On the shooting of Henry Clay Frick
by Alexander Berkman
From 'Living My Life'
by Emma Goldman
"It was May 1892. News from Pittsburg announced that trouble had broken out between the Carnegie Steel Company and its employees organized in the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. It was one of the biggest and most efficient labour bodies of the country, consisting mostly of Americans, men of decision and grit, who would assert their rights. The Carnegie Company, on the other hand, was a powerful corporation, known as a hard master. It was particularly significant that Andrew Carnegie, its president, had temporarily turned over the entire management to the company chairman, Henry Clay Frick, a man known for his enmity to labour. Frick was also the owner of extensive coke fields, where unions were prohibited and the workers were ruled with an iron hand."
"The high tariff on imported steel had greatly boomed the American steel industry. The Carnegie Company had practically a monopoly of it, and enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. Its largest mills were in Homestead, near Pittsburgh, where thousands of workers were employed, their tasks requiring long training and skill. Wages were arranged between the company and the union, according to a sliding scale based in the prevailing market price of steel products. The current agreement was about to expire, and the workers presented a new wage schedule, calling for an increase because of the higher market prices and enlarged output of the mills."
"The philanthropic Andrew Carnegie conveniently retired to his castle in Scotland, and Frick took full charge of the situation. He declared that henceforth the sliding scale would be abolished. The company would make no more agreements with the Amalgamated Association; it would itself determine the wages to be paid. In fact, he would not recognize the union at all. He would not treat with the employees collectively, as before. He would close the mills, and the men might consider themselves discharged. Thereafter they would have to apply for work individually, and the pay would be arranged with every worker separately. Frick curtly refused the peace advances of the workers' organization, declaring that there was 'nothing to arbitrate'. Presently the mills were closed. 'Not a strike, but a lockout', Frick announced. It was an open declaration of war."
... ... ...
"Far away from the scene of the impending struggle, in our little ice-cream parlour in the city of Worcester, we eagerly followed developments. To us it sounded the awakening of the American worker, the long-awaited day of his resurrection. The native toiler had risen, he was beginning to feel his mighty strength, he was determined to break the chains that had held him in bondage for so long, we thought. Our hearts were filled with admiration for the men of Homestead."
... ... ...
"One afternoon a customer came in for an ice-cream, while I was alone in the store. As I set the dish down before him, I caught the large headlines of his paper: 'LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN HOMESTEAD - FAMILIES OF STRIKERS EVICTED FROM THE COMPANY HOUSES - WOMEN IN CONFINEMENT CARRIED OUT INTO STREET BY SHERIFFS'. I read over the man's shoulder Frick's dictum to the workers: he would rather see them dead than concede to their demands, and he threatened to import Pinkerton detectives. The brutal bluntness of the account, the inhumanity of Frick towards the evicted mother, inflamed my mind. Indignation swept my whole being. ... ... "
... ... ...
"I locked up the store and ran full speed the three blocks to our little flat. It was Homestead, not Russia; I knew it now. We belonged in Homestead. The boys, resting for the evening shift, sat up as I rushed into the room, newspaper clutched in my hand. 'What has happened, Emma? You look terrible!' I could not speak. I handed them the paper."
"Sasha was the first on his feet. 'Homestead!' he exclaimed. 'I must go to Homestead!' I flung my arms around him, crying out his name. I, too, would go. 'We must go tonight,' he said; 'the great moment has come at last!' Being internationalists, he added, it mattered not to us where the blow was struck by the workers; we must be with them. We must bring our great message and help them see that it was not only for the moment that they must strike, but for all time, for a free life, for anarchism. Russia had many heroic men and women, but who was there in America? Yes, we must go to Homestead, tonight!"
... ... ...
"On the way we discussed our immediate plans. First of all, we would print a manifesto to the steel-workers. We would have to find somebody to translate it into English, as we were still unable to express our thoughts correctly in that tongue. We would have the German and English texts printed in New York and take them with us to Pittsburgh. With the help of the German comrades there, meetings could be organized for me to address. Fedya was to remain in New York till further developments."
... ... ...
" ... The manifesto was written that afternoon. It was a flaming call to the men of Homestead to throw off the yoke of capitalism, to use their present struggle as a stepping-stone to the destruction of the wage system, and to continue towards social revolution and anarchism."
"A few days after our return to New York, the news was flashed across the country of the slaughter of steel-workers by Pinkertons. Frick had fortified the Homestead mills, built a high fence around them. Then, in the dead of night, a barge packed with strike-breakers, under protection of heavily armed Pinkerton thugs, quietly stole up the Monongahela River. The steel-men had learned of Frick's move. They stationed themselves along the shore, determined to drive back Frick's hirelings. When the barge got within range, the Pinkertons had opened fire, without warning, killing a number of Homestead men on the shore, among them a little boy, and wounding scores of others."
"The wanton murders aroused even the daily papers. Several came out in strong editorials, severely criticizing Frick. He had gone too far; he had added fuel to the fire in the labour ranks and would have himself to blame for any desperate acts that might come."
"We were stunned. We saw at once that the time for our manifesto had passed. Words had lost their meaning in the face of the innocent blood spilled on the banks of the Monongahela. Intuitively each felt what was surging in the heart of the others. Sasha broke the silence."
"'Frick is the responsible factor in this crime,' he said; 'he must be made to stand the consequences.' It was the psychological moment for an *Attentat*; the whole country was aroused, everybody was considering Frick the perpetrator of a coldblooded murder. A blow aimed at Frick would re-echo in the poorest hovel, would call the attention of the whole world to the real cause behind the Homestead struggle. It would also strike terror in the enemy's ranks and make them realize that the proletariat of America had its avengers."
"Sasha had never made bombs before, but Most's 'Science of Revolutionary Warfare' was a good textbook. He would procure dynamite from a comrade he knew on Staten Island. He had waited for this sublime moment to serve the Cause, to give his life for the people. He would go to Pittsburgh."
"'We will go with you!' Fedya and I cried together. But Sasha would not listen to it. He insisted that it was unnecessary and criminal to waste three lives on one man."
"We sat down, Sasha between us, holding our hands. In a quiet and even tone he began to unfold to us his plan. He would perfect a time regulator for the bomb that would enable hom to kill Frick, yet save himself. Not because he wanted to escape, No; he wanted to live long enough to justify his act in court, so that the American people might know that he was not a criminal, but an idealist."
"'I will kill Frick,' Sasha said, 'and of course I shall be condemned to death. I will die proudly in the assurance that I gave my life for the people. But I will die by my own hand, like Lingg. Never will I permit our enemies to kill me.'"
"I hung on his lips. His clarity, his calmness and force, the sacred fire of his ideal, enthralled me, held me spellbound. Turning to me, he continued in a deep voice. I was the born speaker, the propagandist, he said. I could do a great deal for his act. I could articulate its meaning to the workers. I could explain that he had no personal grievance against Frick, that as a human being Frick was no less to him than to anyone else. Frick was the symbol of wealth and power, of the injustice and wrong of the capitalistic class, as well as personally responsible for the shedding of the workers' blood. Sasha's act would be directed against Frick, not as a man, but as an enemy of labour. Surely I must see how important it was that I remain behind to plead the meaning of his deed and its message throught the country."
"Every word he said beat upon my brain like a sledge-hammer. The longer he talked, the more conscious I became of the terrible fact that he had no need of me in his last great hour. The realization swept away everything else- message, Cause, duty, propaganda. What meaning could these things have compared with the force that made Sasha flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood from the moment that I had heard his voice and felt the grip of his hand at our first meeting? Had our three years together shown him so little of my soul that he could tell me calmly to go on living after he had been blown to bits or strangled to death? Is it not true love - not ordinary love, but the love to share to the uttermost with the beloved - is it not more compelling than aught else? Those Russians had known it, Jessie Helfmann and Sophia Perovskaya, they had gone with their men in life and death. I could do no less."
"'I will go with you, Sasha," I cried; "I must go with you! I know that as a woman I can be of help. I could gain access to Frick easier than you. I could pave the way for your act. Besides I simply must go with you. Do you understand Sasha?'"
... ... ...
The dialogue goes on to describe Sasha's experiments in building a bomb. It didn't work. Sasha leaves for Homestead. Emma stays in New York. Sasha needs money, and the text goes on to describe Goldman's failed humorous attempt at prostitution to raise money to send to Berkman. She finally succeeds in borrowing money from friends.
... ... ...
"In the early afternoon of Saturday, July 23, Fedya rushed into my room with a newspaper. There it was, in large black letters: 'YOUNG MAN BY THE NAME OF ALEXANDER BERKMAN SHOOTS FRICK - ASSASSIN OVERPOWERED BY WORKING-MEN AFTER DESPERATE STRUGGLE.'"
"Working-men, working-men overpowering Sasha? The paper was lying! He did the act for the working-men; they would never attack him."
"Hurriedly we secured all the afternoon editions. Every one had a different description, but the main fact stood out - our brave Sasha had committed the act! Frick was still alive, but his wounds were considered fatal. He would probably not survive the night. And Sasha - they would kill him. They were going to kill him, I was sure of it. Was I going to let him die alone? Should I go on talking while he was being butchered? I must pay the same price as he - I must stand the consequences - I must share the responsibility!"
... ... ... a few days later ...
"In feverish excitement we read the detailed story about the 'assassin Alexander Berkman'. He had forced his way into Frick's private office on the heels of a Negro porter who had taken in his card. He had immediately opened fire, and Frick had fallen to the ground with three bullets in his body. The first to come to his aid, the paper said, was his assistant Leishman, who was in the office at the time. Working-men, engaged on a carpenter job in the building, rushed in, and one of them felled Berkman to the ground with a hammer. At first they had thought Frick dead. Then a cry was heard from him. Berkman had crawled over and got near enough to strike Frick with a dagger in the thigh. After that he was pounded into unconsciousness. He came to in the station house, but he would answer no questions. One of the detectives grew suspicious about the appearance of Berkman's face and he nearly broke the young man's jaw trying to open his mouth. A peculiar capsule was found hidden there. When asked what it was, Berkman replied with defiant contempt: 'Candy.' On examination it proved to be a dynamite cartridge. The police were sure of a conspiracy. ..."
... ... ...
"Meanwhile the daily press carried on a ferocious campaign against the anarchists. They called for the police to act, to round up 'the instigators, Johann Most, Emma Goldman, and their ilk.' My name had rarely before been mentioned in the papers, but now it appeared every day in the most sensational stories. The police got busy; a witch hunt for Emma Goldman began."
... ... ...
Soldiers occupy Homestead after the further violence. One of the soldiers cheers Berkman's act from the ranks.
... ... ...
"After a long, anxious wait a letter came from Sasha. He had been greatly cheered by the stand of the militiaman, W. L. Iams, he wrote. It showed that even American soldiers were waking up. Could I not get in touch with the boy, send him some anarchist literature? He would be a valuable asset to the movement. I was not to worry about himself; he was in fine spirits and already preparing his court speech - not as a defence, he emphasized, but in explanation of his act. Of course, he would have no lawyer; he would represent his own case as true Russian and other European revolutionaries did. Prominent Pittsburgh attorneys had offered their services free of charge, but he had declined. It was inconsistent for an anarchist to employ lawyers; I should make his attitude on this matter clear to the comrades. ..."
... ... ... Goldman begins to defend Berkman in public rallies
"'Possessed by a fury,' the papers said of my speech the next morning. 'How long will this dangerous woman be permitted to go on?' Ah, if only they knew how I yearned to give up my freedom, to proclaim loudly my share in the deed- if only they knew."
... ... ...
"Weeks passed without any indication of when Sasha's trial would begin. He was still kept on 'Murderer's Row' in the Pittsburgh jail, but the fact that Frick was improving had considerably changed Sasha's legal status. He could not be condemned to death. Through comrades in Pennsylvania I learned that the law called for seven years in prison for his attempt. Hope entered my heart. Seven years are a long time, but Sasha was strong, he had iron perseverance, he could hold out. I clung to this new possibility with every fibre of my being."
... ... ...
Goldman answers publicly one of Berkman's critics from with the anarchist camp. Most was her former teacher, suitor, and close friend. ... ... ...
"At Most's next lecture I sat in the first row, close to the low platform. My hand was on the whip under my long, grey cloak. When he got up and faced the audience, I rose and declared in a loud voice: 'I came to demand proof of your insinuations against Alexander Berkman.'"
"There was instant silence. Most mumbled something about 'hysterical woman," but he said nothing else. I then pulled out my whip and leaped towards him. Repeatedly I lashed him about the face and neck, then broke the whip over my knee and threw the pieces at him. It was all done so quickly that no one had time to interfere."
... ... ...
'Living My Life' is an extremely interesting and humorous book. I urge anyone interested in the conclusion of the story to read it there. We all know that Frick lived, and Berkman went to jail. But a final thought from Goldman on this incident. Just before being deported from the US in 1919, she learned of Frick's death.
... ... ...
"During the farewell dinner given us by our friends in Chicago, on December 2, reporters dashed in with the news of Henry Clay Frick's death. We had not heard of it before, but the newspaper men suspected that the banquet was to celebrate the event. 'Mr. Frick has just died,' a blustering reporter addressed Sasha. 'What have you got to say?' 'Deported by God,' Sasha answered dryly. I added that Mr. Frick had collected his full debt from Alexander Berkman, but that he had died without making good his obligations. 'What do you mean?' the reporters demanded. 'Just this: Henry Clay Frick was a man of the passing hour. Neither in life nor in death would he have been remembered long. It was Alexander Berkman who made him known, and Frick will live only in connection with Berkman's name. His entire fortune could pay not for such glory."