Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Communist Manifesto is not a Manifesto for Communism


Earlier I criticised an internet essay for claiming to explore Communism in Star Trek by using the Communist Manifesto and only the Manifesto as its source. One of the many criticisms I had of the essay was that the Manifesto is not really a wise choice for someone wanting to learn about Communism. I know that comes across as pretty strange so its probably for the best that I elaborate.

For the record the version of the manifesto I'm using is an epub format from Project Gutenberg.

Now a lot of confusion revolves around the word Nationalisation. Marx did advocate for Nationalisation of large parts of the economy in the Manifesto, but a lot of people seem to forget Marx's qualifier. Literally in following paragraph after his outlining of Nationalisations he says,

When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.
In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
The bold parts are the most important parts, though the entire passage makes it clear Marx believed (at that time) that by creating a "workers state" the Proletariat would prepare society to become a Communist one which in Marx's own words has abolished state power and class distinctions. Nationalisation is a means -and only one of the potential means suggested by Marx and Engels- not an end.

Oh and here's another interesting fact that most people aren't aware of. Marx and Engels were not the first Communist's and the Manifesto was not the first document written about Communism. Marx and Engels were very early converts to it and as history has shown its most well known and influential thinkers. Engels was a Communist before he met Marx, and Marx started as a critical philosopher but due to the censorship of the time became a political journalist for Democratic and Republican journals. He didn't start to take an interest in Communism until 1843 when he critiqued the ideas of German exile groups in France (the word communism first appeared in French as Communisme).

"if the Augsburger wanted and could achieve more than slick phrases, it would see that writings such as those by Leroux, Considerant, and above all Proudhon's penetrating work, can only be criticized after long and deep study, not through superficial and passing notions".
Marx's own brand of Communism differed from the others in its means it still had the same end goal of the "Utopians".

Every actual Marxist knows what Communism is, but for some strange reason plenty of people seem content to take the word of non Marxists or reading it for themselves. Nevertheless I know of no genuine Marxist (as opposed to someone called a Marxist by an opponent) who equated state control with Communism. Not even the Bolsheviks the most pro state and authoritarian of Marx's followers, here's a definition of Communism by Nikolai Bukharin
Scientific communism sees the state as the organisation of the ruling class, an instrument of oppression and violence, and it is on these grounds that it does not countenance a “state of the future”. In the future there will be no classes, there will be no class oppression, and thus no instrument of that oppression, no state of violence. The “classless state" - a notion that turns the heads of social democrats -is a contradiction in terms, a nonsense, an abuse of language, and if this notion is the spiritual nourishment of the social democracy it is really no fault of the great revolutionaries Marx and Engels.

The state control of the economy is not Communism, and Marx never said that it was. Marx at this time believed that it was the role of the Communist party to build a workers state to prepare for the transition to Communism, at which point the workers state would be withered away. Now you might notice something the Manifesto and Marx's works in general leave out, and that's a similarly detailed plan for the withering away of that Workers state.

This lack of detail and explanation was the crux of the dispute between Marx and other Revolutionaries most famously his very bitter and public falling out with the Anarchist Bakunin which led to the splitting of the International Working Men's Association (IWMA) of which they were both influential members.

You might find it strange that a document called "The Communist Manifesto" only very briefly describes Communism. This is because Marx genuinely believed Communism couldn't be achieved at the time. Marx believed that for a Communist society to be feasible a territory must first experience advanced Capitalism, then achieve Socialism, and then finally move on to Communism. Since most nations hadn't even fully embraced Capitalism in 1848 going into specifics about Communism would be very premature. So instead it focusses on criticising Capitalism and potential rival schools of thought while given brief explanations of Communism and some practical ideas.

In addition there's another thing to be considered when reading the Manifesto that is when it was written. The Manifesto was written at a very peculiar time in history, 1848 at a time when most of Europe was transitioning from Feudalism into Industrial Capitalism. At the time Marx believed several things where going to happen and these predictions made there way into the Manifesto. For most of the Manifesto the scope is generalised to Europe over all with Communism being addressed as an phenomenon that affects all its nations.

A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism.
All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to
exorcise this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot,
French Radicals and German police-spies.

There are however two instances where Marx talks specifically about two different groups of Communists, the French and German (spread across several Germanic states) Communists. For each group he very briefly advocates specific policies for both groups to carry out. For the French its allying with the Social Democrats against the French right wing elements. The German's however are to ally with the Bourgeoisie (industrial capitalists and merchants) and assist them in their Revolution against the Feudal aristocracy of Prussia and the other Germanic states. He also talks about a Swiss group and supporting Polish Independence from Russia but is quite vague about them.

  In France the Communists ally themselves with the Social-Democrats, against the conservative and radical bourgeoisie, reserving, however, the right to take up a critical position in regard to phrases and illusions traditionally handed down from the great Revolution.
 In Germany they fight with the bourgeoisie whenever it acts in a revolutionary way, against the absolute monarchy, the feudal squirearchy, and the petty bourgeoisie.

Both examples were part of his overall predictions. Since France had already had a bourgeois Revolution and destroyed the power of the Feudal families the main threat was a right wing resurgence around the weakened Monarchy so by allying with the Social Democrats they were to prevent a back slide and prepare the ground for what Marx calls a true "Proletarian Revolution".

With the Germanic Communists Marx believed that a Proletarian revolution simply couldn't occur without a modern Capitalist society, which needed to first depose the Feudalists. He also believed the Bourgeoisie would welcome a temporary alliance with the Communists and the Working Class because historically every ruling class had to supplant the one before it in order to protect and expand its own interests.

This turned out to be incorrect. Instead most Bourgeois groups allied with the Feudalists to crush the Workers revolts. And then later the two groups began to merge as Industrialisation weakened the nobility and allowed the newly rich sons and daughters of Industrialists to marry into the nobility. In addition the Peasantry of Europe were also mainly in the ranks of the armies that crushed insurrections.

Because of 1848 Marx lost faith in the Bourgeoisie as a modernising force and the Revolutionary potential of the rural peasantry and instead focussed on the Industrial Proletariat. The town/country divide became another feature of the split between Marx and Bakunin.So in addition the Manifesto is out of date even when Marx was still alive.

Marx was capable of changing his mind when new information became available, after the Paris Commune was formed he even started to question the absolute necessity of a "workers state". So to conclude the Manifesto is not a definitive record of Marxism, though you should still read it first before you make assumptions about it.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

W- No, not by Oliver Stone

Below is a rather interesting biopic of former President of the United States of America, George "Dubya" Bush. Despite sharing a title and main character/subject with the Oliver Stone movie, they don't share much else. No this Dubya film is a response to the Bush years from an art house Liberal, with a capital L.

As satire it seems rather poor, it retreads much of the same ground, Bush is an idiot, Iraq was unjustified and motivated by greed, rigging elections and dropping the ball with Hurricane Katrina etc. And its performance art weirdness will probably alienate most of the audience meaning there isn't really much point in making it*. Though I personally love it, I've watched this strange clown film several times, because it seems that the director and star actor (same guy) was so bitter and desperate to caricature and attack American Conservatism that he ends up caricaturing and attacking American Liberalism in the process. Bush and his party of No are basically every Republican stereotype, and yet in making a film where these stereotypes are bluntly real and accurate the Director confirms a lot of the stereotypes of American Liberalism.

The explanation for Bush the idiot getting away with all his crazy and irrational policies and stunts, is basically that the average American or "Red State" American is even dumber then the big W. The Blue Liberals like Moller have pretty much all the right answers and yet they are impotent and powerless to stop eight long years of war, corruption and incompetence. And its all because the average Joe doesn't want to listen to there fancy talk and is easily distracted.

This couldn't get more stereotypical if the Demo party of Yes HQ was in a literal Ivory tower. The whole face paint and chroma key film is just Liberal bitterness and elitism fumbling in its attempt to come to terms with its most devastating defeat in recent history.  An equally appropriate title for the film would be "Impotent Rage: 2000-08" it really is quite something. The film is like a cage fight between two people I can't stand, no matter who loses I'll be happy and if they both get a mauling that's just perfect.

Oh and I'm pretty sure the film maker was an Obama supporter since he basically calls Clinton a whore in most confusing and "Artistic" way possible.

I give this film 7 WMD's out of 10.

* Personally I actually quite like it, but rather then enjoying the "deeper meanings" I find the scenes and images amusing and strange.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Me Ma were right, they really don't make em like they used too


Have you ever gone back to your old primary school as an adult? I have several times since my Nephews go there. There's a very strange sensation when you realise all the stuff you used to look up at is actually really tiny. Desks, tables, chairs and everything all look about three inches off the floor yet I can remember smacking my face into a table when running around on several occasions. Its a symptom of growing up just like suspecting Wagon Wheels and Cream Eggs have been shrinking a little each year.

I get a similar if not the same feeling when I go into the kitchen and look at all the gadgets. Growing up most of are appliances including the Teasmade where from the late Seventies and early eighties. And everything apart from the Betamax lasted us well into the early 2000's. And the only reason the Betamax didn't survive is because I'm the one who broke it aged eight. The other thing to go early was the Microwave not because it didn't work but because it was so big and heavy we needed more space in the Kitchen.

So on average that's a lifespan somewhere between 20-30 years, not counting the black and white dial telly from the sixties we also chucked early because it was so difficult to change channels. And yet we replaced there replacements several times. I thought this was either my imagination or just us buying from crap brands but it seems to be a pretty common occurrence with everyone else I know. Well it turns out that it isn't my imagination or the fault of cheap bargain brands. 

From BBC News:

On its website, the Whitegoods Trade Association (WTA) openly acknowledges that the average lifespan has dropped in relation to prices.
Take the example of a washing machine.
Its life expectancy has dropped by a full three years over the last decade or so, meaning many will conk out pretty quickly.
"Over 40% cost under £300*. Obviously these cheaper products do not have the same build quality, performance or longevity and therefore the average lifespan has dropped from over 10 years to under seven years," the website confesses.
It is not unusual for cheaper appliances to only last a few years.

So there we have it, the quality of manufacturing has gone down across the board. And its all the fault of increased competition and- hang on a second I thought competition was supposed to lead to better products fro consumers to choose from not inferior products across the board. Why it's almost as if manufacturers don't really care about quality so long as they can maximise profit margins by other easier (for them) means.

* I can actually remember the prices of some of our older kit, that's not that much difference, the Teasmade and telly cost much less and the Microwave just under that so this is really just an excuse to cover up an attempt to make us pay more. And its shifting the blame onto the consumers.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Exploring the Human Condition through Cable TV: Storage Hunters

 Our main "cast" from left to right, Bold bloke, the couple, and err... the other 

The media is the favourite target of nearly all the social studies, from psychology to philosophy, in particular television has been the dominant focus, countless television shows have been hailed as representatives of their society and the period they were broadcast. Usually they're the incredibly popular shows with dozens of quotes from professional critics to back up how intelligent and high brow they are. But not always, B-movie science fiction is heavily associated with 1950's America, and acknowledged as a transparent demonstration of that decades dreams of rocket ships, and abundant atomic energy. But also its fears and paranoia of invasion and foreign infiltration of small middle American towns.

I've recently come to the conclusion that a new TV phenomenon has become a mirror for our present day. Only its a lot more like invasion of the flying saucers then M.A.S.H. The topic for today is those strange programs about auctioning off unclaimed storage, focussing mainly on Storage Hunters (SH) since that's the one I've watched the most. There are many other shows that look the same and even sound the same, I've repeatedly got confused and watched the wrong program. There are even British shows around the same premise though technically shows like Flog it, and Cash in the Attic have been on for years and involve selling old junk so the only new bit is the storage yard and lucky dip aspect.

Having spent several hours "researching" SH I believe its come to symbolise are decaying Neo-Liberal society and what the "greed is good" mentality can do to us on an individual level. At first I was just laughing at several greedy overweight loud mouths shoving each other into garage doors, but then I noticed the shows catchphrase parroted by virtually every character multiple times per episode "profit". The "characters" of SH are like human Ferengi, everything they do is motivated by profit and the desire to acquire more profit.I remember one episode where the couple (I honestly can't remember any of there names) bought a lot full of  old military helicopter parts, only to be told by the Appraiser that they were worthless because they weren't collected and the Army wouldn't take them back because they had phased out the helicopter models entirely. This news brought the male of the couple on the verge of tears, then when the Appraiser said he might buy a Rotor blade from them that would cover there losses he snivels and whines that he needs to make "some profit" no matter how small so long as it exists.

This guy isn't some poor sod nickle and diming his way out of the gutter one scrap deal at a time, his minted, in the episode before that he bought a plane for $8,000 (there about) and sold it for over $15,000, but the prospect of breaking even on one deal nearly caused a breakdown. Now since this is a TV show its possible that its all staged, I don't believe that, a lot of SH definitely is staged but the reason why I believe bits like the near crying is because the "cast" of SH are terrible actors with the exception of the bald guy who auctions off the lots. They all ham it up and come across as insincere caricatures, except for after they've won a lot and won big or made a big loss then they appear genuine if incredibly smug.

After the Chopper incident I began to pay closer attention and all the practices of modern capitalism and there effects on people began to shine through. The entire show and all the others like it are set up to depict a group of wealthy entrepreneurs making a profit over the failed dreams of ordinary people and failed small businessmen. They have absolutely no sentimentality, tools, antiques and heirlooms are only valued by how much the bidder can get for it and its all about selling them. We never hear a bidder want the contents of a lot for sentimental reasons or to help them in their productive business ventures, its all about harvesting the left overs. Sounds a lot like a company that buys up a struggling factory cheap to strip its assets to maximise their own financial income (profit).

 Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.

But the comparisons keep coming. Each episode is at a different location, half the bidders are show regulars the rest are local (I'll just call them bidders) bidders. The locals have no chance all the show regulars have deeper pockets the locals are just there for scenery and a smoke screen to make the competition seem fairer and more real. To me that seems a lot like big businesses moving into an area and pushing out the small timers. Occasionally this leads to friction though its usually pretty fake and probably staged.

But its not all sunshine and rainbows for the big boys and girls they have intense competition, and they do all the dirty tricks. Sometimes two of them (beside the couples)will team up to split the spoils just like how corporations will strike deals and even merge into one entity. They'll also do something else, a bidder will sometimes declare they have no interest in a lot but think another bidder does so they'll deliberately inflate the price by bidding just so they won't have as much money when a lot comes up that the other bidder is interested in. Anyone remember when Tesco was caught buying up land it had no interest in developing and was only interested in preventing its rivals from opening a branch on those lands? Now its not a perfect comparison granted but its pretty close.

Now onto the psychology, the Chopper incident demonstrated how fragile and deseperate these folks are to keep on growing, if just one near misstep after a chain of big wins is enough to cause a break down what does a string of losses do I wonder? It's not just the couple either, all of the bidders get bitter and frayed when faced with the prospect of dud lot. There is however one exception,there's one person on the show whose pretty chill and that's Sean Kelly.

Sean Kelly on TruTV's "Storage Hunters" (Photo: TruTV)
Ok so he's not exactly chill here but this is a promotional image
Sean whose name I only just found out a few seconds a go despite watching dozens of episodes is the happy go lucky character. The reason why is quite simple, he has no pressure because he's the middleman or facilitator Capitalist. He doesn't compete he assists, he very generously gives tips and assistance to the winners of each lot. Oh and he also happens to run the lot auctions meaning he gets an automatic cut of the money,so even if the bidders tell him to buzz off or can't sell a thing he still makes a profit. Sean has control of the storage racket monopoly so has no real concerns or pressures, he doesn't have to police the bidders and benefits from them actively fighting each other so long as its financial and not with violence.

This is what Sean first reminded me of, a sort of Bazaar owner/logistical kingpin, but later as I thought about it I came up with an alternative role for Sean in my theory. And that is that Sean represents the state. In SH, he has a very cosy relationship with the bidders who are transparently Capitalists and benefits when they do, it's a reciprocal if unequal relationship. On the surface Sean is the most powerful, he's the one who sets the rules on appropriate behaviour between bidders. Marx equated the role of the state as a committee for to manage the joint affairs of the ruling class and Sean does just that by providing them with an environment to profit and keeps their personal ambitions and squabbles in check.

 The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie

But despite this apparent power the real power lies with the bidders collectively. If Sean (the state) doesn't appease enough of the big bidders (Capitalists) by continuing to provide a pleasant and lucrative environment then they'll just leave and go to another Storage Yard. Ultimately Sean only has power because the bidders allow him to have that power.

So, we have the State and Capital, we even have representatives of the State institutions with Sean's occasional helpers (other Storage Yard attendants), and small Capitalists with the local bidders but what about the Working class? They're us the ones watching the events far away and almost completely detached from the economic and political process. Are opinions are unheard and unsought by the State or Capital. Not only do they not care for us but they also don't fear us, the idea that a movement of the dispossesd might occupy the storage yards to squat or make productive use of the tools and equipment left behind for the benefit of all (well at least a few dozen) then the profit of a few is completely implausible. May be in a few years when the class struggle in America and globally is on the rise, or alternatively Storage Hunters loses ratings and gets desperate, whichever comes first.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Loafers Glory 03- Busking

Episode three of Loafers Glory is all about the art of busking, from street singing to soap box oration and all points in between. Includes some special tips on how to survive if your on the street during hard times.

Includes a selection of music from some of the most famous street corner singers in the US and Canada.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014



On Sunday I went with some mates to Grimsby V Gateshead, while there I'm reminded of why so many fans from virtually every club all hate the police. If you have a friend or family member who still refuses to believe the police are a violent force that keeps working people in line and can and will use its powers when it feels like it, then take them to an away game, then they'll soon learn.

Now the reason why an away game is a perfect example of the Coppers typical behaviour is simply really. They can and will get away with it, the rest of British society even those who don't watch or play football hate hooligans. And if you're a football fan in trouble with the police then you must be a hooligan. Also since the fans are on an away the police don't have to worry too much since the fans will be leaving the same day, they don't know the area and have no connections or roots to the town. Also thanks to football tribalism most locals will be quite happy to see the other side get a pasting.

And the club is no help, fearing being made liable for damages or getting a reputation that will hurt merchandising they'll remain silent or make press statements condemning there own fans for the crime of getting a truncheon to the face and a night in the cells.

Anyway here's a song about the thin blue line by Bristol Anarchist duo QELD

"When a person becomes a policeman, he has sold his class interests, he has crossed a class line, he is in the paid employment of the ruling class, he is a part of the private army of the ruling class which exists for the sole purpose of defending private property and profits."

Friday, 2 May 2014

Birth of a Holiday: The First of May - Eric Hobsbawm

Eric Hobsbawm, Marxist historian of Daily Mail fame wrote this essay in 1994 about the culture and practice of May Day as an International holiday and how it developed over a number of years.

Walter Crane - Garland for Mayday
Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm's account of the international celebration of Mayday.
In 1990 Michael Ignatieff, writing about Easter in the Observer, observed that 'secular societies have never succeeded in providing alternatives to religious rituals'. And he pointed out that the French Revolution 'may have turned subjects into citizens, may have put liberte, egalite and fraternite on the lintel of every school and put the monasteries to the sack, but apart from the Fourteenth of July it never made a dent on the old Christian calendar'. My present subject is perhaps the only unquestionable dent made by a secular movement in the Christian or any other official calendar, a holiday established not in one or two countries, but in 1990 officially in 107 states. What is more, it is an occasion established not by the power of governments or conquerors, but by an entirely unofficial movement of poor men and women. I am speaking of May Day, or more precisely of the First of May, the international festival of the working-class movement, whose centenary ought to have been celebrated in 1990, for it was inaugurated in 1890.

'Ought to be' is the correct phrase, for, apart from the historians, few have shown much interest in this occasion, not even in those socialist parties which are the lineal descendants of those which, at the inaugural congresses of what became the Second International, in 1889 called for a simultaneous international workers' demonstration in favour of a law to limit the working day to eight hours to be held on 1 May 1890. This is true even of those parties actually represented at the 1889 congresses, and which are still in existence. These parties of the Second International or their descendants today provide the governments or the main oppositions or alternative governments almost everywhere in Europe west of what until recently was the self-described region of 'really existing socialism'. One might have expected them to show greater pride, or even merely greater interest in their past.
The strongest political reaction in Britain to the centenary of May Day came from Sir John Hackett, a former general and, I am sorry to say, former head of a college of the University of London, who called for the abolition of May Day, which he appeared to regard as some sort of Soviet invention. It ought not, he felt, to survive the fall of international communism. However, the origin of the European Community's spring May Day holiday is the opposite of Bolshevik or even social democratic. It goes back to the anti-socialist politicians who, recognizing how deeply the roots of May Day reached into the soil of the western working classes, wanted to counter the appeal of labour and socialist movements by co-opting their festival and turning it into something else. To cite a French parliamentary proposal of April 1920, supported by forty-one deputies united by nothing except not being socialists:
This holiday should not contain any element of jealousy and hatred [the code word for class struggle]. All classes, if classes can still be said to exist, and all productive energies of the nation should fraternize, inspired by the same idea and the same ideal.
Those who, before the European Community, went furthest in co¬-opting May Day were on the extreme right, not the left. Hitler's government was the first after the USSR to make the First of May into an official National Day of Labour. Marshal Petain's Vichy government declared the First of May a Festival of Labour and Concord and is said to have been inspired to do so by the Phalangist May Day of Franco's Spain, where the Marshal had been an admiring ambassador. Indeed, the European Economic Community which made May Day into a public holiday was a body composed not, in spite of Mrs Thatcher's views on the subject, of socialist but of predominantly anti-socialist governments. Western official May Days were recognitions of the need to come to terms with the tradition of the unofficial May Days and to detach it from labour movements, class consciousness and class struggle. But how did it come about that this tradition was so strong that even its enemies thought they had to take it over, even when, like Hitler, Franco and Petain, they destroyed the socialist labour movement?
The extraordinary thing about the evolution of this institution is that it was unintended and unplanned. To this extent it was not so much an 'invented tradition' as a suddenly erupting one. The immediate origin of May Day is not in dispute. It was a resolution passed by one of the two rival founding congresses of the International - the Marxist one - in Paris in July 1889, centenary year of the French Revolution. This called for an international demonstration by workers on the same day, when they would put the demand for a Legal Eight Hour Day to their respective public and other authorities. And since the American Federation of Labor had already decided to hold such a demonstration on 1 May 1890, this day was to be chosen for the international demonstration. Ironically, in the USA itself May Day was never to establish itself as it did elsewhere, if only because an increasingly official public holiday of labour, Labor Day, the first Monday in September, was already in existence.

Scholars have naturally investigated the origins of this resolution, and how it related to the earlier history of the struggle for the Legal Eight-Hour Day in the USA and elsewhere, but these matters do not concern us here. What is relevant to the present argument is how what the resolution envisaged differed from what actually came about. Let us note three facts about the original proposal. First, the call was simply for a single, one-off, international manifestation. There is no suggestion that it should be repeated, let alone become a regular annual event. Second, there was no suggestion that it should be a particularly festive or ritual occasion, although the labour movements of all countries were authorized to 'realize this demonstration in such ways as are made necessary by the situation in their country'. This, of course, was an emergency exit left for the sake of the German Social Democratic Party, which was still at this time illegal under Bismarck's anti-socialist law. Third, there is no sign that this resolution was seen as particularly important at the time. On the contrary, the contemporary press reports barely mention it, if at all, and, with one exception (curiously enough a bourgeois paper), without the proposed date. Even the official Congress Report, published by the German Social Democratic Party, merely mentions the proposers of the resolution and prints its text without any comment or apparent sense that this was a matter of Significance. In short, as Edouard Vaillant, one of the more eminent and politically sensitive delegates to the Congress, recalled a few years later: 'Who could have predicted ... the rapid rise of May Day?'

Its rapid rise and institutionalization were certainly due to the extraordinary success of the first May Day demonstrations in 1890, at least in Europe west of the Russian Empire and the Balkans. The socialists had chosen the right moment to found or, if we prefer, reconstitute an International. The first May Day coincided with a triumphant advance of labour strength and confidence in numerous countries. To cite merely two familiar examples: the outburst of the New Unionism in Britain which followed the Dock Strike of 1889, and the socialist victory in Germany, where the Reichstag refused to continue Bismarck's anti-socialist law in January 1890, with the result that a month later the Social Democratic Party doubled its vote at the general election and emerged with just under 20 per cent of the total vote. To make a success of mass demonstrations at such a moment was not difficult, for both activists and militants put their hearts into them, while masses of ordinary workers joined them to celebrate a sense of victory, power, recognition and hope.

And yet the extent to which the workers took part in these meetings amazed those who had called upon them to do so, notably the 300,000 who filled Hyde Park in London, which thus, for the first and last time, provided the largest demonstration of the day. For, while all socialist parties and organizations had naturally organized meets, only some had recognized the full potential of the occasion and put their all into it from the start. The Austrian Social Democratic Party was exceptional in its immediate sense of the mass mood, with the result that, as Frederick Engels observed a few weeks later, 'on the continent it was Austria, and in Austria Vienna, which celebrated this festival in the most splendid and appropriate manner'.

Indeed, in several countries, so far from throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the preparation of May Day, local parties and movements were, as usual in the politics of the left, handicapped by ideological arguments and divisions about the legitimate form or forms of such demonstrations - we shall return to them below - or by sheer caution. In the face of a highly nervous, even on occasion hysterical, reaction to the prospect of the day by governments, middle-¬class opinion and employers who threatened police repression and victimization, responsible socialist leaders often preferred to avoid excessively provocative forms of confrontation. This was notably the case in Germany, where the ban on the party had only just been revoked after eleven years of illegality. 'We have every reason to keep the masses under control at the First of May demonstration,' wrote the party leader August Bebel to Engels. 'We must avoid conflicts.' And Engels agreed.

The crucial matter at issue was whether the workers should be asked to demonstrate in working time, that is to go on strike, for in 1890 the First of May fell on a Thursday. Basically, cautious parties and strong established trade unions - unless they deliberately wanted to be or found themselves engaged in industrial action, as was the plan of the American Federation of Labor - did not see why they should stick their own and their members' necks out for the sake of a symbolic gesture. They therefore tended to opt for a demonstration on the first Sunday in May and not on the first day of the month. This was and remained the British option, which was why the first great May Day took place on 4 May. However, it was also the preference of the German party, although there, unlike Britain, in practice it was the First of May that prevailed. In fact, the question was to be formally discussed at the Brussels International Socialist Congress of 1891, with the British and Germans opposing the French and Austrians on this point, and being outvoted. Once again this issue, like so many other aspects of May Day, was the accidental by¬product of the international choice of the date. The original resolution made no reference at all to stopping work. The problem arose simply because the first May Day fell on a weekday, as everybody planning the demonstration immediately and necessarily discovered.

Caution dictated otherwise. But what actually made May Day was precisely the choice of symbol over practical reason. It was the act of symbolically stopping work which turned May Day into more than just another demonstration, or even another commemorative occasion. It was in the countries or cities where parties, even against hesitant unions, insisted on the symbolic strike that May Day really became a central part of working-class life and of labour identity, as it never really did in Britain, in spite of its brilliant start. For refraining from work on a working day was both an assertion of working-class power - in fact, the quintessential assertion of this power - and the essence of freedom, namely not being forced to labour in the sweat of one's brow, but choosing what to do in the company of family and friends. It was thus both a gesture of class assertion and class struggle and a holiday: a sort of trailer for the good life to come after the emancipation of labour. And, of course, in the circumstances of 1890 it was also a celebration of victory, a winner's lap of honour round the stadium. Seen in this light May Day carried with it a rich cargo of emotion and hope.

This is what Victor Adler realized when, against advice from the German Social Democratic Party, he insisted that the Austrian party must provoke precisely the confrontation which Bebel wanted to avoid. Like Bebel he recognized the mood of euphoria, of mass conversion, almost of messianic expectation which swept through so many working classes at this time. 'The elections have turned the
heads of the less politically educated [geschult] masses. They believe they have only to want something and everything can be achieved,' as Bebel put it. Unlike Bebel, Adler still needed to mobilize these sentiments to build a mass party out of a combination of activists and rising mass sympathy. Moreover, unlike the Germans, Austrian workers did not yet have the vote. The movement's strength could not therefore be demonstrated electorally as yet. Again, the Scandinavians understood the mobilizing potential of direct action when, after the first May Day, they voted in favour of a repetition of the demonstration in 1891, 'especially if combined with a cessation of work, and not merely simple expressions of opinion'. The International itself took the same view when in 1891 it voted (against the British and German delegates as we have seen) to hold the demonstration on the First of May and 'to cease work wherever it is not impossible to do so.

This did not mean that the international movement called for a general strike as such, for, with all the boundless expectations of the moment, organized workers were in practice aware both of their strength and of their weakness. Whether people should strike on May Day, or could be expected to give up a day's pay for the demonstration, were questions widely discussed in the pubs and bars of proletarian Hamburg, according to the plain-clothes policemen sent by the Senate to listen to workers' conversations in that massively 'red' city. It was understood that many workers would be unable to come out, even if they wanted to. Thus the railwaymen sent a cable to the first Copenhagen May Day which was read out and cheered: 'Since we cannot be present at the meeting because of the pressure exerted by those in power, we will not omit fully supporting the demand for the eight-hour working day. However, where employers knew that workers were strong and solidly committed, they would often tacitly accept that the day could be taken off. This was often the case in Austria. Thus, in spite of the clear instruction from the Ministry of the Interior that processions were banned and taking time off was not to be permitted; and in spite of the formal decision by employers not to consider the First of May a holiday - and sometimes even to substitute the day before the First of May as a works holiday - the State Armaments Factory in Steyr, Upper Austria, shut down on the First of May 1890 and every year thereafter. In any case, enough workers came out in enough countries to make the stop-work movement plausible. After all, in Copenhagen about 40 per cent of the city's workers were actually present at the demonstration in 1890.

Given this remarkable and often unexpected success of the first May Day it was natural that a repeat performance should be demanded. As we have already seen, the united Scandinavian movements asked for it in the summer of 1890, as did the Spaniards. By the end of the year the bulk of the European parties had followed suit. That the occasion should become a regular annual event mayor may not have been suggested first by the militants of Toulouse who passed a resolution to this effect in 1890,but to no one's surprise the Brussels congress of the International in 1891 committed the movement to a regular annual May Day. However, it also did two other things, while insisting, as we have seen, that May Day must be celebrated by a single demonstration on the first day of the month, whatever that day might be, in order to emphasize 'its true character as an economic demand for the eight-hour day and an assertion of class struggle'.It added at least two other demands to the eight-hour day: labour legislation and the fight against war. Although it was henceforth an official part of May Day, in itself the peace slogan was not really integrated into the popular May Day tradition, except as something that reinforced the international character of the occasion. However, in addition to expanding the programmatic content of the demonstration, the resolution included another innovation. It spoke of 'celebrating' May Day. The movement had come officially to recognize it not only as a political activity but as a festival.

we have already seen, the united Scandinavian movements asked for it in the summer of 1890, as did the Spaniards. By the end of the year the bulk of the European parties had followed suit. That the occasion should become a regular annual event mayor may not have been suggested first by the militants of Toulouse who passed a resolution to this effect in 1890, but to no one's surprise the Brussels congress of the International in 1891 committed the movement to a regular annual May Day. However, it also did two other things, while insisting, as we have seen, that May Day must be celebrated by a single demonstration on the first day of the month, whatever that day might be, in order to emphasize 'its true character as an economic demand for the eight-hour day and an assertion of class struggle'.19 It added at least two other demands to the eight-hour day: labour legislation and the fight against war. Although it was henceforth an official part of May Day, in itself the peace slogan was not really integrated into the popular May Day tradition, except as something that reinforced the international character of the occasion. However, in addition to expanding the programmatic content of the demonstration, the resolution included another innovation. It spoke of 'celebrating' May Day. The movement had come officially to recognize it not only as a political activity but as a festival.

Once again, this was not part of the original plan. On the contrary, the militant wing of the movement and, it need hardly be added, the anarchists opposed the idea of festivities passionately on ideological grounds. May Day was a day of struggle. The anarchists would have preferred it to broaden out from a single day's leisure extorted from the capitalists into the great general strike which would overthrow the entire system. As so often, the most militant revolutionaries took a sombre view of the class struggle, as the iconography of black and grey masses lightened by no more than the occasional red flag so often confirms. The anarchists preferred to see May Day as a commemoration of martyrs - the Chicago martyrs of 1886, 'a day of grief rather than a day of celebration', and where they were influential, as in Spain, South America and Italy, the martyrological aspect of May Day actually became part of the occasion. Cakes and ale were not part of the revolutionary game-plan. In fact, as a recent study of the anarchist May Day in Barcelona brings out, refusing to treat it or even to call it a 'Festa del Traball', a labour festival, was one of its chief characteristics before the Republic. To hell with symbolic actions: either the world revolution or nothing. Some anarchists even refused to encourage the May Day strike, on the ground that anything that did not actually initiate the revolution could be no more than yet another reformist diversion. The revolutionary syndicalist French Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT) did not resign itself to May Day festivity until after the First World War.

The leaders of the Second International may well have encouraged the transformation of May Day into a festival, since they certainly wanted to avoid anarchist confrontational tactics and naturally also favoured the broadest possible basis for the demonstrations. But the idea of a class holiday, both struggle and a good time, was definitely not in their minds originally. Where did it come from?
Initially the choice of date almost certainly played a crucial role. Spring holidays are profoundly rooted in the ritual cycle of the year in the temperate northern hemisphere, and indeed the month of May itself symbolizes the renewal of nature. In Sweden, for instance, the First of May was already by long tradition almost a public holiday. This, incidentally, was one of the problems about celebrating wintry May Days in otherwise militant Australia. From the abundant icon-ographical and literary material at our disposal, which has been made available in recent years, it is quite evident that nature, plants and above all flowers were automatically and universally held to symbolize the occasion. The simplest of rural gatherings, like the 1890 meeting in a Styrian village, shows not banners but garlanded boards with slogans, as well as musicians. A charming photograph of a later provincial May Day, also in Austria, shows the social democratic worker-cyclists, male and female, parading with wheels and handlebars wreathed in flowers, and a small flower-decked May child in a sort of baby-seat slung between two bicycles.

Flowers appear unselfconsciously round the stern portraits of the seven Austrian delegates to the 1889 International Congress, dis-tributed for the first Vienna May Day. Flowers even infiltrate the militant myths. In France the fusillade de Fourmies of 1891, with its ten dead, is symbolized in the new tradition by Maria Blondeau, eighteen years old, who danced at the head of 200 young people of both sexes, swinging a branch of flowering hawthorn which her fiance had given ber, until the troops shot her dead. Two May traditions patently merge in this image. What flowers? Initially, as the hawthorn branch suggests, colours suggestive of spring rather than politics, even though the movement soon comes to settle on blossoms of its own colour: roses, poppies and above all red carnations. However, national styles vary. Nevertheless, flowers and those other symbols of burgeoning growth, youth, renewal and hope, namely young women, are central. It is no accident that the .most universal icons for the occasion, reproduced time and again m a variety of languages, come from Walter Crane - especially the famous young woman in a Phrygian bonnet surrounded by garlands. The British socialist movement was small and unimportant and its May Days, after the first few years, were marginal. However, through William Morris, Crane and the arts-and-crafts movement, inspirers of the most influential 'new art' or art nouveau of the period, it found the exact expression for the spirit of the times. The British iconographic influence is not the least evidence for the internationalism of May Day.

In fact, the idea of a public festival or holiday of labour arose, once again, spontaneously and almost immediately - no doubt helped along by the fact that in German the word feiern can mean both 'not working' and 'formally celebrating'. (The use of 'playing' as a synonym for 'striking', common in England in the first part of the century, no longer seems common by its end.) In any case it seemed logical on a day when people stayed away from work to supplement the morning's political meetings and marches with sociability and entertainment later, all the more so as the role of inns and restaurants as meeting-places for the movement was so important. Publicans and cabaretieri formed a significant section of socialist activists in more than one country.

One major consequence of this must be immediately mentioned. Unlike politics, which was in those days 'men's business', holidays included women and children. Both the visual and the literary sources demonstrate the presence and participation of women in May Day from the start. What made it a genuine class display, and inci¬dentally, as in Spain, increasingly attracted workers who were not politically with the socialists, 30 was precisely that it was not confined to men but belonged to families. And in turn, through May Day, women who were not themselves directly in the labour market as wage-workers, that is to say the bulk of married working-class women in a number of countries, were publicly identified with movement and class. If a working life of wage-labour belonged chiefly to men, refusing to work for a day united age and sex in the working class.

Practically all regular holidays before this time had been religious holidays, at all events in Europe, except in Britain where, typically, the European Community's May Day has been assimilated to a Bank Holiday. May Day shared with Christian holidays the aspiration to universality, or, in labour terms, internationalism. This universality I deeply impressed participants and added to the day's appeal. The numerous May Day broadsheets, often locally produced, which are so valuable a source for the iconography and cultural history of the occasion - 308 different numbers of such ephemera have been preserved for pre-fascist Italy alone - constantly dwell on this. The first May Day journal from Bologna in 1891 contains no fewer than four items specifically on the universality of the day. And, of course, the analogy with Easter or Whitsun seemed as obvious as that with the spring celebrations of folk custom.

Italian socialists, keenly aware of the spontaneous appeal of the new festa del lavoro to a largely Catholic and illiterate population, used the term 'the workers' Easter' from, at the latest, 1892, and such analogies became internationally current in the second half of the 1890s.32 One can readily see why. The similarity of the new socialist movement to a religious movement, even, in the first heady years of May Day, to a religious revival movement with messianic expectations was patent. So, in some ways, was the similarity of the body of early leaders, activists and propagandists to a priesthood, or at least to a body of lay preachers. We have an extraordinary leaflet from Charleroi, Belgium in 1898, which reproduces what can only be described as a May Day sermon: no other word will do. It was drawn up by, or in the name of, ten deputies and senators of the Parti Ouvrier Belge, undoubtedly atheists to a man, under the joint epigraphs 'Workers of all lands unite (Karl Marx)' and 'Love One Another (jesus)'. A few samples will suggest its mood:
This [it began] is the hour of spring and festivity when the perpetual Evolution of nature shines forth in its glory. Like nature, fill yourselves with hope and prepare for The New Life.
After some passages of moral instruction ('Show self-respect: Beware of the liquids that make you drunk and the passions that degrade' and so on) and socialist encouragement, it concluded with
a passage of millennial hope:
Soon frontiers will fade away! Soon there will be an end to wars and armies! Every time that you practice the socialist virtues of Solidarity and Love, you will bring this future closer. And then, in peace and joy, a world will come into being in which Socialism will triumph, once the social duty of all is properly understood as bringing about the all-round development of each.
Yet the point about the new labour movement was not that it was a faith, and one which often echoed the tone and style of religious discourse, but that it was so little influenced by the .religious model even in countries where the masses were deeply religious and steeped in church ways. Moreover, there was little convergence between the old and the new Faith except sometimes (but not always) where Protestantism took the form of unofficial and implicitly oppositionist sects rather than Churches, as in England. Socialist labour was a militantly secular, anti-religious movement which converted pious or formerly pious populations en masse.

We can also understand why this was so. Socialism and the labour movement appealed to men and women for whom, as a novel class conscious of itself as such, there was no proper place in the community of which established Churches, and notably the Catholic Church, were the traditional expression. There were indeed settlements of 'outsiders', by occupation as in mining or proto-industrial or factory villages, by origin like the Albanians of what became the quintessentially 'red' village of Piana dei Greci in Sicily (now Piana degli Albanesi), or united by some other criterion that separated them collectively from the wider society. There 'the movement' might function as the community, and in doing so take over many of the old village practices hitherto monopolized by religion. However, this was unusual. In fact a major reason for the massive success of May Day was that it was seen as the only holiday associated exclusively with the working class as such, not shared with anyone else, and moreover one extorted by the workers' own action. More than this: it was a day on which those who were usually invisible went on public display and, at least for one day, captured the official space of rulers and society. In this respect the galas of British miners, of which the Durham miners' gala is the longest survivor, anticipated May Day, but on the basis of one industry and not the working class as a whole. In this sense the only relation between May Day and traditional religion was the claim to equal rights. 'The priests have their festivals,' announced the 1891 May Day broadsheet of Voghera in the Po valley, 'the Moderates have their festivals. So have the Democrats. The First of May is the Festival of the workers of the entire world.'

But there was another thing that distanced the movement from religion. Its key word was 'new', as in Die Neue Zeit (New Times), title of Kautsky's Marxist theoretical review, and as in the Austrian labour song still associated with May Day, and whose refrain runs: 'Mit uns zieht die neue Zeit' ('The new times are advancing with us'). As both Scandinavian and Austrian experience shows, socialism often came into the countryside and provincial towns literally with the railways, with those who built and manned them, and with the new ideas and new times they brought. Unlike other public holidays, including most of the ritual occasions of the labour movement up till then, May Day did not commemorate anything - at all events outside the range of anarchist influence which, as we have seen, liked to link it with the Chicago anarchists of 1886. It was about nothing but the future, which, unlike a past that had nothing to give to the proletariat except bad memories ('Du passe faisons table rase,' sang the Inter-nationale, not by accident), offered emancipation. Unlike traditional religion, 'the movement' offered not rewards after death but the new Jerusalem on this earth.

The iconography of May Day, which developed its own imagery and symbolism very quickly, is entirely future-oriented.What the future would bring was not at all clear, only that it would be good and that it would inevitably come. Fortunately for the success of May Day, at least one way forward to the future turned the occasion into something more than a demonstration and a festival. In 1890 electoral democracy was still extremely uncommon in Europe, and the demand for universal suffrage was readily added to that for the eight-hour day and the other May Day slogans. Curiously enough, the demand for the vote, although it became an integral part of May Day in Austria, Belgium, Scandinavia, Italy and elsewhere until it was achieved, never formed an ex officio international part of its political content like the eight-hour day and, later, peace. Nevertheless, where applicable, it became an integral part of the occasion and greatly added to its significance.

In fact, the practice of organizing or threatening general strikes for universal suffrage, which developed with some success in Belgium, Sweden and Austria, and helped to hold party and unions together, grew out of the symbolic work stoppages of May Day. The first such strike was started by the Belgian miners on 1 May 1891.40 On the other hand trade unions were far more concerned with the Swedish May Day slogan 'shorter hours and higher wages' than with any other aspect of the great day. There were times, as in Italy, when they concentrated on this and left even democracy to others. The great advances of the movement, including its effective championship of democracy, were not based on narrow economic self-interest.

Democracy was, of course, central to the socialist labour movements. It was not only essential for its progress but inseparable from it. The first May Day in Germany was commemorated by a plaque which showed Karl Marx on one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other. An Austrian May Day print of 1891 shows Marx, holding Das Kapital, pointing across the sea to one of those romantic islands familiar to contemporaries from paintings of a Mediterranean character, behind which there rises the May Day sun, which was to be the most lasting and potent symbol of the future. Its rays carried the slogans of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, which are found on so many of the early May Day badges and mementoes.Marx is surrounded by workers, presumably ready to man the fleet of ships due to sail to the island, whatever it might be, their sails inscribed: Universal and Direct Suffrage. Eight-Hour Day and Protection for the Workers. This was the original tradition of May Day.

That tradition arose with extraordinary rapidity - within two or three years - by means of a curious symbiosis between the slogans of the socialist leaders and their often spontaneous interpretation by militants and rank-and-file workers.It took shape in those first few marvellous years of the sudden flowering of mass labour movements and parties. when every day brought visible growth, when the very existence of such movements. the very assertion of class. seemed a guarantee of future triumph. More than this: it seemed a sign of imminent triumph as the gates of the new world swung open before the working class.

However, the millennium did not come and May Day, with so much else in the labour movement, had to be regularized and institutionalized, even though something of the old flowering of hope and triumph returned to it in later years after great struggles and victories. We can see it in the mad futurist May Days of the early Russian Revolution, and almost everywhere in Europe in 1919-20, when the original May Day demand of the Eight Hours was actually achieved in many countries. We can see it in the May Days of the early Popular Front in France in 1935 and 1936, and in the countries of the continent liberated from occupation, after the defeat of fascism. Still, in most countries of mass socialist labour movements, May Day was routinized some time before 1914.

Curiously, it was during this period of routinization that it acquired its ritualistic side. As an Italian historian has put it, when it ceased to be seen as the immediate antechamber of the great transformation. it became 'a collective rite which requires its own liturgies and divinities', the divinities being usually identifiable as those young women in flowing hair and loose costumes showing the way towards the rising sun to increasingly imprecise crowds or processions of men and women. Was she Liberty, or Spring, or Youth, or Hope, or rosy-fingered Dawn or a bit of all of these? Who can tell? Iconographically she has no universal characteristic except youth, for even the Phrygian bonnet, which is extremely common, or the traditional attributes of Liberty, are not always found. We can trace this ritualization of the day through the flowers which, as we have seen, are present from the beginning, but become, as it were, officialized towards the end of the century. Thus the red carnation acquired its official status in the Habsburg lands and in Italy from about 1900. when its symbolism was specially explicated in the lively and talented broadsheet from Florence named after it. (II Garofano Rosso appeared on May Days until the First World War.) The red rose became official in 1911-12. And, to the grief of incorruptible revolutionaries the entirely unpolitical lily-of-the-valley began to infiltrate the workers' May Day in the early 1900s, until it became one of the regular symbols of the day.

Neverthelesss, the great era of May Days was not over while they remained both legal - that is, capable of bringing large masses on to the street - and unofficial. Once they became a holiday given or, still worse, imposed from above, their character was necessarily different. And since public mass mobilization was of their essence, they could not resist illigality, even though the socialists (later communists) of Piana del Albanesi took pride, even in the black days of fascism, in sending some comrades every First of May without fail to the mountain pass where, from what is still known as Dr Barbato's rock, the local apostle of socialism had addressed them in 1893. It was in this same location that the bandit Giuliano massacred the revived revived community demonstration and family picnic after the end of fascism in 1947. Since 1914, and especially since 1945, May Day has increasingly become either illegal or, more likely, official. Only in those comparatively rare parts of the third world where massive and unofficial socialist labour movements developed in conditions that allowed May Day to flourish is there a real continuity older tradition.

May Day has not, of course, lost its old characteristics everywhere. Neverthelesss, even where it is not associated with the fall of old regimes which were once new, as in the USSR and eastern Europe, it is not too much to claim that for most people even in labour movements the word May Day evokes the past more the past than the present. The society which gave rise to May Day has changed. How important, today, are those small proletarian village communities which old Italians remember? 'We marched round the village. Then there was a public meal. All the party members were there and anyone else Who wanted to come.’ What has happened in the industrialized world to those who in the 1890s could still recognize themselves in the internationale's 'Arise ye starvelings from your slumbers'? As an old Italian an lady put it in 1980, remembering the May Day of 1920 'I carried the flag as a twelve-year-old textile worker, just started at the mill: 'Nowadays those who go to work are all ladies and gentlemen, they get everything they ask for.' What has happened to the spirit of those May Day sermons of confidence in the future, of faith in the march of reason and progress? 'Educate yourselves! Schools and courses, books and newspapers are instruments of liberty! Drink at the fountain of Science and Art: you will then become strong enough to bring about justice. What has happened to the collective dream of building Jerusalem in our green and pleasant land?
And yet, if May Day has become no more than just another holiday, a day - I am quoting a French advertisement - when one need not take a certain tranquillizer, because one does not have to work, it remains a holiday of a special kind. It may no longer be, in the proud phrase, 'a holiday outside all calendars', for in Europe it has entered all calendars. It is, in fact, more universally taken off work than any other days except 25 December and 1 January, having far outdistanced its other religious rivals. But it came from below. It was shaped by anonymous working people themselves who, through it, recognized themselves, across lines of occupation, language, even nationality as a single class by deciding, once a year, deliberately not to work: to flout the moral, political and economic compulsion to labour. As Victor Adler put it in 1893: 'This is the sense of the May holiday, of the rest from work, which our adversaries fear. This is what they feel to be revolutionary.

The historian is interested in this centenary for a number of reasons. In one way it is significant because it helps to explain why Marx became so influential in labour movements composed of men and women who had not heard of him before, but recognized his call to become conscious of themselves as a class and to organize as such. In another, it is important, because it demonstrates the historic power of grassroots thought and feeling, and illuminates the way men and women who, as individuals, are inarticulate, powerless and count for nothing can nevertheless leave their mark on history. But above all this is for many of us, historians or not, a deeply moving centenary, because it represents what the German philosopher Ernst Bloch called (and treated at length in two bulky volumes) The Principle of Hope: the hope of a better future in a better world. If nobody else remembered it in 1990, it was incumbent on historians to do so.
 Originally published in 1994.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

A short history of May Day

Contemporary illustration of the Haymarket bomb
The history of the world holiday on the 1st May - May Day, or International Workers Day, held in commemoration of four anarchists executed for struggling for an 8-hour day.

Originally a pagan holiday, the roots of the modern May Day bank holiday are in the fight for the eight-hour working day in Chicago in 1886, and the subsequent execution of innocent anarchist workers.

In 1887, four Chicago anarchists were executed; a fifth cheated the hangman by killing himself in prison. Three more were to spend 6 years in prison until pardoned by Governor Altgeld who said the trial that convicted them was characterised by "hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge". The state had, in the words of the prosecution put "Anarchy is on trial" and hoped their deaths would also be the death of the anarchist idea.

The anarchists were trade union organisers and May Day became an international workers day to remember their sacrifice. They were framed on false charges of throwing a bomb at police breaking up a demonstration in Chicago. This was part of a strike demanding an 8 hour day involving 400,000 workers in Chicago that started May 1st 1886 .

It began over a century ago when the American Federation of Labour adopted an historic resolution which asserted that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labour from and after May 1st, 1886".
In the months prior to this date workers in their thousands were drawn into the struggle for the shorter day. Skilled and unskilled, black and white, men and women, native and immigrant were all becoming involved.

In Chicago alone 400,000 were out on strike. A newspaper of that city reported that "no smoke curled up from the tall chimneys of the factories and mills, and things had assumed a Sabbath-like appearance". This was the main centre of the agitation, and here the anarchists were in the forefront of the labour movement. It was to no small extent due to their activities that Chicago became an outstanding trade union centre and made the biggest contribution to the eight-hour movement.
The Chicago anarchist movement was also strong. In 1884, they produced the world’s first Anarchist daily newspaper, the Chicagoer Arbeiter-Zeitung, plus a weekly, Fackel, and a Sunday edition, Vorbote. By 1886, these newspapers had a circulation of over 26,000 - read by the large German immigrant working class community of the city. There were also newspapers for English, Bohemian and Scandinavian speakers. As well as this, Chicago anarchists were active in the unions and organised picnics, lectures, dances, libraries and other events for workers. These helped forge strong bonds of class solidarity, which was worrying to the bosses who were keen to break the workers' organisations.

When on May 1st 1886, the eight hour strikes convulsed that city, one half of the workforce at the McCormick Harvester Co. came out. Two days later a mass meeting was held by 6,000 members of the 'lumber shovers' union who had also come out. The meeting was held only a block from the McCormick plant and was joined by some 500 of the strikers from there.

The workers listened to a speech by the anarchist August Spies, who has been asked to address the meeting by the Central Labour Union. While Spies was speaking, urging the workers to stand together and not give in to the bosses, the strikebreakers were beginning to leave the nearby McCormick plant.

The strikers, aided by the 'lumber shovers' marched down the street and forced the scabs back into the factory. Suddenly a force of 200 police arrived and, without any warning, attacked the crowd with clubs and revolvers. They killed at least one striker, seriously wounded five or six others and injured an indeterminate number.

Outraged by the brutal assaults he had witnessed, Spies went to the office of the Arbeiter-Zeitung and composed a circular calling on the workers of Chicago to attend a protest meeting the following night.

The protest meeting took place in the Haymarket Square and was addressed by Spies and two other anarchists active in the trade union movement, Albert Parsons and Samuel Fielden.

The police attack
Throughout the speeches the crowd was orderly. Mayor Carter Harrison, who was present from the beginning of the meeting, concluded that "nothing looked likely to happen to require police interference". He advised police captain John Bonfield of this and suggested that the large force of police reservists waiting at the station house be sent home.

It was close to ten in the evening when Fielden was closing the meeting. It was raining heavily and only about 200 people remained in the square. Suddenly a police column of 180 men, headed by Bonfield, moved in and ordered the people to disperse immediately. Fielden protested "we are peaceable".

At this moment a bomb was thrown into the ranks of the police. It killed one, fatally wounded six more and injured about seventy others. The police opened fire on the spectators. How many were wounded or killed by the police bullets was never exactly ascertained.

A reign of terror swept over Chicago. The press and the pulpit called for revenge, insisting the bomb was the work of socialists and anarchists. Meeting halls, union offices, printing works and private homes were raided. All known socialists and anarchists were rounded up. Even many individuals ignorant of the meaning of socialism and anarchism were arrested and tortured. "Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards" was the public statement of Julius Grinnell, the state's attorney.

Eventually eight men stood trial for being "accessories to murder". They were Spies, Fielden, Parsons, and five other anarchists who were influential in the labour movement, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg and Oscar Neebe.

The trial opened on June 21st 1886 in the criminal court of Cooke County. The candidates for the jury were not chosen in the usual manner of drawing names from a box. In this case a special bailiff, nominated by state's attorney Grinnell, was appointed by the court to select the candidates. The defence was not allowed to present evidence that the special bailiff had publicly claimed "I am managing this case and I know what I am about. These fellows are going to be hanged as certain as death".

Rigged jury
The eventual composition of the jury was farcical; being made up of businessmen, their clerks and a relative of one of the dead policemen. No proof was offered by the state that any of the eight men before the court had thrown the bomb, had been connected with its throwing, or had even approved of such acts. In fact, only three of the eight had been in Haymarket Square that evening.

No evidence was offered that any of the speakers had incited violence, indeed in his evidence at the trial Mayor Harrison described the speeches as "tame". No proof was offered that any violence had been contemplated. In fact, Parsons had brought his two small children to the meeting.

That the eight were on trial for their anarchist beliefs and trade union activities was made clear from the outset. The trial closed as it had opened, as was witnessed by the final words of Attorney Grinnell's summation speech to the jury. "Law is on trial. Anarchy is on trial. These men have been selected, picked out by the Grand Jury, and indicted because they were leaders. There are no more guilty than the thousands who follow them. Gentlemen of the jury; convict these men, make examples of them, hang them and you save our institutions, our society."

On August 19th seven of the defendants were sentenced to death, and Neebe to 15 years in prison. After a massive international campaign for their release, the state 'compromised' and commuted the sentences of Schwab and Fielden to life imprisonment. Lingg cheated the hangman by committing suicide in his cell the day before the executions. On November 11th 1887 Parsons, Engel, Spies and Fischer were hanged.

600,000 working people turned out for their funeral. The campaign to free Neebe, Schwab and Fielden continued.
On June 26th 1893 Governor Altgeld set them free. He made it clear he was not granting the pardon because he thought the men had suffered enough, but because they were innocent of the crime for which they had been tried. They and the hanged men had ben the victims of "hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge".

The authorities has believed at the time of the trial that such persecution would break the back of the eight-hour movement. Indeed, evidence later came to light that the bomb may have been thrown by a police agent working for Captain Bonfield, as part of a conspiracy involving certain steel bosses to discredit the labour movement.

When Spies addressed the court after he had been sentenced to die, he was confident that this conspiracy would not succeed:

"If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labour movement... the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil in misery and want, expect salvation - if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread on a spark, but there and there, behind you - and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out".

Public holiday
In 1889, the first congress of the Second International, meeting in Paris for the centennial of the French Revolution and the Exposition Universelle, following a proposal by Raymond Lavigne, called for international demonstrations on the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago protests. May Day was formally recognized as an annual event at the International's second congress in 1891.

Subsequently, the May Day Riots of 1894 occurred. In 1904, the International Socialist Conference meeting in Amsterdam called on "all Social Democratic Party organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on May First for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace." The congress made it "mandatory upon the proletarian organizations of all countries to stop work on May 1, wherever it is possible without injury to the workers."

In many countries, the working classes sought to make May Day an official holiday, and their efforts largely succeeded. May Day has long been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist and anarchist groups.

In the United States and Canada, however, the official holiday for workers is Labor Day in September. After the Haymarket Square riot in May, 1886, US President Grover Cleveland feared that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the riots. Thus he moved in 1887 to support the Labor Day that the anti-anarchist union the Knights Of Labor supported.

Right-wing governments have traditionally sought to repress the message behind International Workers' Day, with fascist governments in Portugal, Italy, Germany and Spain abolishing the workers' holiday, and the Conservative party in the UK currently [2011] attempting to abolish the UK's annual May Day Bank Holiday.

This article was pieced together from an article on anarkismo.net, edited and added to by libcom
PDF version here 

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