THERE IS LITTLE to be gained from debating anyone whose primary tactic is to distort what one has said in order to fight a straw-man of his own making. For the left audience of ATC, Timothy Messer-Kruse insists that he is seeking to restore the Chicago anarchists to their rightful reputation as revolutionaries, only because every other historian has “declawed” and “domesticated” them. (See his “Response to Rebecca Hill,” in the July/August 2016 ATC, http://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/4707.)
Again, this claim is simply not true. Many other historians have written about the revolutionary ideology of the Haymarket anarchists. As important as his pattern of manipulating historical evidence, Messer-Kruse’s misrepresentation of what appear to be his own goals regarding the history of the Anarchists is even more egregious.
If adding to what we know about revolutionary anarchism had been his goal, he might have done considerably more extensive research to find out more about the lives of George Engel, Louis Lingg, and Adolph Fischer, or offered a more nuanced and detailed discussion of their connections to the larger anarchist milieu in North America.
But Messer-Kruse’s slash and burn approach to other historians of anarchism and socialism is not about making a scholarly contribution, pointing out previous errors and acknowledging the value of earlier, if still incomplete work. His goal is to belittle and destroy the work of left historians, whom he claims are dishonestly trying to provide cover for the truly and legally guilty, or who have, as he put it in his interview with the National Review, “drunk the Kool-Aid” about the Haymarket affair.
What left historians, including myself, disagree so strenuously with Messer-Kruse about is not whether the Haymarket anarchists were revolutionaries, but whether the fact that they were revolutionaries means that they were guilty of the Haymarket bombing.
For Messer-Kruse, there appears to be no difference. He describes the anarchists as disingenuous terrorists and as the enemies of the labor movement, who should be understood as hostile to the cause of socialism, and dangerous to the very lives of other workers. These two books are thus not part of, but an attack on, revolutionary left politics, as well as left history.
November-December 2016, ATC 185