Two May Days
First Published: Pravda May 1, 1918
Source: International Socialist Library No. 15, Revolutionary Essays by Bela Kun, B.S.P., London.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive
One is the First of May of the victorious proletariat, already organised as the ruling class. It is the holiday of the proletariat which is being attacked on all sides by world-capitalism, which sees in it the greater danger. . . . But this holiday already celebrates a victory over the Russian capitalist class, and heralds the final victory over the capitalists of the whole world. Of the propertied classes we make no demand but this: to disappear, and as quickly as possible; but we make this First of May demand of Imperialism the world over.
Such is the First of May in every corner of the Russian Federal Soviet Republic — the First of May of the proletariat which has attained dictatorship.
Miserable slaves, groaning under the scourge: wretched beings, threatened by the sword and the rod: proletarians living in constant deadly fear, seeing nothing before them but the Imperialist slaughter — such is the First of May of the proletariat of other countries. . . . They are celebrating the international holiday of proletarian solidarity in the trenches and dugouts, like primitive men, who lived in caverns.
This picture is supplemented by another, serving as a background for the first. The First of May of the workers, employed in different branches of war work, enslaved, living under the threat of the lash and the knife of the capitalist class.
With their own hands they are turning out the weapons of murder and destruction, the weapons of their own oppression. Crushed by military and police oppression, drunk with the intoxicating flattery of their own traitor-leaders, overwhelmed by want and remorse for their treachery, they begin to revolt: for they are the forerunners of revolution.
There are two May Days: one the holiday of the proletariat which has never abandoned its thoughts of the revolution, the other the holiday of the workers who have renounced the revolutionary methods of the proletarian movement.
The seeds of these two kinds of May Day were sown as far back as 1889. At Paris there were sitting in reality two international congresses at the time when the First of May became an international holiday. One of these parallel congresses was even then composed of the opportunist working-class leaders, whose lower middle-class minds were never able to understand the revolution, who could never clearly picture to themselves the final liberation of the proletariat from the yoke of the capitalist class. The leaders of this congress were the French Possibilists and Hyndman, who, in the end, became the servant of English Imperialism. The other congress was sitting under the spiritual guidance of Frederick Engels, then still alive. This was a different kind of Labour Congress, which in effect began the international May Day holiday, as the first, if still a weak, attempt at proletarian mass action.
The two congresses united; and the spirit of Engels, uniting with that of the first congress, in consequence, underwent a process of gradual corruption.
Two May Days were created. On the one hand, meaningless demonstrations: on the other, demonstrations with a new meaning, calling for a revolutionary struggle against militarism in addition to the old struggle for an eight-hour working day.
The spiritual heirs of the international congress of Possibilists and Hyndmans intended not only to distort the meaning of May Day, but even to bring about its disappearance. The Legiens and Bernsteins of various countries — the Trade Union bureaucrats and the revisionists — sought to efface the very memory of revolutionary tendencies in the Labour movement. And when the trustified unions of Imperialist enterprises began to use the anti-militarist May Day demonstrations as a pretext for dismissing the demonstrating workers, the official “leaders” of the working-class began trying to adapt both themselves and the Labour movement to the Nationalist requirements of Imperialism — thereby condemning the First of May to extinction.
The two May Day holidays which are celebrated at the present time arose out of the two sides oaf the Labour movement described above. One has resulted in the solemn celebration of the victorious revolution by the Russian proletariat; the other has brought only the trenches, the holiday of a proletariat collapsing under the police lash.
To-day’s May Day is throwing light upon the shattered Labour movement. The old International, the first act of which was the introduction of this international holiday, has fallen asunder. In all the countries of the Imperialist world there has appeared a differentiation between the revolutionary proletariat and the social-traitors. The powerful working-class organisations have split: on one side, the revolutionaries; on the other, the men who desire to remain slaves.
This cleft in the Labour movement is a pledge of the re-establishment of international unity. The falsifiers of Marxism, who have distorted the “Communist Manifesto” to allege that the history of social progress is the history of the class struggle except during periods of war, have not only become generals without an army, but have ceased to be leaders altogether. They are nothing but charlatans, supported by the capitalist class, and animated by the intention of blinding the workers. But the stupor of the working-class is coming to an end. The salvation of the Russian proletarian revolution will come under the blows of international Imperialism.
The International being born at to-day’s First of May holiday will, in virtue of its very essence, be neither the instrument of capitalist peace nor the weapon of capitalist war — despite Kautsky’s deception of himself and of the masses. This International will itself be a new war — an international civil war; it will be the further guide and support of the Russian Socialist revolution.
We can understand impatience in expecting the international revolution. Revolutionary Russia has already done such a great deal towards the liberation of the workers of all countries, towards the international revolution, that the workers of the world will never be able to give it all the thanks that are due. But any admission of pessimism on the part of the proletariat of revolutionary Russia would be treachery after the manner of the western European Labour leaders.
May each of these First of May holidays serve as a living symbol! One of them — the holiday of the Russian workers — the victorious May Day — serves as a symbol or example of the beginning of the reign of Socialism.
The Western proletariat will not be able to evade its historical destiny: it must become revolutionary.
The May Day of 1918 will be the last of the series of dual First of May celebrations. It will be followed by the true May celebrations of the victorious, ruling proletarian class.
This May Day is not only a symbol, but a signal. It is the symbol of the existence of the International, the signal for the world-revolution.