Lucy Parsons

Lucy Parsons

Lucy Waller, the daughter of John Waller, a Muscogee, and Marie del Gather from Mexico, was born in Texas in 1853. Her parents died when she was a child and was raised by relatives.

In 1870 she met Albert Parsons, a former soldier in the Confederate Army but now a Radical Republican. They married the following year but mixed relationships were unacceptable and so the couple moved to Chicago. Parsons became a printer but after becoming involved in trade union activities he was blacklisted.

Lucy had several articles published in radical journals such as The Socialist and The Alarm. She was also a member of the Socialist Labor Party and the International Working Men's Association (the First International), a labor organization that supported racial and sexual equality.

Albert Parsons was arrested and charged with the Haymarket Bombing. Although no evidence was provided in court that linked Parsons to the crime, he was found guilty along with August Spies, Adolph Fisher, Louis Lingg and George Engel and was sentenced to death. He was executed on 11th November, 1887.

Parsons continued to be politically active after the death of her husband. A founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) she published the radical journals, Freedom and The Liberator where she campaigned for trade union rights and an end to lynching.

Parsons was also a member of the National Committee of the International Labor Defense, an organisation that helped African Americans unjustly accused of crimes such as the Scottsboro Nine. In 1939 Parsons joined the American Communist Party.

Lucy Parsons died in a fire in her Chicago home in 1942.

Primary Sources

(1) Lucy Parsons, The Industrial Worker (1st May, 1912)

The Haymarket meeting is referred to historically as "The Haymarket Anarchists' Riot." There was no riot at the Haymarket except a police riot. Mayor Harrison attended the Haymarket meeting, and took the stand at the anarchist trial for the defense, not for the state.

The great strike of May 1886 was an historical event of great importance, inasmuch as it was... the first time that the workers themselves had attempted to get a shorter workday by united, simultaneous action.... This strike was the first in the nature of Direct Action on a large scale....

Of course the eight-hour day is as antiquated as the craft unions themselves. Today we should be agitating for a five-hour workday.

(2) Lucy Parsons, The Agitator (1st November, 1912)

The Eleventh of November has become a day of international importance, cherished in the hearts of all true lovers of Liberty as a day of martyrdom. On that day was offered to the gallows-tree martyrs as true to their ideal as ever were sacrificed in any age.... Our comrades were not murdered by the state because they had any connection with the bombthrowing, but because they were active in organizing the wage-slaves. The capitalist class didn't want to find the bombthrower; this class foolishly believed that by putting to death the active spirits of the labor movement of the time, it could frighten the working class back to slavery.

(3) Lucy Parsons, The Labor Defender (November, 1926)

Parsons, Spies, Lingg, Fischer and Engel: Although all that is mortal of you is laid beneath that beautiful monument in Waldheim Cemetery, you are not dead. You are just beginning to live in the hearts of all true lovers of liberty. For now, after forty years that you are gone, thousands who were then unborn are eager to learn of your lives and heroic martyrdom, and as the years lengthen the brighter will shine your names, and the more you will come to be appreciated and loved.

Those who so foully murdered you, under the forms of law - lynch law - in a court of supposed justice, are forgotten.

Rest, comrades, rest. All the tomorrows are yours!

(4) Lucy Parsons, The Principles of Anarchism (1929)

It was during the great railroad strike of 1877 that I first became interested in what is known as the "Labor Question." I then thought as many thousands of earnest, sincere people think, that the aggregate power, operating in human society, known as government, could be made an instrument in the hands of the oppressed to alleviate their sufferings. But a closer study of the origin, history and tendency of governments, convinced me that this was a mistake; I came to understand how organized governments used their concentrated power to retard progress by their ever-ready means of silencing the voice of discontent if raised in vigorous protest against the machinations of the scheming few, who always did, always will and always must rule in the councils of nations where majority rule is recognized as the only means of adjusting the affairs of the people. I came to understand that such concentrated power can be always wielded in the interest of the few and at the expense of the many. Government in its last analysis is this power reduced to a science. Governments never lead; they follow progress. When the prison, stake or scaffold can no longer silence the voice of the protesting minority, progress moves on a step, but not until then.

I will state this contention in another way: I learned by close study that it made no difference what fair promises a political party, out of power might make to the people in order to secure their confidence, when once securely established in control of the affairs of society that they were after all but human with all the human attributes of the politician. Among these are: First, to remain in power at all hazards; if not individually, then those holding essentially the same views as the administration must be kept in control. Second, in order to keep in power, it is necessary to build up a powerful machine; one strong enough to crush all opposition and silence all vigorous murmurs of discontent, or the party machine might be smashed and the party thereby lose control.

When I came to realize the faults, failings, shortcomings, aspirations and ambitions of fallible man, I concluded that it would not be the safest nor best policy for society, as a whole, to entrust the management of all its affairs, with all their manifold deviations and ramifications in the hands of finite man, to be managed by the party which happened to come into power, and therefore was the majority party, nor did it ten, nor does it now make one particle of difference to me what a party, out of power may promise; it does not tend to allay my fears of a party, when entrenched and securely seated in power might do to crush opposition, and silence the voice of the minority, and thus retard the onward step of progress.

My mind is appalled at the thought of a political party having control of all the details that go to make up the sum total of our lives. Think of it for an instant, that the party in power shall have all authority to dictate the kind of books that shall be used in our schools and universities, government officials editing, printing, and circulating our literature, histories, magazines and press, to say nothing of the thousand and one activities of life that a people engage in, in a civilized society.

To my mind, the struggle for liberty is too great and the few steps we have gained have been won at too great a sacrifice, for the great mass of the people of this 20th century to consent to turn over to any political party the management of our social and industrial affairs. For all who are at all familiar with history know that men will abuse power when they possess it, for these and other reasons, I, after careful study, and not through sentiment, turned from a sincere, earnest, political Socialist to the non-political phase of Socialism, Anarchism, because in its philosophy I believe I can find the proper conditions for the fullest development of the individual units in society, which can never be the case under government restrictions.

The philosophy of anarchism is included in the word "Liberty"; yet it is comprehensive enough to include all things else that are conducive to progress. No barriers whatever to human progression, to thought, or investigation are placed by anarchism; nothing is considered so true or so certain, that future discoveries may not prove it false; therefore, it has but one infallible, unchangeable motto, "Freedom." Freedom to discover any truth, freedom to develop, to live naturally and fully. Other schools of thought are composed of crystallized ideas-principles that are caught and impaled between the planks of long platforms, and considered too sacred to be disturbed by a close investigation. In all other "issues" there is always a limit; some imaginary boundary line beyond which the searching mind dare not penetrate, lest some pet idea melt into a myth. But anarchism is the usher of science-the master of ceremonies to all forms of truth. It would remove all barriers between the human being and natural development. From the natural resources of the earth, all artificial restrictions, that the body might be nurtures, and from universal truth, all bars of prejudice and superstition, that the mind may develop symmetrically.

Anarchists know that a long period of education must precede any great fundamental change in society, hence they do not believe in vote begging, nor political campaigns, but rather in the development of self-thinking individuals.

We look away from government for relief, because we know that force (legalized) invades the personal liberty of man, seizes upon the natural elements and intervenes between man and natural laws; from this exercise of force through governments flows nearly all the misery, poverty, crime and confusion existing in society....

So many able writers have shown that the unjust institutions which work so much misery and suffering to the masses have their root in governments, and owe their whole existence to the power derived from government we cannot help but believe that were every law, every title deed, every court, and every police officer or soldier abolished tomorrow with one sweep, we would be better off than now. The actual, material things that man needs would still exist; his strength and skill would remain and his instinctive social inclinations retain their force and the resources of life made free to all the people that they would need no force but that of society and the opinion of fellow beings to keep them moral and upright.

Freed from the systems that made him wretched before, he is not likely to make himself more wretched for lack of them. Much more is contained in the thought that conditions make man what he is, and not the laws and penalties made for his guidance, than is supposed by careless observation. We have laws, jails, courts, armies, guns and armories enough to make saints of us all, if they were the true preventives of crime; but we know they do not prevent crime; that wickedness and depravity exist in spite of them, nay, increase as the struggle between classes grows fiercer, wealth greater and more powerful and poverty more gaunt and desperate.

To the governing class the anarchists say: "Gentlemen, we ask no privilege, we propose no restriction; nor, on the other hand, will we permit it. We have no new shackles to propose, we seek emancipation from shackles. We ask no legislative sanction, for co-operation asks only for a free field and no favors; neither will we permit their interference.("?) It asserts that in freedom of the social unit lies the freedom of the social state. It asserts that in freedom to possess and utilize soil lie social happiness and progress and the death of rent. It asserts that order can only exist where liberty prevails, and that progress leads and never follows order. It asserts, finally, that this emancipation will inaugurate liberty, equality, fraternity. That the existing industrial system has outgrown its usefulness, if it ever had any is I believe admitted by all who have given serious thought to this phase of social conditions.