We are publishing original material by Leon Trotsky on the origins and history of May Day. Be sure to register for the International May Day 2015.
To working men and women of all countries
ANOTHER year has passed and in not a single country in the whole world apart from Russia can the working class boast of victory. The capitalists of every country are rejoicing. They feel more sure of themselves than they did last year and behave as though convinced of their final triumph. “Yet another year has passed by and we have still not shaken off our yoke” – say the workers.
A year has passed during which the helm still remains in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Over this period the bourgeoisie could have shown what it was capable of creating. The world more than at any other time previously resembles a smoking ruin. In the defeated capitalist countries — in Germany, Austria and Hungary — poverty has surged. These countries are increasingly becoming the victims of the international predators who buy up the last meagre belongings of the defeated with cheap foreign currency. The local exploiters thereby do some good business while the want of the working masses grows daily. High prices have long since exceeded wages, and despite the shops being crammed with goods, millions of people do not know how to feed their children or to cover their nakedness.
Any day there can come a moment when workers will no longer be willing to put up with the suffering and torment that moribund capitalism dooms them to.
What then is the situation in the victor countries? Four million out of work in America and two million in Britain. In France economic chaos is growing. In Britain, the most triumphant country in the world, one strike wave follows close on another. Lloyd George is forced to gather together entire hordes which will have lead and iron at the ready for the striking coal-miners should the latter bring out the railwaymen and transport workers on strike. The mobs of tyrants of the Paris, London and New York stock exchanges thought that they would be able to turn the population of half the world into beggars and continue calmly to hold sway. They have made a mistake. Beggars cannot spend money; but then neither can Armstrong, Vickers, Schneider-Creusot nor the Bethlehem Steel Corporation grow fat on the products of their industry. More than two and a half years have passed and world capital has proved incapable of organizing the world economy. On the contrary the only thing it has known how to do is to add new contradictions to the old ones. Foch crosses the Rhine in order to grab the German bourgeoisie by the scruff of the neck and fleece its pockets under the guise of compensation for crimes during the war for which Entente capital feels itself as innocent as a new-born babe. The consequences of the world war are not yet liquidated and yet a new war is being prepared. With growing disquiet and distrust the British bourgeoisie follows the naval armament program of the United States of America. Against whom are they arming themselves? Against Britain or against Japan? Britain and Japan for their part are getting ready too. The wild beast of world war is preparing for a new leap; it is baring its claws and stretching out its paws towards fresh proletarian prey. If the world proletariat does not brace itself, if it does not seize capitalism by the throat, then it will not only go to meet its ruin and enslavement but it will also have to be convinced that it will once again be dragged to the battlefield and forced to shed blood in the interests of world capital. The traitors to the working class, the Scheidemanns, Renaudels and the Hendersons again make the discovery that it is a question of the “defence of the fatherland and democracy”. Only recently Vandervelde, the leader of the Second International and a minister of the crown of Belgium, cynically and openly gave his consent for France to dispatch Senegalese troops across the Rhine against the blood-drenched German people. Meanwhile the heroes of the Two-and-a-Half International are again finding opportunities to discuss what “special conditions” of each country make the betrayal of the proletariat explicable and how and why the proletariat must save its gunpowder for better times rather than hurl a bomb at the heart of dying capitalism.
But the question is not posed in the way that capitalists and social-democrats think. The world proletariat is not defeated, the world revolution goes forward. Its advance, consisting if only in the fact that capitalism shows itself increasingly incapable of assuring the proletariat even an orderly life of slavery, also consists in the fact that yet broader, stronger and more conscious masses are gathering under the banner of the Third International. Precisely because the bourgeoisie proves in practice its incapacity to order the world, yet more new masses press forward along the road of revolution and more firmly close their ranks. Soviet Russia, the haven of revolution, does not let world reaction conquer it. Britain, the stronghold of counter-revolution, has been obliged to conclude a trade agreement with the “Moscow robbers and plunderers”. And though seven years of war have seriously weakened Russia, though the want of the proletarian masses is great in Russia too, their vanguard stands loyally under the banner of the Soviet government and from the wavering and weary masses it is able to mobilize new fighters. This vanguard is doing everything that its heroic organization is capable of to destroy the new weapon of the counterrevolution – the weariness of the Russian people. The White Terror reigning in Spain and Serbia proves how unsure of themselves the local masters feel.
The increase in unemployment, the growing brazenness of counter-revolution, and the danger of new wars will not permit the revolutionary stirrings of the toiling masses to cease.
In Italy the bourgeoisie, by unleashing fascist bands, is sowing a storm. The German Orgesch serves as a perpetual reminder to the German workers: “Arm yourselves! Don’t lose heart from your defeat! Strike if you don’t wish to be struck!” In Poland 7,000 communists are sitting behind bars but strike follows strike: this shows that there will be no calm until a bridge is thrown across from revolutionary Russia to revolutionary Germany. In France, the land drunk with victory, the land of nationalist inebriation, hundreds of thousands of workers have become familiar with communism. No amount of persecution will stop the triumphal march of communist ideas in the country where the idea was not only born but has been sanctified with the blood of the victims of July and the martyrs of the Paris Commune. The Communist International is preparing for its Third Congress. This congress will not be concerned with the melancholic contemplation of the successes of world reaction as the leaders of the Two-and-a-Half International, the Adlers, the Bauers, the Longuets, the Dittmanns, the Hilferdings and the Wallheads were in Vienna, but will be devoted to the steeling of the weapon and to the destruction of all those elements who are seeking to blunt that weapon.
No softening of our attacks, but an offensive by broad columns along a still broader front: that is the slogan with which we appeal to you on May Day. It is vital everywhere to place ourselves at the head of the masses outside the party in their struggle to better their condition. In the course of this struggle the working masses will come to see how the reformists and centrists are daily deceiving them. They will see that the Scheidemanns and the Hilferdings, the Turatis and the D’Aragonas, the Renaudels and the Longuets, the Hendersons and the MacDonalds do not wish to, and are incapable of fighting either for the dictatorship of the proletariat or even for a crumb of stale bread for the workers. The workers will recognize that the communists are not splitting the proletariat but represent its unifiers in the fight for a better future. They will recognize that the capitalists cannot, nor wish to, allow the workers even what the peasant allows his horse: sufficient rest and an adequate amount of bread, the necessary to recover strength for more work. In this way the desire of workers to overthrow capitalism and to smash its power will grow every day. Any day there can come a moment when workers will no longer be willing to put up with the suffering and torment that moribund capitalism dooms them to.
Any day there can come a moment when the brave assault movement of the communist vanguard will carry with it the broad masses of the working class and when the struggle for the conquest of power will become the task of the hour. The Communist International calls on you for the maximum concentration of forces, and for the greatest unity and readiness for battle. We are moving not towards a period of slow agitational and propaganda work but a period of ever sharpening mass revolutionary battles. The increase in unemployment, the growing brazenness of counter-revolution, and the danger of new wars will not permit the revolutionary stirrings of the toiling masses to cease. The task of communists in every country is to be their strike battalion, to be that cadre which unites them in struggle. The function of our blood-soaked banner consists not in being the symbol of a future struggle standing ahead of us in the distance but in going forward to great revolutionary conflicts today and tomorrow.
On May Day we wish to show our readiness to do battle with the world bourgeoisie.
On May Day we shall hoist our red banner on the factories and works; we shall carry it forward in mass demonstrations so that its inscription will radiate far and wide proclaiming to the oppressed proletarian masses:
“Close your ranks, all oppressed and tormented, all those exploited and under attack!
“Down with the open and the secret servants of the bourgeoisie!
“Long live the Communist International, the red army of the world revolution!
“Down with the capitalist state, down with the bourgeoisie!
“Long live Soviet Russia, the stronghold of the world revolution!
“Long live the world revolution and the international union of proletarian Soviet Republics!”
The Executive Committee of the Communist International
Pravda, No.86, April 21, 1921