“Be still and see that I am God...” – Psalm 45:11
by Georges de La Tour
In his Communist Manifesto Karl Marx called on the workers of the world to unite in a worldwide class struggle. Just over 40 years later May 1 was chosen by socialists as International Workers' Day, or May Day: the celebration of the achievements of socialism in memory of the 1886 Chicago labor riots, popularly called the Haymarket Riots.
In a speech given to the Christian Association of Italian Workers on May 1, 1955, Pope Pius XII established May 1 as the feast of St. Joseph the Workman. Whereas communism and its handmaid socialism fomented class warfare polluted with envy, the Holy Father declared that “far from being a stimulus for discord, hate and violence, May 1st is and will be a recurring invitation to modern society to accomplish that which is still lacking for social peace.”
Communism: War and Revolution
The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848 by German-born Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, was a declaration of war against western society and culture, a tract some 12,000 words in length that called for the working (or proletariat) class to forcibly overthrow the ruling (or bourgeoisie) class and produce a classless society.
This new society would be attained after passing through a period characterized by a dispersed agrarian-based populace deprived of rights of property and inheritance and gathered into industrial armies that were governed by a State with a monopoly on credit, communication, transportation, and the instruments of production.
To attain this goal, the Manifesto eschewed “improvers of the condition of the working class, organizers of charity,” and similar deeds of incremental reform that endeavored to change the fundamental structures of society through a series of prudent improvements implemented over time.
Marx vilified the proposition that capital and labor were complementary, vociferating instead that the two were constitutionally antagonistic. He argued that the internecine warfare waged by those who work for a wage upon those who possess capital and the means of production was an evolutionary step, the inevitable culmination of the history of the oppressors’ injustice inflicted on the oppressed.
In this manner communists furiously agitated ostensibly on behalf of the proletariat – i.e. in a perverse fashion that the Catholic Church and men of good will could never sanction, but only look upon with horror. The Marxists protested that they were protecting the afflicted, but they did so by denying men the honor owed them in their property, their good name, and their life. Further, by exaggerating the excesses of the predominant social systems, they sought a means by which to eviscerate the existing edifices of society – religion, country, family – and replace them with a totalitarian, materialistic, and atheistic despotism. Communism was total war on God and all that proceeded from acknowledgement of the Deity.
Labor in 19th Century America
A worldwide economic downturn spanned roughly the last 25 years the 19th century, one that followed on the heels of the 1870 Franco-Prussian war and the 1873 collapse of the Vienna Stock Exchange.
In the United States one response to this economic depression was the growth of labor unions and fraternal organizations. Capitalizing on the frustrations of the working classes, communists campaigned militantly to win leadership of labor unions. The labor union fights were frequently acrimonious.
The American Civil War (1861-1865) was a further complicating factor for labor issues. After the war the poorer classes sometimes formed their own derivative secret groups, modeled on the Freemasons who themselves boasted of members drawn from among society’s elites. One such worker’s organization, the Knights of Labor (KOL) begun in Philadelphia, favored a progressive income tax and the cessation of child labor, denied membership to bankers and stock market speculators, and engaged in strikes and boycotts in negotiations with employers. While the rank and file were workers, the leaders were usually men of means and – often enough – Freemasons with conflicting loyalties.
The bitter political battles within the KOL initiated by the Socialists soured relations among a number of key members, some of whom left to help found the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) in Indiana in 1881. Though the KOL continued to grow rapidly, the FOTLU failed to ever garner much support (its chief legacy is its proposal to introduce the American Labor Day holiday, held the first Monday in September; the proposal became federal law in 1894). The KOL continued to muddy the waters of union relationships by unabashedly recruiting FOTLU members, providing workers to employers for rival-union strikes, and publicly excoriating FOTLU’s political and social initiatives.
The Riot in Haymarket Square
Hoping to shore up support and increase its appeal, in 1884 the languishing FOTLU initiated a national campaign to introduce a mandatory eight-hour work day which, if not adopted, would become grounds for a national strike.
Meanwhile the KOL’s leadership had begun to endorse the Progressive Cigar-makers' Union, a Chicago-based group of anarchist cigar makers that espoused a nakedly Marxist platform, radically denouncing capitalism and calling for open rebellion against it. The radical cigar makers opposed the FOTLU strike, and tempers flared.
The strike commenced with the arrival of the first day of May in 1886; over 350,000 workers from 1,200 factories participated. New York numbered 10,000 strikers and Detroit 11,000, but Chicago’s 90,000 strikers was by far the largest turnout.
On the third day of the Chicago strike, at the McCormick Reaper Works, police officers killed four participants and wounded several others while breaking up a fight between strikers and workers who had been sent to cross the picket line.
Later that day anarchists distributed fliers implying that the police murdered the strikers. The fliers announced a rally the next day at Chicago’s Haymarket Square. To the concern of the city’s mayor and the police force, one version of the flyer said, “Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force!”
On May 4 the strikers converged on Haymarket Square. The police were there in strength, prepared for any contingency. The rally was uneventful, however, until August Spies, an immigrant German anarchist known for advocating political violence, took the stage to give a speech.
During Spies’ speech, his comrades distributed a flyer for the occasion written in English and German and titled “Revenge!” Its concluding sentiment was:
If you are men, if you are the sons of your grand sires, who have shed their blood to free you, then you will rise in your might, Hercules, and destroy the hideous monster that seeks to destroy you. To arms we call you, to arms.
As Spies was speaking, the police attempted to disperse the crowd. A scuffle ensued, during which someone threw a pipe bomb that immediately killed one police officer and injured many more, several of them mortally.
In an instant, the legend of the bomb-throwing anarchist was born.
Without hesitation the police opened fire on the crowd. Four strikers were killed in the ensuing riot, and five dozen police officers and well over a hundred on-lookers were injured. A number of men, including Spies, were arrested.
Aftermath of the Haymarket Riots
Eight men were tried for the riot and the murder of police officers. In an injudicious legal approach, the prosecution did not focus on whether any of the eight men had thrown the bomb; instead, the case centered on whether the men had incited a riot by their encouragement to violence. The jury – who, in poetic fashion, had been permitted by the judge to read the anarchists’ writings advocating political violence to attain social reform – returned eight guilty verdicts.
One of the convicted men received a 15-year prison sentence. The remaining seven were condemned to death; two of the men had their sentences commuted to life in prison, while a third committed suicide with a cigar bomb. The four remaining men – including Spies – were taken to the gallows, where they sang La Marseillaise before being hanged.
The sentences and executions were greeted with cries of protest from labor unions and newspapers around the globe. In 1893 the governor of Illinois declared that all eight men had been innocent and pardoned the three survivors. The police commander who ordered the dispersal was convicted of corruption. The true bomber, meanwhile, was never identified by authorities.
Three years after the riots, the Second International – a gathering of socialist and labor parties who fought for international socialism – met in Paris for the centennial of the French Revolution and for the World’s Fair. Members called for demonstrations around the globe on the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago riots. A few years later May Day was formally recognized by the Second International as an annual event. Further May Day riots followed, including two in Cleveland, Ohio in 1894 and 1919.
And so in the century to come, the May Day events of Chicago’s Haymarket became a rallying cry for the atheistic creed of communism manifested in deeds of crime, violence, torture, famine, repression, forced collectivization, mass deportations, massacres, and the destruction of the Faith and its churches and monuments. The atrocities were most pronounced in the region stretching from Lenin and Stalin’s Soviet Empire to the land of Chairman Mao’s “Glorious Revolution” in Red China, but the imitators were legion: the Korea of Kim Il Sung and the Vietnam of Uncle Ho, Afghanistan under Najibullah and Ethiopia under Menguistu, Neto’s Angola, Castro’s Cuba. Over 100 million persons would be murdered under these many regimes. These monstrous deeds were committed, the communists claimed, incredibly, to liberate the working man from the injustices of capitalism.
The Church and the Communists
The first encyclical of Pope Pius IX, Qui Pluribus, promulgated in 1846, was the initial Papal condemnation of the error of communism. Thus, even before Marx and Engel’s “scientific” articulation of communism the Catholic Church battled with that modern terror that was absolutely contrary to the natural law. Pius XII was one of several pontiffs who spoke to remind men of the true solution to the world’s woes: not material success, not violent upheaval, and not atheism. What men of the world needed – what in fact they were obliged to do - was to give themselves wholly to Almighty God, not only interiorly but in all their exterior works.
The ideal model for men in this capacity was to be St. Joseph, the patron of social justice. The foster-father of the Son of God was himself a poor man, though of noble descent; he possessed no material wealth, held no prospects for worldly advancement, did not aspire to directly refashion society through revolution. And he was reckoned a just man to whom the Son of God Himself was subject as to a father.
Pope Pius XI declared St. Joseph to be the patron of the Universal Church. In 1936 Pope Pius proclaimed, “We place the vast campaign of the Church against the world of Communism under the standard of St. Joseph, her mighty protector.” Pius XI also gave the Church many allocutions, encyclicals, and speeches to combat the rapidly-spreading errors of the Marxist creed. The most eloquent encyclical appeared in 1937, Divini Redemptoris, condemning atheistic communism. “This Apostolic See,” the Holy Father reminded the Church and the world, “knows that its proper and social mission is to defend truth, justice, and all those eternal values which Communism ignores or attacks.”
Feast of St. Joseph the Workman
Less than 20 years after the publication of Divini Redemptoris, Pope Pius XII carried on the work of his predecessor by providing the festivity of St. Joseph for besieged working men.
On May 1, 1955, Pope Pius XII granted an audience to the Catholic Association of Italian Workers, whose members had gathered in Saint Peter’s Square to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their society by publicly renewing their commitment to the social doctrine of the Church. On that day the Pope instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The Pope assured his audience and the working people of the world that:
You have beside you a shepherd, a defender and a father in Saint Joseph, the carpenter whom God in His providence chose to be the virginal father of Jesus and the head of the Holy Family. He is silent but has excellent hearing, and his intercession is very powerful over the Heart of the Savior.
The Holy Father continued:
We put your Associations under the powerful patronage of St. Joseph. There could not, in fact, be a better protector to help you to make the Spirit of the Gospel penetrate into your life. As we said before, from the Heart of the Man-God, the Savior of the world, this spirit abounds in you and in all men; but it is quite certain that no worker was ever so perfectly and profoundly penetrated by it as was the putative Father of Jesus, who lived with Him in the closest intimacy and community of family and of work. Therefore, if you wish to be close to Christ, we also repeat again today, “Ite ad Joseph” – “Go to Joseph!”
No longer would the communists have the monopoly on a day of celebration on behalf of workers. Henceforth, the Catholic Church would have its own feast, and so continue its divine mission to guide, protect, and love the suffering, particularly those most in need of defense and help, the workers and other sons of the people.
Accepted as such by Christian workers, and almost receiving Christian unction, the 1st of May, so far from being a renewal of discord, hate, and violence, is, and will be, a recurring invitation to modern society to accomplish that which is still lacking for societal peace: a Christian feast, that is, a jubilant day for the concrete and progressive triumph of the Christian ideals of the great family of labor.
So that this meaning may be present, and in a certain way as an immediate exchange for the numerous and previous gifts which have come to us from all parts of Italy, we lovingly announce to you our intention to institute – as we in fact do institute – the liturgical feast of St. Joseph the Artisan, assigning to it precisely the first of May.
Does this our gift please you, dear working men and women? We are sure it does, because the humble artisan of Nazareth not only represents to God and to Holy Church the dignity of manual labor, but is also always the providential guardian of you and your families.
With this allocution Pius XII established a feast day to counter the communist May Day and the demented creed that inspired it. The Church was to have a festival to remind men of the dignity of work and to inspire societal life and laws that were founded on the equal division of rights and duties. Communism had been a machine for producing power, one that ignored all considerations but the utility of labor, destroying in the process the humanity of the laborer who operates the machine. To this madness the Catholic Faith would continue to be vehemently opposed, reminding its Faithful children in the illustrious example of the worth of the worker who is to be redeemed by the Son of God.
Apologia Pro St. Joseph
It is evil teachers who would have poor men regard their condition as a misfortune and a wrong, and urge them to seek redress by forcibly appropriating the goods of others. Thus it has pleased God to exhibit St. Joseph in all his glory as the true model of the working man. All laborers should turn their eyes towards him to learn their true dignity as Christian artisans who worthily support their families. Just as St. Joseph’s nobility as a descendent of the House of David was hidden from the eyes of men, so the working man, following Joseph’s example, would have a special dignity unknown to frenetic souls who do not know peace.
St. Joseph, the humble carpenter of Nazareth with a predilection for poverty who esteemed and loved labor, portrays the dignity of the manual laborer and the provider and guardian of the worker’s family. That God placed His Son in the care of St. Joseph is the supreme example of the worth the Almighty places on the laborer. In the encyclical Quamquam Pluries Pope Leo XIII wrote of St. Joseph, “regularly by his work he earned what was necessary for the one and the other for nourishment and clothing…” Comparing St. Joseph to the Old Testament Joseph, Pope Leo continued:
And in truth, beyond the fact — the significance of which has never been denied — that the same name was given to both, you well know the points of likeness that exist between them: namely, that the first Joseph won the favor and special good will of his master, and that through Joseph's administration his household came to prosperity and wealth; that (still more important) he presided over the kingdom with great power, and in a time when the harvests failed, he provided for all the needs of the Egyptians with so much wisdom that the king decreed to him the title “savior of the world.”
Devotion to St. Joseph has been known since the 4th century, but only in the Eastern Church. In the west the devotion acquired impetus with the preaching of St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gertrude, and St. Bridget of Sweden. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Some Saints are privileged to extend to us their patronage with particular efficacy in certain needs, but not in others; but our holy patron St. Joseph has the power to assist us in all cases, in every necessity and in every undertaking.”
In the 15th century Pope Sixtus IV introduced the feast of St. Joseph to the Roman Calendar. St. Joseph steadily acquired new devotees, until his cult was especially strengthened in the 16th century by the reformed Order of Carmelites. In 1562 St. Teresa of Avila, patroness of Spain, founded the little Monastery of St. Joseph of Avila, a convent of discalced Carmelite nuns of the primitive rule of St. Joseph devoted to solitude, silence, austerity, and poverty. The decision to name the convent for St. Joseph was influenced by his intercession to deliver Teresa from a serious illness in her youth. St. Teresa also chose St. Joseph’s as her place of retreat and refuge during the persecutions of the reformed order, when she was condemned to voluntary retirement. The Carmelite reformer wrote, “To other Saints Our Lord seems to have given power to succor us in some special necessity; but to this glorious Saint, I know by experience, He has given the power to help us in all needs.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa of Avila, Popes Pius XI and XII – all point to St. Joseph to remind us that it is in the solitude of the forgotten places that God reveals Himself to humble hearts.
Blessed are the poor in spirit – those who lead just lives free from idleness, who desire to remain hidden and work peaceably – for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. What a respite from the restless activity of modern life!
* Pius XII, allocution to the Christian Association of Italian Workers: Acta Apostolicae Sedie 47 (May 1, 1955) pp. 403-4. Translation from the Italian by Rev. Fr. Christopher Danel (2007)
* The Life and Glories of Saint Joseph, Edward Healy Thompson, M.A. (TAN Books and Publishers, Inc.; 1980)
* Catholic: The Voice of Catholic Orthodoxy, No. 257 (The Desert Will Flower Press; April/May/June; 2007; pp. 16-7)
* Catholic Action for Christ Our King, Rev. Fr. Stephen DeLallo, FSSPX (Lepanto Press; 2006)
* The Black Book of Communism, Stéphanie Courtois et al (Harvard University Press; 1999)
* History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Philip S. Foner, (International Publishers; 1955)
* Knights Unhorsed: Internal Conflict in a Gilded Age Social Movement, Robert E. Weir (Wayne State University Press; 2000)
 The FOTLU survives today as the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
 One of the Russian members of the Second International was Vladimir Lenin.
 Including Miserentissimus Redemptor, Quadragesimo Anno, Caritate Christi Compulsi, Acerba Animi, Dilectissima Nobis