First Published: Revolution, Vol. 4, No. 5, July 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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May 1, 1980. A great, an historic step was taken. Years from now, when people look back on this year’s May Day, what will stand out is that in the shadow of the approach of world war, as the question of patriotism, of standing with the U.S. ruling class or with the international proletariat was fast becoming the key question facing all of society, a class-conscious section of workers surged through the streets of 16 major cities across the U.S., their chants reverberating:
Red, white and blue
We spit on you
You stand for plunder
You will go under!
The red flag was held high and defended with force as the flag of proletarian internationalism and revolution, ripping it away from revisionism and the image of Soviet tanks. It was taken up by a multinational working class force determined to join with the international working class to end all exploitation and oppression, and this drew the close attention of millions and spoke straight to the hearts of hundreds of thousands. Class-conscious workers had mounted the political stage.
Embodied in the red flags of May Day 1980, piercing through all the shrill patriotic frenzy and war cries, was this spirit described by Lenin, “In short we are invincible, because the world proletarian revolution is invincible.” The revolutionary proletarian movement in this country joined the ranks of class conscious workers internationally.
“This rally here shows,” a Black worker said at the end of the Cleveland march which had been attacked 30 times, “the spirit that we have, it shows the people that they can’t fuck us around. We just kept fighting on, marching through the rocks and bottles, the whole works. We kept on steppin’. I believe we won a lot of believers and I believe we’ll win the whole thing.”
The start of the 1980s; everyone senses the undercurrent of big changes to come. Moves toward world war are undeniable, the world is pregnant with revolution. May Day demonstrations around the world took on even more significance. Workers in Turkey, undaunted, heroically and capably fought battles against the fascist regime’s tanks. Workers filled the streets in many Iranian cities, vowing to carry through to the end the struggle against imperialist domination and those Iranian reactionaries who support it or capitulate to it. In Chile, a mass police roundup of 500 people on the eve of May 1 failed to prevent it from being celebrated in scattered marches and secret meetings. Pitched battles in the countryside and a successful march of thousands defying the poised guns of the U.S.-puppet government marked May Day in El Salvador. Tremors of the turmoil yet to come reverberated around the world. And this year together with them, the class-conscious workers and others in the U.S. straightened their backs to put the proletariat on the political map of this country–their determination to carry the battle through was unquestionable.
“The revolution itself must not by any means be regarded as a single act but as a series of more or less powerful outbreaks rapidly alternating with periods of more or less intense calm.” Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee of the RCP, USA underscored this quote by Lenin, saying, “The work we do now, the battles, especially the major political battles, we wage now can be crucial not only at hitting back, politically, at the enemy, and not simply as general preparation, but beyond that perhaps in deciding the outcome whenever the conditions for revolution do ripen This emphasizes, again, that all we are doing now is or must be, precisely preparation for when the conditions do ripen, and that (in line with the statement by Lenin referred to just above) our actions are, in another sense, a part, a very important part, of the whole process of revolution and have a great deal to do with victory or defeat when there is a qualitative leap in the situation.”
The future was being battled out in the streets May 1 and in this battle could be seen in a beginning way the ability of the working class and its Party to unleash and lead many different social forces when a revolutionary situation does develop. In the heat of the battle around May Day, a class-conscious force was welded. This showed itself in many ways, most decisively on May Day itself. A Gray Panther (revolutionary “senior citizen”) in Portland grabbed for a bigger stick and charged through (he middle of a crowd of reactionaries to make way for the demonstration. In Los Angeles hundreds of workers, Black, white and Chicano. Started to march, red flags flying, right up to police lines blocking the street, and sidewalk from three sides. The pigs attacked, billy clubs swinging, clubbing anyone they could get their hands on. Twenty-eight were arrested. Within minutes, to the amazement of the cops and the joy of hundreds of bystanders, the march was reconstituted a block away.
Those marching looked around to see many thousands watching. They taught and encouraged the unconvinced and the undecided A young woman on the sidelines in Seattle suddenly jumped up and grabbed a red flag set on fire by reactionaries, stomping out the flames. Was revolution possible? Those who marched got a liberating, an exhilarating taste of the great well-spring of the people’s revolutionary strength and the decisive role they could play in unleashing it. Powerful seeds of revolution were planted.
May Day 1980 was a political necessity. Events in the world were developing rapidly, there was no time to waste. A class-conscious force steeped in internationalism had to step forward.
The analysis of the RCP, USA is that this will be a decade of war and revolution on a world scale, including the real possibility of a revolutionary situation arising in the U.S. In this world war, the U.S. will be on the front lines against the equally imperialist Soviet Union, from the beginning. The preparations alone, the regulation and mobilization of all of society, will put it all out there-economic sacrifices, rationing, demands for the sacrifice of lives of men, women, children, whole cities if necessary. It is possible that, in conjunction with the underlying economic crisis, these preparations could give rise to revolution. And when the U.S. imperialists are stretched to the limit, fighting their rival imperialist enemy and trying to clamp down on the tremendous “social unrest” this will give rise to, the precious opportunity to overthrow the U.S. superpower may very well present itself. This would be a tremendous victory not only for the masses of people in the U.S.–even more it would be a victory that would lift a life-crushing weight from the backs of the peoples of the world. It is not inevitable that a revolutionary situation will arise in the U.S. in this decade, but it is inevitable that preparation today for such opportunities will dramatically change the future. This was the significance of May Day 1980.
The plan for May Day 1980 was put forward in a special announcement from the Central Committee of the RCP at the end of a major speech by its Chairman Bob Avakian at May Day 1979. “Who will be among the first to come forward, to stand boldly and proudly in the ranks of the revolution and as the contradictions deepen and the situation arises, increasingly rally millions of people to the revolutionary cause and carry it through?”
This was a plan to open the eyes of millions to the possibility of revolution and mobilize thousands to act on this understanding and prepare today to realize this goal in the future. As the May Day Manifesto issued in the fall of last year put it, “We must come from behind, catch up to the gathering momentum and march to the head of it, enabling the revolutionary movement and the conscious understanding of millions of people to take a leap forward, to keep pace with the rapidly changing times. And we must do this now, for if we do not we may very well miss the tremendous possibilities that lie ahead.”
Mobilizing thousands of advanced around May Day did not hinge on radical changes in the crisis and world situation between May of 1979 and 1980, although things did sharpen up, and this did bring many to be further disillusioned in the “American dream,” raising for them and others many profound questions. The analysis of the RCP was that even when the call was made in 1979 there was a basis for bringing to the fore thousands. There were already millions who hate and are sickened by this so-called “best of all worlds” and within that several hundred thousand revolutionary-minded workers in this country. Not class-conscious workers, but workers for whom the message of May Day would be no stranger.
“I think a lot of what the advanced section of the proletariat is now are people who for reasons other than simply being members of the proletariat are somewhat more politically advanced. People who went through the experience of the ’60s in one way or another; people from the oppressed nationalities; people who were veterans of the Vietnam War; women who don’t accept being in their ’place’; some immigrants, especially those from countries where there’s a relatively strong anti-imperialist struggle, and so on. And a crucial question for the Party is how to give all this a class-conscious expression and help spread it to broader sections of the working class as well as exerting an influence on other forces in society, broader sections of the people. I’m not saying that we should make that an absolute and go around looking for different strata within the working class and make them into separate compartments, Just the opposite–we have to look for those ways that different streams of political and social expression and movement are an influence within the working class that can be a big lever to move a class-conscious section forward and to influence much broader masses.” (Bob Avakian, Coming From Behind To Make Revolution)
May Day did not develop in isolation from other important events here and internationally. In particular a class-conscious core began to be mobilized in the summer and fall of ’79 when the RCP had come under very sharp attack after the January 1979 demonstration against the visit of Chinese revisionist chieftain Teng Hsiao-ping, an attack that focused on Chairman Bob Avakian. The sharpness of the charges brought against Bob Avakian necessitated as well as provided an opportunity to wage a major campaign against and further exposed the government and system it serves. The viciousness with which the government was going after the Party forced many to seek and to find out exactly what it stood for. Many thousands heard Bob Avakian in the course of a national speaking tour. Millions saw and heard him on the nationally televised Tom Snyder show. Perhaps the ruling class thought that if they could ambush him on the air with a hot-shot “host” they could make revolution look ridiculous in front of millions and turn around the Party’s growing influence. They found out differently. Many began to see in the analysis and line of this Party, that it was the leadership that could forge a way out of this insanity.
The task set before the Party and active revolutionaries was to link up with the sentiments of revolutionary-minded workers, raise their understanding of the situation and their role, and guide and channel them into a class-conscious force to sound the opening salvo of the 1980s and prepare to lead millions in revolutionary insurrection when the opportunity presents itself in the future.
A revolutionary-minded Black vet working in a defense plant summed up, “The mood of the working people I talk to is this–they are in a quagmire. Within that there is a quandary.” The Iranian “hostage crisis” sharpened this during the months before May Day. It polarized and jolted people awake. It confirmed the analysis of the Party that things were accelerating at a rapid pace. But it also brought to light the pressing need for the class-conscious to act and how workers could be trained to their class interests in the midst of boiling turmoil.
Iran was a momentous event. Still in the context of what is yet to come, it has been a kind of teaching experience. Lenin said, “The day to day experience of any capitalist country teaches us the same lesson. Each ’minor’ crisis that such a country experiences discloses to us in miniature the elements, the rudiments, of the battles that inevitably take place on a larger scale during a big crisis.”
It was an opportunity. Bob Avakian said in a New Year’s 1980 article, “...our rulers, like sorcerers–these mummified merlins–are driven to conjure up forces they cannot control, including and most fundamentally, the force that they most hate and fear. They must drag the masses of people into political life. Of course, they aim to do this under their banner–to whip up a reactionary and flag-kissing hysteria against their own enemies–whether they are reactionary rivals like the Soviet Union or revolutionary peoples around the world. But once this ’genie,’ the masses of people, and most especially the working class, is roused up, everything can be thrown up for grabs–including just who is going to stuff who into what bottle.”
In response to the Iran crisis the bourgeoisie was throwing all kinds of social forces into motion. Labor hacks were enlisted to try to mobilize “their” workers to rally behind the U.S.A. The “America Held Hostage” specials became regular nightly programs. December 18th was named national unity day. As people were drawn into the raging debate they were confronted by questions and forced to make decisions they otherwise wouldn’t have made. As the patriotic fanfares bombed, some protested, ”They burn more American flags in Iran than we put on display here.” Others responded to the crazed flag-wavers with anger, but were hesitant to step out in opposition to it. People could sense it was only the beginning of what was on the horizon, but they weren’t sure how they could change this. The bourgeoisie made strenuous efforts–and some progress, though far less than they wanted–at stirring up patriotism, but far more significant were those won to act in their class interests–a minority who stood up as .•members of the international working class in the face of this chauvinist whirlwind.
Under the leadership of the Party some workers stepped into the midst of the cauldron of debate that was raging in the plants, on the campuses and throughout society to put forward an internationalist stand and expose the bloody hand behind the Shah. Where they did others were forced to seriously confront their own thinking. At one plant when a revolutionary stood up on a cafeteria table agitating about Iran, backward forces were made to look like fools as they paraded around, some actually wearing red, white and blue and hanging out with the bosses, while other workers listened to the revolutionary intently. Workers who had previously said, “It’s not my problem” began wearing ”Death to the Shah–U.S. Imperialism Keep Your Bloody Hands Off Iran” buttons. Nineteen workers at a high security defense plant, most with over 15 years seniority, signed and sent a banner to Iran. Unfurled from the embassy wall in Tehran were these words, “We Have Far More in Common With Iranian Students Than Americans Held Hostage.” It was concrete training in internationalism and in using every blow against and defeat suffered by “our” bourgeoisie as an opportunity to hit them even harder and eventually bring about their overthrow. Iran was a rich lesson teaching many just how important the influence of a minority can be and how great the potential and need was to mobilize far more for May Day 1980.
The leap that May Day represented would not have been possible without the key role played by agitation and propaganda, especially through the Revolutionary Worker. How else could a class-conscious force have emerged? Only through agitation and propaganda could the advanced workers be won to see why they should step forward around May Day, to really understand what forces were at work and to see what difference their actions would make. It was only in this way that their deep questions could be addressed so that they could fully play the role required to carry out May Day. And it was in this way, together with the actions and struggle waged by the advanced workers themselves on this basis, that the line represented by May Day was able to become a force broadly in society.
As Chairman Avakian said, “We have to arm ourselves and the advanced outside the Party with a deeper understanding of our Party’s analysis of the objective situation and what role the action of the class-conscious forces can and must play in rallying the oppressed at this point, even if it only numbers in the thousands right now, on May First itself. And on that basis we have to put the challenge squarely to the advanced, to those who do hate this shit: if you say it can’t happen and don’t act then you are working to make it not happen; don’t say ’it’s a good idea but it won’t happen’–it can (and ultimately will) happen, but you have a role to play, a crucial role, in making it happen.”
When a million leaflets (more than the Party had ever led its ranks and others in distributing) hit the streets with a sharp and challenging message, the lines began to be drawn. This leaflet said in part, “You’d have to be blind not to see that crisis–Chrysler teetering on the brink of collapse–and world war are staring us in the face, . . . This is your choice: to go down the tubes with these dinosaurs who long ago made Hitler look like a petty gangster, or to be an active part of the advanced who will put the working class on the stage of this country with its own flag, the Red of revolution. . .”
The Iranian revolution was still shaking the world, and with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, confrontation between the U.S. and Soviets escalated, including in the sphere of public opinion. Leaflets were returned to the National May Day Committee, the words “we owe the Iranians a profound debt” or “Red flags raised like bayonets” circled and denounced. Others wrote long letters explaining why they saw the answer in God and could not march May 1st, but they, too, were “troubled and worried” by what they saw developing in the world. Advanced workers began to stir. A telephone worker in Alabama wrote, “Even though I had known for some time that organizations like yours were in existence I had been unable to contact any of them. For the past 11 years I have worked for XX and have discovered first hand what it is like to be hated by management for espousing a philosophy that does not agree with the capitalist exploitation of the worker I agree with you that it’s time to take the battle to the free-enterprise freaks.”
But it was not enough to draw people forward, to inspire them, especially when they began to take out May Day themselves and were confronted with the masses’ questions and themselves struggled with new questions as the bourgeoisie increasingly attacked May Day and the Party. What Lenin called the “interests and requirements of this advanced section of the workers,” had to be addressed not separate from the overall task of broad agitation and propaganda, but in order to allow them to play their role as leaders of the working class and revolutionary masses, including in carrying out this work. As Chairman Avakian put it, “So, especially with regard to the advanced workers–including those who have for some time, for various reasons, been more inclined toward a revolutionary position, but generally those who more readily gravitate toward and tend to take up revolutionary agitation and propaganda–we have to struggle with them to understand our analysis of the objective situation and its possibilities. I believe that if they do not grasp that, we cannot win them to take up May Day–and not just come out themselves, but to build for it. ’Cause why should they act? Why will they themselves be brought forward to act? Simply because they’ve always hated this system and would love to see it wiped away? No, by and large they are not yet acting politically, even spontaneously; although some are here and there, in general they are not yet acting politically–not only not in a politically conscious way, which of course they can’t do without revolutionary leadership anyway, but not even by and large (and certainly not on a large scale and intensely yet), they are not doing so spontaneously. Many people, especially among the more advanced, have been through a lot of struggle, and they have a lot of deep questions. They are not just going to come out and struggle, no matter what their sentiments might be, they are not going to come out in large numbers and in any kind of sustained way unless and until they see the possibility for it to make a real difference, to have a real effect on society, to actually contribute something important toward basic change, toward revolution.” This, in fact, proved to be the decisive question in the overall success, as well as the shortcomings, of May Day, and underlined the key role of the Party’s agitation and propaganda, particularly its newspaper.
The need for this–and the result were spelled out in the words of a Mexican worker, interviewed in the RW shortly afterwards, “Now that I see that there are millions of people in the world that think like I do and now that I see that there is a Party here, a revolutionary Party that bases itself on the science of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought and on top of that we have Bob Avakian and millions of people that hate this system and that we are uniting, now I feel that my desire to struggle against this imperialism has been redoubled.
“One thing that I want to say is that it’s not just me, there are thousands of people like me. But they don’t know how-to change it. 1 think they must even feel alone, but they should know that we have a revolutionary movement here in our own time, and that right now we have great opportunities to overthrow this miserable system once and for all. And more, we are not alone, we have the whole international proletariat. Now it’s a question that we have to reach them, we have to teach them that there is a Party, that we do have this Party that’s going to make the revolution and that it is capable of carrying it out.”
In the pages of the Revolutionary Worker those participating in building for May Day, those anticipating and observing it, could get a sense of how the movement was unfolding and what their part in it was. A vivid picture was drawn of not only the continuing and deepening crisis of the imperialists, the struggles of peoples around the world, but also the fertile soil from which May Day could be built and for preparing for revolution. In-depth articles on “Silicon Valley,” California, a horror-chamber of the electronics industry full of women sick from being used as guinea pigs to test chemicals, sick of raises and promotions being offered in exchange for sexual favors; Birmingham. Watts, flames of the liberation struggles of the ’60s still smoldering and threatening to rise again under new conditions, revolutionary elements present in today’s non-revolutionary situation.
More than ever before people began taking up calls, writing for organizing materials directly and only from reading the Revolutionary Worker. Many prisoners communicated through letters what an inspiration May Day was. They called on the working class outside the prison walls to step forward and told of their efforts and plans for May Day organizing inside.
Revolutionary-minded workers and others wrote letters and statements to their class brothers and sisters directly challenging them to wake up. Many were particularly powerful and influential because they were written by people newly involved in the struggle. They were distributed at plant gates, run in the Revolutionary Worker and also, like the one following, made into stickers. A Latin American woman, living in the United States, looking forward to May Day. wrote, “The despised image of the gringo worker (a middle-classish, foolish chump manipulated by remote control by TV, ignorant as to political matters and happy with his Coke and McDonald’s! will explode into a thousand pieces when it becomes known that here in the paradise of democracy is a conscious minority which dares–like the rest of the world–to dream the dream of socialist revolution, and to fight so as to make it a reality.” It was a concrete manifestation of what it would mean for the international proletariat if workers were to march May 1. It created great controversy as it was put up, torn down and put up again on plant walls.
In addition to agitational articles which tapped people’s anger and exposed all that is going on in society like a spotlight in a dark room, it was also necessary to go deeply and all-sidedly into many questions. Propaganda articles in the RW had a particularly important part in building for May Day in addition to their more general importance. This was the role of the series of selections from Comrade Avakian’s speaking tour the previous fall, such as the one summing up what had happened to the Black Panther Party and its lessons, which spoke profoundly to experiences that had inspired and in some ways later disillusioned a whole generation, particularly among Black people.
Especially important was the “Talk” by Bob Avakian published in the RW (later reprinted as the pamphlet, Coming From Behind to Make Revolution) on the Party’s analysis of the objective situation, the role of the conscious forces within that, and the importance of May Day. The publication in the RW and Revolution of the chapter from a major book in preparation, America in Decline. “Crisis and War: The Mood and Conditions of the Masses,” armed people with an understanding of why the Party emphasizes the importance of revolutionary work right now–what gives rise to sudden outbreaks and “minor” crises today and why there will be upheavals on a massive scale in the future that could give rise to a revolutionary situation. The Party’s Programme and Constitution drafts, “weapons in preparation” as they were called, written to meet the demands of this kind of period, appeared in March and gave a powerful push to the momentum developing around May Day, because, as Comrade Avakian said, ”. . winning people to a revolutionary position is dialectically related to enabling them to see the possibility of abolishing all this madness through revolution, because when you’ve finally had enough has a lot to do with whether you see that you don’t have to put up with this any longer.”
Through the course of this May Day campaign, extremely important advances were made in the use of the newspaper, as well as its content, in every aspect of the Party’s work and increasingly by the masses themselves as both a guide and organizer and as a weapon with which to carry out the battle. It was the backbone of May Day.
Its distribution doubled in the last three months before May Day alone. The authorities came to look on it, and rightfully so, as dangerous and threatening. Over 250 of the 800 May Day campaign busts were for selling the R It’, not even counting indirectly related arrests for “trespassing” on company property, etc. to sell it. Getting it off the streets, out of the reach of the masses, became a necessity for the bourgeoisie, increasingly even worth the risk of the self-exposure of clubbing and arresting RW sellers on busy streets.
New forms of agitation and propaganda were developed that reflected the Party’s ability to wage a relentless battle with the bourgeoisie and also the growing participation of the masses as they began to take history into their hands. A crowd of several hundred gathered around a couple of agitators at a downtown street corner in Detroit. Lively debate ensued. People listened intently while others from the crowd put forward their views. “I agree there’s something wrong with this system. I hate unemployment. I hate discrimination. But I can’t agree with this revolution thing.” A young white woman got up, “I don’t know a lot, but I know one thing–workers better stick together!” People encouraged each other to speak up and demanded ideas be carefully justified.
On a mass scale, people were themselves deciding and struggling out what the future held in store and what they were going to do about it.
In the same way that May First was a manifesto–jolting people awake, reawakening feelings and yearnings for a way out of this madness, and posing the alternatives sharply to millions–many of the actions that built for May First were themselves a powerful form of agitation. From slapping the May Day manifesto on George Meany’s coffin as it was carried into the funeral, to the historic raising of the red flag over the Alamo and the splashing of red paint on the faces of the U.S. and Soviet UN representatives on the eve of May Day, the bourgeoisie was exposed, the stand of the international proletariat was brought out sharply, and revolution was raised anew to millions. Many began to look to and seek out May Day.
In February the Party called for the formation of Revolutionary May Day Brigades as one important part of the Party’s efforts to build May First. Looking back over stacks of newspaper headlines from cities across the country, it seems difficult to believe that it was only three brigades, 60 people in all. Those who joined had made the decision to become full-time revolutionaries building for May Day, to shake cynicism and despair from their brothers’ and sisters’ bones. For many it was a first step to becoming professional revolutionaries. Men, women, Black, white, Latin, Chinese, they became a powerful vehicle for spreading the Party’s line. Even the act of volunteering for the Brigades had an impact on others. When one Beth Steel worker in Seattle quit his job with seven years seniority and distributed a personal call to May Day at the plant gate, it caused great debate in the plant. Reactionaries, of course, said all the “commies” should quit, which itself was back-handed recognition of the fact that revolutionaries had become a force among the workers. But others thought about it seriously. “If he quit,” one worker said, “I’ve got to question everything I’m doing with my life.”
The Brigades gave impetus to the overall Party work in the local areas, which they supplemented, doing agitation and propaganda and working with others stepping forward, going deeply into their political and ideological questions. Their very presence raised questions and made a profound point.
Through all these means the Party’s overall line and May Day in particular was becoming a material force among the masses. The newspaper was the key link in creating the conditions for May Day. The extent to which agitation and propaganda and particularly the newspaper were successfully wielded both determined the success of May Day and the ability to move forward from this victory, with workers and others trained in the Party’s line and in Marxism, with broad influence and links and contacts among the masses, a growing network of people tied to and getting a leading line from the RW to extend and carry out the “conspiracy of slaves.”–all the elements which have to be nourished and strengthened and expanded to be prepared for the future.
May Day was everywhere. An editorial letter submitted to a Cleveland paper complaining about taxes ended with, “is it any wonder that those of us with poor-paying jobs are so ready to join the May Day Revolutionary Brigade?” It had become a reference point. Even in the heart of one of their military training camps–Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, Washington–army brass walked out one morning to find GI’s had covered the walls of a lifesize German town training replica with May Day posters. The same kind of thing was occurring among American GI’s stationed in West Germany.
Revolution was being discussed and argued on a scale unseen in years, it began to be seized on by the advanced as the realizable alternative. “We Won’t Work That Day–Will You?”–the idea captured the imagination of millions, and many were weighing the question seriously. People, especially workers, began to go through soul searching and intense ideological struggle with themselves. A young worker in a plant where several others in his department were taking up May Day said, ”I feel like the man in the poster, 1 want to step out but what can one person do?”
The bourgeoisie lashed back. Lenin, in summing up the lessons of the Moscow Uprising of 1905, said, “The whole course of the Russian revolution after October and the sequence of events in Moscow in the December days, strikingly confirmed one of Marx’s profound propositions; revolution proceeds by giving rise to a strong and united counterrevolution, i.e., it compels the enemy to resort to more and more extreme measures of defense and in this way devises ever more powerful means of attack.”
The bourgeoisie responded to May Day with rage. They saw in this emerging class-conscious section of the proletariat led by this Party their most dangerous enemy.
In just the three months leading up to and including May 1st, 800 were arrested, over S500.000 was paid in bail, many were held in jail for weeks for ransom. From the beginning the hand of the highest authorities could be seen behind this onslaught of attacks. Youngstown, Ohio, a dying steel town, volatile with deep disillusionment and the swelling anger of workers whose lives had been built around the steel industry, was the site of the first May Day busts. The judge set outrageous bail on direct orders from the State Attorney General. He told the nine defendants he was worried they’d show up in Cleveland or Washington, D.C. After a red flag march in Beckley, West Virginia was attacked and revolutionaries were beaten by Klansmen and undercover cops (described in the daily papers as patriotic old ladies with umbrellas), an FBI agent dragging away a revolutionary who had disrupted an Anderson for President rally in Chicago grabbed the red flag and said, “We broke lots of these in Beckley.”
The bourgeoisie began churning out articles and editorials against May Day across the country. “Red Brigades,” they labeled the May Day Brigades–an obvious attempt to portray the RCP as terrorists. Headlines such as “Communist Agitators Used Nazi-Like Tactics to Provoke Brawl in Beckley,” such as appeared in West Virginia, were meant to conjure up a vision of white racists beating Blacks and minorities. The bourgeoisie couldn’t cover up May Day, so they had to try slander.
Articles on the front page of the Seattle papers in April read: “Shipyard worker plants foot in stomach of Revolutionary Communist”; “Unemployed Joe Gun Yells at the Communist Marchers That He Is Ashamed of Them.” An American flag decal, “Be an American Work May 1st,” was circulated at Beth Steel and in the West Virginia coal mines. There was the unleashing of backward super-patriotic slobs–those who had become what the bourgeoisie wanted them to be. They had been forced to speak to the question of the working class, so they tried to paint their own picture in retaliation. And this battle spread beyond the factories, becoming especially sharp to those being raised as future wage-slaves and cannon fodder. Cops in projects tried to bribe youth with bubblegum to attack May Day organizers–an ect that was not only futile, but made these pigs look totally ridiculous. As May Day buttons and manifestos began to appear in high schools, especially detention rooms, principals began more openly playing their cop role–threatening suspensions, calling emergency board meetings, writing letters to parents. These were not the howling and actions of a secure overlord. They were an outright statement that even the bourgeoisie sees revolution as a possibility. In one plant, as early as the beginning of March, foremen were overheard discussing, in panic, the possibility of a walkout May 1st. The U.S. masters understand the precarious situation they are in–their ability to throw out cushions and crumbs is being rapidly undercut, already influencing the very masses they have to quickly prepare to fight and die for them against their imperialist enemy the Soviet Union. They understood well there was a section of the masses ready to hear the revolutionary internationalist message of May 1 and the impact this section of revolutionary workers could have on all of society.
For them it was a question of weighing their necessity to stop May Day against the dangers (for them) of drawing more people into political motion and more openly exposing the force on which then-system ultimately relies–the armed state. As they took on May Day the advanced and intermediate were forced to investigate what this was about, why was it being attacked. Many of those who still clung to illusions that this country is free had to begin to come to look at reality. It was by grasping how their attacks were educating material for both the possibility and necessity of revolution– and very particularly of May Day 1980–that the revolutionary forces turned these attacks into ammunition, “devising ever more powerful means” to build May Day.
Busts were numerous. But so were Revolutionary Worker networks set up in the course of and wake of these attacks, both in the streets and in the jails. Through this broad agitation, the emergence of a class-conscious force among the workers themselves and in particular these RW networks, something was created which they will never be able to arrest.
As the battle intensified and spread, the overall line of the Party and the movement of a section of the advanced workers that was coming into being around May Day had a real social effect on many other sections of the people. A minister wrote, “I have many questions but I must confess an interest in your cause I am a member of the Protestant clergy, but if you think many of us are not interested in your kind of solution you are not well informed.” An anti-nuke coalition wrote an endorsement statement, “We must unite with the working class and oppressed people on May Day in order to carry our fight against nuclear power one step further aimed at its true source. After all, it would be a hollow victory for the anti-nuclear movement to stop nukes only to awaken to a solar-powered Auschwitz.”
The line around May Day and revolution was taken up and applied by a broad variety of forces, including in participating in the May 1 actions themselves and also in many ways that played an important part in building for May Day. It found expression in music, sculpture, painting, theater and other forms, as well as in many varied ways among the workers. Significantly, much of this happened in ways unknown to the organized revolutionaries A Chicago mural painted tor a neighborhood drug clinic became the focus of fierce controversy when clinic directors refused to allow this work they had commissioned to be put up, in fear of losing government funding–and clinic staffers and clients, neighborhood people and artists were drawn into this battle. Musicians, theater people and others took up this line–or were influenced by it and the controversy surrounding it–and this was reflected in their art and in other ways. All this broadened and intensified the battle for a revolutionary culture opposed to the reactionary garbage propagated by the bourgeoisie, and heightened the general atmosphere of revolutionary struggle. It developed in relation to the stirrings of the class-conscious workers while also helping inspire and train them.
Another, different part of this training came through the attacks of opportunist, phony “communist” or “socialist” forces who provided rich teaching material by negative example. It became impossible to continue with the simple lie that the RCP is “completely isolated” from the workers. So instead they labeled those coming forward as “anarchistically inclined” and advised these workers to have more patience and accept the slow death of preoccupying themselves with struggles around “the immediate concerns of the masses. (These quotes are from the League of Revolutionary Struggle, whose newspaper Unity carried a more coherent diatribe against May Day than most other more well-known groups, who often confined themselves to lies and police-inspired slanders.) All these groups carried horror stories about how the RCP was creating too much “controversy” and thus spreading “anti-communism” (by which they meant that May Day was bringing out the political and ideological questions these opportunists so carefully avoid), and they were especially freaked out about how May Day was leading to actual “confrontations” among the workers, as though the working class could ever lead in revolution and transforming society without challenging the ideas and outlook that arise from capitalist society which the capitalists work so hard to pound into the heads of the workers. Where such an outlook as these opportunists recommend has already led them became evident in their attacks on the burning of American flags and the raising of red ones as not only too “controversial,” but also as undesirable: because these opportunists preach that in what they describe–whenever they fearfully lift their heads a bit to look at it–as “the coming world apocalypse the workers have no choice but to line up with the bourgeoisie and set aside all thoughts of revolution. And as for their efforts to make it a point in their favor that the May Day forces were so often arrested while they don’t seem to have that problem– that spoke for itself.
The efforts by these opportunists to oppose May Day were taken on by the Party, in the RW and other ways, in order to make good use of them in clarifying the Party’s line and how different lines ultimately represent the outlook and interests of different classes, and showing why it is that the class-conscious proletariat must put itself at the head of all those oppressed by capitalism and lead the revolution.
May Day itself was a powerful refutation of these opportunists’ arguments, as the advanced workers and those who rallied around them and their Party showed in practice, to millions, that there will be another road and that the most far-sighted and determined workers are already preparing to lead the millions on it.
It was precisely because the bourgeoisie was forced to expose its bloody hand as it attacked May Day and because the revolutionary forces were able to turn these attacks into more powerful means of attacking this system, that the bourgeoisie grew more frantic.
April 22: police agents executed Damian Garcia, a member of the RCP. Damian Garcia had been one of the three Brigaders to fly the red flag over the Alamo. This bold action had inspired millions here and around the world. It was an action that enraged the bourgeoisie. The Alamo is a sacred monument, pointed to internationally as a symbol of freedom and democracy. Its “heroes,” now including John Wayne, are pointed to as examples of Great Americans. When the red flag flew above this citadel, it was exposed as a monument to imperialist plunder, to the subjugation of Mexican people, to national oppression.
The cowardly execution of Damian Garcia was in retaliation for this bold act, it was meant as a sinister message to all who yearn for a way out of this madness, who attempt to stand up. It was meant to bring the RCP to its knees, and in particular to intimidate those considering or planning to take decisive action on May 1st. What it brought to the fore with force was the viciousness of the system and its rulers and that nothing short of armed insurrection will end it.
It set the terms of the battle; it marked the extreme lengths the bourgeoisie would go to stop May Day. In the wake of this execution, plans for Red Flag/Internationale Day, April 24th. became all the more powerful. It was a significant event in itself–a call to May-Day heard across the country. Class-conscious workers and others stood up in defiance of the whining and bellowing of the backward and company henchmen. Some stepped back when Damian Garcia was murdered. But more importantly, many who had clung to the illusion that life is tolerable were jolted awake and inspired to pick up the red flag on word of his execution. And as voices in many languages joined in singing the Internationale at the precise same instant across the country, even workers standing alone in a plant could sense their strength, knowing they were part of an advanced detachment of their class.
A meatcutter never before active put his red flag on his meat-hook and paraded it in front of backward fools who had been taunting him. 300 red flags flew in the New York Garment District, some planted defiantly on bosses’ desks and doors. In the center of the streets, under the watchful eyes of cockroach bosses and pigs, a worker quit his job when the boss threatened to fire him and joined others gathered to sing the Internationale. The bosses, the backward, looked like laughable fools as they scurried around trying to hand out American flags, slapping their hands over a revolutionary’s mouth, asking workers to sign petitions against revolutionaries: some even admitted grudgingly that it was an impressive sight.
Never before had red flags been flown in this country in such a bold and class-conscious way. They were an open declaration of war on the capitalist class and a tremendous outpouring of internationalism.
The advanced were strengthened as they saw the impact of their actions on others. It was the May Day manifesto come alive:
“They will try to stop us any way they can. But they will not contain us on May 1. We will face all repercussions knowing that our action will have a tremendous impact on countless more who hate this system but wait for the right moment to act. They will be able to see the opposing forces lining up and many will recognize their true interests, support our action, defend it and themselves take up the banner we will be raising.”
The most important aspect of “divising ever more powerful means of attack” by the revolutionary forces was the actions on May Day itself. To carry it out was mainly a political question, only secondarily tactical. It would require grasping the nature of the political situation created through the battle to build May Day, responding politically to the upping of the ante through the bourgeoisie’s attacks by deeply explaining what was at stake here and what it would mean for the future when the enemy is still deeper in trouble and weakened, when both the misery of the masses and the bourgeoisie’s brutal attacks on those who stand up against it and the possibilities of revolution will be increased a hundred-fold, and by devising tactics following from this understanding to be able to transform it into actions which themselves would reverberate like thunder throughout society. This, too, would determine both the success or failure of May 1 itself and the basis established through May Day to advance in the future.
Millions were watching, anticipating. Thousands lined the streets, some with homemade red flags, others with eggs and bottles. Riot cops were everywhere. Throughout the day many radio programs gave updated reports on the battles in the streets of the target cities–New York, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, Los Angeles–as well as nine other cities across the country. In Portland, a Black worker speaking before the march began looked straight out at a crowd of idiots that had come wearing “Fuck You–Iran” t-shirts and said to them, “This is International Workers Day. This march isn’t going to be stopped by guys like you or anybody else.” An older white worker, a Korean vet and prisoner of war, jumped into the march in D.C.. “Some guys on the corner were talking about stopping you guys. I told them they’d have to go through me first. What I learned from the POW camp and when I came back was that my enemy was right here. I learned that freedom has got to be fought for, it doesn’t come bloodless.” A woman in Oakland saw the red flags coming down the street. She remembered this was International Workers Day, grabbed her kid and fought her way through cop barricades to finally join up. Two taxicabs filled with eight Latino workers pulled over in downtown Los Angeles and jumped out and into the march. Other forces lent their support in the battle–clergy in Oakland formed a contingent to “prevent a police riot,” students from Iran, the Middle East, Ethiopia and more joined in.
There was an understanding, unevenly grasped but permeating their ranks, that something significant was coming into being, that they had to blaze a path to inspire and assist others. This understanding enabled them to withstand arrests and attacks at the height of conflict, and show tremendous heroism, inspiring some to joyfully join, others to step into this conflict in spite of themselves and many to look on in awe. People who had held back couldn’t ignore it. They wanted May Day to succeed, but weren’t ready or willing to take that step. As May Day unfolded their respect and confidence grew.
It had been clear, even to the bourgeoisie, that there was no stopping May Day. But still, they knew the explosive impact it could have–class-conscious workers daring to march right into the teeth of their bloody system. They were forced to continue to expose their real nature. In Chicago, shortly before May Day, the head of the biggest housing project in the country went door-to-door warning that anyone who marched or had anything to do with the RW would be evicted. On May 1st, police were stationed inside one plant in Chicago by 4 a.m. In Boston, a counter-demonstration wa9 held at one plant, although they had to import participants, failing to find many workers there to join. Many factories had only one gate open, ID’s were checked, even lunchboxes were searched. At Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan, where vets had previously carried out agitation around Iran, an armed perimeter of 200 National Guardsmen surrounded the base, standing with M-16’s at 50-foot intervals.
In Los Angeles, pigs in full riot gear stood at the rally site handing out leaflets–in English and Spanish-threatening to arrest anyone marching. At Beth Steel, Seattle, neanderthals were given the job of cutting pieces of rebar (bars of recycled steel) to be used against anyone daring to walk out. One Black worker, in the face of this, declared he would walk and did. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the only-form of organizing that had taken place was postering, the local army recruiting station shut down for the day. In some places teachers were sent out to try to get crowds of hundreds of high school students back inside. Provocateurs and cops tried to provoke fights. In Seattle one teacher took the day off and called on the students to march, “This is what’s going on in the world.”
The actions of the revolutionaries and of the reactionaries spelled out the two opposing roads to all. Here were class-conscious workers–like the Chicano in Seattle whose nose was broken at the beginning rally, but still returned from the hospital to meet the march near its end, red flag in hand–fighting for a revolutionary future, the end of all exploitation and oppression. And here were cop9, thugs, fools throwing eggs, jeering, trying to defend the red, white and blue in the face of workers and others so revolutionary that they were chanting “We’re not Americans, we’re proletarians.” The scene was repeated across the country.
It was in this situation, which had emerged through the course of the May Day campaign, that the battles on May 1 had their decisive significance. Their understanding of what they were doing and of its importance unleashed the initiative and heroism of the masses. This is what enabled the May Day demon-stations to be carried out at all, in the face of intense and concentrated repression. This is what drew others to step forward in the face of danger. And this is what gave these actions on May 1 their broad impact which reverberated from one end of the country to the other.
What else but this understanding could have given the marchers this unity and strength and provided the basis for the flexibility and sharp tactics necessary to carry out these actions which the bourgeoisie was so intent on stopping?
In Los Angeles, where the marchers’ ranks swelled to 500 at the height, the march was surrounded on three sides by police and assaulted. Even before the march the police had told reporters that the march would not be allowed to cross the bridge into the downtown area–and with the murder of Damian Garcia there only eight days earlier and the complete denial of a permit for the march, there could be no doubt that it was blood that the authorities were after. Yet after the attack 350 people regrouped, many new faces filling the places of those who had been busted and injured. Through various maneuvers they arrived at their destination, to the joy of many who had red flags flying from factories and store windows waiting for them, and to the frothing rage of the police. A short rally was held. While cops madly tried to bust the demonstrators, a speaker summed up the significance of the day. He could be heard but not seen. As soon as he finished the marchers vanished into the crowd of pedestrians and headed out across the city to spread the word of victorious May Day.
In Detroit, where the march was attacked and broken up, a new leadership core of six people emerged, four of whom had never been involved in any kind of demonstration before, and the march regrouped around them. What made this possible? They were workers and others who had decided to take a stand with the worldwide proletarian revolution. There was no stopping them. As a Chicano in L.A. put it, “I came here knowing there would be a lot of police and no permit, but sometimes you got to put your ass on the line it’s history we’re making now.” The Party’s line had become a material force.
It pulled on people like a magnet. In Atlanta, as cops formed a physical barricade around the gathering forces before the march began, revolutionary agitation began to bring people to decide exactly which side they would be on. One man describing himself as neutral, literally took a position right between the cops and rally; another stepped forward declaring this was his side, and another moved to join saying, “I’m not a socialist, I’m not a communist, but this government gotta be overthrown. It’s the worst one that’s ever existed in the world.”
Later reports revealed that many workers who hesitated to directly join the ranks marched alongside the demonstrations. The sentiments of some of those participating in these marches were expressed by this Chicago office worker, “I don’t quite fit in but I’ll stand by and I guess I’m participating in my own way, I didn’t go to work and people at work have been talking about it and I guess they know now how 1 feel about it.” Others proudly told of having been there. A group of federal government employees marched as a contingent behind the D.C. demonstration with homemade red flags. They had decided to come to May Day from studying the Revolutionary Worker. There were similar side marches in almost every city.
This force kept on pulling long after the demonstrations had ended. A telephone worker in D.C. had come to the assembly point on the morning of May Day, but then went to work. “I couldn’t not go to work. 1 just wasn’t ready,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve been following it. I saw Bob Avakian on TV–he was on time. I even watched the news about it. Everybody at work knew about it. Some were for it, some were against it. We all thought and talked about it all day. By the end of the day all of us that were for it were kicking ourselves in the ass. If we had gone, we could have–if everybody who felt like us had come – we could have swelled our ranks to a hundred thousand.” Of course, everybody who felt like us could not have come out, no matter what, exactly because of the impact May Day was having broadly, including on many who will not make up their minds until the further development of the objective situation shoves them forward. The fact that those who did march spoke for many thousands more who didn’t was very significant. But also important here is the effect of what happened, of the actual May 1 actions, on those waiting and watching–many were “kicking themselves in the ass” afterwards because these actions had accomplished what they feared was impossible, and that fact alone helped greatly to change their thinking about the future and their own role in it. This kind of effect also stood out sharply among the Muni bus drivers in San Francisco, where, although only a small number had come out on May Day, 105 copies of the RCP’s draft Programme were sold in its aftermath, exactly because the idea of revolution had become far more of a possibility to them–and their own actions more urgent–through the line of the Party and the concrete actions other workers had taken.
The bourgeoisie claimed that May 1 was an insignificant and lost battle. Their newscasts focused on a carefully constructed portrait of “crazed violence.” But the news of this “insignificant event was carried all day and into the next and run on the front page of many, many papers. Several weeks later one of their own DJ’s opened a radio show saying he had two things to discuss, “The first, May Day and the RCP you already know about. You heard it on the 5 o’clock news, the 6 o’clock, 7, 10, 11 o’clock news . . ” And weeks later when covering RCP trials in San Francisco, as workers and others sang the Internationale, a news commentator described the day’s event as “familiar scenes.” Clearly May Day penetrated into most every nook and cranny of political life in this country. Since then, this has become even clearer. The examples of residents of Washington, D.C.’s Black ghetto who spontaneously raised a red flag in a confrontation with police, and a contingent in an anti-nuke rally who also decided to carry red flags, only begin to tell this story.
As Bob Avakian had said it would be, May 1, 1980 was “an event of historic significance.” It was a real leap ahead. Its importance centered around the forging of a class-conscious force through these battles, changing the lives of thousands and influencing millions, helping many of them to get more prepared for when they do step forward, when the situation ripens. This force of class-conscious workers has begun to step forward not only to lead the broader ranks of the working class but also to reveal throughout society the revolutionary qualities of this class as a whole. While those that marched were a small minority in relation to the great majority who will go into political motion with the inevitable sharpening of the objective situation, their actions and the revolutionary political line that was embodied in them have created qualitatively better conditions to carry out preparations for the development of such a situation and for revolution.
If this Party and these class-conscious workers could lead this battle in today’s non-revolutionary situation, why can’t they lead in preparing, mobilizing and carrying out an insurrection when the time is ripe and broad sections of the masses come into revolutionary motion?
As Bob Avakian said in his statement summing up May 1, “The aftermath of this event–the excited, inspired and further awakened response of many, many thousands shows that we could have even done better. And this means that we have to sum up the lessons of this event, especially how serious its impact really was, how serious the class conscious workers took it, how sharply it was taken by the enemy.”
May Day 1980 met its political goal–it mobilized a significant section of workers around the red flag of revolution and internationalism, and in fact influenced uncounted numbers. It brought revolution a step closer. But it cannot be said that the full potential that May Day and its impact itself revealed was realized. The bourgeoisie did grasp the situation it faced, not completely of course but in a certain sense more sharply than the conscious forces, and they acted on that understanding, sending out their goons in blue, stepping up their threats and actually occupying one plant starting at four in the morning, and trying to keep the marches surrounded by an impenetrable barrier. Under these conditions, the factory and school “breakouts” that would have had to occur in order for May Day to meet its goal of 10,000 people marching as had originally been called for did not happen. Some people who considered marching were held back by the high price the bourgeoisie had put on such an action. Why? Not simply because the stakes had been raised, for it was the very fact that there was so much more on the line than not showing up for work or school that gives the 3,000 who marched in the main body of the demonstrations, the 1,000 who took part in side marches, and those who did attempt to organize walkouts or who walked out themselves tremendous significance. As came out very sharply in the wake of May Day, a great many plants and schools vibrated with anticipation as May Day dawned. It was not uncommon for workers to be waiting outside, trying to decide what to do, and many hoped and waited for something to develop.
What was lacking was for the revolutionaries to have better grasped both the increased seriousness and the potential of the situation. This “battle for the troops” –the wavering and undecided–required the revolutionaries to have responded politically by turning the bourgeoisie’s upping of the ante into ammunition by making it clearer to these workers and others the great weakness and not strength that the bourgeoisie’s actions revealed, to have gone deeper and more sharply into the questions raised by this situation to meet the “special interests and requirements,” and secondarily, but based on this, to have devised new and better tactics to turn this situation into its opposite. This is true in a bigger sense as well: with the deepening crisis and the approach of war, the ante is definitely getting upped as the bourgeoisie finds its position ever more precarious–and the conscious forces must play their revolutionary role by raising the level of their understanding and revolutionary activity, particularly agitation and propaganda, to keep up with the development of the objective situation.
Again, as Comrade Avakian said, “What we must sum up and sum up clearly from all this is exactly how important all this has been –the seriousness of the situation our rulers are in, the great revolutionary opportunities that lie before us. We must learn this and apply it right now and thereby really take yet another leap forward from here.”
The importance of this event taking place right now cannot be underestimated. This class-conscious force has emerged amidst the howling and rapidly intensifying preparations of the bourgeoisie to mobilize the masses for World War 3. An internationalist outpouring, a concrete manifestation of the ability of the working class to lead a revolutionary insurrection at the very time the bourgeoisie is trying to blindfold the masses with the red, white and blue.
This is what it means that under the leadership of the Party a section of the working class took conscious and decisive revolutionary action. A class-conscious proletarian force has emerged, a force that must be given sustained and growing expression. This Party and these workers are a force to be contended with. They are on the political stage; they will not relinquish this position untill classes are abolished. The word revolutionary has taken a qualitative step towards bringing to mind revolutionary, internationalist, class-conscious workers, and as contradictions in the world sharpen up, more and more people in the U.S. will be looking to and listening to find out what these revolutionary workers have to say, what they are doing.
A great leap has been taken. “But this great leap”–summed up Chairman Avakian–”is precisely the conquering of a new position from which to carry forward and accelerate the class struggle.”