The real name for May Day (May 1st) is “International Workers’ Day.” It’s a socialist day of celebration for the workers’ struggle for freedom from capital, chosen by a multinational coalition of socialist and communist organizations to commemorate the Haymarket Affair in 1886. The Haymarket Affair grew out of a general strike for an eight-hour workday on May 4 and in protest to the murder of several workers by police a day earlier. During the protest someone threw a bomb at the cops, who responded by opening fire on protestors. At least four innocent people were killed and many more were injured. Afterwards, eight anarchists, Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab, Oscar Neebe, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Neebe got 15 years in prison, Fielden and Schwab’s sentences were commutted to life in prison and Lingg committed suicide before the state could execute him. Engel, Fischer, Parsons and Spies were hanged. The Haymarket martyrs died for the people and as long as the workers’ struggle continues we will remember them as heroes.
Every year, May 1st is an international day of celebration, solidarity, and proletarian internationalism recognized by organizations fighting for revolution around the world. But in the spirit of the event that it commemorates, we hold that May 1st must be militant and that May Day events must bare the teeth of the working class. For this reason, Revolutionary Youth Alliance joined the May Day Collective, a coalition of anarchist and leftist groups in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, to participate in working on the Festival of Resistance to have an unauthorized demonstration that would not cooperate with police. The May Day Collective’s aim was “to build a mighty movement of all people dedicated to freedom” and to “strike, rally, and resist.” We joined the Collective for its principles of non-cooperation with police, anti-capitalism, refusal to endorse or give a platform to political candidates, and commitment to sending a strong message, all of which are things we take very seriously.
We hold that this demonstration was principally a success, though obviously not without its faults. There was adequate and full non-compliance and anger shown to cops, with the crowd at multiple points proudly screaming “Fuck the police!” as we marched through downtown Ann Arbor, the belly of the beast. The event had a militant and internationalist message, with comrades chanting “One solution, Revolution!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” while at the same time fostering an environment of community and solidarity, thanks to the volunteers who gave their time and effort to the Open University in the Diag and the impromptu drum circle at the end of the last march. The Open University was a way for community members and radicals to share their knowledge together and help each other learn. We held a workshop on the Mass Line for others to learn about our methods of work in RYA and try some of the strategies we talked about in their own organizing.
The May Day Collective was a functional coalition of leftists of many different ideologies and tendencies who came together to work on a common goal, and, most impressively, it was one of the first attempts to organize an event like this in recent memory. Many bystanders in downtown Ann Arbor were very surprised to see the red flags and black flags, masks, black clothes and various banners marching through their streets and hearing our militant cries. However, it would be a serious mistake to participate in events without learning something from them and trying to understand what could have been done better or differently.
For the coalition in general, we thought there were two primary errors, which we hold ourselves as participants responsible for as well: firstly, there was no one issue in particular that was centered, which would have given the march more focus and purpose, and secondly, the march did not go through many working class areas so the message we were sending mostly fell on deaf ears. Because our base is the working class we should have our events centered around them, the issues they are primarily concerned with and the areas they live in, so they can participate to the fullest. We believe these were principally mistakes, but we are open to other perspectives that see these as good tactical decisions.
On our end, there are a few things to go over.
As for our workshop on the Mass Line during the Open University, a workshop we’d like to build on and expand in the future, we can say:
- that our voices weren’t loud enough and some of the participants in the workshop couldn’t hear us;
- that we weren’t adequately prepared, since this was our first time doing something like this and we weren’t sure how it would go, preferring instead to go with the flow and see how it worked out;
- that we didn’t spend enough time talking about social investigation, which is one of the main things people are going to take away from the workshop, so many of the participants left the workshop without a clear idea of how to actually do the mass line;
- that there were limitations to the format—the politics of the attendees were a bit scattered so it was hard to make sure we were all on the same page, which we consider to be principally our fault;
- and that it’s hard to talk about the advanced, intermediate, and backwards in our area without doing a class analysis with people first.
For those of you who attended our workshop, if you find our summation lacking please let us know and send your criticisms to us at email@example.com!
As for our participation in the coalition, we should have strived to have the politics of RYA more present in the demonstration, via things like banners, public internet posts, and literature to be distributed throughout the day. We could have offered to stop and talk about certain landmarks in Ann Arbor during the march so issues that concern the working class could be centered from a revolutionary perspective. It’s important to note here that by this we don’t mean we wanted to drown out others’ voices or dominate the conversation, just to have our ideas present as a full member of the coalition. We should have offered to have more information about our organization present and establish why our activity and our politics are meaningful and valuable.
We should have tried to establish stronger unity between ourselves and the rest of the coalition, putting in more work for others and being more supportive. At one point we attempted to offer a criticism that was not taken well; we believe this was largely because we did not make the purpose of our criticism clear enough and we were not trusted as members of the coalition. We think that ideological disagreements are normal and healthy and that they should be brought into the open, but it’s wrong to struggle when unity has not been fully established.
In general, we should strive to take on a leadership role in coalitions like this. Again, we don’t mean forcing ourselves into leadership by being bossy, telling others what to do, putting down others; we mean that we want to prove ourselves to win the respect and trust of the people and our comrades and accumulate enough experience for us and others to trust us and feel as though we can handle being leaders, which is a great honor and a great responsibility. This is a natural process, and not something that can be achieved easily.
Our goals for our participation in this action were, generally speaking, to put on a show of force, participate in a coalition with other leftists and work towards a common goal so we could gain experience in this area, and send a militant message to break with spineless old reformist strategies of collaborating with pigs and watering down our politics. In these areas, despite our criticisms, we think we met these goals and we’re eager to work with everyone in the coalition on future actions.
Long live the workers’ struggle! Organize for revolution and people’s war!
Revolutionary Youth Alliance
Ann Arbor, MI
May 31, 2017