Sunday, August 30, 2015

‘Force is the Supreme Arbiter in Human Affairs’ – Louis Lyngg

"The Bomb – by Frank Harris, 1909-1996.  (The Classic Novel of Anarchist Violence)

This is the fictionalized story of the 1886 Chicago Haymarket events, told from the inside.  Using fiction, the book allows us to go back in a lively, living way.  It is told from the point of view of the alleged ‘bomber’ – Rudolph Schnaubelt.  It was rumored that the actual Schnaubelt was one of the people who threw the bomb that killed police on that day.  The cops were attacking a radical workers protest meeting on Des Plaines Street in Chicago on May 4th, 1886.  The workers were upset over the police killing of strikers at the McCormick factory a few days before. 

Frank Harris, the author, was a well-known anarchist with varying views.  He dedicated this book to the Princess of Monaco, which gives you an idea of his oddness, and also wrote “My Life and Loves,” a romantic remembrance.  John Dos Passos, writing the introduction as a newly-minted Goldwater Republican, hardly mentions the events and instead concentrates on running down Harris as a person.  It is somewhat odd that Harris identifies the bomber as an anarchist sympathizer, as the real bomber was never really identified, but it makes some sense.

1st rally flier, last line removed in 2nd.
The bomb killed 7cops and injured more of them, along with some civilians.  The police responded by killing 4 workers and injuring 70 more.  It is somewhat of a stretch to believe agents-provocateurs would go to the length of killing that many cops.   Given the standard brutality meted out by the Chicago police against strikers and foreign-born workers during this period – attacking peaceful-legal rallies and pickets with clubs and ending with shooting workers to death – it is not hard to believe that some worker might retaliate.  Chicago in those days was a prison-house of labor – workers were unemployed, freezing to death in the winter, brutalized, poorly paid, injured and spit-upon.  The book has sections describing the filthy conditions in the pork packinghouses which work as a fitting prequel to “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair – another tale of working-class Chicago misery and slaughter-house filth.

Louis Lyngg, the heroic German immigrant and focus of this book, claimed at the Haymarket trial that he believed the Chicago cops got what they deserved - that violence should be met by violence. The narrator Schnaubelt indicates that Lyngg made the advanced bomb that did the damage, and also used one to kill himself in jail.  Lyngg was the only one of the 8 defendants who for all practical purposes pleaded guilty. The rest were railroaded for being radical labor agitators.  4 were later hung – Parson, Spies, Engel & Fischer; 2 – Schwab and Fielden - commuted to ‘life’ in prison and 1 – Neebe – jailed for 15 years.  Of these, only Parsons was born in the U.S.  Parsons had turned himself in and refused an offer of clemency, seeing it as a betrayal of his comrades.  He believed he would get justice – an idea somewhat naïve for a socialist/anarchist radical.

The bourgeois media of the day played a great role in howling for the death of labor agitators and strikers.  One Chicago Tribune editorial called for giving strikers ‘strychnine.’  This encouraged the police to split heads at a moments notice - not that much different than today.  The rich man's press later consistently lied about events surrounding Haymarket. After the bombing, thousands of mostly foreign workers in Chicago were arrested on no evidence.  At the trial of the Haymarket 8, evidence was planted, witnesses and cops lied, the jury was packed and the judge broke every legal rule promoting the prosecution.  The jury decision to execute the 7 innocent defendants was later upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court.  As Parson’s pointed out in his speech in the dock, “There is evidently in America one justice for the rich and one for the poor.”  Again, today, not much has changed.  Ultimately the prosecution could not find enough evidence regarding the actual bombing, so their fall-back position was that the defendants ‘encouraged’ the bombing by their actions and words.  No one indicted and hung the editors and journalists of the Chicago Tribune or other newspapers for their words however.  The standard of ‘opposing violence’ is only operational when the violence is carried out by enemies of capital and its state, not in the reverse. 

To this day this court decision is a judicial crime that has never been admitted by the capitalist ‘justice’ machine.

As reflected in this book, of greatest significance is how the press and the capitalists split foreign-born workers from American-born workers to weaken the whole class.  Harris even goes so far as to call the different nationalities different ‘races’ – i.e. Polish, German or Croatians were another ‘race’ from “Americans.”  This reflects how much minor differences' were emphasized.  Again, not that much different from today, given the propaganda against Latinos or other recent immigrants.  Capital does not change its spots – it just re-sends the same message another day. 

Schnaubelt is the center of the story.  A middle-class German fellow schooled in Latin and journalism, he emigrates to New York and then travels to Chicago to write news stories for a leftist New York paper.  In Chicago he meets the various characters in the struggle, including Lingg and his girlfriend Ida.  Somewhat ignorant of politics, Ling schools him and oddly there is something of a ‘bromance’ between the two.  Schnaubelt points out that Spies and Parsons were both advocates of peaceful change – Spies being primarily a reformist.  The most painful part of the book is Schnaubelt’s frustrating romance with Elsie, a bewitching, lithe woman who has no time for politics but who he finds sexually attractive.  Basically they prudishly refrain from having sex in scene after scene to the point where you skip the pages.  Ultimately Schnaubelt’s double-life can go on no longer. 

The narrator points out that after the Haymarket police riot and bombing, police violence against strikers in Chicago subsided.  Chicago labor agitators, socialists and anarchists continued to fight for the 8-hour day, child labor rules, unions, higher pay and for free speech.  A year later the First of May was chosen by the 1st International to be the official labor holiday world-wide.  This became labor’s May Day tradition, one observed by nearly every working class in the world.  Yet here in the U.S., the home of May Day, it is a marginal event not even celebrated by the official labor movement leadership. 

The martyrs to the 8-hour day struggle against capital are buried in Chicago’s Forest Park cemetery, where a monument has been erected to their memory.  Every working person who works a 40-hour week – a group fewer and fewer each day – owes a debt to these labor radicals.  Given the deterioration of working conditions, it is time for a new '8-hour movement' to combat capital.  Poverty wages, ‘independent contractor’ status, long hours, illegality, temp and part-time jobs, peddling, gigs – in effect the casual precariat economy - is now nearly global.  A serious struggle against it might overwhelm capital, as it can no longer deliver for the majority, even in the central capitalist countries. 

(Other books about Chicago – “The Dill-Pickle Club,”, “Embedded in Organized Labor,” and “The Jungle,” reviewed below.)

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
August 30, 2015

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