Editorial: A May-Day Message

“Labour Day” is here again. Shall we have a sermon on it ? Shall we make a sort of All Fools Day of it, and wax a little bit sentimental ?—we, the cold, unemotional, scientific exponents of materialism. Shall we look upon life and the world for a moment with the soft eye and the blurred vision, and appraise things according to the feelings, with Reason locked up the while in solitary confinement in the coldest, innermost cell of our frigid, philosophical editorial cranium ? Shall we run riot with fancy for a spell ? We will.

For after all, the romance, and poetry, and sentiment of life are very real factors, and they may weigh and judge and value things that science never can. As, when coming suddenly out upon some high cliff overlooking the sea, and being overwhelmed by the ineffable sense of fiery place in the blazing elements above and below, one may get a deeper, truer impression of the power of the sun than all the language of science can convey.

So when science has tabulated life for us, and shown us in plain figures just how much the worker is being robbed of, there is more left unsaid than is spoken, for “man does not live by bread alone.”

True, without bread man perishes quickly, but even with bread in sufficiency, if it is eaten in a stable, with blinkers on our eyes to prevent us feasting them upon anything but our mess-tin, what lot or portion have we to take joy in ? This idea was covertly and by implication expressed by a London morning newspaper, which a few days ago remarked regarding two rich Americans who were drowned in the recent catastrophe: “They had much to live for.” And as in saying that our contemporary implied that others had and have not much to live for, we may concern ourselves with that this May Day morning.

We are told that self preservation is the first law of nature, but those who tell us this affect greater surprise when a person who has “much to live for” neglects to act in accordance with this law, than when one who has little inducement tolive is careless of self preservation.

So it is the joy of life that makes self-preservation worth while. It is a sound, common-sense deduction, not altogether new—old enough indeed, to be pretty generally forgotten.

The “bread and butter” question is paramount, as all materialists agree, but not for its own sake. If we have distinctly advanced in anything beyond the stage of our poorer brethren, the lower animals, it is in the development of other needs than those of the stomach. And if, as the patent medicine vendor says, all our ills arise from the stomach, and if, as the materialist more truly assures us, all our pleasures are ultimately based on our digestive apparatus, still man needs, even more urgently, comfort in other regions than that of the waistband.

Which is to say that, important as it is to gobble and be able to gobble, and to have place and peace wherein to gobble, that has long since ceased to be an end in itself, and has become, at least in the case of those whose minds have developed up to the SOCIALIST STANDARD, a means to an end, a means to the supreme happiness, a means to the joy of living.

And what is this joy in life ? Where is this supreme happiness to be found ? We should be entering upon very contentious ground if we were to attempt to say that it is the ecstasy to be found in the acme of East End delight, the “Cambridge,” or in the highest aspiration of West End enjoyment, a monkey dinner, or in the raptures of the simple life, or in the low dieting, for morality’s sake, of the Catholic priest. Each, of course, as he lists. But it is safe to say that the joy of living, or the joy in living, to put it in a better way, is inseparably bound up with the leisure to follow one’s desires.

That was the difference between the two rich Americans who “had so much to live for,” and the stokers, who had so little to hold them to life. The former were men of leisure and opportunity—the latter were slaves.

If it is this leisure and opportunity which constitutes the joy in living, it is a fair May Day question to ask the reader, what share in the joy of living, what portion of life, falls to the working class.

Quite apart from the question of the material things of life, the workers are in an awful predicament. What is the weary round for the vast majority of us ? Up in the morning and off at an hour when it would be cruelty to disturb our children for a farewell smile ; slavery all the livelong day—perhaps in the treacherous mine, perhaps before the roasting furnaces, perhaps in the torrid atmosphere of the cabinet-makers’ workshop, where an open window, a breath of fresh slum air, will chill the glue seething on the hot plates. Dinner snatched in the unsavoury odours of the cook-shop—where all sorts of viands are cooking and smelling together,—or fried in the roadway on a shovel, and eaten al fresco, seated on an upturned pail. Then when we are pumped out, back home again. And for what ? To live ? To enjoy the fruits of our labour ? Oh, no ! To recuperate ! To steal a look at our sleeping children and then creep wearily to bed to get strength to toil through the morrow.

What do we know of home life ? What do we know of the beauty of the world about us ? The very significance of May Day is lost to us, for we have no interest in the awakening of Nature after her winter sleep. We are beasts of burden. Shame on us !—we carry the yoke with the mild spirit of beasts of burden, and we deserve our fate.

Let us be men. Let us ask ourselves why we should be born into the world and be the beasts of burden of an idle class. Let us ask ourselves if there can be no other result flowing from the centuries of progress than this—that only those who do no useful work and produce none of the good things of life should have “much to live for,” while we who produce all desirable things waste our lives in unceasing toil and misery.

It has become a trite saying that we can only die once. Let us remember that we can also only live once, and determine, this May Day, that we will fight for life as we have to fight for our living. For O, we are so near our emancipation if only we would believe it and want it and work for it.

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