May Day and peace, 1916-2016


This video shows a reconstructed scene from the German Parliament over 100 years ago; where socialist Karl Liebknecht as only MP dared to vote against the German imperial government’s World War I. Liebknecht’s No vote led to consternation among pro-war MPs, who tried to drown out the No vote by singing Deutschland über Alles, the German national anthem.

By Keith Flett in Britain:

May Day: A century of struggle for peace

Wednesday 27th April 2016

IF THE left remembers May Day 1916, it is perhaps because German socialist leader Karl Liebknecht was arrested for making an anti-WWI speech at the Berlin May Day rally. The Daily Herald (weekly in wartime) described him in its May 13 1916 issue as a “courageous and untiring leader.”

There are also memories of the Dublin Easter Rising which had concluded, Easter being late that year, only on April 30. Its leaders, including James Connolly, were yet to be shot by the British.

Going back to the late 1880s, London had developed a tradition of two May Day demonstrations. One took place on the day itself, which involved workers taking strike action, and another which was organised for the Sunday immediately afterwards.

The Daily Herald reported that there was no London May Day demonstration on May 1 1916 and its correspondent wrote of walking the empty streets of central London where the demonstration would otherwise have been. He reported: “The fraternity of the proletariat is no more.”

Yet this wasn’t really the case even in the middle of a bloody imperialist war. There were May Day demonstrations around Europe on May 1 and in Britain on Sunday May 7 in 1916.

The Herald in its May 6 1916 issue had noted that May Day marches and meetings in Milan and Austria had been banned but in its next issue reported that in Milan “a small socialist demonstration against the war” had taken place.

The Austrian Arbeiter Zeitung reported that May Day had “passed quietly” in Vienna with an “ardent desire for peace” but there had been 20 arrests in Prague.

The Herald also noted that Madrid workers had a “manifestation of imposing proportions and earnest spirit” on May 1.

It also mentioned the May 1 1916 issue of the Italian socialist paper Avanti which had a feature on the “apostles and fighters of International Socialism.” These included Ramsay Macdonald, Jowett, Glazier, Keir Hardie and Philip Snowden.

The May 13 1916 edition of the Herald covered two of the demonstrations on May 7. One was in Leicester where a “united Labour Day procession” marched to a mass meeting in the marketplace where the chief speaker was J Ramsay MacDonald MP.

The main report however was of events in Glasgow. The Herald reported this was the “greatest May Day demonstration” ever in the city despite “an incessant downpour of rain.” There were, it seems, 3,000 socialists and trade unionists who were “accompanied by their wives, children and friends.” Fortunately the character of the labour movement has moved on a bit in the intervening 100 years in this respect.

Glasgow Green saw 14 platforms, before the era of loudspeakers and megaphones, to allow “the gigantic crowd to hear the various speakers in comfort.” Taking into account the rain, there were still 60 speakers.

The Herald reported that “each platform carried with acclamation a resolution pledging those present to work for the overthrow of the capitalist system.”

In a strikingly modern echo the Herald also noted “it would have done the Parliamentary Labour Party good if they had been present to hear how their Glasgow constituents cheered for peace and denounced conscription.”

Conscription for single men, later extended to all under 50, had been introduced in March 1916.

Finally the Herald reported that on May 1 and subsequent days the Glasgow Independent Labour Party had seen female members and children sell 50,000 red flowers symbolising socialism.

Those who stood out for socialist internationalism in the middle of a world war in 1916 should inspire us a century on.

On Sunday May 1 the May Day celebrations kick off at 11.30am at Clerkenwell Green, with the march to Trafalgar Square departing at 1pm. Speakers include Jeremy Corbyn and Frances O’Grady.

8 thoughts on “May Day and peace, 1916-2016

  1. Pingback: May Day demonstration preparations all over the world | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Turkish regime kills May Day demonstrator | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: May Day demonstrations all over the world today | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: Owen Smith’s Blairite flop in London | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  5. Pingback: Britain’s first Labour MP Keir Hardie on stage | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  6. Pingback: Eva Gore-Booth, fighter for women’s and worker’s rights | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  7. Pingback: World War I in Britain, April 2018 | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  8. Pingback: International Workers Day banned in Sri Lanka | Dear Kitty. Some blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.