All over the world,the INTERNATIONAL WORKERS DAY WILL BE CELEBRATED and tributes will be paid to the memories of the Chicago martyrs today.This heroic struggle for an 8-hour day will be recalled and its subsequent history recapitulated.It is, however, no secret that the working class did not march as a single army united in ideology and practice soon after inter-nationalisation of the May Day. It got divided into two camps; its movement got divided into two trends, the revolutionary and the reformist.

The revolutionary trend was represented by Marxism, the heritage given by Marx and Engels and later on enriched by Lenin. This trend determined the purpose and aims of May Day when through the Socialist International it decided to internationalise the observance of May Day. For it, the Day became the reassertion and declaration of the general line of the revolutionary movement of the working class and became an occasion to review the class struggle waged in accordance with this line. The other trend gradually reduced May Day observance to the declaration of a few economic demands without any call for revolution or international unity. This was really its general line for the working class movement, a line of rejection of revolution, of parliamentary illusions and surrendering international unity before bourgeois chauvinism.

The two lines produced two different results. The Marxist – Leninists were able to organise successful socialist revolutions in one third of the world; the reformists remained imprisoned under the rule of capital.

The Chicago massacre was not the first massacre of the workers. In fact, far bigger massacres with hundreds of workers killed the taken place decades before May 1886. The Chicago gathering was not the first gathering to raise the question of reduction of working hours. In fact for three decades the working class of Great Britain had waged a battle for reduction of working hours and had succeeded in reducing them to the ten hours.

And in Europe the aims and objects of working class struggle had gone far beyond achievement of partial demands. The working class had, long before, raised the question of political power and organised insurrection to attain it. Fifteen years before Chicago, the French workers were successful in organising the first state of the working class and they had to pay the price for it in hundreds killed and thousands deported outside the country. The revolutionary content given to May Day was determined by the grand achievement preceding the American workers’ struggle for an 8-hours day.

May Day is consecrated to the memory of the Chicago workers who were killed in police shootings for daring to demand an 8-hour workday. It is consecrated to the memory of their leaders who were executed by a capitalist court for leading the workers’ struggle against unbridled brutal exploitation. It was later revealed that the leaders were convicted on the basis of the perjured evidence, that the main prosecution witness was bribed. Because of this, those who were sentenced to life terms had to be released before time.One of the leaders committed suicide in jail. The others walked to the gallows with erect heads.

The hundred years since the Hay Market massacre have witnessed tremendous successes for the working class movement. A class whose leaders were executed for demanding an 8-hour workday under capitalism could vanquish capitalism over one third of the world and established socialism over it.And now, the red flag of the working class waves proudly over the socialist countries inspiring confidence in the rest of the working class about its ultimate victory. The working class successes have also given a fatal blow to the old colonial system under which countries like India and other countries of Asia and Africa stood enchained by foreign rulers. Thanks to these achievements of the international working class movement these countries are breathing the air of freedom.

These victories were achieved at the cost of tremendous sacrifices on the part of the working class, its organisations and its political parties. They were invariably led by communist parties wedded to Marxism – Leninism. They demanded tremendous sacrifice on the part of individual workers. Hundreds had to undergo the torture of capitalist prisons. Thousands were shot dead by fascists in German concentration camps and hundreds again had to face the jails and the gallows of imperialist rulers in the national liberation struggle; and millions from the Soviet working class and the people had to sacrifice their lives in the anti-fascist war. It is on the basis of this tremendous flow of blood that the world could see the emergence of the socialist camp and its growing strength.

Though the Chicago demonstration started on the question of 8-hour working day, the international tradition of May Day went far beyond demands. It combined the fight for partial demands, having revolutionary significance, with the call for ending the capitalist order and capture of political power by the working class and a call for international unity of the working class. Those who abided by these components of May Day tradition were able to organise successful revolution. Those who confined their practice, and the observance of May Day to immediate demands only, landed themselves into reformist and revisionist deviations. The reformist parties proved totally incapable of bringing about a social transformation and acted only as some kind of opposition within the framework of the capitalist system.

This article is written by com.B.T.Ranadive, veteran Indian Communist-Trade Union leader during the centenary celebrations of May Day in 1986.Detailed articles can be found here