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Novel chronicles the leaders of Haymarket

Review by Alex Billet | April 30, 2004 | Page 9

Martin Duberman, Haymarket: A Novel. Seven Stories Press, 2004, 330 pages, $24.95.

MARTIN DUBERMAN'S Haymarket: A Novel chronicles the lives of Lucy and Albert Parsons, leaders of the militant workers' movement for the eight-hour day of the 1880s. This struggle is honored by socialists and other radicals each year on May 1--May Day.

Written as a novel, Duberman's book portrays Lucy and Albert as fascinating individuals--as revolutionaries as well as people.

Lucy, who was part Black, Latino and Aztec, met Albert while he was a tax collector during the Reconstruction era. When the interracial couple moved North, where they would be allowed to marry, they were quickly radicalized by the crushing poverty and dangerous working conditions. Eventually blacklisted for their leading positions in revolutionary organizations, the two remained committed to building a strong labor movement and the struggle for a workers' world.

This ultimately cost Albert his life. He was executed with four others in 1887 on trumped-up murder charges. Lucy continued to be an outspoken revolutionary and campaigner for workers' power, and in 1905, helped found the Industrial Workers of the World.

Throughout his novel, Duberman portrays Lucy and Albert's incredible devotion and love for each other, their anger and frustration with capitalism and their hopes for a better world. Rather than portray the Parsons' revolutionary ideas as coming fully formed from the minute they arrive in Chicago, we see their thoughts shaped over time.

From the centrality of the working class to the need for revolution, from the need to organize women to multiracial unity, the book takes up arguments still debated in activist circles today.

Just as impressive is the portrayal of Lucy and Albert's relationship as one of equal partners, with Lucy's ideas being well ahead of her husband's much of the time. Lucy is fiercely independent and unshakably outspoken against sexism and other forms of oppression--30 years before women won the right to vote.

Today, as we champion the slogan "Another world is possible," we must take inspiration from the heroic struggles that first put that slogan on the agenda. This book delivers that inspiration.

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