MILLIONS UPON MILLIONS of workers throughout the world are marching on Monday to mark international workers’ day. In the socialist countries the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cuban peoples are holding festivals to celebrate their revolutionary successes and pay tribute to the struggle of the international working class.
In the developing world, workers and peasants are rallying to rededicate themselves to the struggles ahead against imperialism and oppression. And in the heart of imperialism, in Britain and the other centres of global capitalism, workers march for peace, trade union rights and socialist advance.
Though May Day festivals go back to hallowed antiquity, the modern celebration recalls the grim days of 19th century America.
On 1st May 1886 American workers went on a general strike over the eight-hour day and better working conditions. In Chicago workers were gunned down by the cops during a rally in Haymarket Square. Eight of their leaders were condemned to death on trumped up charges and despite mass protests at this travesty of justice four were hanged the following year.
In 1889 the First Congress of the Second International decided to mark every May Day as a day of remembrance for the Chicago martyrs and international workers’ solidarity. These were the “martyred dead” our Labour Party leaders once honoured, often in their ignorance, when they sang the Red Flag.
But May Day is much more than honouring the dead. It is the one day of the year when the entire world’s labour movement marches in step, east and west, north and south. It is a time for reflection, a time to pause and honour the martyrs who died for the cause and a time for optimism for the socialist future that will liberate the entire human race. It is a powerful symbol of working class unity and strength — a challenge to the capitalist system of oppression, plunder and exploitation which must be ended once and for all.
Marx and Engels, who spent much of their working lives in Britain, were practical revolutionaries as well as great thinkers. Though they laboured tirelessly to build the working class movement, they knew they would never see socialism in their own lifetimes. Yet they never doubted the inevitability or the necessity for change.
Marx and Engels witnessed the epic days of the Paris Commune in 1871 when working people took destiny into their own hands for the first time in history. The torch of freedom that fanned the fires of the Commune and blazed in Chicago lit the flames of the 1917 Russian Revolution that continues to burn throughout the world.
The imperialists rejoiced at the counter-revolutions in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. They preached “globalisation” which meant nothing more than the restoration of the old world of colonialism, oppression and exploitation. But a new generation of working class fighters has risen to challenge their “new world order” in Venezuela and throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia. Now these imperialist dreams are dying in the mountains of Nepal and the streets of Baghdad.
The revolutionary storm that liberated the Chinese and Korean people; that freed the people of Vietnam and Cuba now steels the Nepalese masses struggling to rid themselves of a hated autocrat.
The lesson of these epic struggles is that socialism can only be won through revolution and that revolution can only be led by a revolutionary party. It can’t be done through elections because when the bourgeoisie is threatened it reaches for its gun and abandons all trappings of democracy.
It can only be achieved through the mobilisation of the masses – the working class along with a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist party around which the class can close ranks around.
This is the meaning of May Day for us and together we are marching forward again. Whether we live to see the day of victory is not important. What we can be certain is that day will surely come.