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A.J. Muste

Labor Marshalls Forces for Banner May Day

Union Turnout to Be Biggest in Years

First May Day Finds Workers Party in Forefront of Important Labor Battles

(20 April 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 18, 20 April 1935, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

All reports about May Day preparations indicate that more American workers and more trade unions will participate in demonstrations this year than ever before. These workers are more militant, more free from illusions, more in the mood for new adventures than at any previous period. For the Workers Party of the U.S. observing its first May Day this is the most significant feature of this year’s celebration. Its meaning must be clearly understood. It must he utilized to the fullest extent in all speeches and discussions on May Day, as well as in all our work in the ensuing months.

Half a century ago American workers, engaged in desperate and dramatic struggles for the eight-hour day, made the First of May a labor holiday. The idea was taken up a few years later by workers in other countries and presumably May Day became the International Labor Day. Of the associations which gather round May Day – anti-militarism, class solidarity, labor internationalism, revolutionary aims of the working-class – we need not speak here.

Before the Crisis

May Day ceased, however, to he observed generally by the American workers. For a time, in certain of the larger cities, foreign-speaking groups demonstrated in considerable numbers; but even they became in large measure apathetic during the hectic boom period from 1924 on. In the main during this period American workers shunned May Day. They believed the propaganda of the boss press and of their own reactionary trade union leaders that May Day was for “foreigners,” “ungrateful reds,” etc. who did not appreciate the fact that the American working class was something unique and led a charmed life of perpetual prosperity under a special brand of capitalism, U.S.A. model.

The crisis has put a period to all that. It is clear that there is nothing unique about American capitalism, clear certainly that it leads no charmed life. As a part of world-capitalism it is in decline, and in its decline brings untold suffering on the masses who In this land of boundless resources and an unsurpassed productive machinery have in five brief years seen their standard of living cut in half.

Rising magnificently at the first opportunity, the American workers have since the spring of 1933 made great advances in organization and fought a series of important battles. In the course of those struggles one illusion after another has been ruthlessly dissipated.

The New Deal has not brought back prosperity. The doubt as to whether capitalism can be reformed is eating deep into the minds of the workers.

Short Cut Proves a Trap

The NR A proved not to be a magic gate to union organization. The conviction that it is useless to look to the Roosevolt administration or to any capitalist government, to give genuine support to lighting unions gains ground.

Trade union leaders, committed to “cooperation” with the bosses and the bosses’ government, sell out strikes, are seen to be “cooperating” indeed – to keep the boss on top and the workers under – and that lesson sinks in.

In the presence of such harsh realities bunk loses its hold. The bunk of the militarists and super-patriots. The bunk of the red-baiters. The Hearst campaign has fallen flat among the workers. The A.F. of L. bureaucracy got nowhere with its latest attempt to oust radicals from the unions. In fact they themselves have to try now to put on a “radical” cover. They collaborate with Socialists, hoping that that will convince the workers that they are “as progressive as anybody.” On occasion A.F. of L. demagogues collaborate, at least in effect, with Communists, as did Coleman Claherty in Akron recently when he was selling out the strike!

Radical Thought Gaining

The workers in ever increasing numbers are becoming interested in radical solutions for their problem. They will march this May Day proudly side by side with the Workers Party, with other parties and groups, with which they used to think it disgraceful and “un-American” to associate! Brushing away from their eyes the webs spun by the bosses’ propaganda, they are making May Day their own again!

Thus May Day emphasizes once more the correctness and the critical importance of the decisions of the founding convention of the Party on the mass organizations and mass work. We must get into the unions and the unemployed organizations. We must become intimately bound up with them and with their struggles. Never has there been such an opportunity to draw close to the masses, masses that are in motion, masses bent upon struggle. To neglect this opportunity is treason of the blackest sort.

The Wrong Way

For revolutionists to draw near to the masses does not mean, however, to come down to their level of political development, to cater to their prejudices, to take a place at the tail-end of the procession. The Communist Party having treated the workers like robots for years may now treat them like children to be humored and given a stick of candy. Neither attitude grows out of true respect for the worker, and the second will no more win the American worker in the end than did the first, which has had to be ignominiously abandoned. The C.P. having for years branded A.F. of L. bureaucrats as social-fascists may now embrace them as “comrades in arms.” Neither attitude was based on a realistic analysis and neither is a service to the working class.

The confidence won by responsible revolutionists because they fight side by side with the masses in their struggles, because they labor harder than any others to build the unions and the unemployed leagues, that confidence so hardly won is precious. It must not be prostituted by giving any countenance to the Utopian notions of a Long, a Coughlin, an Upton Sinclair, or whoever it may be, with the idea that there is something “American” about this tactic, that having thus “gone along” with the workers, with big masses, we have a “movement,” we are no longer “isolated from the masses,” and presently we shall slip over a revolutionary program on this “movement.” Having a yearning for being lost in a crowd is a very human failing. So is the desire to win a following quickly. But it is not a distinguishing mark of a revolutionist. Such “movements” as we have mentioned do not overthrow capitalism. If they do not turn Fascist, they end in a swamp or in a blind alley. Even a very superficial reading of American history makes that clear.

Against False Shibboleths

The responsible Marxian party will use the confidence that it wins from the masses to expose illusions, fallacies and falsehoods. On this May Day in the United States it will agitate against every form and manifestation of racial prejudice; against every illusory idea as to how the workers will win power and build a new world; against all half-baked panaceas; against nationalism and for internationalism.

The American workers have certain peculiar conditions to face and only at our peril do we ignore that fact. But the American worker is not now, any more than he was in the Coolidge-Hoover era, some peculiar species of animal. He is a worker under capitalism. His interest is one with that of the workers of all lands. This May Day 1935 gives us an unprecedented and priceless opportunity to tie in his struggles with the worldwide struggles of the working class, to teach the lesson of Revolutionary Internationalism. It is well that the Workers Party of the U.S. is in existence to seize that opportunity.

For a Workers’ World

Marching side by side with our brothers, sisters, comrades, in the unions and the unemployed organizations, we raise the banner of the Workers Party and the Fourth International. We sound forth again the historic battle-cry of the international revolutionary movement. Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains! You have a world to gain! Given such a program and such a spirit the workers can be confident that —

The earth shall rise on new foundations;
We have been naught, we shall be all!”

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