When the Labour Movement was young the first of May was set aside as a day on which the working men of different countries would suspend work and join in mass meetings to send to each other fraternal greetings and expressions of solidarity in the struggle against capitalist oppression. National groups and parties that throughout the year were pouring scorn on each other and tearing each other to pieces decided on this day to bury the hatchet and join in united processions, their leaders appearing together in amity on the different platforms. Rising capitalist groups in subject nations also took advantage of these meetings to get working-class support for their attempt to get rid of the foreign capitalists who were wringing from their own nationals the surplus wealth for which they hungered.
Although these demonstrations were an expression of the immaturity and lack of political wisdom of the working class, yet they were also an indication, however vague and muddled it may have been, of the growing consciousness of the workers that, nationally and internationally, their interests were fundamentally identical and in opposition to the interests, of the capitalist class.
Since the first Labour May Day was celebrated there have been major and minor wars; two of the former on a gigantic scale. In each of these wars, those who slaughtered each other and brought torment and misery to countless working-class homes included most of the people who, on May Day, tramped in the processions behind banners urging international unity, and who roared their approval of the fraternal messages despatched from the different platforms.. Their political immaturity was exhibited in the easy way, in which they allowed themselves to be deluded into shedding their blood on the battlefields in the name of patriotism and in the alleged defence of countries which, both before and after, gave them only poverty and insecurity, bread lines and unemployment queues, medals and oblivion.
This is the first May Day after a long and terrible war, a war during which we were told the old old story, that the land was a land worth fighting and dying for (Pericles told his poor countrymen the same thing two thousand five hundred years ago!); that this war (like the last) was a war that would end wars forever, and never again would any nation or group of people be permitted to plunge the world into the misery of war. The shallowness of the claims have already been shown. The tragic game of sowing the seeds of war has already begun and U.N.O. has advertised it for all to see. The celebrated United Nations Council is but a thin veil to cloak the relentless struggle between the capitalists of the leading powers for the proceeds of the exploitation of the workers’ labour. All governments are looking at each other with suspicion. Each is pulling diplomatic wires; veiled threats are made; all in the peacetime struggle for sources of supply, markets, and trade routes, to serve the only people who gain by the struggle—sections of the international capitalist class who own the means of production and distribution and the resulting product of the workers’ labour. The horrors of the last war do not deter them from risking more devastating wars, for the appetite of capital is insatiable and shrinks at nothing in the pursuit of profit.
The world is going hungry, not the capitalist, but the working-class world, and yet quantities of needful things are not available owing to barriers set up by a system in which production is only carried on where profit is anticipated. Even to-day, while many are poorly fed or destitute, a few, those with the money, can still get abundance. At this moment, if the resources of the world were pooled, as they would be under a reasonable and humane system of production, it is doubtful if anyone need go hungry, in spite of the devastation of Central Europe. It is curious to reflect on the spectacle of well-fed and well-groomed aristocratic animals, such as racehorses and greyhounds, whilst frantic appeals are being made on behalf of the starving people of Europe.
In this country there is a Labour Government, most of whose members were prominent at May Day meetings, but it accepts the problems of capitalism and handles them as any other avowedly capitalist government would, on the basis that things are not produced only for use, but are produced primarily for profit. Attempts are made to “salve their consciences” by pettifogging and pitiful discussions about what constitutes a reasonable return on capital—as if there were anything reasonable in robbery.
For many years we held aloof from the muddled emotional upsurge on these May Days, and we have watched numbers of those who gained applause on the platforms, by their fierce denunciations of some of the evils of capitalism, eventually go over to the side of the enemy by helping to induce workers to fight on behalf of the system that was responsible for those evils. They were not necessarily evil minded, those misleaders of the workers; they also principally lacked the political knowledge that would have enabled them to shatter the false pleas of the capitalist warmongers. But we have no pity to spare for deluded leaders. They help to perpetuate war, poverty and allied evils. It is our aim to arm workers with sufficient knowledge of the cause of their evil condition to enable them to dispense with leaders of all kinds and direct affairs themselves. When members of the Labour Government lined up at the Cenotaph last November to join in singing “Oh God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,” they expressed their own futility. It is not to gods, devils or leaders that the workers must appeal for help, but to the brains they employ at their work with which they can acquire knowledge of the real source of their submerged condition. When they have that knowledge they will know how to act on it.
We have been too few in numbers to stage a demonstration of genuine Socialist fraternity on our own account until recent years. But just before the war we made attempts which showed that we could do valuable work in this way to help working-class political wisdom by May Day demonstrations of our own. This May Day we are again organising our own demonstration to urge workers to have done with reform policies and remedies that still leave them a prey to the profit seeker and human fodder for the battlefields.
The workers produce and distribute the wealth of to-day while the capitalists, the non-producing class, live like leeches on their backs. The worker, whether what he receives is called wages or salary, runs industry from top to bottom; he runs society itself, and yet depends for his job upon the will or the whim of the capitalist. The workers can just as easily run society for their own benefit as they now do for the benefit of the capitalists. The May Day message we deliver to the workers is the same message every year. Abolish the private ownership of the means of production and substitute for it the common ownership of those means of production. Not Nationalisation but Socialism is the solution to the workers’ problems. By that, and that only, will war, poverty and insecurity be abolished and the world made a place of peace, plenty and security for all.