Rare indeed are the times when members of the radical left – that disheveled mass of ideological zealots, utopian reformists, militant radicals and everything beyond and between – are afforded the opportunity to simply celebrate their alliance with the revolutionary resistance and the various victories its known throughout the course of its history in this most capitalist of nations. But May Day, also known around the world as International Worker’s Day, is just such an occasion – an opportunity to take pride in our upstream breaststroke, to hold hands beneath the red flag and proclaim for one day that our movement persists and the revolutionaries which now carry it upon their shoulders are more fearless and furious than those who came before and more willing than ever to push for radical change wherever it might be fomented. In the face of fascist hordes, we have stood our ground courageously and defended our brothers and sisters in locales from one sea to the next; beneath the gaze of an intrusive, corrupt and misanthropic administration, we have proclaimed with fists raised that we will fight every attempt to further belittle the suffering masses of this nation. Just as the founders of our movement did so many years ago, we live each day as an act of defiance and beg the opposition to attempt to undermine the humanity and decency of our movement and our ideals.
The history of the socialist labor movement in this nation is no secret to those who currently make up the ranks of its modern apparatus – the eight-hour work day, the weekend, child labor laws, health and safety standards and more were all hard-fought battles won by those within the radical movements of the early 20th Century – nor are the attempts made by the United States government to undermine our international holiday in an effort to diminish the contributions hundreds bled and died for to provide the American working class with some sort of decency and welfare. Thus, there is little need to traverse these grounds – undoubtedly, other writers will do so. More than the history of the day, or the battles which brought it before the international proletariat, I am focused on the very real opportunity that we have to use this day as a way of uniting our working-class brothers and sisters and establishing a community where before one scarcely existed.
Across the country, May Day will certainly feature some of its trademark activities – radicals shouting through bullhorns beneath red banners on the importance of the worker’s movement and the need for solidarity; protests and demonstrations calling for higher pay, safer workplaces, better benefits and other such demands; small contingents crowded behind tables handing out literature and stickers – and, to be sure, none of these should be abandoned or criticized. May Day is very much about educating the public to the continuing struggles of the working class. However, just as the socialist movement and the working class have changed over the course of history, so too must our strategies and tactics.
Here in Alabama, where the sun will inevitably be blistering our skin by May, we use this socialist holiday as an opportunity to bring the community together in a state of fellowship and camaraderie – while this event will be hosted by the Socialist Party of Central Alabama, members of nearby chapters of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) will be in attendance to simply celebrate our comradely efforts in the struggle against oppression; members of local activist groups, focused on women’s issues or LGBTQ issues or any number of other issues, will be afforded the opportunity to educate those in attendance on their efforts and find ways that the community and the socialist resistance can support these efforts in the community; families will be in attendance, with children getting their first taste of activism and radicalism – some will be politically motivated while others will simply be happy to have some place to go with their children on a Friday evening. We’ll be raffling off books and albums and art work and museum tickets, we’ll be providing barbecue plates and live music, we’ll be collecting canned goods and other donations – acts of this nature are as revolutionary as any other, for, at their root, they are designed to create unity and harmony where before there was disorder and dissonance.
Last year’s event, hosted in much the same nature, only reinforced our local cadre’s support for an action of this nature. People came from all over the state and mingled as brothers and sisters while music played and speakers discussed our movement and its ideals; they learned about organizations making a difference daily in the lives of people with needs of various kinds; they celebrated winning a radical book or a local record and dispersed with full bellies and contented hearts. Though we were made aware ahead of time that the local police were remaining vigilant of our activities, we went into the day with no fear and, when the police did show up, we invited them to stay and listen – they did just that and took along literature after speaking with comrades about our ideas and vision.
While many of our acts as revolutionaries are specifically designed to agitate systems of authority, it is important that we not overlook the very radical notion of unity in the face of divisive climates. Certainly, we want for the population at large to know that we oppose the capitalist system in all of its incarnations, we want our comrades to be recognized as opponents of an oppressive and corrupt system which exploits and demeans those which contribute the most to it, but more than that we want for the people to recognize that they have a home within our ranks and are welcomed despite their level of political education, economic position or any other such inconsequential marker. Further, we want for them to recognize that we are the vehicle by which they will be transported to liberation and that their support is paramount to our success and theirs. For, if we are the vehicle, then the suffering classes are most surely the driver.
Such actions may bore the more militant among our ranks, those who believe agitation to be the only method for effectively combatting the enemies of the people, but in order for actions of agitation to be successful they must first have the wide support of the people – without that, we are little more than an angry contingent shouting down a deaf opponent. It is by masses of people that our battles will be won, and those masses of people must be won over to our cause before we can purport to serve them or have their interests at heart. Certainly, I can speak to the worries and troubles of the working class as I suffer those worries and troubles, but I cannot speak to the worries and troubles of minority workers, of women workers, of LGBTQ workers – for that, we have to have the voices of those minority workers, those women workers and those LGBTQ workers among our chorus. They will not, nor will anyone else, be won to our side simply by seeing our displays of disdain. We must be competent at offering them something the capitalist political parties cannot – a revolutionary family, within which each is responsible for the other and determined to see the uplifting of all. Obviously, this is a grand way to describe a simple community cook-out, but simultaneously it is precisely what these types of community events are meant to be, and most certainly can be, when held in attentive and careful hands.
One must acknowledge that such a simple and pleasant effort is a far stretch from the May Day rallies of epochs past – in the Latin America of the 1950’s, where the blood of campesinos still stained the urban corner or rural farm, May Day demonstrations were an opportunity for workers to show their might and allay any assertion that among their ranks were weak links; around the turn of the century, the May Day rallies in the United States, and countless other locales across the globe, took on much the same timbre. But a stark difference haunts the modern movement, and it is a hurdle which must be jumped if we hope to regain the steam which propelled earlier movements – imperialist and capitalist propaganda, spewing forth across any number of nations today as it has for decades uncounted, has crippled the modern socialist movement. The people are the bricks in our revolutionary fortress – if we hope to see that fortress restored to its former glory, surely we must venture to the brickyard. And if the modern brickyard is non-conducive to our efforts – a Friday night concert, a Monday morning coffee break, a Wednesday evening book club – then we must create one wherever and however we find the opportunity. Surely, no better opportunity exists than a May Day celebration.
If we want for the people to know of our disdain for the current system, our celebration of May Day is all that is needed – the holiday has been stricken from the United States lexicon specifically because it is a day to celebrate revolution and resistance, so to simply recognize the day is an act of dissent. If we want for the people to know that we stand on the side of the down-trodden, stand for their liberation and uplifting, we need only feed their bellies, their souls and their minds. If we want for people to learn of our ideals and motivations, surely a conversation with a comrade is more effective than any speech or scrap of literature we could hurl in their direction. My May Day celebration may not be the militant force of agitation which inspires so many, but it is the medicine which is needed for the diseases which continue to incapacitate our movement – we need bodies and voices, ideas and actions. We need the people – let us use this May Day, and as many as it takes hereafter, to prove to them that we are indeed here for them and want nothing more than for them to join us in our effort to improve the lot of every sufferer of this land and those across the whole of the Earth.
Adam Powell is a lifelong resident of Montgomery, Alabama, joined SPUSA in November of 2016 and was a founding member of the party’s first chapter in the state, the Socialist Party of Central Alabama (SPCA). Powell graduated from Troy University with a degree in Print Journalism and Creative Writing in 2005 and since then has worked for newspapers and online news sources all across the state and nation. He also teaches classical guitar and music theory and performs throughout the Southeast. He is married to Sara Powell and they have two children, Fionola and Kieran.