This year the workers across the planet will commemorate May Day in one of the most turbulent and traumatic periods in history. The world is ravaged by wars, terrorism, bloodshed, economic catastrophe and unprecedented poverty, misery, disease and destitution. The vast majority of the human race has been plunged into the abyss of deprivation, hunger and agonising suffering.
After the failure of the Keynesian model in the 1980s, free market enterprise or the “trickle down” economy has led to the biggest financial crash in the history of capitalism. And the exploitation and drudgery of the working classes has worsened horrendously. The gains of the workers through immense struggles of the last fifty years are being drastically slashed even in the advanced capitalist countries.
A new norm has been established. Already the relations between labour and capital had deteriorated with the policies of privatisation, downsizing, liberalisation, restructuring and contract labour. Redundancies and layoffs have become a regular feature of modern capitalism. Social services and the benefits of the workers have been viciously cut through draconian austerity measures throughout the capitalist world.
Even during the recession when the workers had to bear the brunt of the financial meltdown, the bankers, capitalists and the bosses of the multinational corporations plundered on and enriched themselves to obscene levels. The gap between the ruling elites and the toiling masses has widened to unprecedented levels.
In the largest capitalist country of the world, the USA one percent of the richest households now own more wealth than the 95% of the rest of the population. The same story is repeated throughout the world. The situation in countries like China and India is even worse. Out of the 16 members of the standing committee of the Politbureau of the Communist Party of China (which is neither communist nor a party), 12 are billionaires. India has 20 percent of world’s population yet hosts about 40 percent of world’s poverty and yet now there are more billionaires in India than in Japan. The highest amounts of plundered money stashed away in Swiss banks belong to Indian capitalists, reportedly 14.7 trillion dollars.
This looting and plundering by the bourgeoisie has ushered in a malaise within society on a world scale. In his latest book, “Reformism and revolution”, the renowned Marxist theoretician, Alan Woods gives a graphic description of this decline. He writes, “The crisis of the capitalist system is reflected in a crisis of bourgeois values, morality, religion, politics and philosophy. The mood of pessimism that afflicts the bourgeoisie and its ideologues in this period is manifested in the poverty of its thought, the triviality of its art and the emptiness of its spiritual values. It is expressed in the wretched philosophy of post modernism, which imagines itself to be superior to all previous philosophy, when in reality it is vastly inferior.... They talk of the end of ideology and the end of history in the same breath. They do not believe in progress because the bourgeoisie has long since ceased to be progressive. When they talk of the end of history it is because they have ended in an historical dead-end and can see no way out. When they talk of the end of ideology it is because they are no longer capable of producing one”.
However, after a relatively long period, a new wave of class struggle is emerging. After the movements of the oppressed in Latin America and the youth and workers’ movements in Europe, the Arab revolution has shaken the planet.
In the context of these stirrings of the working class May Day 2011 attains an extraordinary significance. Every year May Day is commemorated in memory of those workers demanding an eight hour day that were brutally shot and killed by the police in the American city of Chicago on 1st of May 1886. The decision to commemorate it as a labour day was taken at the congress of the Second International in July 1889 held in Paris. The leading figure in the meeting of this international was Fredrick Engels who along with Marx was the founder of scientific socialism and co-author of the epic work “The Communist Manifesto”.
The unique feature of May Day is that it is perhaps the only anniversary that is commemorated all over the world. It cuts across the prejudices of race, colour, creed, religion, nationality, ethnicity and caste, which are used by the ruling classes to drive a wedge in the unity of the proletariat. Hence the real message of May Day is that of proletarian internationalism. It is also the reaffirmation of the pledge for unity in struggle on a class basis against this system of exploitation and plunder. The ultimate victory of this struggle can only be achieved by the overthrow of capitalism through a socialist revolution. Anything else attributed to this day is a deceit and distraction for the workers. In the present epoch the crisis of capitalism offers no progress or prosperity to the human race. Rather, with every passing day it is intensifying exploitation, coercion, death and destruction for the masses. The spectre of barbarism haunts society shackled by this decaying and moribund system.
Reforms under capitalism are a thing of the past. Hence reformism or narrow trade unionism cannot offer any way out of this misery. Most of capitalist investment today, if any, is not labour intensive in character, but it is capital intensive. This means that it will create more unemployment rather than generating any new jobs. All the technological advances enhance exploitation rather than alleviating the plight of the workers. Capitalism cannot cope with the spirit of the new technology to which it has given rise. This has torn through the national boundaries of the bourgeois state. In the present epoch we live not only in a world economy, but most social and political relations have also been moulded by this crushing domination of the world market. That explains why no proletarian revolution can survive on a national basis for long. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the capitalist degeneration of the Chinese bureaucracy are glaring examples of this. But the masses around the world are yearning for change, for a transformation of this agonising socio-economic system. A successful socialist uprising in one country would unleash a revolutionary wave that this obsolete system and its bosses would not be able to stop. That is the real message of hope for the oppressed and the essence of Marxist internationalism that May Day espouses.