Thursday, May 01, 2008

May 1, here and elsewhere

For us in America, May 1 is "Mission Accomplished" Day, this year the fifth anniversary of when our Dear Leader Bush put on his flight suit and manly codpiece and declared that major combat operations in Iraq were over.

In Europe and other parts of the world, it's a holiday, International Workers Day. This is a picture from the Austrian Social Democratic Party commemorating the first celebration of the event on May 1, 1890.

I'm not even going to try to troll-proof this post, since anything with "socialist" or "social-democratic" in it is just going to be almost as scary for Republican white folks as black preachers are. So I'm not going to worry about it. How do you explain anything that might require more than two-syllable words to people who can actually believe stuff that Dick Cheney says?

The examples shown here all come from the Austrian Social Democratic Party. Austria's current Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer is a Social Democrat, as is the Austrian President Heinz Fischer.

Gusenbauer's Party, these days called die Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ), is part of a Grand Coalition government with the conservative Christian Democratic People's Party (ÖVP). Vienna is called "red Vienna" because the Social Democrats have been the leading party in the city since the 1920s, though free elections did not occur during the dictatorship and Third Reich years of 1934-1945. ("Red" in Europe means Social Democratic and Communist/"postcommunist" parties, not the conservatives as in the US.)

From its founding at the start of the year 1889, the Social Democratic Party was the main party advocating a democratic, parliamentary form of government. Austria at that time was part of the Habsburgs' large Austrian-Hungarian Empire. In both the German and Habsburg empires, there were "classical liberals" parties that were backed by businesspeople and supported some form of parliamentary democracy. But for a variety of reasons, they were not as prominent nor as committed to democracy as their counterparts in Britain and France. There is no easy direct comparison to the political parties in the United States.

When the first democratic Austrian government was established in November 1918 after the defeat in the First World War and the fall of the Emperor, it was led by the Social Democrats, as was also the case in Germany. Social Democrat Karl Renner was the first Chancellor in the new Austrian regime. Renner also became the President of the Second Republic founded in 1945 after the Austrian liberation from the Third Reich.

Referring to the picture above, bring out the smelling salts for our Republican readers, because those pictures in the upper corners are of the German Social Democratic Party founders Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Marx. The banner next to the latter's picture has the famous slogan, "Workers of the world, unite!" The very scary radical policy focus of that first International Workers Day was the fight for the 8-hour day. The picture includes slogans like "Justice", "Humanity", "Social Rights", "8-Hour Day", "Protection for Workers", "Freedom of Science".

The Web site of the Vienna Social Democratic Party has the story of 1. Mai (my English translation):

In 1864 at the initiative of Karl Marx, the "International Workers Association" was founded, which was later called the First International.

After the First International fell apart due to its internal contradictions, the Second International was founded on July 14, 1889 in Paris as the organization of the independent Socialist Parties. At the founding Congress, 400 delegations from 21 European countries as well as the USA and Egypt took part. The seven-person Austrian delegation was led by Victor Adler.

The delegates from France proposed - in commemoration of a general strike in the USA on May 1, 1886 - to declare May 1 the International Fighting Day for the 8-hour workday. The proposal was accepted by a large majority. The day of celebration for the working class was born.

Beginning in 1890, May 1 was celebrated by the Social Democrats in Vienna and other cities. On the side of the state it was declared - among others, by decree of the administrators of the Grand Duchy of Austria-under-the-Enns, in which Vienna was also included - that a work stoppage on May was illegal. The newspaper attempted to generate a mood of panic among the population.

The Neue Freie Presse wrote on May 1, 1890 in its lead article: "The soldiers are on alert, the doors of houses are closed, in the homes provision are prepared as for a seige, the business are desolate, women and children are not showing themselves on the street."

The workers reacted with calm and discipline. Everywhere in Vienna and most of the industrial cities of Austria the strike slogans were followed. In late morning in Vienna, there were around 60 meetings, in the afternoon over 100,000 workers gathered in the Prater [a large Vienna park]. It was the largest assembly that Vienna had experienced up until that time.

In the Arbeiter-Zeitung of May 23, 1890, Friedrich Engels wrote, "Enemy and friend were agreed that in the whole core area of Austria, and within Austria Vienna [in particular], the holiday of the working class was celebrated in the brightest and most valuable way."

[Austrian Social Democratic Party leader] Victor Adler experienced this day in Cell 32 of the Vienna state court. He was sentenced on June 27, 1889, to four months imprisonment for "anarchist efforts", and had to start serving his sentence shortly befor May 1, 1890. clearly the government had hoped, with the arrest of Adler, to disturb the preparations for May 1. But this hope did not come to fulfillment.

The trained sculptor's assistant Ludwig Bretschneider, who Adler had made editor and manager of the newspaper Gleichheit upon its founding, took over the leadership of the organizing committee for the May rally, which came off with no serious problems.
Also from the Austrian Social Democratic Party, if you feel like hearing the "Internationale" in German, click here (it takes a bit for the MP3 to load).

Here are some photos from Mayday of 1933, which took place six days before conservative Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss established his "clerical-fascist" Standesstaat dictatorship, modeled on Mussolini's in Italy. Dollfuss had barricades set up and soldiers with machine guns at the ready and armed vehicles deployed in Vienna.

Still, up to 300,000 "walkers" came out to celebrate the day; apparently they weren't allowed to officially call it a march. And 70,000 attended the Mayday rally in the Vienna Stadium. These are some scenes from the turnout in Arnold Schwarzenegger's hometown of Graz; the photo at the top is the vice-mayor speaking to the workers' assembled for Mayday.

This was the scene in Innsbruck. The caption says, "The people are with us, victory is with us". (No, the presence of the German word "Sieg" doesn't mean it has something to do with Nazis!)

Here's one of the the SPÖ's advertisements for this year's events. The slogan is "Politics with a social handwriting":

At the SPÖ's Web site, you can buy paraphernalia like a T-shirt with an old Social Democratic three-pronged symbol, which represented opposition to capitalism, fascism and reaction:

And even a Socialist baseball cap!

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"It is the logic of our times
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