Monday, May 1, 2017

Our Message for May Day and Every Day (1934)

From the May 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again May 1st sees the gathering of Labour to march, with banners flying, to the places appointed as centres for speech-making. For over forty years these processions have been an annual Labour event, but the class that lives on Labour still remains solidly entrenched in the seat of power, and, bitter commentary on the periodical display, is kept there with the aid of the votes of the processionists.

It is interesting to recall that at one of these meetings in 1915 Ben Tillett, for long a favourite May-Day orator, addressed the following message to French workers: —
Britain alert, mutually co-operating with France, stands for civilisation, for a spiritual awakening of Europe for the overthrow of Kaiserism, militarism, and the capitalistic vandals whose brutal power is now ravishing Europe, and the world itself.”
("Reynolds,” May 9th, 1915.) 
Nineteen years have passed away, Ben Tillett has gone into a well-deserved oblivion, the “vandals" were overthrown, but armament conferences till give their window dressing performances and newer and more deadly means for murdering are devised. To cap it all Germany, under Hitler, is now staging an official "Labour Day” complete with hammer and sickle, the Communist emblems, alongside the swastika!

Discontent is as strong now as ever it was, but it is still politically ignorant discontent, and while it remains so it will be, as in the past, the sport of flaming orators like Ben Tillett—and Adolf Hitler.

Bands and banners are symbols of emotion and can lead a column equally well to their goal or to destruction. The path to social freedom cannot be cut out by mere emotional outbursts, there are too many entanglements on the way. Those who have enjoyed the emotional uplift of the march and the meetings afterwards relapse into their customary grooves. In the main their revolutionary fervour is just the pastime of a particular day. It will continue to be so until the workers give as serious and thoughtful consideration to their social conditions as they do to the getting of their daily bread. When the mass of the workers adopt this attitude they will lose their admiration for oratorical outbursts and cease to waste their time on fruitless displays.

No great knowledge is needed to understand the workers' social condition. The position is so simple that one is almost astounded to find how much effort is needed to induce workers to examine it seriously. In a few words it may be put as follows:—

The wealth of the world is produced by the workers, but the capitalists, by their ownership of the means of production, own the product of the workers' labour. In return for their productive labour the workers receive in the form of wages only sufficient, as a rule, to keep them living and producing. The wealth remaining enables the capitalists to enjoy their lives of ease. The capitalists are in control of the political machinery and use it to keep the workers in their condition of subjection. The workers by their votes put the capitalists in possession of this political machinery at election times. The problem for the workers is how to get rid of their subject condition. The solution is to abolish the present private ownership of the means of production and substitute for it common ownership. This can be accomplished by the workers sending delegates to Parliament for the purpose, the delegates to act as their servants to carry out their instructions. The workers would then obtain control of the political machinery and be able to break the power of capital.

The position is just as simple as this and does not need a fanfare of trumpets to demonstrate it. It is a message for every day and not only for specially picked occasions. It speaks the same language in every land and to every race. It has neither a religious nor a nationalist outlook. It points out the unity of interest of the workers of the world and their common antagonism to capitalism.

Finally it was, it is, and it will be our message for every day until the last of our chains have parted and we are entering the new free social conditions that one day will be our heritage.

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