‘The Haymarket Tradition Lives and Grows in Field of American Literature’ by Alan Calmer from the Daily Worker. Vol. 11 No. 102. April 28, 1934.
DURING the last three or four years, the alliance of American intellectuals with the revolutionary working class has become more than a mere tendency. Today scores of American writers are rallying to the defense of class-war prisoners and creating a literature exposing capitalist justice. We must not forget, however, that this is not a new phenomenon springing full-grown out of the economic crisis. It is the continuation of a thin stream that runs through American letters and is now broadening into a powerful current.
Almost fifty years ago, at the time of Haymarket, when all the forces of the bourgeois press cried for the blood of the labor leaders, a few American writers were courageous enough to defy “public opinion” and attempt to save the first martyrs in the struggle for the eight-hour day.
Howells Led Weak Protest
There was, of course, William Dean Howells, acknowledged as a leader of the literary movement of his time. Howells was convinced that the “Chicago Anarchists” were innocent. “I have never believed them guilty of murder, or anything but their opinions, and I did not think they were justly convicted,” he wrote to Judge Pryor in Sept. 1887. He sent a letter to the New York Tribune in their behalf, and attempted—without much success—- to enlist other writers, including the once fiery Whittier, to protest against their conviction. “The last two months have been full of heartache and horror for me, on account of the civic murder committed last Friday at Chicago,” he wrote the following month. “You may have seen in the papers that I had taken part in petitioning for clemency for the Anarchists, whom I thought unfairly tried and most unjustly condemned. It’s all been an atrocious piece of frenzy and cruelty, for which we must stand ashamed forever before history.”
“Capitalism’s Lust for Blood”
Howells was too firmly entrenched in his New England security to be jolted into action by the labor battles of the eighties or even to understand the real meaning of these struggles. While he confined his protest to composing letters and speaking to individuals, another writer of the time took a decisive stand In the Haymarket case. Robert Reitzel, who was the outstanding German man of letters living in the United States, agitated at mass meetings and in the pages of his literary magazine, “Der arme Teufel,” for the liberation of Parsons, Spies, and the others. He saw at once the “lust for blood of the monster capitalism” and attempted to arouse the working class to rescue their leaders. On soapboxes in various cities he called on the workers to march to the Chicago jail and free the victims of bourgeois justice.
When they were condemned to death, “Der arme Teufel” appeared draped in black; and the Haymarket case left a permanent stamp upon its pages, as well as upon the literary writing of its editor.
During the fight for their release, Reitzel visited the Haymarket leaders in jail. He printed a letter by Spies in “Der arme Teufel;” Reitzel referred to the letter as a stirring document, which he compared to a monologue from a German drama on Danton.
The Calibre of the Martyrs
Spies was himself a man of culture. His labor speeches contain many fitting quotations from German literature. When he was given the opportunity to plead for his life in the courtroom, he turned his speech into a public expose of capitalism (thereby placing his speech in that splendid tradition of revolutionary courtroom tactics that extends from Marx to Dimitroffl).
He began with a clear-cut statement of the class struggle and directed a slashing reference at the literary knowledge of the prosecuting attorney. “Grinnell spoke of Victor Hugo,” said Spies. “I need not repeat what he said, but will answer him in the language of one of our German philosophers: Our bourgeoisie erects monuments in honor of the memory of the classics. If they had read them they would burn them!’” This speech, as well as Parsons’ address in the courtroom, belongs to the literature of labor.
“The Bomb”—A First Attempt
Frank Harris was in England at the time of the Haymarket case and he watched the events from the distance. “The reports that reached us in London from American newspapers were all bitterly one-sided,” he wrote. “They read as if some enraged capitalist had dictated them.” He decided to investigate the case. But it was not until 1907 that he visited America, and published. as a result of his research, “The Bomb,” a novel on Haymarket. Although it is a sympathetic account, it contains distortions of fact based upon the very sources which Harris scorned.
A revolutionary novel on Haymarket has yet to be written, although its events and figures furnish the material for a really great piece of revolutionary writing. In the field of art. however, Mitchell Siporin, of the Chicago John Reed Club, is doing a series of drawings on the subject which is a major contribution to proletarian art. And in recent May Day poems by the young Communist poets, Edwin Rolfe and Alfred Hayes, the tradition of Haymarket is carried forward in our revolutionary literature.
The Daily Worker began in 1924 and was published in New York City by the Communist Party US and its predecessor organizations. Among the most long-lasting and important left publications in US history, it had a circulation of 35,000 at its peak. The Daily Worker came from The Ohio Socialist, published by the Left Wing-dominated Socialist Party of Ohio in Cleveland from 1917 to November 1919, when it became became The Toiler, paper of the Communist Labor Party. In December 1921 the above-ground Workers Party of America merged the Toiler with the paper Workers Council to found The Worker, which became The Daily Worker beginning January 13, 1924.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/dailyworker/1934/v11-n101-sect-two-apr-28-1934-DW-LOC.pdf