There was a time when activists could quote passages from these speeches from memory. The speech George Engel, German-born revolutionary and heroic martyr of our class, to the court on his sentence of death, though plainly innocent of the charges, for the Haymarket bombing in 1886.
‘Address of George Engel to Judge Gary’ (1886) from The Famous Speeches of the Eight Chicago Anarchists, Edited and Published by Lucy Parsons. Chicago, 1910.
When, in the year 1872, I left Germany because it had become impossible for me to gain there, by the labor of my hands, a livelihood such as man is worthy to enjoy the introduction of machinery having ruined the smaller craftsmen and made the outlook for the future appear very dark to them I concluded to go with my family to the land of America, the land that had been praised to me by so many as the land of liberty.
On the occasion of my arrival at Philadelphia, on the 8th of January, 1873, my heart swelled with joy in the hope and in the belief that in the future I would live among free men, and in a free country. I made up my mind to become a good citizen of this country, and congratulated myself on having left Germany, and landed in this glorious republic. And I believe my past history will bear witness that I have ever striven to be a good citizen of this country. This is the first occasion of my standing before an American court, and on this occasion it is murder of which I am accused. And for what reasons do I stand here? For what reasons am I accused of murder? The same that caused me to leave Germany the poverty, the misery of the working classes.
And here, too, in this “free republic,” in the richest country of the world, there are numerous proletarians for whom no table is set; who, as outcasts of society, stray joylessly through life. I have seen human beings gather their daily food from the garbage heaps of the streets, to quiet there- with their gnawing hunger.
I have read in the daily papers of occurrences which prove to me that here, too, in this great “free land,” people are doomed to die of starvation. This brought me to reflection, and to the question: What are the peculiar causes that could bring about such a condition of society? I then began to give our political institutions more attention than formerly. My discoveries brought to me the knowledge that the same society evils exist here that exist in Germany. This is the explanation of what induced me to study the social question, to become a Socialist. And I proceeded with all the means at my command to make myself familiar with the new doctrine.
When, in 1878, I came here from Philadelphia, I strove to better my condition, believing it would be less difficult to establish a means of livelihood here than in Philadelphia, where I had tried in vain to make a living. But here, too, I found myself disappointed. I began to understand that it made no difference to the proletarian, whether he lived in New York, Philadelphia, or Chicago. In the factory in which I worked, I became acquainted with a man who pointed out to me the causes that brought about the difficult and fruitless battles of the workingmen for the means of existence. He explained to me, by the logic of scientific Socialism, how mistaken I was in believing that I could make an independent living by the toil of my hands, so long as machinery, raw material, etc., were guaranteed to the capitalists as private property by the State. That I might further enlighten my mind in regard to these facts, I purchased with money earned by myself and family, sociological works, among them those of LaSalle, Marx, and Henry George. After the study of these books, it became clear to me why a workingman could not decently exist in this rich country. I now began to think of ways and means to remedy this. I hit upon the ballot box; for it had been told me so often that this was the means by which workingmen could better their condition.
I took part in politics with the earnestness of a good citizen; but I was soon to find that the teachings of a “free ballot box” are a myth, and that I had again been duped. I came to the opinion that as long as workingmen are economically enslaved they cannot be politically free. It became clear to me that the working class would never bring about a form of society guaranteeing work, bread, and a happy life by means of the ballot.
Before I had lost my faith in the ballot box the following occurrences transpired which proved to me that the politicians of this country were thoroughly corrupt. When, in the fourteenth ward, in which I lived and had the right to vote, the Social Democratic party had grown to such dimensions as to make it dangerous for the Republican and Democratic parties, the latter forthwith united and took stand against the Social Democrats. This, of course, was natural; for are not their interests identical? And as the Social Democrats nevertheless elected their candidates, they were beaten out of the fruits of their victory by the corrupt schemes of the old political parties. The ballot box was stolen and the votes so “corrected” that it became impossible for the opposition to proclaim their candidates elected. The workingmen sought to obtain justice through the courts, but it was all in vain. The trial cost them fifteen hundred dollars, but their rights they never obtained.
Soon enough I found that political corruption had burrowed through the ranks of the Social Democrats. I left this party and joined the International Working People’s Association that was just being organized. The members of that body have the firm conviction that the workingman can free himself from the tyranny of capitalism only through force, just as all advances of which history speaks have been brought about through force alone. We see from the history of this country that the first colonists won their liberty only through force; that through force slavery was abolished, and just as the man who agitated against slavery in this country had to ascend the gallows, so also must we. He who speaks for the workingman today must hang. And why? Because this republic is not governed by people who have obtained their offices honestly.
Who are the leaders at Washington that are to guard the interests of this nation? Have they been elected by the people, or by the aid of money? They have no right to make laws for us, because they were not elected by the people. These are the reasons why I have lost all respect for American laws.
The fact that through the improvement of machinery so many men are thrown out of employment, or at best, working but half the time, brings them to reflection. They have leisure, and they consider how their conditions can be changed. Reading matter that has been written in their interest gets into their hands, and, faulty though their education may be, they can nevertheless cull the truths contained in those writings. This, of course, is not pleasant for the capitalistic class, but they cannot prevent it. And it is my firm conviction in a comparatively short time the great mass of proletarians will understand that they can be freed from their bonds only through Socialism. One must consider what Carl Schurz said scarcely eight years ago: That, “in this country there is no room for Socialism” ; and yet today Socialism stands before the bar of the court. For this reason it is my firm conviction that if these few years sufficed to make Socialism one of the burning questions of the day, it will require but a short time more to put it in practical operation.
All that I have to say in regard to my conviction is, that I was not at all surprised; for it has ever been that the men who have endeavored to enlighten their fellow men have been thrown into prison or put to death, as was the case with John Brown. I found, long ago, that the workingman has no more rights here than anywhere else in the world. The State’s attorney has stated that we were not citizens. I have been a citizen this long time: but it does not occur to me to appeal for my rights as a citizen, knowing as well as I do, that this does not make a particle of difference. Citizen or not as a workingman I am without rights, and therefore I respect neither your rights nor your laws, which are made and directed by one class against the other the working class.
Of what does my crime consist?
That I have labored to bring about a system of society by which it is impossible for one to hoard millions, through the improvements in machinery, while the great masses sink to degradation and misery. As water and air are free to all, so should inventions of scientific men be applied for the benefit of all. The statute laws we have are in opposition to the laws of nature, in that they rob the great masses of their rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I am too much a man of feeling not to battle against the societary conditions of today. Every considerate person must combat a system which makes it possible for the individual to rake and hoard millions in a few years, while on the other side, thousands become tramps and beggars.
Is it to be wondered at that under such circumstances men arise who strive and struggle to create other conditions, where humanity shall take precedence of all other considerations? This is the aim of Socialism, and to this I joyfully subscribe.
The States attorney said here that Anarchy was on trial.
Anarchism and Socialism are as much alike, in my opinion, as one egg is like another. They differ only in their tactics. The Anarchists have abandoned the way of liberating humanity which Socialists would take to accomplish this I say: Believe no more in the ballot, and use all other means at your command. Because we have done so we stand arraigned here today because we have pointed out to the people the proper way. The Anarchists are being hunted and persecuted for this in every clime, but in the face of it all Anarchism is gaining more and more adherents, and if you cut off our opportunities of open agitation, then will the work be done secretly. If the State’s attorney thinks he can root out Socialism by hanging seven of our men and condemning the other to fifteen years’ servitude, he is laboring under a very wrong impression. The tactics simply will be changed that is all. No power on earth can rob the workingman of his knowledge of how to make bombs and that knowledge he possesses. I do not wish for State’s Attorney Grinnell and his assistant, Furthman, the fate of the chief of police Rumpff.
If Anarchism could be rooted out, it would have been accomplished long ago in other countries. On the night on which the first bomb in this country was thrown, I was in my apartments at home. I knew nothing of the conspiracy which the State’s attorney pretends to have discovered.
It is true I am acquainted with several of my fellow-defendants; with most of them however, but slightly, through seeing them at meetings, and hearing them speak. Nor do I deny, that I, too, have spoken at meetings, saying that, if every workingman had a bomb in his pocket, capitalistic rule would soon come to an end.
That is my opinion, and my wish; it became my conviction when I discovered the wickedness of the capitalistic conditions of the day.
When hundreds of workingmen have been destroyed in mines in consequence of faulty preparations, for the repairing of which the owners were too stingy, the capitalistic papers have scarcely noticed it. See with what satisfaction and cruelty they make their report, when here and there workingmen have been fired upon, while striking for a few cents’ increase in their wages, that they might earn only a scanty subsistence.
Can anyone feel respect for a government that accords rights only to the privileged classes and none to the workers? We have seen but recently how the coal barons combined to form a conspiracy to raise the price of coal, while at the same time reducing the already low wages of their men. Are they accused of conspiracy on that account? But when workingmen dare ask an increase in their wages, the militia and the police are sent out to shoot them down.
For such a government as this I can feel no respect, and will combat it, despite its power, despite its police, despite its spies.
I hate and combat, not the individual capitalist, but the system that gives him those privileges. My greatest wish is that workingmen may recognize who are their friends and who are their enemies.
As to my conviction, brought about as it was, through capitalistic influence, I have not one word to say.
The Famous Speeches of the Eight Chicago Anarchists, Edited and Published y Lucy A. Parsons. Chicago, 1910.
PDF of full book: https://archive.org/download/famousspeechesof00pars/famousspeechesof00pars.pdf