From Fourth International, Vol.9 No.3, May 1948, pp.67-69.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
May Day, the day of international labor solidarity, was born in America, in the great movement for the eight-hour day that swept this country in the 1880s. This holiday was initiated by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, which later became the American Federation of Labor, in a proclamation at one of its conventions, “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s work from and after May 1, 1886.”
That first May Day saw hundreds of thousands of workers on strike and in demonstrations in Chicago, New York, Detroit, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Washington, St. Louis, Philadelphia and other cities. For many of them, the struggle actually resulted in a shorter workday. For some of the leaders, the heroic Parsons, Spies and their associates who were framed-up after the bombing at the Chicago Haymarket, it meant the martyrdom of legal lynching.
It was upon a request from the AFL for support of the eight-hour day that the first congress of the Labor and Socialist Second International at Paris in 1889 voted to make May 1, 1890 a day for world-wide manifestations of working class solidarity. Every year since. May Day has been observed as an occasion for struggle and labor unity.
Hitler, after seizing power in Germany, sought to transform the First of May into a Nazi holiday. But the fighting tradition of working class solidarity associated wilh May Day has outlived that maniacal excrescence of capitalism. Since 1945 and the fall of Nazidom, the slowly recuperating German workers have taken to the streets once more, this time in protest against the hunger and oppression imposed upon them by Hitler’s imperialist conquerors.
Today, in 1948, the power-drunk capitalists of the United States seek in their own way to wipe out the traditions of the workers’ holiday. In many cities, and especially in New York, their supporters have organized “Loyalty” demonstrations for May Day. Demonstrations of “Loyalty” to Wall Street and its “democracy” – which at home seeks to strangle labor with its Taft-Hartley Act and continues to impose the infamous Jim Crow system upon the millions of Negroes; which abroad supports the reactionary monarchy in Greece and the bloody Chiang Kai-shek dictatorship in China; which everywhere prepares for world domination with totalitarian plans for World War III. To their everlasting shame, the official heirs of the movement that launched the first May Day, the leaders of the AFL and CIO, join wholeheartedly in. these “Loyalty” demonstrations of their capitalist masters, perverting monstrously the militant class struggle significance of its origin.
These “Loyalty” demonstrations form part of the “cold war” propaganda designed to counteract the May Day parades organized by the Stalinists. Stalinism, for its part, desecrates the glorious traditions of the international workers’ holiday no less than the trade union fakerdom. Wherever the Kremlin rules, the wildest chauvinism is the dominant note of the celebrations held by the “Communist” parties. Here in the United States, the CP besmirches the labor holiday by transforming it exclusively into an election rally for the millionaire capitalist Henry Wallace, whose avowed aim is to make capitalism work better and who openly pledges his own loyalty to Wall Street in case it actually launches war.
Thus May Day 1948 takes place in the shadow of a world-wide offensive by American imperialism for domination, abetted directly by its labor lieutenants in the trade union officialdom, and no less effectively helped by the treacherous policy of the Moscow bureaucracy and its henchmen in the various Stalinist parties.
Washington has just concluded successfully its intervention – unprecedented in history – in the Italian elections, side by side with the black reaction of the Vatican. Through Marshall’s “European Recovery Program,” rushed through Congress, it seeks to duplicate this feat in other West European countries, hoping thus to stem the tide of Kremlin hegemony over Europe which the Stalinist coup d’etat in Czechoslovakia appeared to announce.
In Asia, support of Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorship in the civil war against the Stalinist-led armies of the North is supplemented by direct suppression, under MacArthur’s proconsulship, of the militant new labor movement in Japan and the transformation of that country into a vast military base.
At Bogota, Secretary of State Marshall initiated action to bring all of Central and South America under the military direction of the Pentagon, the first step being an “Anti-Communist” pact.
Here, at home, American imperialism has launched the biggest war budget in “peacetime” and is ramming through Congress the new draft, the first measure in a program to impose totalitarian militarization. The Mundt Bill fits into this program with provisions virtually abrogating the Bill of Rights under the 170-year-old Constitution. And, to top off these governmental measures, the arrogant bosses of American industry have announced universal and adamant rejection of all wage demands from the unions to meet the uninterrupted inflationary spiral.
The monopolists know that to launch the all-embracing atom bomb war against Soviet Russia, they must shackle the American working class. Their plans of world conquest, unlike Britain’s in the last century, allow of no substantial concessions to any section of labor, as bribes for the support of imperialism. Even the richest capitalism is too much shot through with crisis and disintegration today to afford this luxury. By crippling court injunctions and fines, such as those imposed recently upon the United Mine Workers; by a reign of police and vigilante terror, like that unleashed against the packinghouse strikers in Kansas City and elsewhere; by more repressive anti-strike and anti-labor laws they hope to atomize the hitherto unbeaten American working class, before loosing the full horror of atomic warfare upon the world.
But their insolent plans are one thing; the fulfillment of these plans is another. Despite the surface successes of Wall Street, the ferment of mass struggle issuing from World War II has nowhere been stilled. Even as the bourgeoisie gloated over its election victory, Italian workers turned out more numerous and more militant than ever for May Day demonstrations that the government vainly tried to ban. In all Western Europe, including England, the masses are on the march again to resume their struggle against the rising cost of living and for decisive revolutionary solutions.
The cities of Asia witness huge demonstrations in which the new cry for socialism rises together with the old demand for national independence.
In Latin America, stormy mass movements grope to defeat the dictatorships supported and often installed by Washington.
All over the United States as well, the workers show determination to combat the brutal assaults of the bosses and their government. The worsening of their economic conditions and the reactionary challenge of the rulers arouses greater resentment and a greater will to struggle among the masses. Despite all efforts to intimidate them, the conservative printers as well as the militant packinghouse workers hold firm to their demands. The miners, even after the heavy fines and jail threats that accompanied their pension action, prepare for a new strike. The railroad brotherhoods have set a deadline for strike action that has thrown the federal government into a frenzy of emergency preparations. The United Auto Workers have voted strike action to meet the stubborn refusal of Chrysler and other giant corporations to grant necessary wage increases. A new wave of strikes, as powerful as that of 1946, appears to loom as the workers’ answer to the arrogant and brutal anti-labor assault of the ruling class.
Of equal significance is the uncompromising stand taken by millions of Negroes against the perpetuation of Jim Crow in the armed forces, and the openly declared campaign of their leaders to ignore the draft until it is abolished.
It is the official leadership of the workers which everywhere serves as a brake upon the militancy of the world’s masses and prevents its revolutionary crystallization. Here in the United States, the trade union bureaucracy does everything in its power to stem the tide of struggle and to curb the masses. All the bureaucrats want is a few crumbs with which to save face before the rank and file, the better to bind them to the imperialist war-chariot. The Stalinists, on the other hand, try to divert the militancy of the workers and the Negro masses into the fake pacifist channels of the Wallace movement.
All over the world, the Stalinist misleaders hold back the masses, who falsely see in them the embodiment of the Russian October Revolution of 1917, and manipulate their actions with the aim of achieving another deal between the Kremlin and the White House.
It is in these circumstances that news comes of the successful conclusion of the sessions of the Second World Congress of the Fourth International. Its important decisions and resolutions will be reported in subsequent issues. But the report that sections of the International in 19 countries, on four continents – double the number represented at its foundation congress in 1938 – directly participated in its work, is itself of tremendous significance.
It is symbolic of the future that this congress of the Fourth International concluded three weeks’ sessions in turbulent Europe in perfect harmony during the same time that the Bogota Conference dominated by US imperialism was upset by a mass revolt that forced the masters of the world to scurry for shelter.
The successful conclusion of the Second World Congress of the Fourth International is a sign that the all-decisive revolutionary leadership needed by the toiling masses of the world is being hammered out and consolidated. The fact that in the midst of the greatest international tensions, which official circles polarized between Washington and Moscow, the Fourth International was able to gather direct representatives from Europe and the Western Hemisphere, from Asia and from Africa, in order to raise high and hold firmer than ever the banner of independent revolutionary labor action, shows that the program of uncompromising Marxism is no less indomitable than the will of the working masses to struggle for their emancipation. When the parties representing that program fuse with the broad masses in struggle – and the measures for speeding that day were the main topic at the Congress – the drive for the establishment of a Socialist World will be irresistible.
Last updated on 25.2.2009