Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Significance of May Day (1907)

Editorial from the May 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard

The First of May of our own times is in direct contrast to the May-day of old. The old festival had an organic connection with the daily work of the people. The old games, the decorations of greenery and flowers, the bringing home of the May; these reflected the joy of all at the awakening of nature, at the promise of the crops to come, and at the growing light and warmth of the season. To-day, however, agriculture has ceased to occupy the premier place and is consequently no longer reflected in the holidays of the people. On St Lubbock’s days, it is true, the joyless proletariat have, at the dictates of manufacture, brief breathing spells; but these are no spontaneous festivals of the people, and brief though they be they are all too long for the scanty wages of many.

Agriculture itself is, indeed, with intensive culture and the growing use of machinery, fast becoming an industry. The increase in culture under shelter and the rapidity of communication with other climes also diminish greatly the importance of the seasons, and tend to complete the change wrought by the rise of manufacture in the significance of the First of May.

To the sentimentalist, even in these times, May-day is still the festival of nature, and represents the past to which he would fain return. He is indeed the true impossibilist. But May-day in that sense is a mockery to the modern wage-slave who, surrounded by a landscape of bricks and mortar, can see no change that betokens Nature’s awakening from her winter slumbers.

The First of May, though nearly all its old associations are for ever lost, has now a new and deeper meaning. It comes to the toilers as seed time for the harvest to come; a seed time of fraternity and organisation with their fellows, for the harvest of deliverance from wage slavery. May-day yet retains a portion of its old significance; it is still a festival of the people, of those who work. No God has brought to these the word of Salvation, and no promise of a reward in Heaven can for ever dull them to present injustice. The proletariat’s Revelation lies in its own toilsome life, and its Heaven can only he the result of its own efforts.

The first of May is, then, a worker’s festival, a pledge of fraternity and internationalism, an awakening to the social mission of the working class. It is not a day that should be wasted by the workers in begging crumbs from the groaning table of those who have robbed them, but a day of education and organisation; a marshalling of forces for the conquest of the world by Labour.

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