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Mary Bell

May Day Perverted into M-Day
by Both War Camps

(15 May 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 20, 15 May 1950, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

May Day, 1950, aside from the celebrations of small independent socialist and labor groups, was nowhere – not in Moscow, Belgrade, Berlin, Tel Aviv or New York – a genuine workers’ holiday where the banner of class solidarity and internationalism was hoisted high.

May Day, as a traditional militant working-class day of celebration, has been debased. It has been to a large extent snatched out of the hands of the workers by the power blocs of imperialism and made another instrument in the cold war.

Every official May Day demonstration in virtually every country was bisected by the sharp edge of the East-West struggle for domination. Every one of these May Day celebrations or parades pledged allegiance in one form or another to some official flag – not to the red flag of working-class independence.

It is difficult to judge which travesty was more supreme, the “Loyalty Day” parades organized in this country by the anti-labor reactionaries and supported by the conservative labor leadership here, or the Moscow demonstration of new Russian jets in the air show which Stalin reviewed atop Lenin’s tomb.

The crowning atrocity in the New York “loyalty” parade was the marching of the Cossack representatives of the Russian “anti-Communist center.” The rest of this highly unsuccessful parade – unsuccessful from the standpoint of marchers and witnesses – consisted appropriately of Boy Scouts, youthful and adult.

It would be difficult to characterize adequately the May Day antics of the two ex-CPers, Ben Gitlow (former CP general secretary) and Joseph Zack Kornfelder. Under the auspices of the local American Legion, these two renegades from the working class organized and staged a mock “overthrow” of the town of Mosinee, Wis., alerting the 1,400 citizens to the &ldquotthreat” in their midst. The patriotic festivities wound up with an exhortation on Americanism by the Legion head and the congratulations of the mayor, who was also a foreman in the mill which dominates the town.

The Stalinist May Day parade in New York was an eerie spectacle. Down again this year to about 14,000 (last year 20,000), it consisted of the die-hard stalwarts, those who were willing to risk being photographed by the FBI along the road of march. There were sizable fractions from the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the perennial Fur Workers’ delegation, the Artists and Writers, “mothers’” groups, etc. The slogans on the placards were mostly militant, not blatantly pro-Russian. The marchers had courage and the 1,200 cops were tough. Yet all marched in the belief, some naively, some cynically, that Russia is socialism, and that’s what they’re striving for.

Perverted to M-Day

Berlin’s May Day turned out half a million in the Eastern sector and another half million in the West. For the Stalinists, it was a dress rehearsal for the Whitsuntide demonstration to take place May 28 which threatens to overrun Western Germany; for the anti-Stalinists, it was a counter-rehearsal, policed by thousands of occupation soldiers, with an eye to checking the scheduled CP demonstration.

In Yugoslavia, the haven of national-Stalinists and totalitarian liberals, the banners of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin were replaced with Marx, Engels, Lenin and Tito. Of the Stalinist sphere, if not in it, Tito issued his manifesto calling for a return to the traditions of “Leninism” – that is, appealing to all anti-Moscow Stalinists. Quick as a reflex, putting a proper period to the ignominies of May Day. the self-styled “orthodox Trotskyists” of the Socialist Workers Party cabled their felicitation to Tito.

It is clear that the spirit of the young American Federation of Labor of the Nineties, which initiated May Day in the struggle for the eight-hour day and the heroes of the Haymarket riot who were martyred fighting in labor’s cause, is alien to the official May Day of this period and the labor officialdom as well. This new May Day is more of an M-Day, a mobilization for war, and is a mockery of even the pagan May Day, a spring festival which now survives in the maypole ceremonies of children. Better that May Day be left to children, dancing with maypole ribbons, than be perverted to the uses of atomic warfare.

The Labor May Day is as encased in a spore, a dry seed that will only flower with a new, vigorous and widespread socialist movement.

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