and yet he comprehended in its full meaning the significant words of St. Just: ‘They who make half revolutions simply dig their own graves.’ On one occasion after a particularly successful meeting, he said to me with much feeling, ‘I earnestly hope the revolution will not come too soon; we have had enough failures.’
At the time of the Haymarket outbreak there were probably in Chicago alone fully three thousand enrolled members in the various International groups. The American group, of which Parsons, Fisher and Spies were all members had in January 1886 fully one hundred and fifty enrolled members. Some of the German groups had as many as four to six hundred. These (except the few spies, who were generally known) were all revolutionary Socialists and Anarchists.
Such, then, was the condition of the revolutionary movement and feeling on the first of May 1886. Thousands who had listened to the burning speeches of our martyred comrades, had become imbued with their spirit, their natural timidity mainly preventing their actual affiliation with us as group members. On the occasion of a demonstration held, I think, in November 1884, fully four thousand men and women were in line of march, every individual of them wearing a red badge. Walking eight abreast there was at least one red flag or banner to each file of marchers. Many think it was this imposing, and to the capitalists alarming demonstration which decided them upon that course of action which the daily press of Chicago forshadowed in these words: ‘Force the leaders into a violation of the law and then make examples of them.’
But the influence of the revolutionary teachings of our dead heroes and their living comrades was far more fully shown by the innumerable multitudes of sobbing, wailing mourners who filed one by one past the biers of the dead, and lined the streets along which moved the solemn funeral procession. I stood by the coffin of comrade Parsons on that gloomy Sunday morning (November 13, 1887) from seven o’clock until past ten, waiting for a cessation of the stream of weeping humanity, but when we finally closed the doors the line still reached far down the street, and this scene was repeated at the homes of each of the five victims of plutocratic hate. Thousands of the spectators who lined the streets were in tears. Cries and lamentations came from the windows and doorways. I noted even many police officers were weeping.
‘Hang these men and you kill Anarchy in this country!’, shouted Grinnell in his closing speech to the jury. When the capitalistic conspiracy had reached its climax the daily press took up the refrain and cried ‘Anarchy is dead.’ But the judicial murder of our comrades neither ‘killed’ anarchy nor abated in the least the revolutionary sentiment. On the contrary, the feeling which theretofore had concentered mainly in Chicago was by that act diffused more broadly throughout the land, nay, throughout the world. For some time after the hanging I was in a position to feel the changing radical pulse of the country. Dozens of letters were received from former enemies of the movement, and all breathed the same spirit: sympathy for the martyrs and condemnation of their murderers. From Dakota a young lady wrote that her only source of information of the trial was a Chicago daily paper, yet from the published reports she was satisfied that our comrades were innocent. Tens of thousands of copies of the speeches in court were distributed, a Chicago weekly journal published autobiographical sketches of the victims, from sales of which a handsome revenue was collected. There is no attempt to claim that a great number of those who were brought under the influence of the speeches or writings of our comrades were forthwith converted to anarchistic or revolutionary doctrines; but the influence of radical thought was sown broadcast, and added to the general feeling of unrest which already pervaded the country. Here in the West, among the middle and laboring classes there has been a tremendous revolution of feeling, and it is now difficult to find a man or woman who unreservedly approves the judicial murder of our friends. Many condemn the act outright. Samuel Fielden, now a resident of this locality, finds no difficulty in making friends, and there are those hereabout who make no secret of their revolutionary tendencies. It is true, most of them still call themselves ‘silverites’ and ‘populists’, and vent their epithets against the politicians of the two old parties, but while they charge their immediate wrongs to the ‘crime against silver’, they more or less feel that our comrades were foully dealt with for championing the cause of the oppressed, which is their cause. Thus one cause helps another of a similar tendency with the final result of bringing all victims of capitalistic oppression to feel that their wrongs are identical.
Many of our most intelligent and earnest workers were brought to us as a result of the Chicago judicial murder. Who that reads these lines has not gained a near friend and comrade by that crime? So while the revolutionary cause may not now be drawn in such specific lines in this country as during the active existence of the International groups, the work goes bravely on, and the cause does not fail or drop. One valuable lesson it seems to me may be learned from the past: the citadel of the enemy can be attacked and demolished better by the modern method of secret tunnelling and undermining than by the ancient one of the battering ram. A word to the wise is sufficient.
It has been charged by the enemies of our cause that the reason for revolutionary inaction at the climax of the tragedy of 1886-7was the cowardice and lack of preparation of the revolutionists. It is time they were undeceived. They owe the tragic culmination of their savage conspiracy and their own security not to any deficiency or lack of courage of the revolutionists of this country, but to the expressed wish of their victims while calmly awaiting the scaffold. Their united thought was well expressed by him who said with his dying breath:
‘There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.’
From: The Rebel [Boston, Mass.], v.1, n.3 (November 20th, 1895).