50 Years Ago: The significance of May Day

(From the SOCIALIST STANDARD, May, 1907.)

The First of May of our own times is in direct contrast to the May-day of old. The old festival had an organic connection with the daily work of the people. The old games, the decorations of greenery and flowers, the bringing home of the May; these reflected the joy of all at the awakening of nature, at the promise of the crops to come, and at the growing light and warmth of the season. To-day, however, agriculture has ceased to occupy the premier place and is consequently no longer reflected in the holidays of the people . . . agriculture itself is, indeed, with intensive culture and the growing use of machinery, fast becoming an industry. The increase in culture under shelter and the rapidity of communication with other climes also diminish greatly the importance of the seasons, and tend to complete the change wrought by the rise of manufacture in the significance of the First of May.

The First of May, though nearly all its old associations are for ever lost, has now a new and deeper meaning. It comes to the toilers as seed time for the harvest to come; a seed time of fraternity and organisation with their fellows, for the harvest of deliverance from wage slavery. May-day yet retains a portion of its old significance; it is still a festival of the people, of those who work . . .

The First of May is, then, a worker’s festival, a pledge of fraternity and internationalism, an awakening to the social mission of the working class.

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