Friday, June 14, 2013

Review of "Lucy Parsons: An American Revolutionary"

This review first appeared in the May-June 2013 issue of the International Socialist Review.


Carolyn Ashbaugh
Lucy Parsons: An American Revolutionary
Haymarket Books, 2013 • 282 pages • $16

Review by Keith Rosenthal

With the republication of this long out-of-print 1976 work by Carolyn Asbaugh, Haymarket Books has provided a major boon for a new generation of radical and progressive activists. Lucy Parsons might very well be the most unsung of heroes among the pantheon of major American labor revolutionaries, such as Eugene Debs, William "Big Bill" Haywood, and Mother Jones.

As Ashbaugh informs us, Parsons was one of the first women to join the Knights of Labor in 1879 and the first woman of color to rise to prominence in the revolutionary left. She helped found the International Working People's Association, the U.S. Socialist Party, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and lent her efforts to the development of the U.S. Communist Party (CP). She also figured prominently in the events surrounding one of the most notorious episodes in the history of the American labor movement: the 1886-7 frame-up, trial, and execution of the Haymarket Martyrs, whose numbers included her husband, Albert Parsons.

Additionally, Parsons was one of the very first to seriously address the question of racism and the plight of Black people at the turn of the century in the pages of the socialist and anarchist press. And she was a pioneering advocate for women's rights, including unfettered access to abortion and birth control, the right to at-will divorce, to be free from rape -- marital and otherwise, and she organized domestic laborers and housewives into Working Women's Unions.