May Day 2012: Empty Ritual or Working Class Celebration?

Over the years the significance of 1 May in Britain as a day of international class solidarity has been lost for the majority of workers in Britain. We don’t even share the same day for celebrating as the rest of the world’s workers. Ever since the introduction of the May Bank Holiday way back in 1978 local May Day parades are spread over the holiday period and rarely occur on May 1st itself. Michael Foot (as left-wing Labour Employment minister) brought in the May Bank Holiday as a sop to the working class at a time of growing discontent over job losses and the rising cost of living. He was criticised for ‘copying Russia’ and introducing a ‘communist’ measure although the TUC’s brass bands and Labour Party flotillas were hardly equal to the grotesque military parades which went under the name of celebrating International Workers’ Day in the Soviet Union. In truth, though, the ritual parades of the Labour Party and the TUC had already killed off May Day for most workers.

What began as a defiant celebration of the sacrifices workers have made in the incessant class war between capital and wage labour, a war which the world’s working class would surely win by overthrowing capital and introducing socialism or communism, was emptied of its original meaning. The vision of a classless society without borders, without profit or money, where production and distribution would be organised directly to meet society’s needs was sidelined. Instead it was replaced by the myth that socialism = nationalisation and communism = nationalisation plus state control over every aspect of life. Under the combined weight of the Labour Party, Social Democracy, Stalinism, Maoism, the idea grew that more and more state control is a step towards ‘communism’. The current discussion in government circles over moving the May Day Bank Holiday to a date that emphasises nationalism: say October, to be a ‘UK Day’ or ‘Trafalgar Day’ (21 October), or else St David's day or St George's day … only emphasises how confident the capitalist class feels about its position and how little it sees the threat of a serious challenge from the working class. Yet there has never been more need for the working class to unite and fight for a totally different world.

Capitalism: The Worst is Yet to Come

Every day we are told there is no alternative to the society we have now. We are asked by tax-dodging multi-millionaires to make sacrifices for an economy that exploits us and pushes many of us into massive debt and unemployment. It’s a system of environmental destruction, wars to control raw materials, famine and genocide, but we are told over and over that this is the best we can hope for, that this is the only democracy there can ever be, that anything else would be madness (even though the ‘democratic rights’ we do have are being attacked at an almost weekly rate).

We’re told to sit tight, accept what’s coming to us and wait until the worst is over, but the truth is that the more hardships we endure the more they think they can get away with. In any case, we can forget about the post-war years of steadily increasing living standards. From now on each generation will be worse off than the last. As the cuts get deeper people’s lives are starting to change, not just here in Britain. All over the ‘developed world’ the outlook is the same. Wage workers are facing reduced living standards, lower wages, slashing of welfare benefits, shutdown and rundown services, shambolic healthcare and increasingly deferred but lower pensions. On top of all that the pool of unemployed is deepening. Yet the attacks will keep coming because the ruling class has no alternative; it has to make the working class pay for this mess.

Unions Stymie Resistance

It’s not that there is no will to resist. Workers traditionally look to the unions for help and support, but the unions are part of the problem and not the solution. The unions, with their paid officials and extensive bureaucracies, are a well-integrated part of capitalism. They’ll put up a fight if their own existence is threatened and when they need to keep up some credibility with their members, but all the time they search for an option that is acceptable to the bosses and which will reduce the chance of solidarity across union boundaries. (Look how public sector workers have been split up, with teachers left high and dry, after millions came out last November.) When the bosses cite the need to get rid of workers to keep afloat, that’s exactly what they’ll do. Time and again they limit strikes if it looks like they might be too ‘damaging’, or they reach some solution in secret talks with the bosses before a strike has even started, (like the current talks in the tanker drivers’ ‘dispute’)usually resulting in a call for workers to make sacrifices as ‘there is no alternative’. When workers in one sector are undermined and isolated like this, it impacts on us all.

Campaigns and Protests but

No Prospect of a New Society

Outside of the workplace there are countless campaigns against aspects of the cuts. The unions are working out how to use the media, enlist support from all sections of the community and in short, become efficient campaigning organisations ready to claim a victory if a hospital ward is ‘saved’ from closure . Nothing wrong with saving hospital wards but it’s not going to prevent the overall attacks. At this level there is absolutely no possibility of a more class conscious resistance to the damage being wrought by capital. Many militants sense this and prefer to join more direct action groups, such as UK UnCut, whose campaigns gain media attention and who have been particularly effective in getting retailers like Tesco, who want to avoid bad publicity, to withdraw from the state’s obnoxious workfare programme. However, there is no coherent political vision behind this kind of radical reformism which cannot offer a way forward to the working class in general. Of course the highest profile of all has been achieved by the Occupy movement, with its evocative slogans and its ‘anti-capitalist’, or at least anti-bankers’ bonuses, stance. Occupy is a genuine expression of popular resentment and as such a very wide umbrella which can cover anyone from company shareholders demanding more democratic meetings, to low paid workers battling to get a living wage and — in their discussion forums — there is even the possibility for some to develop a more revolutionary perception of what it means to be ‘anti-capitalist’. As the article in the latest issue of our magazine, Revolutionary Perspectives, puts it “this would inevitably mean going way beyond Occupy’s confused and limited vision”.

Winning Over the Working Class to the Only Anti-Capitalist Struggle: Communism

Which brings us back to the fact that fighting capitalism means more than fighting the worst of its effects, it means fighting for another society entirely. Only the working class, whose unpaid labour produces the value that is the basis of all profits, is in a position to put an end to capitalism. But this can only be achieved when the working class across the world acts as one to overthrow their exploiters and begins to implement the communist programme. As yet that programme remains a broad outline based on lessons from the past. In the coming period it is up to the small, but growing, number of revolutionary groups — who broadly go under the banner of international left communism — to make it the concrete base for developing a genuine anti-capitalist struggle. This cannot be done in isolation from the working class as a whole. The alternative is not either fight the cuts or stand on the sidelines as a revolutionary. Nor is it a matter of forming a left front with social democrats and self-seeking opportunists of various political organisations who equate nationalisation with socialism and are ready to support Arab nationalism and worse. Much less is it about joining in the calls for a return to ‘old Labour’. For us, communism isn’t an idealist utopia which has to be sacrificed in the real world. On the contrary, the revolution to overthrow capitalism and replace it with communism is the only civilised solution to the world capitalist crisis which has reached seismic proportions. In this globalised world the material conditions exist to establish a community without classes and national borders, where the questions of who gets what and how are determined not by money and profit but by administrative decisions taken by vibrant democratic organs of ‘freely associated producers’. For anyone who shares this view there is only one political option: join the struggle to win the working class over to the only really anti-capitalist programme: communism. As the possibility for a revolutionary new world gains ground perhaps May Day will be celebrated with real hope for the future. Get involved!

Sunday, May 6, 2012


oh shit cleish I like this article and it's simplicity and clarity so much I want to have it translated into every possible language and all workers to be sat down and forced if necessary to read it and say afterwards whether they understand and agree totally with what it says and if not why not. It's all so obvious isn't it that capitalism's all fucked up and that we could get rid of it so easily if only we could all see what needs to be done and just get together in class solidarity and just do it. So what's stopping us? I don't know but at least there's some small increase in the number of revolutionary groupings and as you say it's up to them to do something and not remain isolated from the class as we need the party. But the party without the class will be a waste of time just as the class struggling without the party will also be a disaster as in Germany 1919. And is the possibility for a revolutionary new world truly gaining ground? Oh jesus I hope so! An excellent article!




Thanks for that. I'll pass on your comments to the Aurora "team" (I just put it on the site).

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.