Return to Haymarket

Submitted by Vijay Prashad on Wed, 05/17/2017 - 22:42

Walking across the River towards the streets where the events of 4 May 1886 took place - the fabled Haymarket. I had last been there years ago, when in graduate school. It was for a May Day rally. Before the River, I pass Daley Plaza, where many an afternoon was spent in demonstration against the first Iraq War, many a club taken from the Chicago policemen on their well-fed black horses. I remember a woman from amongst the protestors being dragged by her hair for half a block by a mounted policeman. The edge of that brutality was of course reserved for the South Side of Chicago, where commander Jon Burge tortured young black men with methods that would later be seen at Abu Ghraib (and worse).

There is this man standing on a corner (see above). His sign says it all. There are many homeless, many hungry - many on the edge of delirium. They are of all colors at the Loop. Drive south for a few minutes and the complexion of the city changes. Segregation is the harsh reality of Chicago's modernity.

I didn't realize that there is now construction where the statue by Mary Brogger (2004) had been erected to commemorate the struggle. A luxury building is being built there. The two black workers I speak with have no idea about the Haymarket struggle. They laugh when I tell them about the eight hour day. It is not their experience.

 

Luxury building

 

A man tells me the new building is owned by Robert De Niro - part of the Nobu group. But I don't think so. That seems to be further down the road on Randolph Street. Still rumor is part of the fabric of angry cities. Mary Brogger's statue to the Haymarket martyrs has been moved for now. It will return when the construction ends.

 

Mary Brogger's statue

 

What is buried in this Chicago Loop - now of banks, luxury apartment buildings, hotels and retail shops - is the class struggle that set this city ablaze during the Gilded Age. There is no sign now of the 1872 battle down Water Street (Wacker Drive) over the slow relief after the Chicago Fire of 1871. The police in that skirmish mowed down the hungry workers. There is little evidence of the massive worker protest during the nation-wide strike of 1877, when the workers fought the police on Halsted Street - the Battle of the Viaduct. No sign of the Chicago Socialist, started in 1877, or of the Socialistic Labor Party. No banners of the Poor People's March of Thanksgiving Day 1884 when Lucy and Albert Parsons as well as Lizzie Holmes led 1500 workers down Prairie Avenue with a black and red banner - the unity of socialism and anarchism. This was the prelude to the Haymarket riot. The workers, on the edge of their own Chicago Commune, had to be snuffed out. It was the Haymarket episode which allowed the bourgeoisie of the Gilded Age to kill their momentum.

On 4 May 1886, workers gathered in what is now Chicago's West Loop to demonstrate for the Eight Hour Day. A bomb was thrown and eight police officers died. It is likely that the bomb was made and thrown by an anarchist. It is unlikely that there was a conspiracy. The leadership of the working class in the city were arrested and four were hung. Before he died, August Spies- one of the four - said, 'The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today' (the quote is on the Haymarket monument in Forest Park cemetery).

A bus goes by with an anodyne quote from the great socialist poet Carl Sandburg. It says something like Chicago is a resilient city. But it does not quote from Sandburg's powerful poem Chicago (1912), 

And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger. 

And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them: 

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning. 

Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities; 

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness.

That hunger that Sandburg wrote of. It still exists.

The marks of steel and rust shape this city. You cannot escape it.

 

Workers' City

 

This is also a city suffused with racism and racial hierarchy. In the Haymarket story lies a buried tale. Lucy Eldine Gonzalez Parsons, one of the workers' leaders, had been born into slavery in Texas. She was Native American, Mexican and African American. She married Albert - a white worker who was a member of the Knights of Labor - and moved to Chicago. There is so much to say about their own lives. Albert was hung after the Haymarket riot. Lucy went on to found the Industrial Workers of the World and worked centrally with the International Labor Defense for the Scottsboro Nine. Hope someone writes a full biography of her (the one from 1976 is obscured by internal battles between Emma Goldman and Parsons), including dealing with her time with the Communists.

Along the rivers, shines the magnificence of the US President. It is unavoidable.

 

Trump

 

Tomorrow, I return to the University of Chicago to talk about Trump, jobs and anger. The main theme will be the social crisis that has produced people like Trump. A couple at the next table during dinner are taking about impeachment. Even if Trump goes, the space he has occupied remains open. He is the symptom of a much deeper crisis of capitalism on a global scale.

Chicago is a city that seethes with anger, pulses with the class struggle, held together by violence and indifference. It is a city that Lucy Parsons would recognize - more glass and steel surely, but the same sinews of hierarchy and indifference beneath.