Source: Yakov Guminer, Public domain

On May Day 1890, at the call of the Second International—an International founded by one of the fathers of Marxism, Engels himself—thousands of workers took to the streets. 

On that day, 100,000 demonstrated in Barcelona, 120,000 in Stockholm, 8,000 in Warsaw, and thousands staged stay-at-home strikes in Austria and Hungary where demonstrations were banned. Strikes spread throughout Italy and France. Such was May Day in its early days. As Engels said at the time, “Today’s spectacle will open the eyes of the capitalists and landlords of all countries to the fact that today the proletarians of all countries are united indeed.”

But these traditions have largely been lost. As we live through the worst crisis of capitalism ever seen, the labour leaders are asleep at the wheel. As Communists, we do not accept this. This is why we are founding the RCP and the Revolutionary Communist International in the coming weeks. We are fighting to revive the fighting traditions of the labour movement embodied in May Day. 

Our May issue of Communist Revolution devotes a great deal of space to international issues, at a time when the Middle East is a powder keg on the verge of exploding. At the time of writing, mass graves have been discovered in Gaza. A student campus occupation movement has exploded in the United States and is now spreading to Canada. 

But on their own, students can only have a limited impact. That is why this issue contains an article explaining how we must bring the working class into the struggle to stop the genocide in Palestine. We also reprint a text by Lenin on May Day, which conveys exactly the spirit in which we need to carry out the work of building a Communist International today.

Communism is international or it is nothing. For May Day 2024, the RCP and Communist Revolution will take the streets and loudly say:

Only the working class can free Palestine!

Build a fighting labour movement!

Workers of the world unite!

In this spirit, we are sharing a pamphlet written by Lenin for May Day in 1904. At that time, Russia was embroiled in an imperialist war with Japan, laying bare the rottenness of the tsarist autocracy and Russian ruling class that oppressed and exploited the workers. 120 years later, the rottenness of capitalism worldwide is being exposed by bloody wars and catastrophes, and Lenin’s words ring just as true: that only the organized and class-conscious proletariat can deal the death blow to the capitalists. 

May Day

by V.I. Lenin, 1904

Comrade workers! May Day is coming, the day when the workers of all lands celebrate their awakening to a class- conscious life, their solidarity in the struggle against all coercion and oppression of man by man, the struggle to free the toiling millions from hunger, poverty, and humiliation. Two worlds stand facing each other in this great struggle: the world of capital and the world of labour, the world of exploitation and slavery and the world of brotherhood and freedom.

On one side stand the handful of rich blood-suckers. They have seized the factories and mills, the tools and machinery, have turned millions of acres of land and mountains of money into their private property. They have made the government and the army their servants, faithful watchdogs of the wealth they have amassed.

On the other side stand the millions of the disinherited. They are forced to beg the moneybags for permission to work for them. By their labour they create all wealth; yet all their lives long they have to struggle for a crust of bread, beg for work as for charity, sap their strength and health by back-breaking toil, and starve in hovels in the villages or in the cellars and garrets of the big cities.

But now these disinherited toilers have declared war on the moneybags and exploiters. The workers of all lands are fighting to free labour from wage slavery, from poverty and want. They are fighting for a system of society where the wealth created by the common labour will go to benefit, not a handful of rich men, but all those who work. They want to make the land and the factories, mills, and machines   the common property of all toilers. They want to do away with the division into rich and poor, want the fruits of labour to go to the labourers themselves, and all the achievements of the human mind, all improvements in ways of working, to improve the lot of the man who works, and not serve as a means of oppressing him.

The great struggle of labour against capital has cost the workers of all countries immense sacrifices. They have shed rivers of blood in behalf of their right to a better life and real freedom. Those who fight for the workers’ cause are subjected by the governments to untold persecution. But in spite of all persecution the solidarity of the workers of the world is growing and gaining in strength. The workers are uniting more and more closely in socialist parties, the supporters of those parties are mounting into millions and are advancing steadily, step by step, towards complete victory over the class of capitalist exploiters.

The Russian proletariat, too, has awakened to a new life. It too has joined this great struggle. Gone are the days when our worker slaved submissively, seeing no escape from his state of bondage, no glimmer of light in his bitter life. Socialism has shown him the way out, and thousands upon thousands of fighters have thronged to the red banner, as to a guiding star. Strikes have shown the workers the power of unity, have taught them to fight back, have shown how formidable to capital organized labour can be. The workers have seen that it is off their labour that the capitalists and the government live and get fat. The workers have been fired with the spirit of united struggle, with the aspiration for freedom and for socialism. The workers have realized what a dark and evil force the tsarist autocracy is. The workers need freedom for their struggle, but the tsarist government binds them hand and foot. The workers need freedom of assembly, freedom to organize, freedom for newspapers and books, but the tsarist government crushes, with knout, prison and bayonet, every striving for freedom. The cry “Down with the autocracy!” has swept through the length and breadth of Russia, it has been sounded more and more often in the streets, at great mass meetings of the workers. Last summer tens of thousands of workers throughout the South of Russia rose up to fight for a better life, for freedom from police tyranny. The bourgeoisie and government trembled at the sight of the formidable army of workers, which at one stroke brought to a standstill the entire industrial life of huge cities. Dozens of fighters for the workers’ cause fell beneath the bullets of the troops that tsarism sent against the internal enemy.

But there is no force that can vanquish this internal enemy, for the ruling classes and the government only live by its labour. There is no force on earth that could break the millions of workers, who are growing more and more class- conscious, more and more united and organized. Every defeat the workers sustain brings new fighters into the ranks, it awakens broader masses to new life and makes them prepare for fresh struggles.

And the events Russia is now passing through are such that this awakening of the worker masses is bound to be even more rapid and widespread, and we must strain every nerve to unite the ranks of the proletariat and prepare it for even more determined struggle. The war is making even the most backward sections of the proletariat take an interest in political affairs and problems. The war is showing up ever more clearly and vividly the utter rottenness of the autocratic order, the utter criminality of the police and court gang that is ruling Russia. Our people are perishing from want and starvation at home—yet they have been dragged into a ruinous and senseless war for alien territories lying thousands of miles away and inhabited by foreign races. Our people are ground down in political slavery—yet they have been dragged into a war for the enslavement of other peoples. Our people demand a change of political order at home— but it is sought to divert their attention by the thunder of guns at the other end of the world. But the tsarist government has gone too far in its gamble, in its criminal squandering of the nation’s wealth and young manhood, sent to die on the shores of the Pacific. Every war puts a strain on the people, and the difficult war against cultured and free Japan is a frightful strain upon Russia. And this strain comes at a time when the structure of police despotism has already begun to totter under the blows of the awakening proletariat. The war is laying bare all the weak spots of the government, the war is tearing off all false disguises, the war is revealing all the inner rottenness; the war is making the preposterousness of the tsarist autocracy obvious to all and is showing everyone the death-agony of the old Russia, the Russia where the people are disenfranchised, ignorant and cowed, the Russia that is still in serf bondage to the police government.

The old Russia is dying. A free Russia is coming to take its place. The dark forces that guarded the tsarist autocracy are going under. But only the class-conscious and organized proletariat can deal them their death-blow. Only the class- conscious and organized proletariat can win real, not sham, freedom for the people. Only the class-conscious and organized proletariat can thwart every attempt to deceive the people, to curtail their rights, to make them a mere tool in the hands of the bourgeoisie.

Comrade workers! Let us then prepare with redoubled energy for the decisive battle that is at hand! Let the ranks of the Social-Democrat proletarians close ever firmer! Let their word spread ever farther afield! Let campaigning for the workers’ demands be carried on ever more boldly! Let the celebration of May Day win thousands of new fighters to our cause and swell our forces in the great struggle for the freedom of all the people, for the liberation of all who toil from the yoke of capital!

Long live the eight-hour day!

Long live international revolutionary Social-Democracy!

Down with the criminal and plundering tsarist autocracy!