Clara Zetkin

The Workers’ International Festival


Source: The Workers International Festival, Justice, 1 May 1899, p. 15;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Wherever busy folk are drudging under the yoke of capitalism, the organised working men and women will demonstrate on May Day for the idea of their social emancipation.

Certainly May demonstration was decided at the International Congress at Paris in order to maintain energetically the revindication of the eight hours’ day, and the protective legislation of labour in general. But the character of the Congress, the discussions preceding the decision, undoubtedly affirm that the reforms claimed are not the final aims of the labour movement, but only means to serve those aims. They are food on the way for the revolutionary working-class, marching to conquer political power, and by means of it both economical and social liberty: they are not less than that, yet they are nothing more. Important as they are – necessary conditions for the powerful development of the labour movement – the working-class never will sell for the dish of lentils of reforms its primogenital right to the social revolution. For reforms ameliorate the situation of the working class, they lighten the weight of the chains labour is burdened with by capitalism, but they are not sufficient to crush capitalism and to emancipate the workers from their tyranny.

Therefore the workers’ May Day is not only a demonstration in favour of all social reforms, demanded by the conscious part of the proletariat, but it is in the same time and must inevitably be, a demonstration for the noble aims of the proletarian class struggle, the abolition capitalist society, the abolition of every kind of slavery of man by man. In spite of its peaceable form, May demonstration, by its very essence, is, and remains in consequence a revolutionary action. It is and remains revolutionary, not in the sense that policemen and politicians understand the word, but in its true historical significance, for it is the conscious expression of the working people’s will, to strive for a radical transformation of society and to obtain by its very own efforts all the reforms that will enable the wage-slaves to substitute Socialism for capitalism. The emancipation of the working-class is a historical necessity, and it can only be the work of the proletariat itself. This conviction is the keynote of all the May manifestations.

By the May demonstration the working- class declares that it has done for ever with the legend that true liberty, nay even an effective amelioration of the most cruel evils and sufferings capitalist exploitation is bringing over the workers, would be granted by the benevolence and justice of the upper classes. Only the action of the working people themselves, organised in trade unions and organised in a class party for the political struggle, will in the present enforce on bourgeois society the necessary reforms and will one day change wage-slaves into free citizens of a free commonwealth. Only a working class, strong in health, in intellectual and moral power, can perform its historical task. Each reform, therefore, improving the economical and political situation of the workers proves to be an arm that increases the energy with which the proletarian struggle of classes is fought. This May demonstration does not ring the bells of a paltry peace between labour and capitalism, it is, on the contrary, a pronunciamento of the working class against capitalist society. The slaves of our days have numbered themselves and they will no longer be slaves. By the May demonstration they show that they have recognised clearly their own true interests, that are in irreconcilable antagonism with the capitalist interests.

These interests of the workers, as the exploited and oppressed, class of society, are the same in all countries. In consequence May demonstration must be an international one. Across the frontiers and seas the workers of all nations reach out to each other the hands for a brotherly union; against the international reactionary power of capitalism rises the international revolutionary power of the working class. The fact, that in the whole capitalist world the workers stand up jointly to affirm the solidarity of their class interests by asking the same reforms, by endeavouring for the same aims, is of the highest interest. For the future historian the proletarian May demonstration will be more interesting and important than a dozen of those barbarous battles now exulted in by the Jingoes of every country. It is an evident proof of the moral and intellectual revival of the working class. It shows that the capitalist exploitation unites the workers without difference of trade, sex, religion, and nationality, into the one revolutionary army, that is going to conquer a new world, where labour has all to win and nothing to lose but its chains. Thus we hail May demonstration as a herald of future struggles, but also of future victories, which must as surely cone as spring follows winter; morn, night.


Stuttgart, Germany
Clara Zetkin


Last updated on 4.8.2004