Once there was an international, revolutionary workers’ movement. May Day was one of its central and most important holidays. Unfortunately, this movement is no more. Luxemburg rather sunnily surmised that “when better days dawn, when the working class of the world has won its deliverance, then too humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honor of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past.” Today, however, these better days seem far more distant than they did when she first spoke of them in 1894.
Yesterday I linked to volumes 1-49 of Marx and Engels’ Collected Works. Below are two speeches, one by Rosa Luxemburg and the other by Vladimir Lenin, which at present must be regarded more as historical documents than anything that addresses a living reality.
What are the origins
of May Day? (1894)
The happy idea of using a proletarian holiday celebration as a means to attain the eight-hour day was first born in Australia. The workers there decided in 1856 to organize a day of complete stoppage together with meetings and entertainment as a demonstration in favor of the eight-hour day. The day of this celebration was to be April 21. At first, the Australian workers intended this only for the year 1856. But this first celebration had such a strong effect on the proletarian masses of Australia, enlivening them and leading to new agitation, that it was decided to repeat the celebration every year.
In fact, what could give the workers greater courage and faith in their own strength than a mass work stoppage which they had decided themselves? What could give more courage to the eternal slaves of the factories and the workshops than the mustering of their own troops? Thus, the idea of a proletarian celebration was quickly accepted and, from Australia, began to spread to other countries until finally it had conquered the whole proletarian world.
The first to follow the example of the Australian workers were the Americans. In 1886 they decided that May 1 should be the day of universal work stoppage. On this day 200,000 of them left their work and demanded the eight-hour day. Later, police and legal harassment prevented the workers for many years from repeating this [size of] demonstration. However in 1888 they renewed their decision and decided that the next celebration would be May 1, 1890. Continue reading