Timothy Messer-Kruse: A Haymarket Revisionary

Roundup: Historians' Take

Timothy Messer-Kruse, who is a professor and chair of the ethnic studies department at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University, says he has “always been politically active and very close to progressive causes.” But his recent work has raised serious doubts about one of the Left’s most precious myths. Last year, he published The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists: Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age, which he had been working on for 10 years, and his newest book, The Haymarket Conspiracy: Transatlantic Anarchist Networks, comes out in August. Together, the two books offer a radically different interpretation of the Haymarket anarchists who were charged in the May 4, 1886, bombing of a demonstration, which resulted in the deaths of at least seven police and four civilians. For decades historians have portrayed the eight convicted anarchists, four of whom were hanged by the state of Illinois, as innocent martyrs, unjustly tried.

Messer-Kruse disagrees. He maintains that the available evidence indicates the anarchists were responsible for the bombing. His work raises fascinating questions about the way the past is romanticized, the radicalizing nature of Gilded Age poverty and why the United States hasn’t provided fertile ground to revolutionary vanguardism.

You’re upending a lot of history. For people who don’t make the connection, briefly describe the importance of May Day and how May Day came to be.

May Day was the Second International’s memorial to the Haymarket murders, to the labor leaders who lost their lives during the bombing in Chicago in May 1886 and as the result of the subsequent Haymarket court case. May Day was sort of a delayed outgrowth of the international movement to save the lives of the condemned men in Chicago....

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