May 11, 2014

May Day Heroes Defy Death

Sukomal Sen

MICHAEL J Schaack, captain of police in Chicago at the time of the Haymarket episode, was in charge of arresting the revolutionaries and framing up charges against them during the historic trial. He was thus deeply involved in the matter from beginning to end and was also a witness to the last days of the martyrs and their martyrdom. Schaack later wrote a voluminous book Anarchy and Anarchists, detailing the Haymarket episode, its political background, the general strike on May 1, 1886 for eight hours' day, the events at Haymarket Square on May 4, arrests of the revo­lutionaries, investigations, framing-up of charges, the lengthy and elaborate trial, the death sentence and finally the hanging of the martyrs. Naturally, he wrote all this with deep animosity against the revolutionaries, from a policeman’s point of view, --- in fact the viewpoint of American ruling class at that time. The book was published from Chicago in 1889. But the heroism, courage and conviction of the revolutionaries were such that, in the concluding part of his book, Schaack could not belittle these qualities of his class enemies. As Schaack's narration of the conduct of revolutionaries mounting the gallows was that of an eye-witness, we feel inclined to quote some of his narratives. These show the valour, equanimity and depth of ideological conviction with which the heroes embraced martyrdom. THE ACCUSED ACCUSE THE BOURGEOIS SYSTEM After the trial, the jury pronounced its findings and held eight workers guilty of murder, giving seven of them “the penalty of death” and one “the penalty at imprisonment in the penitentiary for fifteen years.” The defendants then filed a motion to arrest the judgement but it was overruled by Judge Gary. He then asked August Spies if he had anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon him. Schaack writes: “The prisoner rose, with pallid cheeks and distended eyes, and advanced toward the bench with a hesitant tread. The mo­ment he faced the court he recovered his equanimity and pro­ceeded with much deliberation to give his reasons why he should not be sent to death on the gallows. He spoke in a firm, almost a menacing tone of voice, and seemed bent on posing as a mar­tyr to the cause of the labouring classes. In his very opening sentence he desired to have that understood. "In addressing this court," he said, "I speak as the representative of one class to the representative of another”….. He then referred to his conviction, holding that there was no evidence to show that he had any knowledge of the man who threw the bomb or that he had anything to do with its throwing. There being no evidence to establish his legal responsibility, he maintained, his "conviction and the execution of the sentence would be nothing less than wilful, malicious, and deliberate murder, as foul a murder as may be found in the annals of religious, political or any sort of persecution." He charged that the representatives of the state had "fabricated most of the testimony which was used as a pretence to convict," and that the defendants had been convicted by a jury picked out to convict...... “He rose in a towering passion and characterised the proceed­ing of the trial as "rascalities perpetrated in the name of the people.” He continued, "The contemplated murder of eight men, whose only crime is that they have dared to speak the truth, may open the eyes of these suffering millions; may wake them up. I have noticed that our conviction has worked mir­acles in this direction already. The class that clamours for our lives, the good devout Christians, have attempted in every way, through their newspapers and otherwise, to conceal the true and only issue in this case. By simply designating the defendants as “anarchists” and picturing them as a newly discovered species of cannibals, and by inventing shocking and horrifying stories of dark conspiracies said to be planned by them, these good Christians zealously sought to keep the naked fact from the working people and other righteous parties, namely: That on the evening of May 4, two hundred armed men, under the command of a notorious ruffian, attacked a meeting of peaceable citizens!” Spies claimed that his only offence was to espouse the cause of "the disinherited and disenfranchised millions." He warned, “If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labour movement…… then hang us!.... It is a subterranean fire, you cannot put it out.....” With rare example of dignity and conviction, Spies then con­cluded: “Now these are my ideas. They constitute a part of myself. I cannot divest myself of them, nor would I if I could….. 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.” A DEATHBLOW TO FREEDOM OF THOUGHT Michael Schawb, whose turn to speak came next, banteringly said that it was “idle and hypocritical to think about justice.” Dealing with the labour, he said, “Improved machinery, that ought to be a blessing for the workingmen, under the 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.....” Oscar Nube who followed regretted that be had not been given death penalty along with his other comrades. He told the judge, “Your honour, I am sorry I am not to be hung with the rest of the men.” In a defiant speech Adolph Fischer said, “The more the be­lievers in just causes are persecuted, the more quickly will their ideas be realised. For instance, in rendering such an unjust and barbarous verdict, the twelve “honourable men" in the jury box have done more for the furtherance of anarchism than the convicted have accomplished in a generation. This verdict is a deathblow to free speech, free press and free thought in this coun­try and the people will be conscious of it, too.” Louis Lingg, the youngest of the accused, was full of abhor­rence and anger. Challengingly, he said, “I tell you frankly and openly, I am for force. I have already told Captain Schaack, "If they use cannon against us, we shall dynamite against them." I repeat that, with all my powers, so long as breath remains in me, I shall combat it…. let me assure you that I die happy on the gallows….. In this hope do I say to you: I despise you, I despise your order, your laws, your force-propped authority. Hang me for it!” Captain Schaack writes: “George Engel appeared the least concerned of all when it came his turn to respond to the court's question as to reasons he might have against the infliction of the death penalty.” Engel said, “I..... joined the International Working People's Association that was just being organised. The members of that body have the firm conviction that the workingman can free himself from the tyranny of capitalism only through force, just as all advances of which history speaks have been brought about through force alone.....” Then turning to the laws of the American government he asked, “Can anyone feel any respect for a government that accords rights only to the privileged clas­ses, and none for the workers? We have seen but recently how the coal barons combined to form a conspiracy to raise the price of coal, while at the same time reducing the already low wages of their men. Are they accused of conspiracy on that account? But when workingmen dare ask for an increase in their wages, the militia and the police are sent out to shoot them down. “For such a government as this I can feel no respect, and will combat them, despite their power, despite their police, despite their spies. “I hate and combat, not the individual capitalist, but the sys­tem that gives him such privileges. My greatest wish is that workingmen may recognise who are their friends and who are their enemies.” FARCICAL TRIAL CHALLENGED Samuel Fielden, when his turn came, dwelt at length on the problems of the working class and denied all charges brought against him. Referring to the farcical trial he said: “We claim that the foulest criminal that could have been picked up in the slums of any city of Christendom, or outside of it, would never have been convicted on such testimony as has been brought in here, if he had not been a dangerous man in the opinion of the privileged classes. We claim that we are convic­ted not because we have committed murder. We are convicted because we were very energetic in advocacy of the rights of the labour.....” He then poetically concluded, “Today as the beautiful autumn sun kisses with balmy breeze the cheek of every free man, I stand here never to bathe my head in its rays…... I trust the time will come when there will be a better understanding, more intelligence, and above the mountains of inequity, wrong and corruption, I hope the sun of righteousness and truth and justice will come to bathe in the balmy light of an emancipated world.” Albert R Parsons' lengthy speech was a counter-indictment of the judiciary, the capitalists and their agents and the American government. Schaack writes, “He be­gan by declaring that the trial had been conducted with "pasaion and anger," and pronounced the verdict as one passion, born in passion, nurtured in passion, and the sum totality of the organised passion of the city of Chicago." Turning to the mockery of the trial, he said, “The conviction of a man, your honour, does not necessarily prove that he is guilty. Your law books are filled with instances where men have been carried to the scaffold and after their death it has been proven that their execution was a judicial murder. Now, what end can be subserved in hurrying this matter through in the manner in which it has been done? Where are the ends of justice subserved, and where is truth found in hurrying seven human beings…... to the scaffold and an ignominious death?.... A judge may also be an unjust man. Such things have been known.” As for the Haymarket meeting and the police outrage, he questioned the assertion that the convicts had thrown the bomb in the Haymarket. “You say that I did it, or you say that I know of it. Where is the proof, gentlemen of the prosecution? You have none. You didn't have any.” Making a counter-charge, he asserted, “I say that a Pinkerton man, or a member of the Chicago Police force itself, had as much inducement to throw that bomb as I had, and why? Because it would demonstrate the necessity for their existence and result in an increase of their pay and their wages..... My own deliberate opinion concerning this Haymarket affair is that the death-dealing missile was the work, the deliberate work…. of those who themselves charge us with the deed. I am not alone in the view of the matter.” He quoted from Chicago mayor Harrison’s interview to New York World (which was reproduced in the Tribune of Chicago) in regard to the story of bomb throwing. It said: “I do not believe there was any intention on the part of Spies and those men to have bombs thrown at the Haymarket. If so, why was there but one thrown? It was just as easy for them to throw a dozen or fifty, and to throw them in all parts of the city, as it was to have thrown one. And again, if it was intended to throw bombs that night, the leaders would not have been there at all…. they would have been in a safe place. No, it cannot be shown that there was any intention on the part of these individuals to kill that particular man who was killed at the Haymarket meeting.” Parsons nailed down the charge of bomb-throwing and exposed the hypocrisy of the prosecution witnesses when he said, “Six of these condemned men were not even pre­sent at the Haymarket meeting when the tragedy occurred. One .of them was five miles away, at the Deering Harvester works, in Lake View, addressing a mass meeting of two thousand workingmen. Another was at home, in bed, and knew not of the meeting being held at all until the next: day.” These facts stood uncontradicted in the court, he said. Parsons challenged the verdict also on the ground that he was away fro the city, in Wankesha Wis, on that fateful day. CONVICTS UNMOVED, REMAIN COMPOSED Schaack writes: The speech of the defendants occupied three days --- the 7th to the 9th of October, inclusive --- and when Parsons had finished, the court proceeded to pronounce sentence. Judge Garry upheld the death sentence. The convicted leaders were ultimately executed on November 11, 1887. Towards the end of his book, Schaack narrates the mood and conduct of the doomed convicts at the moment of their hanging on the Novem­ber 11, 1887, and in the preced­ing night. He says: “They (the convicts) received the governor's decision (confirming the death sentence) with extra­ordinary composure, and having felt throughout that day that they must face the inevitable on the morrow, they buried them­selves in arranging their earthly affair, writing letters to friends and relatives and giving directions as to the disposition of per­sonal matters and the publication of their autobiographies and other manuscripts. Early in the evening they received their immediate friends and relatives to bid them farewell, and through all that trying ordeal they remained unmoved. Tears coursed down the blanched faces of wives, sisters and daughters as the last loving words were spoken, but no emotion of despair or grief seemed to agitate the men. They were solemn and stoical in their demeanour, and their efforts were mainly directed to administering words of cheer and consolation. When the final parting had taken place, they returned to their cells, and their last night on earth was varied with letter-writing and chats with the death-watch. None of them retired early.... “Spies….. denounced the verdict as iniquitous, and declared that the people would shortly see the error of hanging men for seeking the welfare of the labouring classes. “Fiescher was the quietest and most self-possessed of all, and he had very little to say even to his death-watch. He soon apparently fell into a slumber and seemed to rest easily. “Engel was also remarkably self-possessed, and he was the last to retire to his couch…. “During the latter part of the night, if anyone of them had happened to be awake, the horrible preparations for the execu­tion could have been distinctly heard.... 'When morning dawned, the four anarchists arose early, but each seemed to have had a restful night. Their demeanour had not changed perceptibly from that of other mornings. After their ablutions they perused the morning papers and subsequent­ly partook of breakfast, brought in from a neighbouring restaurant. They ate quite heartily, and then each turned his attention again to letter-writing.... “During the fleeting morning hours, the anarchists were visi­ted by the Rev Mr Bolton, the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Chicago, who came, to assist in their spiritual pre­paration for death, but while each received him courteously, they all declined his kindly professed ministrations. They had no faith in the gospel and frankly told the clergyman that they did not desire his services.....” WORLD SAW HOW DEATH WAS DEFIED Schaack further writes: “While the unfortunates on the inside were apparently un­moved by their impending fate, commotion and excitement pre­vailed on the outside of the jail.” He then describes the visit of sheriff Matson, his deputies Hartake, Cleveland, Spears and Peters, county physician Moyer and jailor Falz to the jail where they first met Spies. Matson at once proceeded to read the death warrant which Spies listened with folded arms, and there was no indication of nervousness. His facial muscles remained unmoved till the last fearful words of the war­rant had been read. The sheriff was visibly agitated and his voice was at times tremulous. Similar scenes were there when the sheriff and his team met Fiescher, Engel, Parsons and others. The Chicago police chief then described how the convicted workers remained defiant before death when they reached their respective places on the trap and preparations to noose them were being made. “During all the preliminary preparations not a relaxation of nerve or an expression of anguish or despair had been observed. Now the tension of silence was painful.” However, the narrative continues, “Suddenly there broke from the lips of Spies an exclamation that startled the auditors as if by a shock. “You may strangle this voice,” said he, in clear but subdued tones "but my silence will be more terrible than speech.” Spies had scarcely uttered his last words, when Fiescher started: "This is the happiest moment of my life….” Engel immediately caught up the sentiment…. Then lowering his voice to an appealing accent: “Mr Sheriff, may I be permitted to say a few words?” Raising his voice again, without waiting for an answer, and continuing in the same breath, he said: “O men of America, let the voice of the people be heard.” “The last word had barely escaped his lips when the signal was given to the unknown and hidden man in the sentry-box of the platform; the rope controlling the trap was cut and four bodies shot downward into space....” This is how the chief of Chicago Police has narrated the last moments of the immortal martyrs of Hay­market episode.