May Day from the Haymarket gallows: Albert Parsons’ words of 1886
Red carnations rest in the hand of a figure that is part of the Haymarket Memorial in Chicago. | Seth Anderson / via Flickr (CC)

In cities around the world, workers will be marching on May Day this weekend. In almost every country (except the United States and Canada), May 1 is International Workers Day — a day of protest, solidarity, and celebration. Even though bosses and governments have tried to erase the memory of May Day for generations, the truth is that it was born right here in the U.S.A. On May 1, 1886, over 340,000 workers from 12,000 factories across the country laid down their tools and hit the streets to demand an eight-hour workday.

In Chicago, more than 80,000 people marched up Michigan Avenue, sending shockwaves through employers who feared a workers’ revolution might actually break out. Chicago Police attacked picketing workers outside a plant, killing two. A demonstration against the brutality was held in Haymarket Square on May 4. One of the speakers who addressed the rally that night was Albert Parsons — a printer, editor of the labor paper The Alarm, a founder of the Chicago Trades and Labor Assembly. As a teenager from Alabama, Parsons had served in the Confederate Army, but later became an activist for labor rights for former slaves.

His wife was Lucy Parsons, a talented organizer famous in her own right. She had been born a slave in Texas, worked for the Freedman’s Bureau after the Civil War, and remained a radical and labor activist all her life.

As the rally in Haymarket was ending, police attacked the assembled workers and an unknown person threw a bomb. In the end, seven policemen and four workers were dead. Martial law was declared throughout the nation and labor unions were suppressed in the weeks that followed. Albert, who had actually already left the rally by the time the bomb exploded, was put on trial for murder along with other rally organizers and participants. Eventually, seven of the eight defendants — including Albert Parsons — were ordered to hang. Below is an excerpt from Albert’s eight-hour testimony before the court.

As we pay tribute to Parsons and the other Haymarket martyrs, People’s World wishes all our readers in the United States and internationally a Happy May Day.

Now, then, I want to call your attention to what I regard as the origin of this bomb at the Haymarket. I believe it was instigated by Eastern monopolists to produce public sentiment against popular movements, especially the eight-hour movement then pending, and that some of the Pinkertons were their tools to execute the plan.

To sustain this accusation, I submit to you the following facts: Just exactly four days before the grand strike for eight hours throughout the United States, and only one week before the Haymarket tragedy, the New York Times, one of the leading organs of railroad, bank, coal, telegraph and telephone monopoly, published the following notice, under date of April 25, 1886, in an editorial on the condition of the market and the causes of the existing decline and the panicky symptoms which existed. The New York Times says: “The strike question is, of course, the dominant one, and is disagreeable in a variety of ways. A short and easy way to settle it is urged in some quarters, which is to indict for conspiracy every man who strikes and summarily lock him up. This method would undoubtedly strike a wholesome terror into the hearts of the working classes. Another way suggested is to pick out the leaders and make such an example of them as would scare others into submission.”

Albert Parsons. | Public domain. Wikimedia Commons

This was the 25th of April, an editorial in the New York Times, written in view of the contemplated strike on the 1st of May for eight hours. The New York Tribune…the servile organ of the most oppressive forms of monopoly, said just about this time in an editorial: “The best policy would be to drive workingmen into open mutiny against the law.” The New York Herald, at the date suggested by its contemporaries to make examples of the leaders in the short-hour movement, said: “Two hours taken from ten hours of labor throughout the United States by the proposed short-hour movement would make a difference annually of hundreds of millions in value, both to the capital invested in industries and to existing stock.”

The issue of the hour, then, with the New York and Chicago Stock Exchanges and Board of Trade and Produce Exchanges was how to preserve the steadiness of the market and maintain the fictitious values then and there rapidly falling under the paralyzing influence of the simultaneous eight-hour demand throughout the United States.

Your Honor, so common is this impression among people, so common is this belief among the labor organizations and workingmen of this country, that I wish to impress upon you the view which I present. I am a member of the Knights of Labor, that is an organization of nearly a million and a half American workingmen. I am a member of my union, the Printers’ Union, and have been for fourteen years in the city of Chicago. This is a national and international organization with some sixty-odd thousand members in the United States.

These organizations publish a great many newspapers in America, and every single one of them believes that the bomb at the Haymarket was instigated by the monopolists to break down the eight-hour movement. Hear our side. You have heard the Citizens’ Association’s side of this question, you have heard the bankers’ side, you have heard the railway magnates’ side, you have heard the Board of Trade’s side; we have not been convicted for any act done, but simply because of speeches made and of opinions expressed.

I am, therefore, showing you that that bomb was hurled by labor’s enemies at the instigation of the monopolists, and not by us. Their speeches, their utterances, their newspapers openly counseled and advised by “speech and print” just such things. Did they not? Then are they not the guilty perpetrators? The question, to use your honor’s language, is “not whether they did it with their own hands, but whether they (the monopolists) set causes at work which did end in the Haymarket tragedy?” By their own proposals, I have shown you that they did.

What socialism is — Socialism, your honor, means the abolition of wage slavery because it allows the people to carry on production and consumption by means of a system of universal cooperation. That is what I said at the Haymarket. I pointed out at the Haymarket the fact that the workingmen were being deprived, according to Colonel Wright, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States. He proves by the statistics that they were producing values to the extent of $10 a day, and receiving $1.15; that they were deprived of $8.85.

Now, I said to them: “Here,” said I, “Socialism will give you that $8.85; under Socialism, you would get that whole $10, whereas under the wage system you receive $1.15 of it. But that is not all: socialism will make labor-saving machinery a blessing instead of a curse to you; by it, wealth will be increased, and drudgery diminished indefinitely.

Socialism is simple justice, because wealth is a social, not an individual product, and its appropriation by a few members of society creates a privileged class — a class who monopolizes all the benefits of society by enslaving the producing class.”

Now, your honor, this is what makes the monopolists mad at the Anarchists. This angers the corporation men. See what they say. The result is that a verdict must be brought against Socialism; because, as the District Attorney states here, the law, and the government, and Anarchy are upon trial. That is the reason. Not for what I did, but it is for what I believe. It is what I say that these men object to.

The verdict was against socialism — as said by the Chicago Times the day after the verdict. “In the opinion of many thoughtful men, the labor question has reached a point where blood-letting has become necessary,” says the Chicago Iron-Monger

“The verdict of death pronounced by a Chicago jury and court against these Socialist malefactors is the verdict of the American people against the crime called Socialism,” says the Chicago Times. By the American people, the Times means the monopolists.

In more familiar words, as used heretofore by the Times, “other workingmen will take warning from their fate, and learn a valuable lesson.” The Times in 1878 advised that “Hand-grenades (bombs) should be thrown among the striking sailors,” who were striving to obtain higher wages, “as by such treatment they would be learned a valuable lesson, and other strikers would take warning from their fate.”

So it seems, “hand-grenades for strikers,” and “the gallows for Socialists,” are recommended by the organ of monopoly, as a terror to both.

Socialism aims not at the lives of individuals but at the system which makes paupers and millionaires possible. Socialism aims at the death of no man nor the destruction of property, and the capitalistic press lies, and they know it when they make such charges against Socialists.

They lie about us in order to deceive the people, but the people will not be deceived much longer. No, they will not.


Albert Parsons
Albert Parsons

Albert Richard Parsons (1848–1887) was a pioneer American Socialist and Anarchist, newspaper editor, orator, and labor activist. After the Civil War, he and his wife Lucy Parsons were activists for the rights of former slaves in Texas. They moved to Chicago in 1873 where they became activists for the rights of workers. Albert worked for newspapers and in 1884 began editing The Alarm newspaper. Albert Parsons was one of four Chicago radical leaders falsely convicted of conspiracy and hanged following The Haymarket bombing. Parsons was buried in Forest Home Cemetery in a plot marked since 1893 by the Haymarket Martyrs Monument, in Forest Park, Illinois. Lucy Parsons’ grave is next to the monument.