Today is International Workers' Day and, in years gone past on the blog, it has usually meant a random smattering of May Day articles or editorials from old Socialist Standards where, to be honest, there can be an overall tone of repetition and general gloom whatever the decade. However, it struck me this morning that the blog is so far ahead in breaking the back of fully digitizing the Standard, that it is now in position to start pooling together articles around a general theme for the attention of the random reader.
"Breaking the back" is, of course, a bit of an overstatement but a good place to start such an endeavour would be the various May Day messages that appeared in the Socialist Standard over the years. Though in 2020, it's hard at times to fully comprehend the significance of May Day for the organized working class, back in the day it has to be understood that May Day was a day when all unions and radical groups would make that extra push in both celebrating the day and seeking to communicate their message to a wider audience than usual.
The SPGB was no different in that regard, and it was usually the case that the May Socialist Standard would be the issue in any particular year where the print run for the Standard that month was at its highest, and it was expected that the May issue would quickly sell out (no jokes at the back, please!).
I'd love to be able to provide a full list of Socialist Standard May Day articles from its exhaustive history but, as I stated at the beginning of this ramble, this idea sadly came too late for May 2020. However, it will be something I will be working on in the coming month(s) and, who knows?, short of the final breakdown of civil society à la Cormac McCarthy's The Road or *cough* a Socialist Revolution (are you still laughing at the back?) there should be a definitive list for May 2021.
In the meantime, linked to below is the Socialist Standard May Day messages for the period from 1904 to 1918. If you read them in sequence, you will note that the initial enthusiasm and hope for Socialist Revolution just over the horizon is gradually seeping away in May Day messages even in the SPGB's early years of its history. That's fine as far as I am concerned. Why pretend? Why kid your readers on with fake boosterism about how it's all about one final push, and we'll at last have possession of the bakery? The SPGB was quickly aware that the writing was on the wall for the Second International pre it's final capitulation in 1914, and it's to its credit that it didn't try to sweeten that pill.
As you will note from below, not all May Socialist Standards from this period carried a May Day message within its pages. I guess I'm especially surprised that one is absent from the very first May Socialist Standard (1905) but, in mitigation, I would point out that a big portion of that issue was given over to reporting the SPGB's first Annual Conference. It was initially surprising to discover that there were no explicit May Day messages from the war years but it maybe reflected the mood of both the Party and the country at large. For Socialists, the wider Labour Movement had failed a major test of principle in 1914, and perhaps it was not felt that a May Day message would carry the same weight as it would in 'normal' times.
For this reader, the May Day message from the 1912 issue is especially powerful, and I would hazard a guess that its unnamed author was A. E. Jacomb. He just had a certain style and tone of authorial voice that set him apart from other Socialist Standard writers during this period.
It was not all doom and gloom for that period. May Day carried a double significance for Socialists; it was also considered the semi-official opening day for when Outdoor Speaking would kick in again at full throttle. The more clement weather meant that once again there were SPGB speakers all over London and its environs, putting forward the socialist message at speaking pitches on street corners' and in public parks. We sometimes forget that for the early decades of the SPGB the outdoor meeting carried so much more weight and significance for popularizing and propagandizing socialism. Sadly, that lost history is not always captured in the pages of the Socialist Standard or in the SPGB's pamphlets.
If I've missed any Socialist Standard May Day messages from this period, please let me know in the comments section.
Happy May Day! Happy International Workers' Day!