May Day, Occupy, and a Sane Future for Humanity

Glen T. Martin


May Day was first declared by numerous labor organizations in the United States for May 1, 1886.  On that day more than 300,000 workers walked off their jobs across the country in the struggle to procure an 8 hour working day. In those days the anarchists, the socialists, the Knights of Labor, and the International Workingmen’s Association all understood that the struggle within the U.S. was only a part of the struggle worldwide to abolish the capitalist system and create a just and decent economic system for humanity.

            As always the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state (the police and the courts) came down with great brutality against the heroic strikers of 1886, just as they are coming down brutally against the Occupy movement of today. In the intervening 126 years, the country has experienced two world wars, the great depression, and the New Deal. But the rising class consciousness of today belongs not only to the exploited. It has always been keenly felt by the exploiters. A few years after May Day was declared, many big American businesses formed the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) with the express purpose of representing the interests of the capitalist elite and controlling the revolutionary ideas of the working class.

            NAM used the immense resources at its disposal for more than a century to propagandize the American people to the ideas that big government (capable of regulating business) was bad for them, that “free enterprise” was absolutely essential to democracy, and to establish a firm emotional link between the ideas of “God, economic freedom, and America” in the hearts and minds of most citizens. They succeeded, and even though big business could not prevent a New Deal in which U.S. workers shared a portion of the wealth in the form of corporate supported health benefits, a 40 hour work week, social security, and decent wages, these compromises made American workers absolutely loyal to their country and its system, irrespective of the horrific conditions in which people lived in much of the world, and irrespective of the genocidal imperial wars conducted by their government on behalf of its ruling class and the global system of exploitation.

            By the mid-1970s, the huge multi-national corporations had accumulated such immense wealth and power that they no longer felt any need to compromise with American workers in a New Deal style arrangement. If these corporations could pay workers in El Salvador or Indonesia 15 cents an hour, why should they have to pay their workers at home a legally mandated minimum wage?  If corporations operating in Bangladesh or Columbia had no obligation to limit working hours or provide health insurance benefits, why should such “luxuries” be afforded to American workers? These “privileges” for American workers did not represent a “free market” but one interfered with by “big government.”  The New Deal had to go, and the corporate propaganda machine got Ronald Reagan elected. The process of roll-back began, followed by one corporate sponsored, neo-liberal president after another until today. The New Deal now lies in shambles.

            Much of the Occupy movement in the U.S. today, with great energy and creativity, is struggling for a new New Deal. Even the Obama campaign for reelection has appropriated the central theme of Occupy, chronicled in a recent article (by Douglas Schoen in the Daily Beast) that cites recent poles as well as themes of the campaign “emphasizing unfairness in American society, income inequality, and the need to redistribute wealth.”  The Occupy movement is today inspiring corporate shareholders to challenge executive compensation packages; Occupy activists are blocking repossession by banks of foreclosed homes; business as usual is being challenged across the country.

            However, the depravity of the capitalist ruling class far exceeds the drive to repeal the New Deal. In a recent Truthdig article, journalist Chris Hedges correctly declares the rulers of the system have finally gone insane: “when civilizations start to die they go insane. Let the ice sheets in the Arctic melt. Let the temperatures rise. Let the air, soil and water be poisoned…. Let one useless war after another be waged. Let the masses be thrust into extreme poverty and left without jobs while the elites, drunk on hedonism, accumulate vast fortunes through exploitation, speculation, fraud and theft. Reality, at the end, gets unplugged.”  This insanity is real, and it is a significant part of a global economic system predicated not on human or environmental welfare but on exploitation and domination, turning all values into monetary values and destroying the moral foundations of human existence.

            But it is precisely here where the Occupy movement, for all its immense potential for generating a new New Deal within the U.S., reveals in its premises some of the same insanity that characterizes the global ruling class.  The Occupy movement is not primarily about ending global capitalism, global wars, and protecting our planetary environment.  It mainly just wants its fair share of the capitalist pie, it wants a new New Deal within the U.S. while the rest of the world continues to rot in hell, while the planetary environment continues to collapse, and while the threat of nuclear holocaust continues indefinitely.

            The original founders of May Day in the late 19th century understood that the revolution must be worldwide, that capitalism and its nefarious alignment with the system of militarized nation-states was a form of insanity that could only destroy our world, and with which it would be just as insane to compromise. They understood that their struggles for an 8 hour working day were only a tactical skirmish in the greater struggle to create a decent and just world system. Well over a century later, in the face of the collapse of our planetary ecosystem and the ever-present possibility of nuclear holocaust, most Americans have not even yet understood what the founders of May Day understood.

            We think that something decent and just can be achieved within a militarized nation-state promoting world-wide wars, with multinational corporations crushing the lives out of exploited peoples globally, and with huge corporate and military enterprises trashing the environment indiscriminately.  We appear to be as insane as the capitalist ruling class that has pulled out all restraints in its nihilistic wars on humanity and the environment. At the dawn of the 21st century, we still are not global citizens with a global vision but merely ciphers of some nation-state complicit in its wars and crimes precisely because we are complacent with the system itself—the system of militarized sovereign nation-states colonized by globalized capitalism.

            If we want to defend humanity and not just appropriate our personal share of the economic pie; if we want to defend human rights, justice, and the moral integrity of our species, then we must repudiate the system of sovereign nation-states and their global economic nightmare of haves and have-nots. The left in the U.S. appears nearly as divorced from reality as the right.  A new book by journalist Chris Mooney is entitled The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science–and Reality.  However, the left has not even caught up to the left that established May Day in 1986. We also deny reality.

The democratic and progressive brain seems intent on participating in the same insanity. Most of the left in the U.S. still live under the delusion that struggles can make a serious difference within the U.S., when in reality the only thing that successful struggles could possibly establish would be a new New Deal.  Such “success” would leave the global system of imperialism in association with the global system of economic exploitation in place.  It would do nothing to save the planetary environment, to create a just and decent world system, or to demilitarize the world from its insane development of ever more diabolical and destructive weapons.

What would a sane grasp of “science and reality” look like?  Even an elementary understanding of our world system perceives that the present world system dividing the planet into 192 militarized autonomous entities, each with an economic ruling class collaborating with similar classes among the nations to maximize private profit at the expense of nature and people, is in touch with neither science nor reality.  Even an elementary understanding of the unity of our planetary ecosystem reveals that it cannot be protected nor restored under a system of 192 competing militarized entities called sovereign nation-states.  Even an elementary understanding of the way global capitalism works makes clear that a just and decent economic system cannot be established within single nations within this diabolical world system.  Even an elementary grasp of the reality of our planetary situation reveals that only an integrated world economic system based on human rights and dignity could possibly eliminate the horror in which 50% of humanity currently lives.

This is why those who grasp science and reality in a reasonably sane and mature manner are those who support and promote democratic earth federation under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.  We cannot seriously change the system within individual nation-states. If we are in solidarity with our brothers and sisters worldwide, then we will recognize our moral obligation to change a world system premised on war, torture, exploitation, and the starvation a majority of our planet’s citizens.  Our situation can only be significantly changed through establishing a demilitarized Federation for the Earth in which everyone’s rights are protected, including our rights to peace and a healthy planetary environment.

The Constitution for the Federation of Earth is premised on just such a sane and mature grasp of both science and reality. It is premised on the dignity of human persons everywhere and their rights not to be bombed, tortured, or exploited. It unites all persons in a system of “unity in diversity,” as stated in the Preamble, in which “the earth’s total resources shall be used equitably for human welfare; and when basic human rights and responsibilities shall be shared by all without discrimination.”  A mature and sane human being understands that the Earth and its creatures are ecologically and scientifically one, that all human beings are one species protected by universal human rights and a common dignity, and that neither capitalism nor the system of sovereign nation-states can protect or establish a decent world system premised on these realities.

We need a new May Day, not just for American workers but for the entire world. We need a May Day that will live in honor throughout many subsequent centuries, for it will be the day that created a real future for the Earth and its peoples established on scientific and moral realities and not illusions.  If we are to be a sane and mature left, we need to begin living and acting as world citizens and no longer as minions of some militarized nation-state.  We need to face up to the true unity of our planet and our humanity. The real May Day for planet Earth will be the day on which we ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth!