I strongly disagree with the suggestion by Jason, Ilya, and others to rename May Day “Victims of Communism” Day.

The fact that Communist regimes have attempted to co-opt May Day is no reason to imitate them in a second co-opting attempt. May Day not only originally was, but still is, primarily a celebration of workers’s movements generally, not of the butchers of Kronstadt. The holiday is commemorated all over the world; it is not now and never has been mainly a Communist regime holiday.

I think Shawn in the comments (here and here) hits the nail on the head when he describes “the attempt to make International Labor Day about the crimes of governments rather than the struggles of individuals, to turn a workers’ celebration into a day of mourning,” as making a “false parallel between popular struggles and state crimes.” (See also some of the commentators at Radley Balko’s May Day blog post.)

Also: if we’re going to remember victims of the state on May 1st, surely the Haymarket martyrs have a claim to precedence.

Jacob adds, rightly, that the war on May Day is “pointlessly antagonistic toward social democrats”; but I would just add to this that it’s not just social democrats who would be pointlessly antagonised. Free-market libertarians have been part of the labour movement since the beginning, from the individualist anarchists of the 19th century (including Thomas Hodgskin, Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Ezra Heywood, Francis Tandy, Dyer Lum, Voltairine de Cleyre, and even to some extent Herbert Spencer, Gustave de Molinari, and Wordsworth Donisthorpe) to the ALL/C4SS crowd today. (C4SS went on strike to commemorate May Day yesterday.)

For free-market libertarian defenses of May Day, see David D’Amato here, Kevin Carson here, and Charles Johnson here, here, here, and here.

A day for remembering the victims of state Communism is a fine idea. But, as Jacob reminds us, there is already a Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. Wouldn’t it make more sense to fold a remembrance of victims of other communist and fascist regimes into that, rather than trying to imitate the Stalinists by seeking to co-opt May Day?

Workers of the world, unite to defend May Day!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

    For the first time in maybe a few years, I’m inclined to say: go Roderick.

    I’m also inclined to say: you’re in an uphill battle against your own comrades that might not move them much. You’re experiencing just how much Anglo-American libertarianism is dominated by right-wing narratives – even at a “bleeding heart libertarians” blog. I’m unsure how successful left-libertarians are going to be at transforming the rest of the libertarian movement, when its culture is still obviously clinging to the remains of the cold war.

    But kudos for speaking up at all. Someone certainly has to.

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  • http://www.factsandotherstubbornthings.blogspot.com/ Daniel Kuehn

    I strongly agree. I never even thought of it as a communist day until this series of posts initiated by Ilya’s suggestion.

    I suppose in a different part of the world it may be more closely associated with communists, but most people in the U.S. would probably be as confused by this as I was. May Day is about workers, not communists.

  • good_in_theory

    One might note, that if one is interested in complaining about state sanctioned crimes, May 1st has another set of holidays that are actually statist to the core: Law and Loyalty day.

    If in some sense BHLs are concerned with turning attention from Libertarian complaints about how poor citizens (arguably) use states to hurt others (and themselves) via welfare, public education, public healthcare, and other social spending, to Libertarian complaints about how wealthy and powerful state actors (arguably) use states to hurt poor citizens (and others) via corporate subsidy, military force, central banking and other varieties of elite cronyism, then the nationalist May 1st holidays created by wealthy and powerful state actors might be a better target of ire than the internationalist May 1st holiday created by poor workers.

  • berserkrl

    P.S. Ilya argues  that the association with Communist regimes has tained May Day in the same way that the association with Nazism has tainted the swastika.  But in the west, hardly anyone uses a swastika who isn’t a Nazi or a Nazi sympathiser.  (Things are different in Asia, obviously.)  But May Day is celebrated all over the world by people who aren’t Communists (including, as I’ve pointed out, by many libertarians).  The two aren’t remotely comparable.

  • Mad Rocket Scientist

    Isn’t the 1st of May traditionally a day of drinking, dancing, singing & otherwise celebrating spring (and in some cases, fertility).

    So instead of focusing on labor/communism/etc, let’s all party &, well, do what you’d expect to do while celebrating spring & fertility. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wiebe/1440756026 Michael Wiebe
    • JOR

       Almost as relevant as the fallacy of self-exclusion. That’s just a wordier “everyone who disagrees with me is too emotional to see I’m right!” and has about the same intellectual value.

      • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

        I’ll add, for the lolz: Tyler Cowen is virtually a walking fallacy himself.

  • Glen Whitman

    Isn’t Labor Day our designated holiday for celebrating the workers?  Why do we need a second one? 

    May Day, sadly, has indeed been coopted by the communists.  Internationally, this is well known.  We’re just largely ignorant of it here in America.  So when the OWS people decide to use May Day as a day to have a national strike, I find it fitting that defenders of free markets respond by commemorating the victims of communism.

    However, what I like even better is Mad Rocket Scientist’s suggestion that we return May Day to its traditional Celtic roots.  It was originally Beltane, the calendar opposite of Samhain, a.k.a. Halloween.  It involved lots of drinking, bonfires, and sex.  That’s why I tweeted yesterday, “This is a holiday the Commies stole from the Celts.  We’re stealing it back.  Happy Beltane!”

    • Shawn P. Wilbur

      It’s sort of a funny argument. If it’s so easy to miss the fact that May Day has “indeed been coopted” here in the US, isn’t the most obvious explanation that, despite valiant efforts by authoritarian communist groups and patriotic statists, that alleged cooptation has not actually taken place?

      Labor Day is a present from Grover Cleveland, to try to draw support away from a radical workers’ holiday. If we want to talk about really coopted workers holidays, how about one that, aside from a brief, pre-presidential-designation, period of support from the Knights of Labor, was always a product of statism?

    • Damien S.

      The holiday designated by the state, which feared labor activism, as opposed to chosen by the workers themselves.  I’m surprised to see a libertarian looking to the state in this matter.

      ” Internationally, this is well known”

      Citation, again, needed.  The biggest association between May Day and Communism, as opposed to labor unions and a day off, seems to be in the minds of Americans.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Workers%27_Day#Americas
      Not much mention of cooption in any of the countries other than the actual and formerly Communist ones.

      But since you respect the choices of the US government so much: belated happy Loyalty Day!

      • Glen Whitman

         “Not much mention of cooption in any of the countries other than the actual and formerly Communist ones.”  That’s the whole point!  The best known May Day celebrations in history are the ones organized by the Soviet Union and other communist countries.  And, in fact, it’s still happening in Cuba:

        http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/01/us-cuba-mayday-idUSBRE8400WM20120501

        And yes, modern-day communists still have rallies on May Day:

        http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/05/may-day-in-israel-scenes-from-a-communist-rally-in-the-holy-land/256612/

        And setting aside the actual communists, it’s still very clearly a left-wingers’ holiday — as the OWS “general strike” demonstrates.  (Google that term to see how closely connected it is to communism.  It appears to have been coined by the chairman of the IWW, which advocates abolition of the wage system.)

        As for Labor Day — admittedly, I didn’t know the history.  But I don’t think most workers do, either.  Labor Day to most people is indeed a day for celebrating the workers.  So I still don’t see any reason why we need more than one day for that.

        Of course, I’m not advocating that anyone should be stopped from celebrating May Day if they want.  But the more they do, the more supportive I am of those who would commemorate victims of the communism on the same day. 

        • berserkrl

          “Not much mention of cooption in any of the countries other than the actual and formerly Communist ones.”  That’s the whole point!  The best known May Day celebrations in history are the ones organized by the Soviet Union and other communist countries.

          But you’re reading “Not much mention of cooption in any of the countries other than the actual and formerly Communist ones” as though it said “Not much mention of May Day celebrations in any of the countries other than the actual and formerly Communist ones.”
           
          And of course May Day celebrations by statist oppressors are going to be carried out on a larger scale than May Day celebrations by the oppressed.  That was precisely the aim of Communist regimes — to co-opt the holiday.  And right-wing governments were eager to encourage this, since they were happy to see the labour movement associated with Communist regimes.  It’s the left-conflationist/right-conflationist dance again.  But why should we want to assist the co-opters?

          And setting aside the actual communists, it’s still very clearly a left-wingers’ holiday — as the OWS “general strike” demonstrates. 
           
          As a left-wing libertarian and supporter of OWS and general strikes, I have a hard time seeing why those connections should alarm me.
           
          (Google that term to see how closely connected it is to communism.  It appears to have been coined by the chairman of the IWW, which advocates abolition of the wage system.)
           
          Herbert Spencer and Lysander Spooner also advocated abolition of the wage system.  Were they communists? Many free-marketers today (e.g., at C4SS) advocate abolition of the wage system and indeed are members of IWW.  Are they communists??
           
          As for Labor Day — admittedly, I didn’t know the history.  But I don’t think most workers do, either.  Labor Day to most people is indeed a day for celebrating the workers.  So I still don’t see any reason why we need more than one day for that.
           
          The most radically antistatist workers are the ones most likely to know May Day.  Those comfortable with the status quo are the
          ones most likely to favour Labor Day.

          • KhartoumHero

            Left-wing libertarian? I smell a contradiction there.

    • j_m_h

      All of which shows that everyone is just defending “their turf” and it’s all still getting stolen all the time. Sounds like a property rights issue ;-)

    • berserkrl

       Isn’t Labor Day our designated holiday for celebrating the workers?

      Labor Day is the state-approved holiday for celebrating the co-opting of the labour movement by the corporate state.  May Day is the holiday for celebrating workers’ self-liberation.  The former was deliberately created as an attempted substitute for the latter.

  • Shawn P. Wilbur

    If political symbols speak as much “in one voice” as the opponents of the “communist” May Day seem to believe, then somebody needs to do something about BHL’s anarcho-syndicalist color scheme.

  • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

    “The fact that Communist regimes have attempted to co-opt May Day is no reason to imitate them in a second co-opting attempt.”

    Yup.  However dissident he might have been Volokh nevertheless spent his early years steeped in the culture of Stalinism.  It’s not necessarily a huge surprise that he would imitate his erstwhile culture-minders and co-opt May Day yet again.  (Learning to guard against the big indoctrinations of our past doesn’t necessarily immunize us to the petty indoctrinations.)

    “Free-market libertarians have been part of the labour movement since
    the beginning, from the individualist anarchists of the 19th century…”

    Um, yeah.  Because however much property-only  fetishists and their (ironically, paid) minions might look at actual work as a scornful and disgusting activity to be forcibly extracted from sub-humans, the right to negotiate for the rent on one’s own brain, hands, or back is kind of a core liberty.  And if thwarted by take-it-or-leave it management wage setting, the liberty to freely associate in order to in turn set your own take-it-or-leave-it wage demands doesn’t seem that far fetched either.

    This is why labor-scorning property fetishists as sickening as property-scorning labor fetishists.  Neither kind should be allowed to tarnish the word “libertarian” no matter how much a bunch of ‘wingers pay to try making it their registered trademark.

    Finally, to the extent Wikipedia can be relied on to refresh one’s American history, the first Labor Day was in 1886 in Chicago.  Commie prototypes didn’t really try and sink their claws into it till 1894 or 1895.  And for that matter, the blight that became capital-C communism remained a somewhat obscure Russian variation till the 1910s.

    “There is already a Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism.”

    Yup.  August 23, as anyone who actually cared about the victims of Russian Communism ought already to know.  If Volokh had suggested expanding Aug. 23rd to include victims of all forms of communism I’d back him 100%.

     That Volokh instead appears to be ignorant of this suggests that, in fact, he’s not motivated at all by actual concern for the victims of communism but instead just wants to pee on the idea that people who work for a living should be at liberty to negotiate their wages.  (And yes, I’m aware that many large union activities are almost as restrictive on this as most large employers are.  The answer, though, is to bust both labor and management for that kind of crap rather than squalling to government to show favoritism to one side.  But don’t hold your breath waiting for Volokh to propose that either.)

    %#@*$&!

    figleaf

  • http://twitter.com/wirkman T.W. Virkkala

    A plus for mentioning Wordsworth Donisthorpe.

    I’m not sure I agree on the thesis, though. The movement to “celebrate” “workers” etc. is repeatedly besmirched by “anarchists” who are basically vandals. At least in Seattle, where I witnessed pretty much the same horrendous behavior years ago in the WTO riots.

    And the main line of marchers seem to be witless “Occupiers.” These people are not for freedom. They explicitly and repeatedly call for more government and for reprisals on business enterprise. The vandalism of the anti-private property hooligans fits pretty easily in with this.

    Further, I don’t want to unite with anyone on making much of any celebratory day. But then, I’m not a worker, do not live by wage contracts but by performance/production/service contracts, and have little in common with those who prefer wages. Go unite with yourselves. Wage earners typically act like serviles. It’s a dangerous contract, far more dangerous to the soul than hooking.

    Well, that last may be an overstatement.

    I suggest a compromise, in the end. Make May 2nd the communism victim day.

    • berserkrl

       And the main line of marchers seem to be witless “Occupiers.” These people are not for freedom. 

      Well, “these people” marks out a pretty diverse group.  There are a fair number of free-marketers in the Occupy movement (see the comments on the Balko post I linked to earlier).

      I’m not a worker, do not live by wage contracts but by performance/production/service contracts, and have little in common with those who prefer wages. … Wage earners typically act like serviles.

      Yes! the attitude you express here is precisely the attitude celebrated by the 19th-century labour movement (before it was co-opted by the state) — the movement that created May Day.  The original goal of the labor movement was to abolish the wage system, not to jockey for better wages.  Worker empowerment was the idea.

      • Wirkman Virkkala

        Yes, objecting to the servility element in the wage contract is a fine thing, but pretending that it is therefore illegitimate is something else. Wage contracts have some obvious efficiency pluses – for many tasks, the transaction costs must be less.

        My problem with nearly all “organized labor movements is that they tend to promote policies rather than mutual aid. The way to get out of the wage system trap – if you want to – is to learn marketable skills, market yourself, and take some entrepreneurial risk. It is not to join a movement to either abolish or reform the wage contract system.

        Indeed, abolishing wage contracts would have been worse than what actually happened, reform.

        Another reason not to march on May Day.

        • berserkrl

          But they (or most of them) weren’t trying to abolish wage contracts by banning them.  They were trying to open up space for alternatives.  They had to form a movement because much of that space had been legally monopolised by the  plutocratic class.

      • Ryan Long

        That last comment of yours is a no true Scotsman fallacy. The idea that “the REAL, un-coopted, pure, labor movement” makes only good points, but the “fake, coopted, statist” labor movement ruins it all cannot possibly be supported. The labor movement is what it has become. 

        If anarchists want to declare that the state always grows, history proves it, there is no other option, then they must apply that same basic principle to the labor movement or any other anarchist construct that history has proven necessarily turns sour every time it’s tried.

        Furthermore, if we are to believe that the labor movement is nothing more than an unorganized (uncoopted) spontaneous proletarian uprising, then we have accepted the most important premise of Marx/Engels. It’s balderdash. The labor movement was always a statist political faction, and it’s frustrating to watch so many people pretend otherwise. 

        • berserkrl

          The idea that “the REAL, un-coopted, pure, labor movement” makes only
          good points, but the “fake, coopted, statist” labor movement ruins it
          all cannot possibly be supported. The labor movement is what it has
          become.

          If you’re going to make that argument, how will you reply when people say exactly the same thing about free-market advocates?  “The idea that ‘the REAL, un-coopted, pure, free-market movement’ makes only
          good points, but the “fake, coopted, Republican, Romneyite, tea-party” free-market movement ruins it
          all cannot possibly be supported. The free-marketmovement is what it has
          become.”

          The labor movement was always a statist political faction

          A movement led in large part by anarchists was always statist?  In Alice’s Wonderland, maybe.

          • Ryan Long

            Regarding your first point, that is precisely the problem I pointed out in my 2nd paragraph. I’m not inclined to make such claims about free markets, because they’re not dependent on any social “movement.” Either a market is regulated or it isn’t. In my mind, it’s binary, so I guess I side-step the question of “pure” market freedom.

            Regarding your second point, anarchy is fundamentally statist in my opinion, but the explanation for that is long and drawn out, and we couldn’t get to it here.

          • good_in_theory

            In what world are free markets not dependent upon any social movement?

          • Ryan Long

            What I mean is a movement is defined by its participants. A regulation or lack thereof is not, it is simply a definition.

          • good_in_theory

            But of course there is a “pure, real, uncoopted” ‘free’ market movement that is separable and distinct from the “fake, coopted, statist” ‘free’ market movement.

          • Ryan Long

             For all I know, there might be, but it’s destined to fail because movements aren’t market attributes, nor vice-versa. As soon as an idea is organized, it is politicized by definition, and as such *co-opted*.

            This is the whole problem with anarchy – people think that abolishing a formal state solves the statism problem. It doesn’t. Neither does “competition.” Factions are factions and always will be. The actual dictionary definition of the word “co-opt” is very telling in this regard.

  • Damien S.

    You know, if as a libertarian one disagrees with OSHA and the 8 hour workday and the 2 day weekend and parental leave and thus don’t want to celebrate unions and labor day, one could still keep quiet and not celebrate rather than try to co-opt it with bad history.

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  • Ryan Long

    I fail to see why any libertarian (or any person in general) should support “workers’ interests.” What is the point of taking sides in a voluntary exchange? Anarchists have always supported the labor movement because the labor movement is the root of anarcho-syndicalism. The idea that private resources can best be managed democratically is laughably absurd. The idea that organizing into a mob in order to renegotiate a contract is “fair” or should be supported by anyone is a terrible idea.

    And I’m not sure why people keep forgetting this, but the roots of the labor movement are violent. These were gun-brandishing mobs who in many cases murdered people who didn’t align with “workers’ interests.”

    Anyone who is a victim of the labor movement is a victim of communism. There is no point, nor any justification, for aligning the labor movement with libertarianism.

    • berserkrl

       What is the point of taking sides in a voluntary exchange?

      But it’s not voluntary when state intervention on behalf of capitalists rigs the market in their favour.

      These were gun-brandishing mobs who in many cases murdered people who didn’t align with “workers’ interests.”

      You know there were much larger gun-brandishing mobs murdering people who didn’t align with capitalists’ interests, right?

      • Ryan Long

        “Capitalists” are not a group. Capitalists are people who believe in unregulated markets. There is no such thing as “an unregulation.” So if people take up arms to protect their private property, most libertarians I know recognize that as a valid protection of basic human rights. It’s true that my human rights are an “interest,” but not in the same sense as the interests of an unlawful mob.

        Now, whether the labor market back then was “rigged” is a pretty big question. Regardless of the answer, taking up guns, killing people, and vandalizing property is hardly a justifiable “movement,” and no peace-loving libertarian should ever construe it as such, in my opinion.

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  • jdkolassa

    Can I just say: I don’t care? Hell, I forgot until today that the 1st of May was even a holiday in some places.

    If it were truly a workers holiday, I would be at home now sleeping, not at work staring at TPS reports and drinking hot apple cider from the Keurig. (But the cider is good….)

    • jdkolassa

      Oops, did not realize this post was a year old. My bad.

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