May Day & American Anarchy: What Occupy Does Not Know About May 1
Today is May Day, a day known to so many North Americans as a day commemorated by the social democracies of Europe, China, Cuba and the former Soviet Union, but not the United States. Until the Occupy Wall Street movement burst on scene last Fall, a refrain of a U.S. citizen might have been: “what’s May Day got to do with the United States?”
To be certain, in recent years, the celebrations have swelled as the ruling class agenda to consolidate planetary resources and revolutionize man’s social order into autocratic rule has grown more acute. This year’s May Day is pre-determined to unfold in a manner different from all other May Days, as the Occupy Movement intends to ensure that this “spring is a riot.” Occupy has used the global tradition to further its movement. Unfortunately, the origin of the May Day protests has been supplanted by propaganda, especially in the United States.
“People seem to know about May Day everywhere, except where it began, here in the United States of America,” says Noam Chomsky. “That’s because those in power have done everything they can to erase its real meaning. …Today, there is a renewed awareness, energized by the Occupy movement’s organizing, around May Day, and its relevance for reform and perhaps eventual revolution.”
Unbeknownst to most people, international workers day has for more than a century continually protested, be it explicitly or implicitly, the events which unfolded on Haymarket Square in Chicago, 1886. May Day is now recognized as an official holiday in many countries. And although it is for a communist holiday many people mistake the May Day tradition, in actuality clashes between statists and anarchists in the United States actually gave rise to the tradition.
With many governments, the holiday has not been popular. For example, fascist governments in Portugal, Italy, Germany and Spain abolished the workers holiday. In the United States, press coverage of international workers day and from whence it is truly arisen has for decades remained muzzled. The people of the United States do not have any understanding as to why, on May 1, workers of the world “Unite!” After all, what else could it possibly be other than the COMINTERN itself commanding its legions of the Evil Empire to fall in line for the eventual revolution against “democracy.”
Surely, there is some truth to this interpretation of the events – that totalitarian forces use the meme to their advantage. However, this is the result of concerted efforts to bastardize the original meaning of the gatherings on May 1 by the establishment in the U.S., for it uncovers the fresh scabs of wounds which take centuries to heel – namely, that the state is not all-powerful and that the U.S. has a staunch history of anti-establishment movements, despite their lack of clout. At the very least, the U.S. government cannot afford to allow its citizenry a memory of this hidden history. At the end of the nineteenth century, the American working class was maintaining its’ hitherto tradition of worker movements. The movements, as most American movements across the whole continent, were constituted of indeed diverse people.
Today, as the May Day tradition begins to merge with Occupy, confused cries are heard coming from the movement. Today, the Occupy movement mostly demands the government check the power of the Wall Street cartel and their partners-in-crime. What so many misunderstand is that without the state – defined by Max Weber as a monopoly on force – the corporations against which they are protesting could not exist in the exploitative manner that they have for centuries. They are reliant on the government for guarantees on failed business practices, and it is the government which helps to make funds available to the keystone transnational corporations; that is, take wealth and resources from you and deliver it to them.
All right, Get to it Already! What sparked May Day?
On May 4, 1886, a groundbreaking event took place in Chicago when three thousand individuals assembled for a meeting on Haymarket Square to organize in favor of the eight hour work day. Despite the calm mood of the gathering, a detachment of 180 policemen were dispatched to the locale. By then, only a meager few hundred remained. The police stood at the speakers’ platform and ordered dispersal, that the meeting was through. Indeed, the meeting was nearly through, insisted the speaker, when suddenly a bomb exploded amidst the police. Sixty six policemen were injured, and several died. Upon the explosion, the police fired into the crowd killing several more and wounding a couple hundred.
Eight anarchist leaders were then arrested without evidence. Note that they were anarchist leaders and not communist or socialist leaders. The bureaucrats and authorities in Chicago at the time – you know, “public servants” – singled out anarchists without evidence. The Chicago Journal stated “justice should be prompt in dealing with the arrested anarchists. The law regarding accessories to crime in this state is so plain their trials will be short.”
As none of the accused had been at Haymarket that day except for Fielden, who was speaking as the bomb exploded, the evidence, one can only assume, was solely the subversive ideas of the men and the subversive literature they read. The Grand Jury, filled with elitists, found them guilty. They were sentenced to death, their appeals denied. The Supreme Court said it had no jurisdiction.
Convened were meetings over the matter in France, Holland, Russia, Italy and Spain. In France, the first congress of the Second International, to commemorate the French Revolution, cited the May Day as one of its official holidays.
No matter, a year after the trial four of the convicted anarchists – Albert Parson, a printer, August Spies, an upholsterer, Adolph Fischer and George Engel – were hanged. Louis Lingg, a twenty-one year old carpenter, blew himself up in his cell by exploding a dynamite tube in his mouth. Three stayed in prison. The executions and general circumstances pissed people off all over the country. 25,000 took part in a funeral march in Chicago.
Later on, evidence surfaced that a man named Rudolph Schnaubelt, supposed to be an anarchist, but truly an agent provocateur, had been hired to toss the bomb so as to bring about hundreds of arrests and, most importantly, the undermining the anarchist leadership in Chicago. Until this day, it has yet to be discovered who threw the bomb.
And so, forgotten is that the May Day riots could be, in one interpretation, seen as protests derived from an early incidence of state-sponsored terrorism.
A short term effect of the Haymarket debacle was a crackdown on anti-establishment activities, whilst the long term effect was the fueling of class anger and the inspiration of the young, in particular, towards action. In the wake of the massacre, sixty thousand signed petitions to the new governor of Illinois to investigate the facts and he pardoned the three remaining prisoners. Year in and year out, memorial meetings for the Haymarket victims were held all over the country.
Even in 1968 were the Haymarket events still alive in the public mind. In that year, a group of young radicals blew up the monument erected in Chicago in memory of the police who died in the explosion. And so, after Haymarket the class conflict and violence clearly continued on as before, all inclusive of the strikes, lockouts, blacklisting and the force of law to break the spirit of the activists.
It is important to realize that the purpose of mass actions such as the May Day assemblages is to promote awareness of injustice in the world. “If you’re a serious revolutionary,” writes Noam Chomsky in his recent comments for May Day, “then you are not looking for an autocratic revolution, but a popular one which will move towards freedom and democracy. That can take place only if a mass of the population are implementing it, carrying it out, and solving problems. They’re not going to undertake that commitment, understandably, unless they have discovered for themselves that there are limits to reform.”
Chomsky, in his always enlightening nitpicking of data, points out in his new book that class consciousness is on the rise in the United States. Pointing towards a January 2012 Pew Research Center report on public perceptions of class conflict within the United States, Chomsky notes that about two-thirds of the U.S. population now believes there are “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor – an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009.
As Occupy embraces the tradition of May Day, it is important for the movement to bring to the public forum the true origins of the protests, and reclaim it as a U.S. holiday – that is, not in the spirit of government regulation and fiat, but in the spirit of limited government and self-determination of all individuals. In May of 1886, anarchists were killed by representatives of the United States government and the U.S. political system. It was the political system in the U.S.’s decision to murder eight men based on no evidence for their ideas of freedom and fairness.
On this May Day, some may die, and they will not be martyrs unless their cause is understood by them and those who bore witness to their death. The truth is in plain sight, a click away on the internet, and today if one does not know the truth, it is because they have chosen ignorance over understanding.