Letter to Alexander Berkman, by Anna Sasnovsky

[copied from the IISH Berkman papers https://socialhistory.org/en/collections/yiddish-letters/alexander-berkman ]


Anarchist Aid Society for Political Prisoners
New York July 15, 1925
Dear Comrade:
Your letter of June 20 received. You will please pardon the long delay in answering it. Due to some reasons it was impossible to get the comrades together any sooner.
Regarding the question of sending money through you or direct to the prisoners has been discussed several times before. Our group is still with the opinion that we make as many direct connections as we possibly can. We shall continue sending money through your channels and direct addressees. This matter will however be under consideration again when we make our final decision on the form of orgaization.
Your second proposition, the amalgamation of the four wings into one, was taken up and discussed from all angles. We considered it from a principle point of view as well as from a practical. We have a definite division of opinion on this matter. Some maintain that combining forces with other factions means diminishing our activity. It will divide more than unite us. Our group is very well known in the labor circles. It is very well known that we have struggled through great difficulties and yet maintain our work alone. The small amounts we are able to collect is of greater value in my own opinion. It makes it much more pleasant to work with our own forces than lean upon the shoulders of others. The money we collect comes from entertainments and other great efforts. It is made quite clear for what the money is collected. Some of the Comrades were with the same opinion as you.
We have taken no definitive action for the time being. Several of our active comrades are away for a short time and since the difference of opinion is wide therefore we decided to postpone our final decision for about a month. We have meanwhile appointed a committee to get in touch with the other groups if there are any or individuals to find out what they are doing and how.
I suppose you have already received the $50 sent two weeks ago. We shall send you some more very soon. We have arranged a concert and dance for next month which I hope will bring us in some funds. It will be held in Coney Island where many idlers spend valuable time. It is there where people find themselves in hot summer days.
As you already notice that our secretary is away, I shall correspond with you until she gets back.
With comradely greetings,
Acting Sec’y
Anna L. Sasnovsky

In Warsaw (two letters to l’anarchie), by “Nanitcha”

[published in l’anarchie n°4, May 4th 1905]

With songs, only songs, with red flags for all guns, the people, in Russia, has yet again gone to their deaths.

And the cosaks, without risk, were able to beat them left and right, this powerless crowd.

They were having a stroll, over 5000 of them, and women and children were with them. They left the Vitzkovsky square, were they had gathered; they went through the streets, protected, they thought, by their red flag and their wisdom.

And the uhlans… and the cosaks came. In the Marchalskovskaia street, police murderers started to charge with great blows from their nagaikas.

I don’t know… they say there are over 50 dead and as many wounded… We will never know the truth, as always here…. Everyone takes home their dead and cry…

A few officers, they say, were hurt by a bomb. Is it true? These brutes have such tough skin…

60.000 soldiers, children of the people, were waiting, arms in hands, for their brothers of servitude. What to tell them, what to shout at them? What inconsequence, what madness on both sides! To walk without weapons towards guns! To use guns on an unarmed crowd!

Here, like in every country, will unfortunate men carry weapons much longer to protect the fortunate and kill their own kin?

How long will poor men who have strength in numbers  still have the ridiculous magnanimity not to use every means to kill the riche men?


[published in l’anarchie n°5 Thursday May 11th 1905]

I told you all yesterday that people had gone empty handed, without weapons, towards the soldiers. that there had been many dead and wounded, more than 50 of each. I was well below the truth; there has been over 200 dead and 300 wounded.

The workers and the others who went on a stroll like with popes, were following an order by doing this silly action. And this order, how surprising, was given by the Committee of the Socialist Workers’ Party. On the day before the celebration, they had published proclamations throughout the city. They said that people should be on a completely general strike for one day. But also, they wrote: that all who attacked private property would be killed.

The committee wanted it to be a peaceful demonstration, a procession; it was that, a death procession for many people.

Since people don’t have weapons at home, they couldn’t take them, since they had to respect individual property, and consequently the places where there were guns… and then they let themselves be slaughtered.

I don’t have news from your country, but Rosalef told me that the same had happened, in a town where they make pottery in the middle of France [Limoges]… and that the socialists had said the same thing as here.

They are all the same in every country. they do not want to destroy the cause of social evil, the economic injustice. They think or pretend to think that, once they replace the picture of the tsar by the picture of the republic, all will be over.

I feel deeply within myself, as do a few others, that it is not so and that we must do better.


Letter from Russia, “Nanitcha”

[Published in l’anarchie, n°1, April 13th 1905]

Petersburg, April 5th 1905.

Quickly I set out to write this reply to you, dear comrades, because I need to burn your letter, although it is so dear to me. It has been eight days already that my primitive freedom hangs by a thread, which is getting thinner and thinner.

This whole week i was a bit worried, awaiting a not so pleasurable visit. But fortune is on my side, the blow has not yet been struck. And I start to learn to be watchful. You think that the excess of oppression will make the spirit of revolt grow. I also believed that before coming back here and it is only now that reality has proven the opposite.

Maybe this has to do with the psychology of the Russian people, which is very strange to establish. I could give you a few traits of this psychology in a little article for the newspaper, but you will correct my terrible Franco-Russian, which is becoming more and more Russian because, without practice, I am forgetting how to speak French.

As for unpublished details, I am afraid I can tell you nothing new.

Your newspapers, I suppose, have told you what is happening here, even more than that.

I totally agree with you, we need to enter each head to abolish the idea, the meaning even of authority.

To consider each person as an individual, to speak their language, to help them walk by walking alongside them–that is free creation, that is the most productive work, although unnoticed.

Don’t think that comrades here let themselves be hypnotised by the face of the republic, not at all; but, you know yourself that we can achieve nothing with ignorant people, with a herd. And if the people is a herd, as energetic as its leaders might be, what good will it achieve? But that is too sad, and we all had too many illusions.

I wish I could talk more about this, but I am in a hurry.

One last word. A few days ago, A few “anarchist rebels”, as they were called (they are only social revolutionists), were arrested. People say that in Paris 37 Russians were arrested, and that the Russian government demands that they be sent back here. What will your government do?! Is it true?!


Tenderness, by Teresa Claramunt

[Published in Freedom in the 1890s.]

By Teresa Claramunt

When I read about the news published by the Spanish newspapers I could not help taking up my pen in order to write a small article with the title « Tenderness. » It is well-known that this quality is familiar to us women, because of the natural feebleness of our organism and also of the limited education we receive. Such a state of things being general amongst the fair sex, it is supposed that queens are not an exception to the rule under ordinary circumstances ; therefore I was not surprised by the Spanish Regent’s declarations. But the good señora has become aware of the infamies that were committed by her ministers somewhat too late ; because, indeed, since her elevation to regency so many infamies have been committed that she should have shown sooner the tender feelings of her heart.
But the poor señora is not to be blamed, because strength and feeling have their limit in the human machine and it is not to be expected that a being who is constantly lifting her eyes to heaven or to the altar should see what is passing about her. On the other hand, when one’s heart is full of divine love, there is o place for any human feeling ; because, by dint of consecrating all one’s love on a single fixed object, all the rest lose their worth for him who is in such a mood. I, therefore, do not find fault with the Regent’s having so recently awaked to so grave a matter. The perfume of incense causes perturbations in the brain ;—the innocent victims’ cries have made the throne quake, and the concussion has had for result that Maria Cristina has moved her eyes from the altar to direct them to the ground on which it stands.
Then—oh, how horrible !—she saw at her feet rivers of blood and heard piteous bewailing. Then, sharpening her senses, she saw obvious chinks in the solid walls of her palace ; then, as a tender mother and a tender woman, she made known to the whole nation that she is « willing to have justice done, » and that she reproves her ministers for the infamies they have committed. And as, amongst these infamies, the crime of Montjuich is to be taken into account,the queen could not help speaking about it : since innocent victims have filled with blood the moat of this Bastille called Montjuich ; because not only in the last trial were innocent men tortured, but she who writes these lines can affirm that the said men who were shot, and the four that were condemned to perpetual detention for the bomb thrown by Pallas at Marshal Campos were also tortured.
But let us leave the dead—the tenderness of a queen cannot recall them to life ;—let us occupy ourselves with those who are innocently suffering in the hulks in consequence of these infamies.
« I am willing that justice should be done, » said Maria Cristina. It is well-known that the justice a queen is minded to have is very limited, but it is to be supposed that the queen’s limits of justice will reach these honest workmen so unjustly condemned and so enable them to again take their place in society.
We who bitterly remember the infamies committed in Montjuich by Marzo, Portas, G
arcia, Navarro, Tresolo and other torturers, do not forget the four workmen who are innocently suffering at the Ceuta hulks for the first trial, and the twenty that also suffer for the second one. We have given important information to the public, and its sad character of truth has interested all the hearts of civilised countries.
The queen’s latest affirmations are the last stroke that will compel the revision of these atrocious sentences, and chastise severely the torturers and impostors.
If that is not done, the people surely will do it.

Poems published in “Freedom”, Ethel Carnie Holdsworth

(Dedicated to the thousands of Revolutionaries languishing in Soviet prisons.)

Still serving thee, O Freedom, thee alone,
Great formless spirit brooding earth and air,
Flashing in sunlight, in wild waves that dare
The age-old rocks, flung back with cry and moan.
Serving, though we be pillowed on a stone,
Our warders dream-eyed Hope and grim Despair,
We know thou art no mocking vision fair—
These wounds being thine, our darkest griefs thy own.
Laughing at times to muse how those who prate
Of Liberty can think to make a cell
Strong to extinguish thy immortal flame
Unflickering in the windy gusts of hate,
Still steadfast in the ramparts of Power’s hell—
Though on its wall it writes thy murdered fame.

(Dedicated to the Anarchist comrades waiting to be released from Soviet prisons.)

Most might Epic of one swift, bold leap
Which spanned two epochs terrible and vast!
The World-Besieged come staggering, safe at last—
Triumphant, dazed, immortal—burst from sleep
Whose age-long vision terrors grim defied.
A country which bred giants thunderous-named,
And women who could not with whips be tamed,
Unmastered deeply tombed ‘neath Neva’s tide.
Russia! Our great Beethovian history chord
Which through the centuries pulsed slow and strong,
Still beating out the music of her dreams—
To set them in one hour in one wild word,
One flaming breath which hurled like chaff her wrong.
Russia! That thou shouldst strive to stem Thought’s streams!


They built the house of Power on Force and Fear,
And gave authority the key to hold,
Stamping it with the hall-mark of dead gold,
And rusting it in human Blood and Tear.
“Behold!” cried Power, “The glory of my state!
Here I conserve forever all that Is,
Here, manacled and gagged, my priests shall kiss
My sceptre. Prisons, dungeons, be my Gate!
Whilst outside millions claw and scratch for Bread,
And burdened lives go swiftly to the grave.
Hold fast my key, my mistress, and all’s well!”
But Liberty came by with rose-crowned head,
And piped upon her pipe to every slave
These words of Laughter, “Fear is all their spell.”


Who was the great Ozymandias, “king of kings”?
The desert answers with its fiery breath.
Democracy of Time, and Space, and Death
Its fatal arrow at Great Nothing flings.
Law, Force, and Power—dark Superstition’s blight,
And all the majesty of sword and chain
Left but his futile image to remain
Half-buried where the sand-storm whirls in flight.
Feebler and feebler grow the decadent line
Which followed on that mightiest Nothingness,
Slave of that Power wherein his weakness lay,
Whom only Human Ignorance held “divine.”
With every reasoned thought their shades grow less,
To vanish in the light of ampler day.


Out of the large, calm, starry night it ran,
Reaching the wine-drugged monarch’s inward ear;
Close round his neck, snake-wise, a white arm dear,
Blue-veined, gold-circled—his warm courtesan!
“I, too, have known the couch of last year’s gold;
I, too, the splendours of a prison-house,
Wherein all chained and padded men carouse,
And sell their freedoms for the shadows cold.
Now it is Spring and beggars may go blessed
When there are crowns of May on every bough,
And to each mothering bird the cock makes cry.”
“Hist!” cried the king, upstarting and distressed,
“What minstrel of my court is singing now?”
The beggar at his gate went laughing by!

Statement by Mollie Steimer

[This text is copied from the booklet Fighters for Anarchism: Mollie Steimer and Senya Fleshin, published by the Libertarian Publications Group in 1983, assembled and edited by Abe Bluestein]

Statement by Mollie Steimer
(Covers material till deportation, September, 1923)

Russia of today is a great prison where every individual who is known not to be in full agreement with the Communists is spied upon and booked by the “GPU” (Tcheka) as an enemy of the government. No one can receive books, newspapers, or even a plain letter from his relatives without control of the censor. This institution which keeps the people in absolute ignorance of all news detrimental to the interests of the Bolshevists is now better organized and more strict than was the famous Black Cabinet under Czar Nicholas II.

The prisons and concentration camps of Moscow, Petrograd, Kharkov, Odessa, Tashkent, Vologda, Archangel, Solovki, and Siberia are filled with revolutionaries who do not agree with the tyrannical regime enforced by the Bolsheviks. The inhuman treatment that those people receive at the hands of their jailers can have only one purpose: that is, to wear them out physically and mentally so that their lives may become a mere burden to them.

To mention a few instances within my personal knowledge:

Maria Korshunova, a young Anarchist, while under arrest in Petrograd, was continually dragged from one jail to another. At the end of 1922 she received a sentence of ten years’ solitary confinement and was taken from Petrograd to the Moscow jail where she was supposed to serve her sentence. But she had not been there a month when she was suddenly carried off to Cheliabinsk, Siberia. Here our young comrade thought she would be let alone for a time. But no sooner had she received the first letter from her mother when again she was shipped off to another place, this time to Viatka, which is one of the worst prisons in Russia, notorious for filth and starvation conditions, and, what is worst of all, for the outrageous conduct of the men keepers — “comrades”, they are called – towards their helpless victims, the women prisoners. Since Maria Korshunova was transferred to that place of torture, no letter has been received from her and no news about her has reached the outside world.

This comrade is well known among the Petrograd workers as a woman revolutionary of great idealism and sincerity. She has often been compared with Sofia Perovskaya.

Another example:

Two years ago, Maria Veger, an Anarchist of many years standing, and a teacher by profession, was arrested as a result of a search in her home, where literature consisting of the London Freedom and Arbeiter Freind, the Freie Arbeiter Stimme (N.Y.), and some books on Anarchism (were found. Ed.)

After being held for several months in the Moscow prison, where she became sick with the tsinga (scurvy), Maria finally received a sentence of two years’ exile in Archangel in the North. The officia document which was handed to her read: “Two years exile in the city of Archangel for counter-revolution.”

In Archangel, Maria Veger underwent extreme suffering. Malaria, a common disease in this swamp region, was added to scurvy. When an opportunity afforded itself, Maria escaped and returned to etrograd. But she did not remain long at liberty. In July 1923, when 41 Anarchists were arrested in etrograd, Maria Veger was among them. The agents of the “GPU” treated her with special brutality. Whereas all the other prisoners, of whom I was one, were kept at the headquarters of the “GPU” for four days before being transferred to another prison, Maria was held there for nearly two weeks.

The prison of the “GPU” is not the heavenly home of leisure the Bolsheviks and their agents would have the world believe. I was locked up in a cell that was a closed box. It was provided with a small hole the size of a drinking cup through which air is supposed to enter, but no air enters because the corridor into which this hole leads has no ventilation. A faint lamp burns day and night in this closed box, causing severe pain in the eyes. There is nothing but a wooden bench to lie upon; lice, bedbugs and other vermin eat your flesh and make life a burden to you. The quiet of this dim, evil-smelling cell is broken only by the ridicule and brutality of a “comrade” jail-keeper.

The “GPU” representatives knew what these conditions meant to the sick Maria Verger, and they purposely tortured her. Each day she was called to the office and asked to give them “information” for wich they promised to remove her to another jail where life was not so miserable. When finally convinced that she would rather die than give lying “information” about her comrades, the Tchekists ordered Maria Veger transferred to the “Home of Preliminary Detention,” where she was strictly isolated and kept on the regime of the “common criminal.”

The treatment in my own case was far from being endurable. Like the other politicals, I was denied the most elementary prison rights, scoffed at and ridiculed by the prison administration as well as by the higher authorities. For speaking to Maria when seeing her through the window, I was threatened with the dungeon. Being unable to endure such an existence any longer, denied a trial, and held under criminal conditions, we declared a hunger-strike, demanding better conditions and the right of visits. On the seventh day of our hunger-strike, after the prison doctor stated that we could not hold out any longer and that we must be forcibly fed, one of the “GPU” chiefs visited us and granted our demands. But before they were granted another comrade prisoner of mine was called by the prosecuting attorney and asked if he could not use his influence with me to induce me to eat. He said he could not. The prosecuting attorney then said to him angrily: “Then she will be forcibly fed. Does she think she is dealing with the American police?” He spoke as if the brutal methods of the American police were tenderness itself compared with what he and his comrades intended to do.

The physical state of Comrade Mara Veger was becoming worse every day, but the prison doctor said he could do nothing for her under the conditions. In spite of the fact that she was seriously ill, Maria was finally condemned to three years in exile in the Solovetz Monastery, the dreaded prison situated on an island in the White Sea, to which boats go but twice a year. This penalty amounted to a death sentence, considering the condition of our comrade.

On September 16th Maria was sent away to serve the term imposed upon her, but a week afterwards word came that she was being sent back to Petrograd. After a two days’ struggle with the “GPU” officials, I finally obtained permission to see her.

Burning with a high fever, and hardly able to stand on her feet, Maria related to me the story of her journey which I shall tell here in brief:

When brought to the Vologda prison, which is half way from Petrograd to Archangel, the local “GPU” declared that Maria would not be sent any further, because all prisons and concentration camps of Archangel and vicinity (including Solovetz Monastery) were so overcrowded that the local authorities had resolved to accept no more prisoners. Maria was kept in Vologda for several days, and then sent back, together with a number of other politicals. She was shuffled back and forth, various prisons refusing to accept her for lack of space. No political knows where he will really serve his terms of exile, and none of his friends know.

I had an opportunity to talk to Maria Veger. She made no complaint about her own miserable condition, but she spoke of what should be done for those prisoners who had just been returned to Petrograd. She was particularly anxious about the fate of one woman who had been refused a visit of her seven-year-old boy, and asked that everything possible be done for her, as the woman was physically too weak to endure the suffering to which she was subjected. We got no further in our conversation because a guard compelled us to terminate the “visit.”

Comrade Veger parted from me with the following words:

“Tell the comrades abroad to organize and unite all their forces. Let them not be discouraged by the situation in Russia. On the contrary, tell them they must make use of our experience and be well prepared for the coming world revolution.”

I left her with a heavy heart. While the Communists are issuing long protests against the persecution of political prisoners (they mean only Communists) in “capitalist” countries, they themselves are imposing savage sentences upon their opponents and are forcing many of our best comrades to die slowly in the jails and concentration camps, and hundreds of others to suffer the bitter pangs of hunger and the unbearable cold of northern Russia and Siberia. The real revolutionaries of Russia today are exiled and cut off from the entire world, forbidden the right of communication with any loving person except the damnable spies who are forever shadowing their footsteps.

(Signature) Mollie Steimer

Haymarket was a Riot, May Picqueray

Haymarket Was A Riot

May Picqueray

May Day 1920 and 1921 were particularly wild. Leaving the Bourse du Travail, the République square and the boulevard de Magenta, horse-riding guards charged us and hit us with the flat of their sabre blades, and one of them slapped me in the face in such a way that I thought my head had flown off. I kept the mark of his sabre on my face for a long time, and I had a swollen and multicoloured eye of the prettiest effect.

I do not speak of those May Days with the nostalgia for past times. Because they were the May Days of my youth.

But I say categorically that these May days were “authentic”.

The Communists had not yet hijacked this day to make it the “celebration” of labour.

I need to restore historical truth:

Chicago, in 1886, was only a city of immigrants, coming from every corner of Europe. It comprised different factories, canning factories, slaughter houses. The lack of hygiene and physical protection, the inhumane work speed, the low wages, the lack of employment security, pushed the workers to organise to defend themselves against the exploitation they were subjected to. Not only in Chicago, but on all the American continent, there was undiluted class struggle. Syndicalism was growing roots in the United States. Not without problems. American workers showed an instinctive distrust for the Socialist ideas imported from Europe. Newspapers written in German, English, or French claimed: “to fight against private property is a right, and even a duty.”

A group of Chicago industrials and bankers asked the mayor to ban these newspapers, and to arrest their directors. The mayor told them:

“We have a police force in our hands, nothing will happen, we do not fear them.”

A couple of days later, however, a grumbling flow of people filled the streets and the red and black flags were flowing above the crowd.

“We are fighting for the eight hour day, for a wage increase, for better working conditions, for the abolition of black lists” we could hear every night when workers left the factories.

There was no right to strike, in the sense that, once the strike was over, the bosses took back who they chose, creating discord among workers. Fights broke out between workers and the police intervened with extreme brutality.

On May 4th, a large meeting was planned in Haymarket, and workers’ leaders were supposed to speak there. 6000 strikers from the Mac Cormick factories were already there when the factory’s bell struck, and the scabs who had been working came out. The strikers left the meeting and fights broke out between workers.

The police intervened and shot at them: the toll among workers was one dead and six seriously injured by bullets; an indeterminate number of superficial wounds; a few injured on the police side. Haymarket was a long square which could contain up to 20 000 people. August Spies, a typographer for the Arbeiter Zeitung, Fischer, who had left Germany at age 15 and had become a social anarchist, Parsons, an American and director of The Alarm, who had joined the army during the Civil War, at age 13, Fielden, an Englishman who had moved to America in 1868, were supposed to speak, but it started raining and so they moved to a nearby hall to finish the meeting. When they arrived there, Fielden was on the platform, when suddenly a troop of policemen barged in, officers at the front, and gave the order to disperse. The speakers started leaving the platform, when a “round and luminous” object flew into the air and a loud detonation followed.

First there was silence… then the police opened fire on the crowd of workers who were fleeing and screaming. In a few minutes, it was all over. The square was emptied, all that could be heard was the moaing of the wounded. There are 70 injured and one policeman killed.

“The Anarchists inaugurated yesterday evening the rule of chaos. They ambushed the policemen and threw a bomb…” the reactionary press printed. Yet, the workers had not fired and the bomb was thrown from the police ranks.

The workers’ leaders: Spies, Fielden, Schwab, Waller, G. Engel, Oscar Neeve, W. Senger and L. Lingg were arrested. Parsons could not be found. Two hundred arrests in a week. An atmosphere of inquisition and xenophobia ruled. Four lawyers offered their help to the accused, despite the threats they received. The jury was chosen from 981 people. In truth, the twelve people finally selected all already had their judgement made.

The judge declared at the start of the audience that it was useless to know who threw the bomb, that all the accused were responsible.

George Engel, 50, declared:

“I was not at the meeting but at home, with my wife, my kids and some friends.”

Adolph Fischer ackowledged he had taken part in the meeting; Samuel Fielden was accused of having shouted:

“Here come those ferocious beasts, comrades, do your duty.”

But some policemen recognized that he had only said:

“We are peaceful…”

Parsons, who had come for the trial, after fleeing on the day of the meeting, declared:

“I have been on black lists for ten years, have published The Alarm for two years. I fight against workers’ poverty…”

Spies, turning to the counsel for the plaintiff:

“My defence is your accusation itself.”

Michel Schwab and Oscar Neeve, who weren’t in Haymarket, were also charged with murder. Neeve had said these words:

“The police reaction is inadmissible.”

Louis Lingg was accused of having made the bomb. Witnesses attested he was not at the meeting.

“It is true that I have made bombs”, he said, “but not this one.”

The counsel for the plaintiff repeated twenty times to the jury:

“You must choose between law and anarchy, between good and evil. Your decision will mark history. Your responsibility is huge. Do not let yourselves go to clemency.”

The defence claimed that the accused were on trial for their opinions, in the absence of any proof. The pleas were closed on August 19th.

On the morning of the 20th, a line of police officers blocked the entrance to the courthouse, patrols circulated round the city. The jury were the first to enter the room, then the lawyers and both parties. Then the judges. The judge stood up, and everyone with him.

The verdict: death for all, except for Neeve, 15 years in prison. Whispers were heard in the room. The eight men left the room without a word, with great dignity.

Two minutes later, a great clamour came from the crowd, then clapping. The crowd was scared…

The general opinion was expressed in the press: “The verdict has killed off anarchism in our city. It is a warning for European snakes, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists. The Chicago verdict will at least limit the immigration to our country of organised killers.”

Many letters were sent by US and European celebrities to Governor Oglesby: Walter Besant, Walter Crane, Stafford Brooke, Ford Madox Brown. A large meeting was organised in London with William Morris, Bernard Shaw, Anne Besant, Kropotkin, Stepniak, etc.

The governor suggested:

“The condemned would have to renounce their doctrine.”

“Show them a sign,” the lawyers told their clients.

The condemned welcomed this offer with haughty contempt. They demanded freedom or death.

An extraordinary fact, the 50 most important bankers in the city, who held supreme power in Chicago met up to decide whether the condemned should be pardoned or not. It was not a matter of mercy: “Executions can cause trouble, it is useless to revive the agitation…” Should they pardon these men? Some were in favour, others against.

On the morning of November 10th, the wardens hear an explosion from Lingg’s cell. They see blood everywhere, Lingg’s face is ripped away. People talk of a bomb. He had used a lozenge of mercury fulminate. Some doctors wished to save Lingg by making him pass as mad. He had preferred death to the asylum. On the wall of his cell, drawn with his blood, this inscription: “Long live anarchy”.

On the same day, Fielden and Schwab were pardoned, their sentence is commuted to a life sentence. The others will be executed.

The scaffold was set up in the night between November 10th and 11th 1887, very close to the prison. On the morning of the 11th, the condemned had their breakfast quietly, writing letters.

At 8.40, a lawyer rushes in: the man responsible for the bomb had been arrested in New York, he demanded the execution to be reported. At 10.15, the governor replied “No!”

At 11.30, the sheriff came to read the sentence to each of the prisoners. They were handcuffed and they were dressed in a white muslin shroud. Fischer helped to put his on. Hoods were placed on the four men’s heads. They then said their final words:

Spies: “One day will come when our silence will be louder than the voices you strangle today!”

Fischer: “Long live anarchy! This is the most beautiful moment in my life!”

Engel: “Long live anarchy!”

Parsons: “Will you let me speak, o Americans? Let me speak, sheriff Matson, let the voice of the people be heard! Let…”

Then nothing.

The funerals were held on Sunday, November 13th. “No signs, no flags, no speeches,” the mayor of Chicago had said. Over 250 000 people were crammed along the path of the coffins; around 15 000 people came in the cemetery. The procession marched in complete silence. Four speakers made speeches, including Black, the lawyer of the condemned.

Five years later, a monument was erected on the graves of the martyrs and Waldheim Cemetery became a place of pilgrimage.

The novellist Henry James, the equivalent to Marcel proust, then wrote he had “felt a sinister world, inferior, anarchic, boiled in its grief, its power and its hatred.”

This sinister world was the working class, then crushed by exploitation. Its roaring revolt, which Americans started to feel, was going to keep growing until it shook the world.

It is from this date that May Day is the day of revolt throughout the world and that it is marked in France (in Cléry, in Fourmies) like everywhere, by violence and blood.

Pétain tried to turn May day into a patronage “celebration”.

And the Communists, whether they like it or not, have borrowed his idea and updated it.

But for the “old ones”, May Day will always be a synonym of demands, struggle, REVOLT.

Midinettes on strike, by May Picqueray

Midinettes on strike

May Picqueray

The small hands, the midinettes, these small bees of the great fashion houses, from where the masterpieces worn by artists and ladies of the Paris and international bourgeoisie come, these young girls who you can meet in squares or at the Tuileries, at lunchtime, sharing their meagre meals with the birds, their friends, are very badly paid, live on very little, dress with almost nothing, but always with taste. The midinettes are known in all of Paris for their laughter, their chicness, and their small artists’ hands.

But there’s a down-side to this. Today, they are on strike. They can no longer manage. Bosses who exploit them shamelessly don’t want to hear anything about granting them a pay increase. So, they take to the streets.

There is a meeting this afternoon at the trade union hall, near République. Our friends Margot, Marie, Mado Ferré are on strike. Thérèse and I decide, in solidarity, to join them, to bring them our support. The room is packed. Girls and women follow one another on the platform, they explain the situation in couture: whether it is in workshops or in rooms, they are exploited all the same. They will not give up, a delegation is chosen to start negotiations with the bosses’ union.

When they leave, it is like sparrows taking flight. They laugh, hail one another. Surprise: we can see several hundred guys from the building industry and road workers who have stopped work to bring their moral and material support to the midinettes. That’s great! They are cheered and even kissed. It is decided to go demonstrate in front of the great fashion houses, and then on the Champs Elysées. He guys give their arms to the girls, and the picturesque and joyous march is ready to flow onto the Grands Boulevards. Suddenly, a squadron of republican guards shows up on the République square, surrounding open carriages. Poincaré1 sits in the front carriage. The rest of the government in the other ones.
“It is Poincaré, you know, ‘the man who laughs in cemeteries’…”
He is simply here to inaugurate a very strange exhibition on the République square. In some sheds, machines have been set up in which we could see photographic sights of life in the tranches, the transport of the wounded, the dead lying on the battlefields, and all the horrors of war. And, on top of this, the Paris public had to pay to see that…

We are at the edge of the pavement, ready to join the march, Poincaré gets off, waving at the crowd who came to salute him. All of a sudden, Mado leaves us, walks towards him, raises her hand and shouts at his face: “Bastard! You came to see your dead!” Immediately she is seized by the guard and handed to the police who rushed to the scene (and so are we as we didn’t want to leave her); there we are embarked for the police station, mistreated and pushed into a corner like thieves, then interrogated by the commissar who gives us such an earful!…

We are thrown into cells and kept overnight. We weren’t proud! What was to become of us? Fortunately this “attentat” was not taken seriously. There was probably an order not to talk about it to the press, in other words to stifle the case.

We got off lightly, but we were furious we had missed the march on the Champs Elysées.