Upton Sinclair, ed. (18781968). The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.
These Shifting Scenes
By Charles Edward Russell
(American editor and Socialist lecturer, 18601941. In the following paragraphs he has given a newspaper reporters reminiscences of the Chicago Anarchists)
AFTER so many years the passions and prejudices of the half-forgotten struggle ought to have died away, and men may now speak candidly and without restraint of these things as they really were. Let me then record my deliberate conviction that Albert Parsons never entertained the thought of harm against any human being, for I have seldom met a man of a more genuine kindness of heart; and if the men he denounced in his speeches had been in actual danger before him I am certain he would have been the first to rush to their defense from physical harm. And while I am on this subject, I may add an expression of a wonder growing upon me for many years, that no one has ever paid an adequate tribute to this man. I have not the slightest sympathy with his doctrines, if he believed in the violence he seemed sometimes to preach, which I could never tell. I have lived in the world long enough to know that the social wrongs that moved him to protest can never be cured by violence. Say, then, that the man erred grievously; if his error had been ten times as great it ought to have been wiped from human recollection by his sacrifice, and there should remain but the one image of him, leaving his place of safety and voluntarily entering the prisoners dock. I doubt if that magnanimous act has its parallel in history. A hundred men have been elevated to be national heroes for deeds far less heroic. The fact that after all these years it is still obscured and men hesitate to speak about it is marvelous testimony to the power of the press to produce enduring impressions. Even the other staggering fact that in the history of American courts this is the only man that ever came voluntarily and gave himself up and then was hanged, even that seems to be eliminated from the little consideration that is ever bestowed upon a figure of courage so extraordinary.
Similarly I wondered while all these events were passing before me and wonder now, that no one ever stopped to inquire why such men as Parsons and Fielden were in revolt. Granted freely that their idea of the best manner of making a protest was utterly wrong and impossible; granted that they went not the best way to work. But what was it that drove them into attack against the social order as they found it? They and thousands of other men that stood with them were not bad men, nor depraved, nor bloodthirsty, nor hard-hearted, nor criminal, nor selfish, nor crazy. Then what was it that evoked a complaint so bitter and deep-seated? In all the clamor that filled the press for the execution of the law and the supremacy of order not one writer ever stopped to ask this obvious question. No one ever contemplated the simple fact that men do not band themselves together to make a protest without the belief that they have something to protest about, and that in any organized state of society a widespread protest is something for grave inquiry. I thought then and I think now that a few words devoted to this suggestion would have been of far greater service to society than the insensate demand for blood and more blood with which the journals of Chicago were mostly filled.