Mayday and Anarchism. Remembrance and Resistance from Haymarket to now [A Review]

This is a tidy pamphlet from KSL consisting of several anarchist texts relating to May Day and in particular, but by no means exclusively, the Haymarket, Chicago, events and martyrs.

The events of Chicago 1886 are part of anarchist, and labour history. A strike meeting was broken up by the police, a bomb was thrown and a few policemen and many more workers died. As a result several prominent anarchists were arrested, tried and convicted of conspiracy – in itself showing that there was no actual evidence of any of them being responsible for throwing the bomb. The execution of four (another committed suicide after being found guilty) was considered a judicial lynching and a few years later the then state governor pardoned the remaining three defendants who had been sent to prison. Three of the defendant’s speeches and the state governor’s pardon statement are included in the pamphlet.

Subsequently it was decided to make May 1st and international day of struggle, especially by the anarchist movement and the pamphlet reprints a variety of communiqués, historical items from places as far afield as USA, Spain, England and Chile are also included. To bring the selection up to date there is the Reading Anarchist’s sarcastic leaflet issued to those on an official May Day march in 1983 and an excerpt from a longer piece by the Bash Street Kids in 2000 on the demonstrations of the late 1990’s.

Several threads run through many of the pieces, including attacks on the reformist trade union and labour movement, the importance of direct action and militant struggle against capital and more latterly against participation in demos as another form of alienation and passive consumption.

It is just possible that compulsive anarcho-bibliophiles will have most if not all of the texts collected in this pamphlet, but at a mere three quid it’ll not break the bank and therefore can be warmly recommended not just for its historical value but also as part of the on-going debate as to the nature of “celebrating” May Day as a day of struggle.


Richard Alexander

An historical postscript.

If you were to believe certain political journalists, the idea that May Day is a suitable one for a ruckus is of recent invention. Not so, not only were some of the demos in the 1890’s fairly lively, even pre-capitalist London was not immune to May Day riots. According to Ronald Hutton’s The Rise and Fall of Merry England” the maypole at Cornhill used to be erected every year until the riots of 1517 produced such a feeling of shock amongst government and citizens that henceforth the festival was celebrated more soberly in London.

Key, Anna (ed) “Mayday and Anarchism. Remembrance and Resistance from Haymarket to now.” Kate Sharpley Library, London. 2004. Pamphlet, 32pp. Cover by Cliff Harper. ISBN 1-873605-53-6. £3.00