Mayday and Anarchism: Remembrance and Resistance From Haymarket to Now, Anna Key (ed.) [Review]

Although May Day is not widely celebrated in the United States, its roots lie in Chicago after a nationwide strike was called on 1 May 1886, in support for the eight-hour work day movement. Three days later police attacked a peaceful meeting, which was called to protest the killing of striking workers at the McCormick Reaper Works factory, in Chicago's Haymarket Square. A bomb was thrown and seven police officers and an unknown number civilians die as the police randomly opened fire. This would have been just another example of nameless workers killed by the state - lost in the pages of labor history - had it not been for eight anarchists who were singled out because of their beliefs and unjustly tried for conspiracy. For these men who died on the scaffold on 11 November 1887 or in their prison cells (physically or mentally), workers all over the globe have celebrated May Day.

Anna Key has compiled this pamphlet to present many anarchist responses to the First of May - from the defiant Haymarket anarchists themselves, to Latin American anarchists during the 1970s, to the British Bash Street Kids in 2000. As a mistake I read this pamphlet before trying to go to bed and I was left awake until the wee hours of the morning, restlessly pondering many questions that has continuously plagued the anarchist movement since the days of Haymarket. For example, the role of revolutionary violence, the significance (or insignificance) of scheduled anti-capitalist days of resistance (WTO, IMF, etc.), and reform politics. Although frustrating, it is also comforting to know that anarchists have always wrestled with these ideas. The ability to raise these questions, make this pamphlet extremely relative to the world around us. Does debates over pacifist methods of protest, described By Luigi Bertoni during World War II as "paci-fascism, designed to leave absolutism in peace to exercise its influence and prevail", sound familiar to those who protested the war in Iraq?

One thing is certain, May Day should be remembered as an event important to the class struggle. As Anna Key states in her introduction, "Mayday shows us that if we want to win meaningful reforms - let alone a free society - we must fight the power of both state and capital; we cannot expect them to fight fair, and we cannot trust leaders to win our freedom for us." I agree.


From: The Dawn: A Monthly Advocate for Constructive Anarchism (Oakland) Vol. 1, no. 1. July 2004.