Th. Rothstein 1917

The May-day Message

Source: The Call, 3 May 1917, p. 4 (Originally written under his pseudonym John Bryan)
Transcribed: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

For the first time since the commencement the war a feeling of hope and of pride has come over the faithful remnant of the Socialist International. For the first time the words of international peace and proletarian fraternity will not have sounded hollow on May Day this year. The cannons are still thundering away along the immense fronts West and East and South, where millions are locked in a deadly grip, spitting death and agony and pain, and exciting the worst passions in our animal nature, brutality and revenge. Diplomacy at home is still swearing a fight unto death and severest penalties to the vanquished. Public opinion, incited by the daily recitals of real and invented horrors and crimes in the columns of the newspaper, is still nursing the sentiment of hate and vengeance, and seems as unrelenting and pitiless as ever. Yet we, the International Socialists in this and other countries, have felt on this May Day the breeze of the fresh dawn, and seen the purple streaks of the corning light. It has been a May Day different from the two which preceded it. It has been a May Day to which the Russian Revolution has brought a message that the long and terrible night is over, that the undivided sway of the Imperialist nightmare is at an end, and that the class-conscious proletariat is again beginning to raise its head.

With what rejoicings and paeans of triumph did the capitalist world announce at the beginning of the war the collapse of the Socialist International! With what haste many of the Socialists themselves proclaimed the bankruptcy of their old faith and accepted the “correction” made in their previous system of ideas by the new “facts”! And how bitter were our own feelings in face of this apparently justified triumph of the enemy and the apparently justified recantation of our own friends! Where was the might of the international, which as recently as 1912 had sworn eternal war on war? Where above all, was its will to do so? All was cowardice and treachery, a moral collapse such as the world had never seen before. Capitalism and Imperialism proved stronger than Socialism, not only physically, but also morally, and the words of proletarian solidarity and of revolution died on our lips the miserable death of a lie and childish illusion.

For two and a half years we scarcely had the active courage of our faith. We never faltered in our conviction that our ideals and our cause would ultimately triumph over their victorious enemy, but we did not know when and how. And so we spoke and acted more in the spirit of martyrs going to crucifixion than in that of soldiers going to battle. In this country, as well as in France or Germany, we were on the defensive, ready to die for our convictions rather than join the enemy, and all we could do was to steel our hearts against the assailants and traitors, and remain faithfully and steadily at our posts.

This time has now passed. We have gone through the horrors of Golgotha, and we now feel that our day is come. The Russian Revolution has at one stroke changed the entire situation on the world’s battlefield between Imperialism and Socialism. The revolutionary people of Russia, led by Social. Democracy, has imposed upon the world the Socialist terms of peace, and wriggle as it may, intrigue as it would, the world will not escape those terms. The war must come to an end! Peace must be restored on the basis that no Power shall profit by the blood shed in the trenches Such is the watchword issued by the people of Russia to “all, all, all,” as the messages of the Council of Labour Deputies invariably commence, “To all, all, all”—friend and foe alike, be they on this or the other side of the trenches. Revolutionary Russia makes no discrimination between ally and enemy. Those are terms invented by Tsarist Russia without the consent or even foreknowledge of the people. Now Russia wipes out the difference and addresses itself to everybody without distinction: are you prepared to make peace on these terms, yes or no? If you say yes, whatever your position may be in respect of the line of trenches, we shall be friends; if not, we shall be enemies, and we shall fight you under the Red Flag, as revolutionary France once fought the world of reaction.

Revolutionary Russia has redeemed the world, because she represents the people led and inspired by our own Socialist faith. In the midst of its supreme hour of triumph, Imperialism has received a blow from the apparently vanquished enemy, which has rendered it almost speechless. Imperialism knows that if the war is terminated on the terms proclaimed by Revolutionary Russia it will have suffered a mortal defeat, and so it scarcely dares mention the events which are taking place in that country. But the class-conscious proletariat has awakened everywhere. We have heard the echo which has resounded in Germany, but see know that in France, too, though the papers are trying to withhold it; the tide is already reaching the edge of the dam, and may, without a moment’s notice, overflow and sweep the land from one end to the other. Everywhere the Imperialist foundations of the war are shaken profoundly and the rulers are trembling over the issues which they see arising under the pressure of the peoples. What Bebel once said is coming true: from behind the war see the Revolution coming.

It is time that we, International Socialists, should pass from the defensive to the offensive. The Russian Revolution can only accomplish its mission to the full if it supported by the peoples in other countries. The war has been an international one, and Revolution, which is its foe, must also be international. Especially in this country the issue is vital. It is no exaggeration to say but for this country peace could be had to-morrow on the basis proclaimed by the Russian people. It is this country which blocks the way and which alone is still prepared to fight the war to “a finish.” The reason is obvious. The rulers of this country alone stand in no fear of the people. Everywhere else, including Germany, the peoples have given in the past many proofs of their independence of mind and revolutionary temper. In this country alone freedom has been inherited, and for generations the masses of the people have made no use of it. At this moment the British people alone is accepting its fate with a submissiveness and docility which the lying Press bas been wont to ascribe to the people of Germany. And so, while in every other belligerent country the rulers feel uneasy and are inwardly prepared for peace, in Great Britain alone things are different. How long is it going to be so? The language and the spirit of Russia’s May Day message has been plain: international were the sentiments of the peoples before the war; the war itself, that hate incarnate, has been international; and the action against it must also be international. It shall not be said, to its eternal disgrace, that the British proletariat alone has failed in 1917, as it did in 1848.