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How May Days Were Celebrated
Under Lenin – and Under Stalin

(28 April 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 17, 28 April 1945, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Before and after taking power in Russia, in days of persecution and struggle as well as in days of triumph, the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky raised high the banner of working-class internationalism – the true symbol of May Day. Reporting on the 1917 May Day celebration in Russia – six months before the Bolsheviks led the October revolution which established the first workers’ state in history – Trotsky wrote this stirring account of Bolshevik internationalism in action:

“In both capitals and in the industrial centers the workers dominated the celebration, and amid them, the strong nuclei of Bolshevism stood out distinctly, with banners, placards, speeches and shouts. Across the immense facade of the Marinsky Palace, the refuge of the Provisional Government, was stretched a bold red streamer with the words: ‘Long Live the Third International!’ ... So far as it could, the army at the front celebrated. News came of meetings, speeches, banners and revolutionary songs in the trenches and there were responses from the German side.” (History of the Russian Revolution, Vol. I, p. 333).

Two years later, at a time when the young Soviet state was surrounded by the hostile armies of the counter revolution and the “democratic” imperialists, Lenin paid tribute to the basic working-class character of May Day in a speech delivered at a gigantic mass meeting in the Red Square at Moscow. No transcript of Lenin’s speech is available but the following is a newspaper account of the speech.

Lenin’s Speech

“The majority of those assembled here – said Lenin – who have not reached the age of 30-33 will see the flowering of communism, from which we are still so far removed.

“Pointing to the children, Lenin’ said that they, now participating in the holiday of labor’s emancipation, will enjoy the full measure of the fruits gained through the efforts and sacrifices of revolutionists.

“Our grandchildren will gaze in wonder at the documents and memorials of the epoch of the capitalist system. It will be difficult for them to understand how the trade in primary necessities of life could have been left in private hands; how factories and mills could have belonged to private individuals; how one man could have been permitted to exploit another; how people could have lived without any useful work to do. Up to now, we talked about what our children would see, as if it were a fairy, tale, but now, comrades^ you see with your own eyes, that the structure of socialism lodged by us is not a utopia. And our children will work still more zealously to build this structure.” (Vechernye Izvestia of the Moscow Soviet of Workers’ and Red Army Deputies, May 3, 1919)

But even the far-sighted Lenin could not have foreseen what tremendous obstacles were to be placed in the pathway of the Russian workers and peasants who were trying to build this “structure of socialism.” Betrayals by the parties of the Second International in the advanced capitalist countries were later matched by the infamous crimes of the Stalinist Third International against the principles of revolutionary internationalism.

In the course of its progressive degeneration Stalinism has violated every socialist tradition and principle, including the glorious revolutionary traditions of May Day, which the Stalinist bureaucracy is now attempting to destroy. In his Order of the Day, issued on May 1, 1944, Stalin carefully avoided any reference to the class character of this working-class holiday or to its traditions of socialist struggle. He did not pledge solidarity with the working-class of any European country, least of all Germany. On the contrary, he lumped the German workers together with the Nazis, under the epithet of “German vermin.”

Ehrenburg’s Article

An attempt at a theoretical justification for this shameful violation of the revolutionary internationalist traditions of May Day was made by the well-known Stalinist hack, Ilya Ehrenburg. In an article written in connection with the 1944 “observance” of May Day in the Soviet Union, Ehrenburg tried to show that the origin of May Day lay simply in seasonal changes – the coming of spring – and not in the class struggle at all.

“From time immemorial,” he wrote, “man has always associated the coming of spring with the idea of the triumph of life. The Greeks created the Eleusinian mysteries: young Persephone held captive by the god of the infernal regions returns to the earth. In spring, the early Christians celebrated the triumph of life. Sprouting seed, green shoot and flower-bud inspired men to wage war on darkness.

“Hence arose May Day. Progressive minds associated the will of the peoples for a better world with the spirit of spring.” (Information Bulletin of the Embassy of the USSR in Washington, May 6, 1944, Vol. IV, No. 54)

Under the great leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, the Bolsheviks cherished the glorious working-class traditions of May Day. The revolutionary internationalism which May Day symbolized was the cornerstone of their ideas and policies. It was through these ideas and policies that they defended the young Soviet state against its enemies and prepared the Socialist future of the whole world working-class.

The Soviet bureaucracy under Stalin usurped control in the Bolshevik Party and the Third International. In the course of a few years they trampled under foot every idea, every principle, every policy of Lenin and Trotsky. All the traditions of Bolshevism were besmirched, and in the end discarded, by the reactionary clique which now rules in the Kremlin. May Day and its traditions are no exception. The traditions of this symbolic day have been turned into their opposites. Soviet chauvinism, reviving all the vileness of the Great Russian chauvinism of Tsarist days, has been substituted for the idea of international working class solidarity. Pleas for class peace, and for submission of the workers to their capitalist foes have taken the place of the Bolshevik call for intensified struggle against capitalism.

Stalin and his clique have already gone down in history as the gravediggers of Bolshevism and betrayers of the struggle for Socialism. But the ideas of Bolshevism cannot be killed and buried. The Bolsheviks of today – the Trotskyists – have preserved them and are carrying them forward.

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