J. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) Currey.

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Alarm. It was a free press organ. It was a free speech newspaper."

The Alarm is an interesting example of the confusion of thought as well as the

carelessness of editing of the period. Side by side in its advertising columns,

under the head of "Socialist Books," were advertised Laurence Gronlund's "The

Cooperative Commonwealth" and Johann Most's "Revolutionary Warfare," the

1 one a sober attempt to describe the society of the future, the other a pamphlet


describing in detail the manufacture of dynamite and explosive bombs. In the
news columns, occasional translations from this hand book would be placed beside
sober and impressive indictments of our industrial system; while on the editorial
page would be mingled statistical argument, radical sentimentalism and incitations
to violence.

With respect to these incitations to violence, it should be recalled that the
journalism of those times was more easily jarred into violent utterance than it is
today. In denouncing their political foes, the Anarchists had at that time the ex-
ample of the reputable press, an example which in bad taste, incendiary language
and barbarity they could not easily surpass which they could surpass only in the
insistence with which they kept it up. These brief excerpts, which, together with
many more, were seized upon and quoted by the Anarchist, Socialist and labor jour-
nals all over the country, may be adduced. They date back a few years to the panic
of 1 877. They are possibly not authentic, they are very probably garbled but .
they do represent, after a fashion, the journalism of the period:

"Hand grenades should be thrown among these union sailors, who are striving
to obtain higher wages and less hours. By such treatment they would be taught a
valuable lesson, and other strikers could take warning from their fate. Chicago

"It is very well to relieve real distress wherever it exists, whether in the city
or in the country, but the best meal that can be given a ragged tramp is a leaden
one, and it should be supplied in sufficient quantities to satisfy the most voracious
appetite. New York Herald."

"When a tramp asks you for bread, put strychnine or arsenic on it and he will
not trouble you any more, and others will keep out of the neighborhood. Chicago

These passages are here quoted as they were printed in the Alarm.

Like these incitations to violence, those of the Anarchists were practically
negligible in their actual effect. They played, however, an important part in the
trial of the Haymarket Anarchists some two years later, after they had ceased to
be a part of Anarchist agitation. Aside from their importance in connection with
that trial, their interest lies chiefly in the psychology from which they spring, and
to which they give the clue. Before analyzing that psychology, an example of
these incitations to violence may be quoted. It is the "Letter to Tramps," printed
in the Alarm.

It is quoted here in its entirety:


"A word to the 35,000 now tramping the streets of this great city, with hands
in pockets, gazing listlessly about you at the evidences of wealth and pleasure of
which you own no part, not sufficient even to purchase a bit of food with which to
appease the hunger now gnawing at your vitals. It is with you and the hundreds
of thousands of others similarly situated in this great land of plenty, that I wish
to have a word.

"Have you not worked hard all your life, since you were old enough for your
labor to be of use in the production of wealth ? Have you not toiled long, hard and


laboriously in producing wealth? And in all those years of drudgery, do you not
know that you have produced thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of wealth,
which you did not then, do not now, and unless you ACT, never will own any part
in? Do you not know that when you were harnessed to a machine, and that
machine, harnessed to steam, and thus you toiled your ten, twelve and sixteen
hours in the twenty-four, that during this time in all these years you received only
enough of your labor product to furnish yourself the bare, coarse necessities of
life, and that when you wished to purchase anything for yourself and family, it
always had to be of the cheapest quality? If you wanted to go anywhere you had
to wait until Sunday, so little did you receive for your unremitting toil that you
dare not stop for a moment, as it were? And do you not know that with all your
pinching, squeezing and economizing, you never were enabled to keep but a few days
ahead of the wolves of want? And that at last when the caprice of your em-
ployer saw fit to create an artificial famine by limiting production, that the fires in
the furnace were extinguished, the iron horse to which you had been harnessed was
stilled, the factory door locked up, you turned upon the highway a tramp, with
hunger in your stomach and rags upon your back?

"Yet your employer told you that it was over production which made him close
up. Who cared for the bitter tears and heart-pangs of your loving wife and help-
less children, when you bid them a loving 'God bless you !' and turned upon the
tramper's road to seek employment elsewhere? I say, who cared for those heart-
aches and pains? You were only a tramp now, to be execrated and denounced as
,-i 'worthless tramp and vagrant' by that very class who had been engaged all those
years in robbing you and yours. Then can you not see that the 'good boss' or the
'bad boss' cuts no figure whatever? that you are the common prey of both, and that
their mission is simply robbery? Can you not see that it is the industrial system
and not the 'boss' which must be changed ?

"Now, when all these bright summer and autumn days are going by, and you
have no employment, and consequently can save up nothing, and when the winter's
blast sweeps down from the north, and all the earth is wrapped in a shroud of ice,
hearken not to the voice of the hypocrite who will tell you that it was ordained of
God that 'the poor ye have always" ; to the arrogant robber who will say to you
that you 'drank up all your wages last summer when you had work, and that is
the reason why you have nothing now, and the workhouse or the woodyard is too
good for you; that you ought to be shot." And shoot you they will if you present
your petitions in too emphatic a manner. So hearken not to them, but list.' Next
winter, when the cold blasts are creeping through the rents in your seedy garments,
when the frost is biting your feet through the holes in your worn-out shoes, and
when all wretchedness seems to have centered in and upon you ; when misery has
marked you for her own, and life has become a burden and existence a mockery;
when you have walked the streets by day and slept upon hard boards by night, and
at last determined by your own hand to take your life, for you would rather go
out into utter nothingness than to longer endure an existence which has become
such a burden, so, perchance, you determine to dash yourself into the cold em-
brace of the lake, rather than longer suffer thus. But halt before you commit this
last tragic act in the drama of your simple existence. Stop ! Is there nothing you
can do to ensure those whom you are about to orphan against a like fate? The
waves will only dash over you in mockery of your rash act ; but stroll you down the


avenues of the rich, and look through the magnificent plate windows into their
voluptuous homes, and here you will discover the very identical robbers who have
despoiled you and yours. Then let your tragedy be enacted here! Awaken them
from their wanton sports at your expense. Send forth your petition, and let them
read it by the red glare of destruction. Thus when you cast 'one long, lingering
look behind,' you can be assured that you have spoken to these robbers in the only
language which they have ever been able to understand; for they have never yet
deigned to notice any petition from their slaves that they were not compelled to
read by the red glare bursting from the cannon's mouth, or that was not handed
to them upon the point of the sword. You need no organization when you make
up your mind to present this kind of petition. In fact, an organization would be
a detriment to you; but each of you hungry tramps who read these lines, avail
yourselves of these little methods of warfare which Science has placed in the hands
of the poor man, and you will become a power in this or any other land.
"Learn the use of explosives!"


In order to understand the real quality of such writings, something must be
made perfectly plain concerning the personnel of the Anarchist movement. The
Anarchists were, in part, former Socialists who had grown cynical about political
methods, but who still desired what was in effect a political as well as an economic
revolution: in part, they were idealists after the manner of Thoreau and Tolstoi;
and for the rest they were workingmen who found in the Anarchist movement a
voice making loudly articulate their wrongs. All of these found themselves in a
movement permeated with the influence of Johann Most; not merely affected by
his idealism and his eloquence, but by his teachings in regard to violence. Gen-
erally, they accepted that doctrine along with the rest; and it was posible for any
of the elements of the Anarchist movement the disgruntled Socialist, the gentle
idealist, the dissatisfied workingman to take the doctrine of violence with sufficient
seriousness to act upon it. But as an actual matter of fact hardly any of them did
take it in that way. So far as the movement in general was concerned, violence
was a matter of talk and never a matter of action.

When the Mostian gospel first began to spread in America there were a certain
number of romantic spirits who were attracted by the secrecy, the close organiza-
tion and the terrorism, which were advocated and described in detail in his revolu-
tionary handbook; and there was a certain amount of futile and rather ridiculous imi-
tation of these things. Practical Mostism was, however, totally at variance with
the revolutionary tradition already well established in America, and it died out
harmlessly. The injection of such a personality as that of Louis Lingg into a
group was sometimes sufficient to cause a temporary revival of this spirit. But,
with such negligible exceptions, the Anarchist movement was (in spite of its dis-
carding of political methods) a political movement; its actions were open and ordi-
nary and legitimate. It proposed an end which was in the largest sense political,
and it relied on the methods of reason and persuasion, through speeches, pamphlets,
newspapers, etc., to gain adherents. Moreover, its members were for the most
part what are called peaceable and law-abiding citizens. The leaders were men
personally gentle, not accustomed to the use of firearms, and wholly unacquainted
with the manufacture or use of the deadly explosives to which they sometimes


referred with such sinister emphasis in their speeches and writings. This fact of
their personal peaceableness does not necessarily extenuate these Anarchist lead-
ers for their violent utterances; nor does the fact of the really peaceable character
of the Anarchist movement remove its responsibility for the doctrine of violence
which it sponsored. But it must be understood that these are facts. The ironic
contrast between the peaceable lives of the Anarchists and their occasional violent
utterances is a significant matter. The explanation of that contrast will lay bare
the psychology of the period.


In an earlier part of this sketch, in the analysis of the doctrine of violence,
there was an explanation of the psychology of bomb-throwing. But this is a dif-
ferent thing: it is the psychology of bomb-talking. Bombs were talked and written
about for a whole year by the Anarchists with no serious results whatever; for if
one remembers that it has never been proved who threw the Haymarket bomb, and
that it was certainly never traced to the Anarchists, the surprising fact appears
that there is no bomb-throwing to discuss in the history of Chicago Anarchism.
There is merely bomb-talking.

Why, then, did these men talk dynamite? It was done partly to attract at-
tention to their real beliefs it was a way of shocking the public into attention.
So desperate a means of securing an audience is only taken by a small faction
it is the sign of weakness.

Then, too, if lawmakers and employers could be persuaded of the existence
of a party ready to use violence to secure it ends, they might make concessions.
So the Anarchists did not resent and often helped to cultivate, the opinion that
they were dangerous men. The newspapers to some extent co-operated with the
Anarchists in building up the illusion. When news was scarce, a reporter would
interview some Anarchist and print a lurid story. To amuse these reporters
Spies kept on his desk at the Arbeiter-Zeitung office a piece of gaspipe that some-
one had left there. It was supposed to be a bomb ; it was the only bomb that Spies
had ever seen; when reporters asked, jocularly, if he had any bombs about, he
pointed with a smile to this one: the same piece of gaspipe later helped to hang
him. Thus the talk of dynamite was made largely in the American spirit of

But more essential than these causes was another something which may be
called the Idea of dynamite. In a movement which stood for the poor and op-
pressed, the symbolism of dynamite, though not by any means necessarily the
use of it, was bound to make a tremendous appeal. For here was a wonderful
new substance which made one poor man the equal of an army: it seemed created
as a sign to the oppressors of earth that their reign was not forever to endure.
This symbolism of dynamite it was, and not any actual interest in the use of it,
that made it so frequent a topic in Anarchist speeches and writings during a
certain period. It was, that is to say, a sentimental interest in dynamite. When
that interest had been exhausted by repetition, the matter was dropped. But
Parsons, in his speech in the Haymarket trial, gave so interesting and convincing
an elucidation of this symbolism that the passage is worth quoting in full:

"I am called a dynamiter. Why? Did I ever use dynamite? No. Did I
ever have any? No. Why, then, am I called a dynamiter? Listen, and I will


tell you. Gunpowder in the 15th century marked an era in the world's history.
It was the downfall of the mail-armor of the knight, the freebooter and the robber
of that period. It enabled the victims of the highway-robbers to stand off at
a distance in a safe place and defend themselves by the use of gunpowder and
make a ball enter and pierce into the flesh of their robbers and destroy them.
Gunpowder came as a democratic institution. It came as a republican insti-
tution, and the effect was that it immediately began to equalize and bring about
an equilibrium of power. There was less power in the hands of the nobility
after that; less power in the hands of the king; less power in the hands of those
who would plunder and degrade and destroy the people after that.

"So today, dynamite comes as the emancipator of man from the domination
and enslavement of his fellow man. . . . Dynamite is the diffusion of power.
It is democratic; it makes everybody equal. General Sheridan says: 'Arms
are worthless.' They are worthless in the presence of this instrument [the bomb].
Nothing can meet it. The Pinkertons, the police, the militia, are absolutely
worthless in the presence of dynamite. They can do nothing with the people
at all. It is the equilibrium. It is the annihilator. It is the disseminator of
authority ; it is the dawn of peace ; it is the end of war, because war cannot exist
unless there is somebody to make war upon, and dynamite makes that unsafe,
undesirable and absolutely impossible. It is a peace-maker; it is man's best
and last friend; it emancipates the world from the domineering of the few over
the many, because all government, in the last resort, is violence; all law, in the
last resort, is force. Force is the law of the universe ; force is the law of nature,
and this newly discovered force makes all men equal, and therefore free."


Up to a certain point, and in spite of its doctrine of violence, it is proper
to consider the Anarchist movement in America as a branch of the Socialist
movement. Many Anarchists, including some of the most notable ones, called
themselves indifferently Socialists and Anarchists. Many Socialists had joined the
Anarchists in the belief that here was a more effective kind of Socialist move-
ment. The Socialists who remained faithful were hard put to it to keep
the old organization intact. It was a losing struggle, for section after section
of the Socialists deserted to the Anarchist movement, and in the controversy
between the Freiheit and the Bulletin, the official organ of the Socialist La-
bor party, the former proved itself the more accomplished controversialist. The
Socialist numbers had dwindled in 1883 to about 1,500. The defeat of the So-
cialists seemed to be acknowledged when, in April, 1883, Philip Van Patten,
who had been for six years the national secretary of the Socialist Labor party,
and was one of its most capable and faithful officials, disappeared, leaving a
note announcing his intention of committing suicide. As a matter of fact, he en-
tered the government service; but his action accentuated the desperate condition
of the Socialist fortunes.

There was then, among the Socialists, a disheartened motion toward sur-
render to the Anarchists. When the Pittsburg convention of the latter had been
held, earlier in the year 1883, the Socialists had been invited to send delegates,
but they had declined, the national executive committee declaring that there could


be no common ground between Socialists and Anarchists. But when the Pitts-
burg Proclamation had been adopted, there was not apparent in it any such wide
difference from orthodox Socialist views as had been expected, and there fol-
lowed considerable discussion among Socialists on the question of union with the
Anarchists. In December, 1883, some prominent members of the Socialist Labor
party addressed a communication to the Chicago groups, proposing a consolida-
tion of the Socialists and Anarchists. "Reading the Proclamation of the Inter-
nationalists as adopted at the Pittsburg convention," they wrote, "we can hardly
find anything in it with which the Socialist Labor party has not always agreed,
except perhaps some obscure phrases of a reactionary coloring." The answer was
written by August Spies. He took the position that the Socialist Labor party
was a dying organization, and advised the members to dissolve into autonomous
groups, to affiliate with the International Working-People's Association in the
same manner as the groups already composing it. Practically the Socialists' over-
tures were rejected.

It was as well perhaps that they were. For the Socialist convention which
met late the same month, in Baltimore, though it was attended by only sixteen
delegates, drew a sharp line in its "proclamation" between the doctrines of So-
cialism and Anarchism, declaring: "We do not share the folly of the men who
consider dynamite bombs as the best means of agitation; we know full well that
a revolution must take place in the heads and in the industrial life of men before
the working class can achieve lasting success." At the same time, the conven-
tion made concessions to the revolutionary sentiments of the period by recommend-
ing politics as a means of propaganda only and expressing the conviction that
the privileged classes would never surrender their privileges until compelled by
force to do so; and changes were made in the constitution of the party, to bring
it in line with this feeling, the office of national secretary being abolished, the
powers of the national executive committee curtailed, and the sections accorded
greater autonomy in the administration of their affairs.

The declaration of the convention on the subject of Anarchism marked the
beginning of open struggle between the Socialists and Anarchists, and at the
same time the beginning of the gradual ascendency of the Socialist party. Paul
Grottkau and many who had called themselves "social revolutionists" rejoined
the Socialist party, and others definitely joined the other camp. The middle
ground had been cut away. While something of the intellectual confusion which
identified Socialism with Anarchism persisted, especially in Chicago, down to the
Haymarket riot, it was to an extent dispelled by the vigorous newspaper con-
troversies and public discussions between the two movements. The most notable
of the latter was the debate between Paul Grottkau and Johann Most, held in
Chicago, May 24, 1884. This debate, which was ably and eloquently conducted
on both sides, was reported stenographically and widely circulated. In consid-
ering that Chicago particularly retained the confusion in which Socialism and
Anarchism were identified, the whole Socialist movement of that city practi-
cally assuming an Anarchist cast it must be remembered what experience the
Chicago working people had had, only a few years before with the ballot, and
how cynical of merely political methods that stolen election must have made them.

As a part of the Socialist campaign against Anarchism, special lecture tours
were arranged, and Alexander Jonas and others went over the country, visiting


especially the centers of Anarchist activity, seeking to expose the weaknesses of
the Anarchist doctrine and to stimulate the discouraged Socialists. Leaflets to
the same end were printed and distributed by the thousands. At the same time,
ordinary propaganda was resumed, and some 160,000 pamphlets were made use
of in a systematic campaign of education in the years 1884 and 1885.

When the next national convention was held, in October, 1885, in Cincinnati,
the number of sections had increased from the SO of the year before to 42. None
of its newspapers in English had survived, and only two in German, to which
a third, a weekly magazine under the editorship of the philosopher, Joseph Dietz-
gen, was added. Meanwhile the International had about 80 groups, with 7,000
enrolled members, and two English, seven German, and two Bohemian papers.
During the following year the Socialist ranks increased to the total number of
about 60 sections, while the Anarchists suffered the shattering blow of the Haymar-
ket trial, an arbitrary end thus being put to a most interesting period of change in
the American radical movement which would otherwise, or so it seems to some, have
closed with the gradual renaissance of Socialist political ideals and the quiet de-
cadence of Anarchism.


The factor which chiefly operated to bring about the more dramatic climax
at the Haymarket was the eight-hour movement. A new industrial crisis had
set in about 1884, lasting till 1886. It was the second of the great panics which
began with the one of 1877 and have periodically since that time filled the streets
of the great cities with unemployed and desperate men. The Anarchists in Chi-
cago took advantage of the situation to hold large mass meetings, in particular
a great street demonstration on Thanksgiving Day, 1884. Though Anarchism,
or, for that matter, Socialism, made no general impression on working men, the
feeling grew among them that it was necessary to take some concerted action for
bettering their conditions. In response to this demand, perhaps, the 1884 con-
vention of the Federation of Trades and Labor Unions of the United States,
decided to revive the eight-hour movement.

The eight-hour movement was the successor of that ten-hour movement which
began with the very birth of capitalism in the early 19th century, as a protest
against its appalling industrial barbarities. About the middle of the century,
eight-hour laws of a more or less ineffectual kind were passed in this country
by the legislatures of various states and by congress; eight-hour leagues were
formed, and there were many strikes for an eight-hour day. The panic of '77

Online LibraryJ. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) CurreyChicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.2) → online text (page 53 of 55)