As the New York Times absurdly celebrates communism in its op-ed published on April 30th, it is worth remembering that the May 1st “holiday” of May Day – also called International Workers Day – was itself originally promulgated by Marxists. Outlets like USA Today, NBC News, and others are happily touting the May Day protests that will be occurring across the United States as just another iteration of the anti-Trump demonstrations that have become so common, but history shows us the more sinister origins of the modern holiday. May Day was co-opted from an ancient European spring festival by the Second International, a global socialist & communist movement formed in Paris on July 14, 1889 that would pick the 1st of May as the date for an international holiday to advocate for socialist ideals. The International Workingmen’s Association, also called the First International (from which the Second International would directly spring), was founded in London on September 28, 1864 and would soon be led by none other than Karl Marx himself — author of the Communist Manifesto and intellectual forefather of the socialist & communist movements. It’s also worth noting that the Third International, also called the Communist International or Comintern, would be founded on March 2, 1919 and would be led Vladmir Lenin as he climbed to power within the new Soviet Union. The Comintern would advocate for the spread of worldwide communism and would only be dissolved in 1943 by Joseph Stalin himself as he consolidated his own grip on power in Soviet Union. A direct line runs from the First International & Karl Marx to the Second International & May Day to the Comintern & Lenin & Stalin.
May Day was generally celebrated with massive marches, demonstrations, & parades throughout communist countries like the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, & Cuba (and still is in some communist hangers-on). May Day Parades would be especially critical to the propaganda machine of the Soviet Union throughout its existence, giving a succession of Soviet dictators the chance to rally their people and showcase military hardware with massive parades consisting of soldiers, red flags, tanks, missiles, and gigantic banners of Lenin & Stalin paraded through the Red Square in Moscow. Examples of the Soviet May Day Parade can be seen here, here, and here. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the final Soviet May Day Parade would be held in 1991. But as Vladmir Putin consolidated his grip on power inside Russia and began invading his neighbors (like Ukraine), he decided to bring back the May Day Parade in 2014 for the very first time since the Soviet Union’s collapse (and it has now been held annually in 2015, 2016, & 2017 as well). Little wonder that Putin — the man who considered the fall of the Soviet Union the worst geopolitical disaster of the 20th century — would want to revive some old Soviet traditions. So now, a holiday started by a communist organization and celebrated by a communist nation has been revived by a strongman who misses the days of communism past. And this beloved communist ideal — originally sparked by Karl Marx, carried out by madmen like Stalin & Mao & Pol Pot, and missed dearly by lovely folks like Putin — is responsible for the deaths of one hundred million people.
As one fan of Marx put it in The Guardian on May Day in 2015:
“Every year, on May Day a spectre comes to haunt us. The spectre of Karl Marx. He’s been coming since 1889, when the Second International first chose 1 May as the date for International Workers’ Day. And although we understand that he’s the brains behind the show, we don’t like him hanging around. His presence makes us uncomfortable. He reminds us of difficult things. Over the years, we’ve done our best to exorcise him. Hitler buried him under the Day of National Work. Khrushchev engulfed him in elaborate parades. The Catholic church disguised him as Joseph, the patron saint of workers. Franco outlawed him altogether. Some countries appeased him with a public holiday; others, like Britain and Ireland, preferred to confuse him with the first Monday of the month. It’s time we faced up to the ghost: May Day is Marx Day, whether we like it or not.”
Indeed. The wide global acceptance of May Day has been triumphantly called “the only unquestionable dent made by a secular movement in the Christian or any other calendar.” So remember: at its core, May Day isn’t about May Poles — it’s about Marx. Might I suggest celebrating Loyalty Day instead?