Archive for May, 2003

Dead Socialist Watch, #30

May 4th, 2003

There is an unlikely coupling today of children’s author and Fabian socialist Edith Nesbit (b. 15 August 1858, d. 4 May 1924) together with the father of socialist Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito (b. 7 May 1907, d. 4 May 1980).

They probably never met.

Dead Socialist Watch, #29

May 3rd, 2003

Barbara Castle, one year ago today, aged ninety one.

Sex Toy Ban Upheld

May 3rd, 2003

The Associated Press:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Sex toys are still illegal in Alabama, at least as far as the Alabama legislature is concerned. Legislators voted 37-28 against a bill Tuesday that would have removed a ban on sexual devices, such as vibrators, from the state’s obscenity law.

The ban on sexual devices was added at the last minute when the obscenity law passed the legislature in 1998.

A federal judge in Birmingham has twice ruled that the ban is unconstitutional. The first ruling was overturned by the 11th circuit court of appeals and the second ruling has been appealed.

The sponsor of the bill, Representative John Rogers (D–Birmingham) said because of the court ruling, the obscenity law is unenforceable as long as it contains the ban on sex toys.

“All this does is make our obscenity law unconstitutional,” Rogers said.

(via LBO-Talk)

Not May Day-Related At All

May 1st, 2003

This isn’t May Day-related at all, since it refers to things which were all published before today.

Dan Savage is particularly interesting this week on the subject: try here for the regular column and here for the 8,000 words of supporting documentation.

While on the subject of things on The Onion‘s site, do go and read “CIA: Syria Harboring More Than 15 Million Known Arabs and — even better — “Ashcroft Rejected By Newly Created ‘Bride of Ashcroft’“.

More May Day…

May 1st, 2003

And, still on the subject of May Day, Patchen told me this time two years ago about the very odd May Day commemoration on the University of Chicago’s campus. He wrote [1.5.2201]:

In front of our building [Pick Hall: which used to house the Economics Department] is a lovely abstract sculpture which, at precisely noon on May 1st each year, casts the shadow of a hammer and sickle on the ground in front of the building. As if that weren’t enough, large crowds of students — including anti-communist demonstrators carrying full-sized American flags — gather at noon at the sculpture, to protest its shadow, I suppose.

This is one counter-revolutionary May Day celebration. I think that the Morris Dancers here in Oxford may be another.

More May Day…

May 1st, 2003

And, while on the subject of May Day, take the Guardian‘s May Day Quiz. I scored seven, getting the answer to the first question wrong. (A couple of my right answers were intelligent guesses, though). (Via Dave, who is embarrassed only to have scored six).

May Day Greetings to the workers of the world!

May 1st, 2003

One of the things people do when annual festivities come inexorably around is to retell the stories about why we celebrate what we celebrate. Christians retell the Christmas and Easter narratives; Americans have some odd stories accompanying their Thanksgiving holiday, and it’s good for leftists likewise to re-narrate the story of May Day every year, to continue to reclaim the holiday from the Soviet bloc states’ celebrations of Stalinist power and remember the origins of the May Day hoiday as a mass international movement from below which very suddenly transformed this particular bit of the (Gregorian) Calendar. It’s particularly appropriate to do this this year, the year of the 15 February expression of worldwide wrath against American aggression in the Middle East.

The ever-informative, ever-entertaining Daily Bleed has a good presentation of the American side of the May Day story.

Hundreds of thousands of American workers, increasingly determined to resist subjugation to capitalist power, poured into a fledgling labor organization, the Knights of Labor. Beginning on May 1, 1886, they took to the streets to demand universal adoption of the 8-hour day. Chicago was the center of the movement. Workers there had been agitating for an 8-hour day for months, & on the eve of May 1, 50,000 were already on strike. 30,000 more swelled their ranks the next day, bringing most of Chicago manufacturing to a standstill.

Fears of violent class conflict gripped the city. No violence occurred on May 1 � a Saturday � or May 2. But on Monday, May 3, a fight involving hundreds broke out at McCormick Reaper between locked-out unionists & non-unionist workers McCormick hired to replace them. The Chicago police, swollen in number & heavily armed, quickly moved in with clubs & guns to restore order. They left four unionists dead &many others wounded.

Angered by the deadly force of the police, a group of anarchists, led by August Spies & Albert Parsons, called on workers to arm themselves & participate in a massive protest demonstration in Haymarket Square on Tuesday evening, May 4. The demonstration appeared to be a complete bust, with only 3,000 assembling. But near the end of the evening, an individual, whose identity is still in dispute (possibly a police agent provocateur), threw a bomb that killed seven police & injured 67 others.

Hysterical city & state government officials rounded up eight anarchists, tried them for murder, & sentenced them to death.

On 11 November 1887, four, including Parsons & Spies, were executed. All of the executed advocated armed struggle & violence as revolutionary methods, but their prosecutors found no evidence that any had actually thrown the Haymarket bomb. They died for their words � not their deeds.

250,000 people lined Chicago’s street during Parson’s funeral procession to express their outrage at this gross miscarriage of justice.

For radicals & trade unionists everywhere, Haymarket became a symbol of the stark inequality & injustice of capitalist society. The May 1886 Chicago events figured prominently in the decision of the founding congress of the Second International (Paris, 1889) to make May 1, 1890 a demonstration of the solidarity & power of the international working class movement. May Day has been a celebration ever since.

This is the traditional story of the American events — which prompts, as ever, the traditional observation that it is a comic irony of history that the USA is one of the only countries which does not celebrate May Day, preferring to celebrate its own “Labor Day” in September. (Perhaps we will be able to talk of an “international community” when America finally does fall into line with the rest of the world and learns to give May Day its due).We turn to Eric Hobsbawm for a useful presentation of the European end of the story, which he gave in the first annual Bindoff Lecture, “Birth of a Holiday: The First of May”, delivered at the College formerly known as Queen Mary and Westfield, 3 May 1990.

To summarise his account: May Day was not so much an invented tradition, as the popular eruption of a new tradition: in July 1889, during the centenary year of the Great French Revolution, representatives of European workers’ parties gathered in Paris for the founding congress of the Second International. That congress resolved that rest of the world’s socialists should join in with the American protests on 1 May 1890, again lobbying for an eight-hour day. This was intended as a one-off expression of the international reach of the workers’ movement, and on the day itself thee were widespread demonstrations and festivals across Europe: 300,000 workers in London converged on Hyde Park.

The enthusiasm from below which these rallies generated led to the demands for repeat performances the following year, and to the rapid institutionalisation of May Day as an annual event, with the Brussels congress of the International in 1891 committing the movement to a regular May Day celebration, insisting that the demonstration take place on the first of the month (rather than at the nearest weekend, and so on), in order to emphasise “its true character as an economic demand for the eight hour day and an assertion of class struggle”. The rest, as they say, is history.

(An often interesting history to be sure: the Bolshevik regime was unsurprisingly the first regime to mark the day as a public holiday; and by the 1930s the symbolism of May Day was sufficiently intense that the Nazis became the second. All this, and more, in Hobsbawm. I think it’s still true to say that it’s the holiday that is celebrated in more countries around the world than any other, whether or not you count the UK May Day Bank Holiday, which is always on the following Monday…)

It is a quite splendid festival, and one which I always enjoy, whether or not I end up going on anyone’s march. (Not this year, although the Oxford trade unions did rally in Bonn Square earlier in the day). Happy May Day, everybody!

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