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The First of May

Then turn, and be not alarm’d O Libertad

turn your undying face,

To where the future, greater than all the past,

Is swiftly, surely preparing for you.”

WALT WHITMAN

 

It is sixty-five years since half a million people poured through London, “an interminable array with multitudinous banners,” on the first International May Day. No celebration, no insubstantial pageant this: column upon threadbare column they came, signifying and expressing labour's strength and labour's aspirations, with an eight-hour day as their rallying call. For sixty-five years it has continued, but the columns are smaller now. And the eight-hour day? They have it and, so generous is life to the working class, work overtime.

May Day is workers' day, the day of our class. However hollow the cries and futile the demonstrations, it remains the anniversary of protest, a continual reminder of exploitation and, subjection. “Class” is the reason and the theme of May Day – class in its fullest, truest sense. The working class is not the labourers or the artisans or the machine-minders: it is all people to whom wages are life. The working class is international: so is its cause. Among the cries and chants and slogans of May Day, only one has meaning: “Workers of all countries unite!”

Class consciousness was never more needed than now. Sixty-five years have seen war, dereliction, fear and disaster; today mankind is under a shadow without precedent. The working people of the world have it in their hands to end poverty, fear, hatred and war. Nationalism is not their interest but their rulers'; submission is taught, not conceived. That is where the tragedy of the May Day processions lies. The hundreds of thousands who paraded their rights in 1890 lined the streets again seven years later, still threadbare, still of one mind – to cheer and wave streamers for their Queen.

To the Socialist, class-consciousness is the breaking-down of all barriers to understanding. Without it, militancy means nothing. The conflict between the classes is more than a struggle for each to gain from the other: it is the division which reaches across all others. The class-conscious working man knows where he stands in society. His interests are opposed at every point to those of the capitalist class; his cause can only be the cause of revolution for the abolishing of classes. Without that understanding, militancy can mean little. It is not mere preamble that the Socialist Party's principles open by stating the class division in capitalism: it is the all important basis from which the rest must follow.

For nearly fifty-one years the Socialist Party has addressed its case to the working class on May Day, demanding not support but understanding. In those years, it has seen movements rise and fall, heard slogans die away, known panaceas acclaimed and discarded. In 1904, the great working-class party was the I.L.P.; now, the giant is a pantaloon. The Labour Party was not yet formed; now, it is torn by its members' disillusionment. Incredibly, they tell the Socialist he is impractical: impractical, when through their denial of what the Socialist knows they have fallen, and with them the hopes of millions!

The Socialist Party’s proposition is the only practical one. Class-conscious people need no leaders. The single, simple fact which all working people have to learn is that capitalism causes capitalism's problems, so that the remedy – the only remedy – is to abolish capitalism. In that knowledge they must take hold of the powers of government – for one purpose only: that the rule of class by class shall end. Socialism is not a benevolently-administered capitalism: it is a different social system.

Can the working class do that? He who doubts needs only look round him. The wonders and the splendours of modern civilization all are made by the working class. The knowledge, the skill, the perception are theirs – often, indeed, unwanted by the capitalist to whom trash is the soul of profit. Often, too, wanted for destruction: see the boy taught mathematics who has fine judgment, that he may drop bombs.

Reform is no answer, even though at times – rare times – it benefits working people. The reformer (he may not know it) has not even set out to change the world; he has agreed that capitalism shall continue, and is merely trying to alleviate its worst effects. Has poverty – extreme, dire poverty – been abolished by the reformers? Ask the old; ask the public assistance cases or the slum dwellers or the sick. Has life been made more satisfying by the Welfare State? Ask the thousands snatching at Billy Graham's promise of peace, joy and contentment.

From the beginning, the Socialist Party has been intractable in its opposition to reformists. Working class action, in fact, must be revolutionary. That is the real message of May Day, for people all over the world. The workers of Britain have common cause with the workers of every other country. They are members of an international class, faced with the same problems, holding the same interests once they are conscious of them. There is only one way of realizing those interests: the immense productive powers of the world must become the common property of every man, woman and child.

“Common ownership” is part of the definition of Socialism, but it is not an end in itself; rather is it a beginning, a condition. Private ownership by the capitalist class of the means of life is the condition of all that is deplored today – the wars, the poverty and the rest; that is why, without abolishing that ownership, there can be no solution to those problems. And in the same way, the common ownership of the means of life is the condition of another sort of world. The system so based would be incapable of causing wars, incapable of producing want.

The need for Socialism grows more urgent each day. It awaits the conscious will of the workers of the world, and nothing more; when they desire it, it can be. In the clamour of rivalry between factions and nations, the voice of the Socialist is a small one, but it must be heard. Exploitation and conflict must be ended; the catastrophe of worker killing worker must be prevented. Fifty-one years ago a small group of working people made plans for a new era in human history – today, more than ever before, it is vital necessity.

May Day has come again. Let it be an occasion of fresh resolve. There are many who are with us but not of us. The struggle for Socialism is a long and arduous one, needing the help of every class-conscious man and woman. On this day, then, we urge the need to work for Socialism within the Socialist Party. To spread Socialist understanding is the great task of our time: every fresh adherent to the Socialist Party Principles is another step towards the emancipation of mankind.