[Marxism] ISR on Haymarket
markalause at gmail.com
Mon Dec 16 09:15:33 MST 2013
Another few quick comments on this . . . .
Last October, I gave a paper on the state of revolutionary theory in the
age of the Haymarket Riot and Trial (1886-87) at the labor history
conference at Wayne State University. This was on a panel with Timothy
Messer-Kruse aimed at exploring the broader question of late 19th century
anarchism. After I returned, I dropped the ISR a note asking if they were
interested at all in a revised version of the paper.
One might think that a socialist publication might be happy to get an offer
to write lifelong socialist who spent decades working in the broadly
Trotskyist tradition bringing a hefty stack of respectable publications
offering an essay in their field would merit the courtesy of a response.
But I never got one. That left me in a sour mood, but, I told myself,
Haymarket is a historical question and I could see how more pressing
matters would claim its limited space.
Then came this piece on Timothy Messer-Kruse's work, which I can only
assume was in the hopper at the time.
Fine. Maybe the ISR would be interested in a discussion of different
interpretations of the historical evidence. Of course, that would imply
that there is no clear-cut self-gratifying morally comforting doctrine that
means everybody who holds a different position on a historical event is a
running dog lackey of the reactionaries. which everyone should agree
The reviewer acknowledges that Messer-Kruse did massive amounts of new
research on the subject and closes by complaining that he did nothing new.
But there is no need to itemize these contradictions.
At a certain point, AFL-CIO officialdom decided to embrace the Haymarket
anarchists. Not as anarchists, of course, but as euphemistically described
"labor militants" and "eight-hour anarchists." Since, labor historians
have generally embraced this liberalization of the anarchists, establishing
it as the new dogma. In fact, most of the secondary literature by academic
labor historians carefully skirts the entire question of whether an
anarchist threw the bomb.
As an aside, this post-mortem pacification of the Haymarket anarchists
often involves a deliberate confusion of those pacifist "philosophical
anarchists" who operated at that same time. But confusing them is like
confusing the ISO with those "socialists" who support Democrats.
One might point out that this requires ignoring everything the anarchists
themselves did and advocated. The International Working People's
Association inherited a long tradition of insurrectionist ideas about
revolution. Like Blanqui, they believed that a small group of people could
take dramatic action that could inspire the masses and detonate a
revolution. This is the persistent theme the anarchists themselves sounded
through their publications.
Taking up the new technology, the IWPA wrote and published their praises of
dynamite as the great equalizer in the modern industrial world. And their
advocacy of its use. And they taught people (rather indiscriminately) how
to make and use bombs.
This new anarchist-as-cuddlebunny school also ignores the impressive
evidence published by Paul Avrich, an outstanding anarchist scholar, who
not only always acted on the idea that an anarchist threw the bomb in
Haymarket Square but did more than most of us would have thought possible
at this late date to run down
Avrich well understood the difference between the evidence a historian uses
and those a courtroom lawyer uses. They are not the same. While we
obviously can't subpoena witnesses, we also look at a great deal of
material that may not be admissible in a trial. Our purpose, of course, is
Our job is to figure out what happened in the past.
Frankly, I was convinced that an anarchist had thrown the bomb by reading
Avrich decades ago. But few of the current American labor historians
seemed to have bothered . . . perhaps because he was an anarchist primarily
interested in European history. When Messer-Kruse came along with a great
deal more evidence supporting Avrich's view, it has
But why should we allow historical evidence to stand in the way of a good
Why, indeed . . .
Because the reduction of Marxism into a secular religion will not benefit
us much as an understanding of the general idea of revolution and how it
developed through the complex and irregular processes of the real world.
And taking these things on faith is certainly capable of doing considerable
damage. Marxism grew from a long heritage of anticapitalist ideas and
organizations. It repudiated a deeply rooted penchant for secret societies
and quasi-Masonic notions about revolution. Where there were insiders and
outsiders. The insiders had the right idea or, at least, enjoyed the
fraternal protection of the other insiders, while the outsiders were not to
be trusted and to be treated as "opponents," if not enemies.
Understanding how these kinds of pre-Marxist traditions came to be seen as
something the movement needed (needs) to outgrow would be quite beneficial
to us today.
More information about the Marxism