tv Lectures in History 1880s American Anarchist Movement CSPAN February 11, 2018 12:00am-12:56am EST
literary scene and historic sites. atch next weekend, beginning 5:00 p.m. eastern on book tv on c-span2 and sunday at 2:00 p.m. on american history tv on c-span3. working with our cable affiliates, as we explore america. announcer: next on lectures in history, johns hopkins university professor ronald walters teaches a class about the anarchist movement in america. he talks about albert parson, a confederate soldier who became a leader in the anarchist movement. he uses the 1886 haymarket affair, a bombing, as a case study in describing anarchist violence and the government's response. his class is just under one hour.
ronald: i am going to begin in 1906. a german sociologist and historian published a collection of essays. one of those essays translated into english as, why is there no socialism in the united states? he was baffled, seeing america as an industrial giant at the forefront of a major economic revolution, and according to his ideological worldview, we should have produced radical socialist and communist movements, as in europe. a couple of things were wrong with that comment. there was an american left. there was a socialist party. it was even winning elections on a city and state level, and ultimately a couple of congressman. there were real communists. from 1860, there were communists clubs in several major american
cities, marxist communist clubs. and the marxist first international working association was at home in the u.s., and indeed for a decade there was a coalition of european socialists and coming -- socialists and communists and american reformers, some of whom figured in my book on american reform. there were also -- and the sociologist was less concerned about this, but there were extremes on the right in america, what we code as a right. arch conservatives, libertarians who differed from anarchists -- i will lump them in with anarchists in a bit, but extreme libertarians who believed private property was sanctified -- you will be reading some of these folks for this weeks
assignments. and it's the alt right of today. in the ku klux klan and in the organizations that succeeded the clan. america did have extremes. they just did not quite fit the european model. also, i think this perception of the german sociologist was embedded in american historiography after world war ii. the most powerful historical school in the 1950's to the 1960's was the so-called consensus school of historians and also literary analysts.
they argued -- i mentioned i this in passing earlier -- they argued that america was born middle-class, that america began without the extremes of europe, without aristocracies and so on, and they, on one level, glorified that. america is better off not having the strict ideologies like communists and or socialism, but there was also a negative view that europe had better art and europe had better food than the u.s. because it had an aristocracy. it had an american exceptionalism argument. america is different than the rest of the world and lack of radicalism was part of that difference. this was designed to refute. what i am going to do today is not try to cover all of the types of extremism in your readings this week. i am going to just pick just one of those types, and that is anarchism. i am taking anarchism for a
-- i am picking anarchism for a variety of reasons. one is, as a historian, i am appalled by the use of the word anarchist in the press whenever there is a riot, and in my old home town of berkeley, the term was used widely. the protesters were anarchists, and what they were doing was equating anarchism first with just vandalism, no ideology in particular, which is wrong, and also equating anarchists with destructiveness. and indeed the folks they were covering, the news coverage, were doing destructive things. they were trashing stores and things like that. anarchists of the type i am talking about did do violent
acts, at least some schools of anarchy, but those acts of violence were not the kind of looting and vandalism the press was covering, but those acts of violence were targeting particular institutions and particular enemies of the people. as they saw it. there are still some visible scars of fat in parts of cash scores of that -- scars of that in parts of america. i think it is still true. it has been five years since i have been in lower manhattan, but if you are down there on wall street and look at the historic j.p. morgan building, you will see scars left by an anarchist's bomb in 1920. there are still parts of that legacy around, but these were clearly targeted, and that is something that differentiates the real anarchists of the 19th
about later today. but then there is a question hanging on present day use of bombings, of which we are seeing, of course. and the question i want to put out is one i hope you pick up in discussion section, and that is what do bombers think they are doing? a list of possible things. i don't like to ask questions without trying to answer them myself. i have done a list which i will share with you after you have your discussions, but the list kept getting longer. in fact, i added another item today. i think there are a lot of answers to the question of violence and why radicals resort to it. another reason for picking on anarchism today is further misunderstanding about 19th and 20th century anarchism, and that is that it was exclusively committed to violence, and that is not true. there were a number of pacifists anarchists and religious anarchists, even some catholic anarchists' groups that refused to use violence, so there is not a one to one connection between
anarchism and violence. the real common denominator is hostility to the state, that is to governments of the sort we primarily think of. they believed that governments are the source of oppression. and that humans will be free and only free when there are no human governments. that doesn't mean that anybody can do anything, a state of anarchy. what the anarchists are conjuring is an ideal society, a very localized one in which men and women make decisions communally, share property communally, and that that will be when humans achieve their full potential, when there is
real justice in the world, so it is a very decentralized view of what human society should be like. [coughing] excuse me. now another thing i want to dispel in terms of these stereotypes about anarchism really have to do with -- again, i will go back to religion. anarchism is not defined by atheism. the -- what i am going to do now -- i will ask for any questions about anarchism. ok. right, what i am going to do is take a case study of anarchist violence, and i think it is an important case study for a number of reasons.
one, it has to do with an iconic moment in radical history, the so-called haymarket riot or affair. the other is that it helps understand not just an act of violence, of revolutionary violence, but also has to do with the state response to it. what happens to american justice when something like a bombing occurs? i am going to begin the story with a little biography of the central figure, the one i will trace through this story. his name was albert parsons, born in 1848. he has an unlikely genealogy for an anarchist.
he was a descendent of puritans. he had at least one ancestor who fought in the american revolution. he was sent to texas as a young orphan, sent there by east coast relatives to live with family out there. he enlisted in the confederate army, pledging, because he was 13 years old when he did it. he -- and here you get one of the many ironies of this man's life, that he was enlisting to preserve slavery. this is not a typical anarchist's profile. in fact, it is not really clear how he became an anarchist. it seems to have been a kind of progression. he went to college in waco, texas in the institution that became baylor.
he became a republican, which was not necessarily a good career move in texas at that point in time. he held some minor public offices, but the failure of reconstruction, the collapse of the republican party, and that was done. now, he took a strange turn given, this genealogy. in 1872, he married. the woman he married was named lucy, and she was african-american. this was a very unconventional thing in that time period. they were a deeply devoted couple, and after her death, lucy became something of an anarchist heroine, lecturer, and writer. the couple went to chicago looking to get out of texas into a different line of work. he first got a job setting type for a printing company. he then became a journalist. in 1876, the economy tanked. there was a deep depression, and this was the beginning of what we can trace as his pathway to being an anarchist. he joined a socialist organization. this was a time of socialist
ferment and socialist possibility, and here the core belief of socialism and what attracted him was the notion that workers ought to control the means of production. you have heard this line of reasoning earlier in the course, too, that capitalism, people who organize labor were parasites and were siphoning off the profits of those who did the work, so that is my crude version of the socialism that attracted him. there was a transforming event in 1877. it is one i mentioned in passing earlier in the course. a railroad strike of the
baltimore and ohio railroad, the source of johns hopkins university endowment, the great rail strike was precipitated by the railroad cutting salaries by 10%. keep in mind this was in an economic depression, so here workers were taking a salary hit at a time when they most needed the job and needed the money. the strike paralyzed east coast rail travel for about two weeks. 17 states were affected. there were bloody clashes. 12 people died in one battle in baltimore, 20 in pittsburgh, and this was the first instance of using federal troops to put down a strike. the strike was broken, but way it was handled, particularly the use of federal troops, radicalized a number of people. it tended to reinforce what socialists and a few communists
around were saying about capitalism. parsons went further to the left. he joined, or at the sat in on, various radical organizations in chicago. he, and radical -- or at least left parties and politicians were making inroads in chicago, were getting elected to the state assembly. so he was part of what seemed to be a radical wave in chicago at the time. well, he quickly became disillusioned with what was going on. here was the radical promise, the radical moment, so what happened? one thing that happened was co-option.
a third-party, the greenback party, sprang up. alternative to republican and democrat parties. its chief platform had to do with monetary policy, which is not what people like parsons were concerned about. they wanted jobs, they wanted control over the means of production. they did not just want greenback dollars printed. so the greenback party siphoned off some of the potentially radical support. second thing happened -- it will come as a surprise to some of you from chicago or illinois, -- it won't come as a surprise to some of you from chicago or illinois, but illinois and chicago had a long history of corrupt elections and election fraud. so the major parties found ways
of stealing elections that undercut any third party or any radical party. it was clear they weren't going to win an election. in as further background here, revolutionary anarchism was beginning to cohere, to take shape, between 1883 and the summer of 1886, the time period i am now dealing with. the great event in this was a grand congress in pittsburgh of groups, people with somewhat different ideological positions, but groups calling themselves social revolutionaries, which would include anarchists, communists, some branches of socialism.
prior to the pittsburgh meeting of 1883, there were smaller meetings in chicago and a developing "chicago ideal." in this movement, the chicago one, they were really anticipating what in the jargon would become -- that meant the union as a social locus for revolution. that unions were the vessel, the organization, for the revolution. and that struggle was inevitable, that local democratic organizations or revolutionary organizations should create loose federations nationally and internationally.
so this is a model of change, a model of revolution, that is ground up, but ground up connected to like organizations, eventually internationally. two significant things happen in pittsburgh in 1883. the resolutions that came out of that meeting are part of your reading for this week. but what was behind the change in the pronouncements that came in 1883 had to do with something i mentioned on monday when talking about emma goldman. that was the arrival in america of a political figure in germany.
somebody who was part of the establishment becoming a revolutionary. he was jailed for seven years in germany for his radicalism, and he would be jailed in the u.s. three different times, so he had a lot of jail time to think about his ideology. he had to flee germany after publicly suggesting it might be a good thing to assassinate czar alexander ii of russia when he came to germany. that was enough to get him kicked out of germany. he was charming. he was charismatic. he was the author of a revolutionary classic. the title of it is "revolutionary war science 1885."
so you are getting something else that is interesting in terms of currents and crosscurrents in this course. here is a guy rooting revolution in science to create a successful revolution. it also had some practical information, like how to make bombs. he, so you have got -- you also have in 1881 the first american anarchist's group. previously most of the anarchism is coming from europe and heavily laden with european immigrants.
this was the revolutionary socialistic labour party. it had a small membership of about 300, and most of them were germans, again, even though it was an american group. now the dominant group in 1883 among anarchists was the international working people's association. which, again, brings us back to pittsburgh and the pittsburgh declaration that i hope we put on your reading list for this week. there were five authors of it. one of them was john most, as you would expect, but the other was albert parsons. he had come the full way by 1883, and he represented an american anarchist.
and it was probably to his influence that the declaration and other declarations tried to root anarchism, not just in europe, a european import, but as american. the declaration of independence, for example, were trying to broaden the base of anarchism by making it an american thing. here are the key beliefs of anarchists in 1883-1886, and you will find them in readings too. that revolution was necessary. society could not evolve. it would take a revolution to have change. but the wording was very carefully skewed so that it was not necessarily a violent revolution. anarchists were aware of the
connection to violence, so the violence is alighted, but the revolution is central. opposition to the state -- it was on the list earlier, but something here that seem to move in a somewhat different direction, and that is change through confrontation with capitalism and with capitalists. although we are not talking about violence, depositing the kind of change that can only occur by confronting power. the social ideal was the one i mentioned earlier, that is of decisions made through workers organizations, decisions made on the local level.
i am going to make a caveat here in terms of anarchism. some american anarchists, the most prominent guy named benjamin tucker, who is on your reading list, did agree that the society conjured by anarchists was the ideal human society, but they believed that private property was sacred and that private property should, could and should, exist under the statelessness of anarchism. what distinction is there between a libertarian and an anarchist?
we quote one on the left and one on the right, but what i just said about benjamin tucker's anarchism sounds very much like a libertarian, so that is up for discussion on your next section meeting. the timing of the pittsburgh declaration was also crucial, crucial for the history of anarchism. there had been five years of relative prosperity. after 1877 and the great strike, the economy recovered. that ended in 1883, the gear of the year of the pittsburgh declaration. -- that ended in 1883, the year of the pittsburgh declaration. again, the government used force
to stifle strikes. in 1885 in illinois, the state militia used gatling guns, the precursor of the machine gun, rapidfire gun, used them on a group of striking quarrymen. they killed two in that process. so it seems to be two contradictory things happening here. one, reformers on the anarchists and liberal reformers, conservative liberal reformers, are both agreeing that something is wrong with the state, that the state, the american state, is becoming stronger, hence more repressive. they were certainly right about the first part, because we are
going to get into this a little later in the course, but you are beginning to see by the 1880's the emergence of the modern american state. so both extremes are disturbed by this, by the growth of its power, by its economic structure. second, at the time that the groups i just mentioned are becoming very edgy about the american state, you have other groups represented in this course who are looking to the state, and high among those groups were of course african-americans who were seeking state protection, that is federal protection, from the
sorts of things that were going on in the american south. so you have one part of the course, the radicalism part, suspicious of the state, the other part, the race part, looking towards a stronger state, and it was not just african-americans who were looking for a stronger state. veterans groups, civil war veterans groups, quite successfully negotiated federal pensions for civil war veterans, union veterans are not confederate veterans, which increased the u.s. budget enormously. those are the currents and crosscurrents. there was a growth also in this time period in membership in radical organizations. one group called the international workers protective
association had about 5000 real members. that is not a lot, but it is still the core of a movement. it had about 15,000 sympathizers, people who drifted in and out of the organization, and they were pretty much geographically dispersed. there were groups affiliated with this in 50 american cities, including new orleans, denver, and san francisco, the second tier of cities, so not big numbers, but signs there is discontent, and discontent may
be channeled into these kinds of workers organization. and a couple of things to say about the organizations. first, in the instance i just cited, as well as in the burgeoning labor movement, conservative labor movement, called the american federation of labor, the easiest to recruit or not the most oppressed. it was the skilled and semiskilled laborers who were the easiest to organize, and of course the hardest to fire. if you have a guy whose job is just to carry bricks, you can replace him, but if you have somebody who is a plumber, you can't just pull somebody off the street, so it is the skilled laborers who are also organizing, but who are also a lot less radical. and something else going on -- a
couple of other points i want to make -- is that these are workers, both skilled and the unskilled i am talking about, who are important for what they are not doing. they are not resisting technology and industrialization. they are not trying to fight a retrograde, let's go back to the old days, but they are trying to make the new world more egalitarian, and something else going on with the working class in this time period was not just to be political, but to create a working class and revolutionary culture that have parties, various kinds of self-help
organizations, even to follow a german model and have men's choirs. and you can still find a few of them, the socialist men's singing groups in places like erie, pennsylvania, so anyway what they are doing is attempting to create a working class culture and a working-class politics. well, they had competition. i mentioned the american federation of labor, which was successfully organizing, at its head was a disillusioned socialist who gave up on
socialism, but thought organizing workers, not for revolution, but for a more just society, so what the american federation of labor was doing, they are not trying to overthrow the system. they are trying to guarantee better working conditions, higher pay, and what we called the bread and butter issues, and insurance for workers who were maimed and who couldn't support their families again. so you have on the left the anarchists, on the far left, but you have a kind of center labor movement emerging, too. the anarchists that i am going to return to now had their own internal problems as well as
external. they were divided over politics, whether to reject politics totally, or to work against politics, not so much within them, whether to create coalitions with nonbelievers, coalitions on certain issues, more conservative people. whether to use violence, whether violence was a legitimate tool of the revolution, and if so, was it to be only in self-defense, or could it be used as a weapon in its own right? and they accepted pretty much the ideal of the so-called chicago plan, and that was one
that fit well with the left, and that is the idea that the union is the primary vessel of radicalism, not afl type unions, but radical unions. even with this fairly clear platform, one that was quite consistent with anarchism, there were still divisions, ok. the left has a great track record in terms of the dviding and arguing over stuff. a minority, a vocal minority, on the anarchist left, had a different model, and that model was to place less interest is on -- to place less emphasis on union organizing and more on creating a revolutionary avant-garde, that is a cadre of
revolutionists who would lead the working-class into revolution, rather than the working-class creating the revolution. now, i am mentioning these ideological differences, feuds, because part of the tragedy that is coming ahead, the haymarket tragedy, is that the state executed men, the haymarket riot, who actually hated each other, who took different positions with anarchism, but as far as the state was concerned, and anarchist is an anarchist and that is it. -- and that was it.
anarchists in the u.s. were having some p.r. problems, because the anarchists in europe especially were using assassination, and there were two attempts in 1878 on the german kaiser, one each on the king of spain and italy, and a second attempt on the king of spain, and james a. garfield assassinated in 1882 by a suspected anarchist, as was mckinley. two british officials were killed by irish revolutionists, blamed on anarchists. if you want to check me out on this, wikipedia has a list of assassinations by country, so you can trace the anarchist
bloodshed on wikipedia. the appeal of violence was, of course as you would expect, totally disturbing to people in power. it also was a threat to the modest, to the more moderate labor leaders like the american federation of labor. he saw it not just as ideologicaly different, but creating a horrible image of the working-class and violence that it was hurting his form of unionism. in the spring of 1886, things changed a lot. organized labor was organized enough.
that is, the moderate unions. it could call for certain demands, demands such as an eight hour workday, rather than a 10-11 hour workday, with the idea to be a good citizen, to be a good husband, that workers needed an eight hour day. anarchists were slow to join the moderate unions in this stuff, in part because they figured this was just a false issue. workers get the eight hour day. they will be contented, they will not be the revolutionaries they should be, so the anarchists are dragging their heels on this. there were large demonstrations however in april in chicago
about labor and about such issues. parsons himself spoke at one, and another three anarchists who would soon be swept up in the haymarket affair were also participating. they were trying to play nice with the larger labor movement in chicago. the background to the disaster that is going to happen is a strike at the mccormick reaper company, a very important company making all kinds of agricultural products, machinery. the company played hard. it used force against the strikers. there were deaths and injuries occurred. a council of labor convened, a
kind of coalition of chicago labor groups, convened and called for a general strike on all workers on may 1, may day, the revolutionary holiday. the strike passed reasonably peacefully. and this was a national movement, i should have said, talking from the chicago perspective, but nationally, probably at least 300,000 workers went out on strike and demonstrated. chicago is a major hub for the may day event, about 40,000, which was a pretty big turnout, show of labor power. later in the day, it got even bigger than the 40,000 who initially turned out. there were roughly 80,000
marchers up michigan avenue. so these numbers are putting the fear of god in the city officials in chicago. the police were out. the city and police department deputized citizens to be acting police. i neglected to mention that parsons and several other anarchists were at the head of this 80,000-person march. real trouble came may 3. unexpectedly, mccormick workers just walked out. a year earlier, management had been forced to rescind a wage cut. this time, the management was fed up with these uppity
workers. it was determined to break the strike, break the union, and fire the striking workers. various other unions, including anarchist and non-anarchist ones, supported that strike, and you soon began to have mccormick and some other employers importing strikebreakers, that is scabs in the language of the time, folks who would work for the lower wages. there were confrontations, conflicts between strikers and strikebreakers, the scabs. police arrived and fired into the crowd. they killed at least two of the strikers and injured several others. we don't have a good injury count.
anarchists had already called for a meeting that evening, and the call was to meet at haymarket square, 7:30 p.m. so in the street where it would be harder to be pinned in by cops. basically why they chose that location. so if the cops came, it would be easier to escape. the meeting was announced with the a final line, workingmen arm yourselves and appear in full force. this appeared to be a call to arms, and certainly the chicago police interpreted it that way, that there was going to be violence. the leader of the anarchists objected to that line and got it
omitted in some of the pamphlets, the papers that went out, but not all, so the police had been tipped that there might be violence. a few hundred would be evidenced in the trial that followed, and evidence that -- when the cops thought they had some more evidence that violence was being planned -- so the police were on the case of the haymarket riots and assumed there was going to be violence there. chicago's mayor decided he would attend the meeting, a man named carter henderson, a democrat in his fourth term and kind of
friendly to labor, so he thought his showing up might be a good thing to do, and he even appointed socialists to his administration. so henderson went and did not see anything wrong, and labor -- and later testified on behalf of the people who were tried for violence at haymarket, saying he had not seen anything that looked like violence. the meeting appeared to be winding down around 10:00 p.m. that is when the mayor left. parsons had also left by 10:00. this is important. one of the anarchists was giving a speech. police surrounded the group, infiltrated it, two detectives claimed to hear the anarchist speaker deliver the lines, throttle it. kill it, stab it, do anything you can to impede its progress.
that was nothing that anarchists had not said before. the detectives thought that -- thought bad things were going on. it is not clear what happened, except that somebody threw a bomb, which was a trademark of anarchists supposedly, and the police began firing wildly. eight police eventually died of wounds, 67 people were injured, and we really don't know the full extent of all the injuries, so this was an act of violence, and of course it was blamed on the anarchists, even though there was no particular proof, and what followed was a wave of anti-radical rhetoric.
what also followed was a trial, and since we are running out of time, i will do the quick version of the trial. it was a trial in which 10 anarchists were cited and blamed for the violence, for the deaths. two of the 10 were never tried, one escaped, and one turned state's evidence. so the ones left included parsons, who had not even been present when the violence occurred. the long story i will make short, it followed a trial in which all but three of the anarchists were sentenced to death. seven died in what was one of the worst trials in american history. the anarchists had a good
attorney, but they had a bad judge, a judge who did puzzles when the defense was talking and talked with people when the defense was talking, who clearly indicated his contempt, and he was so bad that a fellow judge said, gary, the judge was ignoring every rule of law that was designed to assure a fair trial for the defendant. the trial was notorious. the jury found guilty the anarchists and sought the death penalty for all three of them. the very good defense attorney the anarchists had lived with this case for the rest of his life. he was deeply depressed he had not been able to win it. he was even more depressed
because parsons was in hiding, and his attorney urged him to come back to face the trial and to be executed. so you have this as a kind of iconic case of anarchists associated with violence and paying with their lives for that association, but who was the loser here? well, maybe i will start with who was the winner here? the winner was the judge, honored by the bar society for his good judgeship. the governor of illinois lost his political career, because he showed some sympathy. and the -- and in the aftermath there were a couple of pardons. lucy parsons lived on to see her
children die or go insane, a very sad, tragic life. there were those remote from chicago affected by it. teddy roosevelt was in dakota territory when he got the news. he and his cowboy buddies burned -- buddies greeted the executions by burning images of anarchists. the biggest loser probably, however, was the american system of justice. that ends my story. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> join us every saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern them as we join students in college classrooms to hear lectures on topics ranging from the american
revolution two 911. lectures and history are also available as podcasts. visit our website. download them from itunes. announcer: next, from the national archives, victor brooks talks about his book, "1967: the year of fire and ice" in a year that included the first super bowl, the detroit riots, and the summer of love. mr. brooks focuses on rapid changes in popular culture, and the growing political unrest caused by the vietnam war. this is about one hour.