Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Arbeiter-Zeitung and The Alarm

"Workingmen, are you armed?"

The Arbeiter-Zeitung was the newspaper of the German Working-Men's Party, and the leading Anarchist newspaper in the country during the 1870s and 1880s. Along with a similar publication, The Alarm, it was edited and published here, at 107 5th Ave. (now 41 N. Wells). Both publications played a crucial role in the Haymarket affair of May, 1886.

August Spies, editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, and Albert Parsons, editor of The Alarm, used their publications to constantly agitate for workers' rights -- in particular, the eight-hour workday. Some of their rhetoric, especially that praising dynamite, was certainly intended to incite. A letter published in the Feb. 21, 1885 Alarm waxed philosophical:
Dynamite! of all the good stuff, this is the stuff. Stuff several pounds of this sublime stuff into an inch pipe, gas or water pipe, plug up both ends, insert a cap with fuse attached, place this in the immediate neighborhood of a lot of rich loafers, who live by the sweat of other people's brows, and light the fuse. A most cheerful and gratifying result will follow. In giving dynamite to the downtrodden millions of the globe, science has done its best work. The dear stuff can be carried around in the pocket without danger, while it is a formidable weapon against any force of militia, police or detectives that may want to stifle the cry for justice that goes forth from the plundered slaves....A pound of this good stuff beats a bushel of ballots all hollow, and don't you forget it.
This passage was quoted by the prosecution at the Haymarket trial, in which Spies, Parsons, and five other anarchists (several of the others were also linked with the newspapers published at this location) were convicted and sentenced to death. Spies claimed to have kept 9,000 dynamite bombs in his office at the Arbeiter-Zeitung (although this was probably more of a boast than a reality).

In the days leading up to Haymarket, the two anarchist newspapers attempted to rouse their fellow workers against their oppressors. On May 1, 1886, The Alarm editorialized, "Make your demand for eight hours with weapons in your hands to meet the capitalistic bloodhounds -- police and militia -- in proper manner."

On May 3, Spies drafted the famous "Revenge" circular in his office at the Arbeiter-Zeitung, which strongly suggested that the Haymarket meeting would be a violent one, and that attendees should bring weapons (although Spies attempted to delete the incendiary elements of the circular before it was published, a number of the unedited copies went out).

The afternoon edition of the Arbeiter-Zeitung on May 3 included two signals which were widely known to be signs of the start of The Revolution: a letter "Y" and the word "Ruhe" (rest) in the "Letter-Box" column on the front page.

The promotion of violence by the Arbeiter-Zeitung and The Alarm, plus the tension associated with a general strike for the eight-hour day in Chicago at the time, brought events to a head on May 4 at Haymarket Square, where an unknown assailant brought dynamite, and threw it into a crowd of police, who were attempting to disrupt the meeting. The police began firing their weapons, and an all-out riot began, in which ten died.

Spies and Parsons were hanged for their role in the riot, although neither threw the bomb. Their violent publications turned public opinion against them, and their trial, though a travesty, reflected the hatred of the populace towards these rabble-rousers. The Arbeiter-Zeitung continued publishing after Haymarket, in a new location on 12th St., but The Alarm never again appeared.

A sketch of the old building on Wells St. is below:

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