Workers of the world, you have nothing to lose but your daisy chains.
In 1889 a congress of socialists in France, inspired by Samuel Gompers in America, fixed May 1,as the day to pattern an international program of agitation. The congress’s decision passed unnoticed at he time; a time when it would be three years before children under sixteen were to be limited to a ten hour work day and seventeen years before a weekly rest day was decreed for all workers. An international campaign for an eight hour day perhaps sounded so utopian that it was scarcely alarming. However, the response by workers throughout the industrialized West exceeded expectations and the myth of working class internationalism began to look less mythical. The success of the May 1, manifestation in 1890 naturally led to its renewal in 1891. This time the European bourgeoisie was worried, if not yet seriously frightened.
May 1, 1891 unleashed some real revolutionary passion and simultaneously stimulated the repressive zeal of the police. Savage riots broke out in Rome and Florence. In Hungary, furious strikers derailed trains. In the suburbs of Paris workers marching behind a red flag clashed with police and a bloody gun fight ensued. At Fourmies, in the industrial north of France, there was no gunfight, merely a massacre: soldiers firing into an excited but nonviolent crowd of demonstrators killed ten persons including a young girl and an eleven year-old-boy.
To the hard liners of the period, May 1, was much more than an annual demonstration of proletarian society and revolutionary spirit. It was a kind of magic weapon against the bourgeois establishment. In France insurrectionary Marxists like Jules Guesde believed that may 1 was ” the dynamite which will blow up capitalist society.” Energized by the Russian revolution of 1905, the huge May Day demonstrations that followed led a number of European bourgeois to suspect that Guesde was a prophet. As May 1 approached in 1906 both capitalists and capital fled Paris from the impending revolutionary terror. Trains were packed and though guarded by some fifty thousand policemen and troops, the bourgeois who remained in Paris stocked their apartments with food as if for a siege. One wealthy Parisian brought home a live cow and calf, doubtless to make sure that his bifteck and veal roast should not fail, though the heavens fall. Read More:http://www.jstor.org/pss/3787284
With the triumphant Bolsheviks setting the tone in Moscow’s Red Square in 1919, the May Day fright in Europe looked even more apocalyptic with the added effect of millions of frshly demobilized veterans adrift. Once again, the exaggerated fears of the capitalist elite, interacting with the irrational hopes and well-founded resentments of the revolutionary masses, exploded into widespread violence. The discovery, just before May Day, of bombs addressed to prominent American radical foes set off a nationwide Red Scare.
In New York, “country boys gaping at the orators in Madison Square,” as F. Scott Fitgerald put it, were brutally ridden down by the police.—Of the so-called “May Day riots” described with such wonderful irony in that story. Fitzgerald said elsewhere that “we didn’t remember anything about the Bill of Rights until Mencken began plugging it, but we did know that such tyranny belonged in the jittery little countries of south Europe. If goose-livered business men had this effect on the government, then maybe we had gone to war for J. P. Morgan’s loans after all.” — Read More:http://fitzgerald.narod.ru/critics-eng/mizener-20s.html .In Paris plastered with tricolor posters announcing La Patrie est en Danger, more than fifty thousand police and soldiers battled with the largest, most aggressive workers demonstration the city had seen since the Commune of 1871. By nightfall two workers lay dead, and there were 428 injured among the law forces alone.
Mizener:He liked to say ( Mencken), when asked to lecture to Women’s Clubs, “I am seldom out of Baltimore, and when I am, I am never out of my cups.” When he was confronted by that favorite witticism of the stupid, “If you do not like America why do you live in it?” he would say, “Why do men go to zoos?” This was the way intelligent young people, staring confidently out from the privacy of their little would, saw the absurd public and ordinary life of America….
…They did so with very considerable political courage and honesty. The fact that they were libertarians interested in private freedom rather than in public equality as liberals are, and that they hardly participated in organized political movements until the Sacco-Vanzeui case in 1927, ought not to blind us to their impertinent defiance of the ruling powers. Mencken was a master of such impertinence, calling the President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, “the heir of Washington. Lincoln, and Chester A. Arthur,” and describing the average well-behaved 101% Rotarian business man as someone “who goes to bed every night with an uneasy feeling that there is a burglar under the bed, and gets up every morning with a sickening fear that his underwear has been stolen.” …
….He talked the same way about issues. In the midst of the Palmer Red Raids, one of those periodic displays of childish hysteria about communism that we Americans regularly disgrace ourselves with, Mencken wrote,
Let a lone Red arise to annoy a barroom full of Michigan lumberjacks, and at once the fire-alarm sounds and the full military and naval power of the nation is summoned to put down the outrage. But how many Americans would the Reds convert to their rubbish, even supposing them free to spout it on every street corner? Probably not enough, all told, to make a day’s hunting for a regiment of militia. The American moron’s mind simply doesn’t run in that direction; he wants to keep his Ford even at the cost of losing the Bill of Rights.
There is a gift here, amounting almost to a kind of genius, for insulting all the conceivable sacred cows of American society at once. But behind Mencken’s delight in stirring up the animals there is a serious attitude that was common to the intelligent young people of his time. It is made up of a love of personal freedom and a respect for the rights of individuals, however wrong one may think them, of a dislike of doctrinaire egalitarianism and a respect for superior intelligence and talent, however annoying it may be, of a dislike of the complacent vulgarity of the majority and the politicians and advertisers who pander to and encourage it and a respect for intellectual dissatisfaction and the artists who represent it. Read More:http://fitzgerald.narod.ru/critics-eng/mizener-20s.html