Monday, February 12, 2007

From Haymarket to Buffalo

Was it a revolution?

The Movement began when a bomb killed eight Chicago policemen. It ended with the assassination of the President of the United States.

The nation’s first terrorist attack occurred on May 4th, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago. Hundreds of protestors had gathered in solidarity for the strikers at the nearby McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant. For three days, union laborers had carried out a strike, demanding an eight-hour workday. As many as 80,000 Chicagoans had joined the demonstration. As the strike went on, it grabbed national attention. Throughout the country, 350,000 laborers staged similar strikes at 1,200 different factories. Since the 1870s, more and more laborers had begun to organize, strike, and demand better working conditions. Clearly, a movement was in the making – but was it a revolution?

The gathering at Haymarket Square started off peacefully, as protestors assembled in the early evening. While various anarchists, socialists, activists, and laborers addressed the crowd, a drizzle cooled the air and police officers stood in the margins.

Suddenly, from nowhere, an unidentified person lobbed a homemade pipe bomb into the crowd. It exploded on impact, killing one police officer immediately and wounding several others. The police opened fire, killing five protestors. Seven more police officers would eventually die from wounds suffered at Haymarket. The final body count reached thirteen.

Instinctively, the city of Chicago pursued and arrested the organizers of the Haymarket rally. Most of suspects were either anarchists or socialists. All of them were recent immigrants. In all, eight suspects were arrested and put on trial. After a speedy and dubious trial, all eight were convicted and sentenced to death or life in prison. Four were evenutally executed. Years later, the governor of Illinois reopened the case and pardoned all eight suspects, citing a lack of proper evidence. No one ever identified who threw the bomb.


Most Americans reacted to the Haymarket Affair with indifference or disdain for radicalism. Lots of people came to associate the burgeoning labor movement with violence and chaos. Others came to associate it with the decidedly un-American beliefs in anarchism and socialism. Indeed, Haymarket was a black eye for the labor movement.

Yet, it was a galvanizing force in the growing anti-capitalist revolutionary movement. Most anarchists and socialists in this country viewed the Chicago Eight as casualties in the increasingly violent class warfare. Great injustice had been done. Redemption must be sought. The Haymarket Martyrs became the rallying cry for the revolutionary movement.

The most famous of these people were Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. The two met in the anarchist circles of New York City. They would eventually become lovers and leaders of a small crusade against capitalism. To the martyrs’ cause the lovers would devote their lives. For the working-man, captive in an unjust society, they would fight.

For the next six years, Berkman and Goldman spread their anarchist and activist messages in Chicago, New York, Cleveland, and other industrial cities. They pamphleteered, organized workers, delivered speeches, wrote essays, and formed activist groups. They agitated for labor unions, encouraged strikes, challenged convention, and questioned authority. Accordingly, they alienated themselves from mainstream society. They wanted nothing to do with the American Dream, and the Dream wanted nothing to do with them.

In the Summer of 1892, opportunity knocked for the couple. A major strike in Pittsburgh had gone awry, and Berkman and Goldman were called to action.


At the Homestead Steel Plant in Pittsburgh, workers had been carrying out a strike that had lasted nearly five months. Although Andrew Carnegie owned the plant, he had placed Henry Clay Frick in charge of it while Carnegie vacationed in Europe. Frick – the ruthless industrialist and alleged gangster - had had enough of the strike and decided to lock out all of the strikers. Naturally, the strikers were upset and began to agitate even more. Frick decided to put an end to it. He hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to restore order. The Pinkertons were a private security force, notorious for their brutality, yet revered for their effectiveness in ending strikes. When the strikers learned of the hire, they fortified their positions, armed themselves, and waited. Pittsburgh was flirting with war.

It is unclear who fired first, but as the boat of Pinkertons lumbered up the Monongahala River towards the Homestead steel plant, shots rang out. Pinkertons fired from their raised positions on the boat. Strikers fired from the ground. The Pennsylvania State Militia had to come in and restore order. When the dust cleared, three Pinkertons and seven strikers were dead. Henry Clay Frick hired new workers, and business continued to boom.

Back in New York, Alexander Berkman was enraged. The Haymarket Martyrs had given him a cause to which he would devote his life. But the Homestead Strike gave him a cause for which he was willing to die. Berkman decided to assassinate Frick. He blamed Frick for everything – for exploiting the workers, for refusing their demands, for calling the Pinkertons and starting the violence. The fact that Frick had emerged from the incident unscathed was anathema for Berkman. He vowed revenge - as if it was he himself that had been shot at Homestead.

Emma Goldman, infatuated with her lover and the Cause, was eager to help. Together, they hatched a plan that would send Berkman to Pittsburgh and leave Goldman in New York. According to her lover, whom she endearingly called “Sasha,” she would need to stay behind to write about, celebrate, and propagandize his exploits. She was also the one charged with financing the ordeal and supplying the weapon.

After two failed attempts to make a bomb, Berkman asked Goldman to procure him a gun. She did so with relative ease, and, after buying a new suit of clothes, Berkman made his way to Pittsburgh. On the evening of Saturday, July 23rd, 1892, Berkman went into Frick’s office and shot him three times. To Sasha’s surprise, several workingmen came to Frick’s aid. They tackled Berkman and beat him. With his last bit of energy, Berkman crawled towards Frick and stabbed him in the leg with a poisoned dagger. The workingmen then knocked Berkman unconscious. Ironically, the assassin was felled by the very people whose cause Berkman purported to represent.

The assassination attempt failed. Frick survived. Berkman served twenty-two years in prison. Goldman was left to carry the torch.


The labor movement continued to develop, and despite the growing popular resentment of radicalism, American anarchists and socialists continued to spread their message and fight for their cause. However, the revolution suffered a knockout punch in the early Fall of 1901.

Leon Csoglosz was a young, disillusioned American, born into a Polish immigrant family. He quickly lost faith in the American system, turning first to socialism, and then to anarchism. He read many of Emma Goldman’s writings, and after hearing her give a speech in Cleveland, he decided to approach her. Their meeting was brief and innoquous, but it would produce dire consequences for Goldman and for the entire United States of America.

On September 5, 1901, President’s Day, US President William McKinley paid a visit to the World’s Fair in Buffalo, New York. Called “The Pan-American Exposition,” it aimed to promote US progress and benevolence in the Western Hemisphere following the US victory in the Spanish-American War three years earlier. On display were the latest advances in technology: electricity, the X-Ray machine, the infant incubator. In the Temple of Music, John Philips Sousa’s band and others played five to seven shows a day. Indeed, it was a spectacle.

After giving a rousing speech on American progress on the 5th, McKinley went to the Temple of Music on the 6th to shake hands with his constituents. It was a hot day, and as the well wishers waited in line to greet the President, many removed their handkerchiefs to wipe away the sweat. Leon Czoglosz waited in line, too. And just like the others, he removed his handkerchief as well. However, his was a bit different. His concealed a small handgun. After waiting patiently, the time came for him to shake McKinley’s hand. As the President reached out his hand, Czoglosz fired two shots into the President’s torso. The President collapsed. Czoglosz was tackled, disarmed, and rushed away. During his interrogation, he indicated that Emma Goldman had been his inspiration.

A nationwide manhunt launched to find Goldman. Law enforcers arrested and harassed anarchists all around the country, but Goldman managed to keep the police at bay. In Chicago, she finally turned herself in to the authorities. After a month in prison, she was released. No investigator could find enough evidence to tie her to the crime.

Leon Czoglosz was convicted and sentenced to death on September 23rd, 1901. He sat in the electric chair on October 19th, 1901. Forth-three days passed between the time he fired the shots and breathed his last breath.

Before he sat down, he said, “I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people—the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime."

As they were burying Czoglosz, authorities coated his body with sulfuric acid to speed up the decompisition process. They also burned all of his clothes and letters.

With him died the Revolution that anarchists and radicals had worked so hard to build.

Essay Question:
Choose 1 of the following 2 options for your response:
  1. Agree or disagree with my conclusion. Did the Revolution die with Czolgosz?
  2. Was there a revolution in the first place? If not, why not?


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