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This work appears in Anarchy Archives with permission of International Publishers Co. 239 W 23rd Street - New York, NY and located on the web at:

Labor agitator: The story of Albert R. Parsons

Alan Calmer

New York, International publishers, 1937.


As usual, Parsons reported for work early next morning. The story of his speech, however, had already appeared in the press, one of the papers denouncing him as the "Leader of the Commune." When he got to the composing room, the foreman told him to clear out, he was fired. And he was soon to learn that he had been blacklisted in his trade.

He shuffled out of the Times building in a daze. He wandered down the street, walking mechanically homeward; but he soon caught hold of himself and decided to report at the party center on Market street - he wanted to check on the progress of the strike and see what he could do to help.

The strike had started in the city the night before, when the switchmen of the Michigan Central Railroad walked out. Now it spread to the firemen and brakemen and moved from yard to yard, and even to shop, factory, mill and lumber company.

Before the day would be over, not a train would move out of Chicago, Van Fatten told Parsons exultantly.

They worked together at the office all morning, making plans for another open-air rally, and signing up strikers who wanted to join the Workingmen's party.

About noon, two hard-looking men came in, and told Parsons that the mayor wanted to see him. Puzzled, Parsons accompanied them to the City Hall, where he was ushered into a room filled with a number of well dressed citizens and police officials. In spite of his protests, Parsons was grilled by Chief of Police Hickey, who probed into every corner of his life. Hickey insulted and browbeat him, trying to make him say that the Workingmen's party had started the strike.

Parsons had been through an excruciating twenty-four hours. He was almost entirely spent. He gripped his chair, answering quietly, straining to keep his reserve. Every time he denied responsibility for the strike, the spectators buzzed and muttered.

"What're we waiting for," he heard one say. "Let's lock him up and get it over with."

For two hours he parried questions. Finally, Hickey gave up, turned around, and consulted with several of the civilians in the room. They talked for a few minutes, arguing with each other. Then Hickey turned back.

"All right," he snapped, "you can get out of here." He pushed Parsons to the door. "I'm giving you some advice, young man," he said. "Your life is in danger. Those men in there belong to the Board of Trade and they would as leave hang you to a lamp-post as not. You'd better get out of town and get out quick."

He shoved Parsons into the corridor, slammed the door. The place was dark and empty. Somehow he got into the street.

Feeling tired and depressed, he stumbled downtown. Later, when he passed the Tribune building, he decided to see if he could get a job on the night shift. As he reached the composing room, he met Manion, chairman of his union, and they talked for a while. All of a sudden somebody grabbed him from behind and swung him around.

"Come on, get the hell out of here." Two men held his arms and another began shoving him to the door.

Parsons tried to get away. "I came in here as a gentleman and I won't be dragged out like a dog," he shouted, twisting to break loose. Then he felt the barrel of a gun against his head.

"You'd better keep quiet or we'll throw you out the window." Parsons stopped struggling.

They jostled him down the five flights of stairs. "One word out of you and we'll blow your brains out." They knocked him into the street.

"Next time you put your face in this building you'll get what's coming to you."

Parsons barely caught his balance and ran down the street. He felt sure they were going to send a bullet through his back. His utter helplessness made him half-mad with rage.

As he moved down Dearborn street, his anger began to subside and he recovered his normal mood, The weather was not too warm and the night was pleasant. But the streets seemed hushed, deserted. When he turned west on Lake to Fifth avenue, he saw soldiers sitting on the curb. Muskets leaned against the walls of the huge buildings that lined the street. A regiment of National Guards idled around; they seemed to be waiting for orders to march. Lucky they didn't know him. He passed by and reached home.

Later that night he went over to Market square where the party was holding another meeting. He stood in the crowd listening to the speakers. An ex-soldier came up to the platform and showed the wounds he had received "while fighting for this glorious country." All at once Parsons heard the clatter of hoofs, the crack of pistols, screams of pain. Mounted police charged into the gathering. They mowed a wedge through the mass of flesh. A tremendous roaring cacophony rose, swelled, ebbed. The throng broke, the listeners scattered. A tumultuous rush of feet drowned out the thud of descending clubs....

Next morning, Wednesday, was misty; vapor clouds hung over Lake Michigan and the city streets. Blood splashed on the Black Road, near the McCormick Reaper Works. Everywhere the strikers gathered, leaderless; everywhere they were shot, clubbed, dispersed. On the Randolph street bridge a crowd of spectators ("Rioting Roughs" the Chicago Tribune called them) were brutally attacked.

Later, Parsons learned from a German comrade that the police had swooped down on the Furniture Workers' meeting at Turner Hall, breaking in the door and shooting directly into the assembly; caught in the unexpected onslaught, the cabinet makers had stampeded like cornered animals, clambering up the pillars, hiding behind the stage, jumping out of windows, or breaking out of the hall and running the gauntlet of more cops stationed on the stairs.

A pitched battle took place at the Halsted street viaduct immediately after, with charge and counter-charge, until a body of cavalry, with drawn swords, rode through the massed workers, leaving many dead and wounded on the bridge.

By this time the Board of Trade had mobilized a formidable army. Infantry regiments patrolled various districts, firing on the slightest pretext. Thousands of special deputies, "citizens' patrols" and bands of uniformed vigilantes like the Boys in Blue and Ellsworth Zouaves, smashed down upon parades of silent strikers, marching with set faces. Troops of cavalry clattered through the streets at a sharp trot, their bridles jingling the horses' hoofs kicking against the cobblestones. In great panic, the Board of Trade had despatched couriers to General Sheridan, who was campaigning in the Sioux country; and by Thursday several companies of veteran Indian fighters, bronzed and grizzled and covered with dust, rode into the city, their repeating rifles slung over their shoulders. They were quartered in the Exposition building and sent marauding groups through the murky streets to end any sign of protest. With the frenzy of a holy crusade, the Chicago strike was suppressed.

As in the other cities, the Workingmen's party, the Socialists, suffered most. Their halls were demolished, their leaders arrested, their membership shot and beaten. Ruling class violence attained its worst excesses in Chicago and created a tradition of bitter hatred which was to shape the future course of the radical movement.


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