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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    123-year-old scandal still resonates today

    One hundred and twenty-three years ago this week, a series of events regarding the burgeoning of the labor movement in the United States culminated into what Howard Zinn, historian and professor emeritus of political science at Boston University, in a phone interview last week, calls “”the most dramatic event of that period”” and “”one of the great judicial scandals in American history.”” The incident itself, known as the “”Haymarket Affair,”” reads like a macabre drama of triumph and tragedy involving an inspiring social movement struggling against the forces of evil, a retaliatory bombing of police officers and the trial/execution of a group of innocents accused egregiously of the crime.

    After having narrated for the Wildcat an American people’s history of International Workers Day (“”A people’s history of May Day”” May 1, 2009), Zinn elaborated on the continuing effect of the atmosphere that came to signify the International Workers Day: “”The May Day strikes around the country, in Chicago, led to a strike at the McCormick Harvester plant. And the police were called out to break up the strike. And police are not neutral. Police are generally on the side of the bosses, the corporations. The police came out and they killed several strikers,”” inciting great anger in the labor community.

    It’s suitable to pause for a moment at the beginning and note the protagonists of the history, American anarchists. Just as in Europe, Zinn recalled, in the U.S. there was a strong anarchist movement, which had its center in Chicago. “”And the anarchist organizers in Chicago called for a protest against the killing of the Harvester workers. And so a rally was called for Haymarket Square in Chicago. And there were hundreds of people at the rally, and it was addressed by various people who supported the labor movement, including several anarchist leaders.””

    The meeting was peaceful, as Zinn described it: “”There was no violence at the meeting until the police arrived”” in large companies demanding that the speakers stop speaking and “”disperse.”” The historian continues: “”When the speakers refused (to leave the platform), the police charged the crowd, and as they did so, a bomb exploded in midst of the the police, killing seven policemen, whereupon the police themselves turned and fired into the crowd, killing a number of people,”” and injuring many more.

    The event was coined the “”Haymarket Affair”” because, after the killing of the policemen, eight anarchist leaders were arrested in connection with the crime, while no similar measures were made to combat, least of all acknowledge, the likewise criminal behavior of the police force, whose riot had incited the entire scope of the violence and was responsible for the murder of several demonstrators. Nevertheless, the state authorities detained the eight anarchists on “”conspiracy”” charges.

    “”Now, there was no evidence that these leaders had had anything to do with the bombing,”” Zinn said. “”In fact, to this day, it is not known who threw the bomb or planted the bomb that exploded in midst of the police. However, they arrested these anarchist leaders and argued before the jury that the anarchist literature that had been distributed – and, in fact, some of the literature was violent in its language, but there was no evidence at all connecting any of that with the actual bomb-throwing.

    The anarchists were found guilty and four of them were executed for the bombing, arousing the anger of people all over the world. According to Zinn, the playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote a letter to the U.S. in which he observed: “”If the state of Illinois must lose eight of its citizens, it could better afford to lose the eight members of the Illinois Supreme Court.””

    To this day, many people around the world, not merely anarchists, remember and memorialize the Haymarket martyrs, with whom a strong historical solidarity is held and crucial knowledge is extended in our time, having much of the same government antagonism and social dynamic forces in place.

    One may find the traces of Haymarket fervor here in Tucson, just west of campus, at Dry River Radical Resource Center (740 N. Main St.), a community space comprising of an anarchist collective that autonomously runs the space. As Eric Richardson, a DR collective member, explained to me in an interview on Sunday afternoon: “”I don’t think people realize that anarchists are still, and have been, at the forefront of social struggles for a couple hundred years now. And there’s a lot of evidence for that. From the December 2008 uprisings in Greece to the WTO in Seattle in 1999 to Haymarket to the Paris Commune – we had our hands heavily in all of that. But because anarchy is marginalized a lot of people don’t have any idea that these sorts things are going on.””

    More than a hundred years later, anarchists are still rousing and inspiring the rabble, Richardson exclaims. “”But more so than what we’re struggling against,”” he clarifies, “”today, anarchists around the world are still creating and working on projects without bosses, without directors, without hierarchy, from producing art to much needed goods and services. We still believe in equality and justice for the working class, and we are involved in creating that for ourselves – anarchist collectives all over the world are creating workspaces that are not hierachical and exploitative.””

    Haymarket lives on as a sort of organic people’s memory, one might say, providing its lessons, presenting its tragedies, and offering a rich history to us now which, as Zinn often reminds us, should be a creative way from which to build a more just and decent world.

    Gabriel Matthew Schivone is a junior majoring in art, literature and media studies. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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