Every day is May Day which we here at The Stars Hollow Gazette and DocuDharma celebrate in the traditional way- with the clenched fist salute.
|Arise ye workers from your slumbers
Arise ye prisoners of want
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant.
Away with all your superstitions
Servile masses arise, arise
We’ll change henceforth the old tradition
And spurn the dust to win the prize.
So comrades, come rally
No more deluded by reaction
So comrades, come rally
No saviour from on high delivers
So comrades, come rally
Note 1: This was supposed to be “Part 2” of a single Beltaine Diary of which my Diary entitled “Bringing In The May: The Heroes of Haymarket” was to be “Part 1”. (So I’m posting this now, even though the First of May 2015 is now long past.)
Note 2: Please allow me to express my deepest gratitude to the Marxists Internet Archive website, http://www.marxists.org, and Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/, for much of the material I am using in today’s Diary. Although in the public domain owing to its age, I would not have been able to gather this material had it not been for these websites and those who operate them. Therefore, I express my thanks for their assistance.
Most of my readers here on Anti-Capitalist Meetup recognize this image immediately; it was used in many of the Diaries and discussions here on Daily Kos on the subject which appeared around Beltaine (May 1) this year:
This classic portrayal of the Heroes of Haymarket Square in Chicago is the work of British illustrator Walter Crane (1845 – 1915).
It is not quite as well known today, a century after his death, that Mr. Crane was a Socialist; that he employed his not insignificant talents in the graphical arts in the service to the Socialist and Labor movements in Britain and America during his time; and that even today his graphics still strike a serious chord with those of us who believe that all wealth is created by Labor, and Labor is entitled to everything it creates.
For more details — and more Walter Crane images — follow me beyond the fold!
Please allow me to tell you a little story. In the middle to late 19th and early 20th Century, in Britain, there were several movements afoot. One of these was the British Folk Revival. Although most commenters on the British Folk Revival concentrate on the preservation and revival of old-time British folk music (such as this Wikipedia article), there was also a considerable movement to preserve other British folk culture and customs going on at the same time. The net impact was a revival of numerous folk customs in late 19th and early 20th Century Britain.
One of the most important of these revivals is that of the old May Day or Beltaine customs. The May Pole and the May Dances are important here. And it is here we recover our good friend Walter Crane.
Walter Crane was an unabashed Socialist. His artwork made it superlatively clear that he believed that, as his comrade and ours Rosa Luxemburg said, the choice of the human race was “Socialism or Barbarism!”
“The Capitalist Vampire”, Walter Crane, 1903
I know this image isn’t a May Day one; but it certainly shows where Crane was coming from; and from my viewpoint today, it is certainly appropriate to the situation of modern American workers. That’s why I used that image here. Modern American labor, like British labour of Crane’s time (and ours too!) was beset hard by all the forces of capitalism and its nastier allies. In fact, I daresay that the two wings of Crane’s Vampire, “Religious Hypocrisy” and “Party Politics”, are striking American labor harder than our British comrades. (Although, with the recent utter and total victory of The Dark Side in the British Parliamentary Elections, at least one of those wings is beating on our poor British comrades again!) Today, American workers are facing more of a betrayal by the pseudo-“Christianity” of Focus on the Family, the American Family Council, and others of the same Dominionist ilk than at any other historical time, as the Dominionist Movement has never been as blatant, strong, entrenched, or well financed as it is now.
Beltaine and the Movement for Workers’ Rights and a Socialist Society.
In my last Diary for Anti-Capitalist Meetup, I discussed why it is and how it came to pass that the movement for Socialism and for the rights of the common Worker became bonded to the ancient Pagan Holy Day of Beltaine, the First of May. This bonding was forged in the blood of the Haymarket Heroes who were
executed murdered by the State of Illinois for daring to speak in favor of the rights of ordinary working men and women as opposed to the non-rights of capitalists to treat them as less than slaves.
At this juncture I feel a “Fair Disclosure” is called for. Your humble scribe, O Reader, is a practicing member of the Pagan Faith. It is the lore of that Faith which comes into play at this point in our story, which is why I felt it necessary to bring this up. And the utter and complete sanctity of the Haymarket Martyrs is not lost on those of us who, like myself, are both Egalitarian Socialist and Pagan. I also would have you know, Reader, that I am far from alone meeting that particular description; amongst modern Paganry in the Western World, Egalitarian Socialists are quite common and becoming more so. I myself tend to think this is in large part a reaction against the “Religious Hypocrisy” that Crane depicted as one whole wing of the Capitalist Vampire Bat in his cartoon I posted above. But now, please allow me to give you a short description of the Pagan Lore of Beltaine, as I have learned it through my instruction in the Pagan Faith, so we may consider how it relates to what Walter Crane is trying to tell us.
Beltaine (evening of April 30 – sundown on May 1) is one of the Eight Major Holidays of the Year, sometimes called “Sabbats”. It is the celebration of the final arrival of the Green Time of the Year. The Land is free of ice and snow where humans live. The meadow grass is green. The flowers are blooming, the essential planting is done and the crop plants are all in their rise. Wild beasts, domesticated animals, and humans alike are “feeling their oats” after the long, hard, cold winter. It is at this time that human beings most often think of such matters as music, dancing, love, coupling, sex (!), and celebration of the joy of living. In ancient times, various arrangements would be made to have couples, well, couple in the fields in order to send some of this rambunctious energy into the local Earth to insure fertile fields, good crops, and good eating for humans and animals alike over the coming Year. In the Pagan Liturgical Cycle, where the Goddess and the God are considered to live a full human lifespan over the passage of each Year, Beltaine is the time when the Maiden Goddess and the Young Lord meet and become a mated couple (handfast). It is also the day upon which the Old Hunter, the Grey Man, the God in His old age (and the Young Lord’s Father), hands over charge of the Earth to the Maiden Goddess and goes to His rest, to strengthen Himself for the day of Samhain (pronounced SOW-ein) six months in the future, when He must needs take up the responsibility for the Earth and its creatures again for another Winter.
Celebrations of Beltaine include: humans and domesticated beasts marching between two bonfires (stoked with herbs which drive pestilent insects away); jumping over a fire (often used by the mateless to ask the Divine for a mate); circle and Morris dances; the May Pole (more details below!); the gathering of May flowers and the creation of wreaths and garlands; and, of course, the feasting, drinking, and general partying that one might well expect from a Holiday devoted to the restoration of the joys of living.
(whew!) I realize that was quite a bit there! But I think that having those pieces of Pagan Lore in mind will bring out some of Walter Crane’s messages more clearly. With all that in mind, let’s look at some of the Beltaine cartoons Walter Crane drew during his illustrious and very Socialistic career!
“A Garland for May Day”
As I alluded to above, Beltaine is really the Maiden Goddess’s Great Day. (Consider a mortal woman’s wedding day!) So we see Her, as the May Queen, holding up a giant Garland wrapped with ribbons inscribed with various Socialist messages. (We’ll see a lot more of that below; Crane was rather fond of this particular device!) Although the cartoon pretty much speaks for itself, the copies I could locate took some work (and some significant size expansion and sharpening with GNU Image Manipulation Program or GIMP) before I could read the messages with my “proof of adulthood” glasses on. So I will list the messages now:
“Socialism Means The Most Helpful Happy Life For All”
“A Commonwealth When Wealth Is Common”
“The Cause Of Labour Is The Hope Of The World”
“Art And Enjoyment For All”
“Solidarity Of Labour”
“Hope In Work And Joy In Leisure”
“Production For Use Not For Profit”
“Co-operation And Emulation, Not Competition” [dash added]
“NO CHILD TOILERS”
“Shorten Working Day And Lengthen Life”
“The Plough Is A Better Backbone Than The Factory”
“England Should Feed Her Own People”
“No People Can Be Free While Dependent For Their Bread”
“The Land For The People”
I don’t know about you, Reader, but it certainly seems to me that Crane “got the memo” about what this whole First of May thing is all about! Wow!
Let’s see what Walter Crane offered on another Beltaine:
“Solidarity of Labour”
This cartoon was Crane’s offering for Beltaine of 1889. It shows workingmen from every inhabited continent, in the dress worn by such in those places in 1889. Women are represented by the May Queen at the top of the cartoon, with Her Crown showing the legend “Freedom” with banners from Her wings/arms (both are present) reading “Fraternity” and “Equality”. The five inhabited Continents are listed: “Africa”, “Asia”, “America”, “Australia”, and “Europe”, each adjacent to the workingman representing that Continent. The workingmen have all laid their tools down, all around the world, to take a break from their labors and enjoy a simple circle dance in solidarity with each other and with Herself, and in celebration of the simple joy of being alive!
“The Strong Man”
“The Strong Man” by Walter Crane (1897)
Here, we have the May Queen approaching a poor Worker who seems to be carrying the weight of the whole world on his shoulders, Atlas-style. The burdensome bucket contains three asshat Bosses labeled “Rent”, “Profit”, and “Interest”. She holds a May-Pole crowned with May flowers, upholding a Standard reading “Labour Mayday”, and bearing three Maypole Streamers bearing the legends “The Land For The People”, “Production For Use Not Profit”, and “The Interest Of All”. She is inviting — yea, even daring — the Laborer to drop the maliciously heavy burden and make holiday with Her. We can therefore see Who really cares about that laborer (and it sure as hell isn’t the three asshat bosses)!
One other thing I would point out to the attention of my Readers: In this cartoon, the May Queen is carrying the May Garland which she would normally be wearing about Her Head. I interpret this as Her offering that Garland to the Laborer, as part of Her invitation to the world of love, solidarity, and celebration, out from the bitter hell imposed on him by capitalism’s bosses.
“The Workers’ May Pole” (1894)
Here, Crane pulled out all the stops. In addition to the cartoon image with all its details, Crane also accompanied it with a poem:
World Workers, whatever may bind ye,
This day let your work be undone:
Cast the clouds of the winter behind ye,
And come forth and be glad in the sun.
Now again while the green earth rejoices
In the bud and the blossom of May
Lift your hearts up again, and your voices,
And keep merry the World’s Labour Day.
Let the winds lift your banners from far lands
With a message of strife and of hope:
Raise the Maypole aloft with its garlands
That gathers your cause in its scope.
It is writ on each ribbon that flies
That flutters from fair Freedom’s heart:
If still far be the crown and the prize
In its winning may each take a part.
Your cause is the hope of the world,
In your strife is the life of the race,
The workers’ flag Freedom unfurled
Is the veil of the bright future’s face.
Be ye many or few drawn together,
Let your message be clear on this day;
Be ye birds of the spring, of one feather
In this–that ye sing on May-Day.
Of the new life that still lieth hidden,
Though its shadow is cast before;
The new birth of hope that unbidden
Surely comes, as the sea to the shore.
Stand fast, then, Oh Workers, your ground,
Together pull, strong and united:
Link your hands like a chain the world round,
If you will that your hopes be requited.
When the World’s Workers, sisters and brothers,
Shall build, in the new coming years,
A lair house of life–not for others,
For the earth and its fulness is theirs.
Here, my Reader will notice that the May Queen has turned Herself into Her own Altar, the May Pole. The May Pole bears the traditional Garland, situate about Her Waist. The Maypole Dancers are both men and women. About Her Maypole are banners reading:
“The Cause of Labour Is The Hope Of The World”
“Neither Riches Nor Poverty”
“Life And Work For All”
“The Hope Of [unreadable] Of All”
In Her two hands is an unfurled scroll reading “Socialization – Solidarity – Humanity”.
In the hands of Her Maypole Dancers are ribbons bearing the following legends:
“Abolition of Privilege”
“The Land For The People”
“EIGHT HOURS” (the very Cause for which the Haymarket Martyr Heroes gave their lives!)
“Leisure For All & A Life Worth Living”
“No Starving Children By The ?Board?”
Again, the message is clear: Crane wants it known that the ways of life in Britain in 1894, where starving workers, adults and children alike, had lives consisting of little else besides work, work, and more work, sauced with nothing else besides poverty, starvation, and privations, was flatly wrong and evil. He was using the most powerful weapon he possessed, his arts, to do battle against that evil. In doing this, Walter Crane offered some of the highest value to humankind in a day and age when humanity badly needed it.
Have you ever danced a May Pole?
Now, O Reader, I need to ask you a question: Have you ever danced a May Pole? You may rest assured that I have done so, many times. Please allow me to describe how it works: Two groups of equal numbers, usually women in one and men in the other, gather around the Pole. Each person takes a ribbon, and the members of each group face the members of the other one. When the music begins, the dancers dance around the Pole, holding their ribbons alternately high and low, so that each high-held ribbon corresponds to a low-held ribbon in the opposite group. As the dance progresses, the ribbons are woven into a beautiful pattern on the Pole. Even the errors made by the dancers (and there are always errors made by the dancers!) have their decorative effects on the pattern on the Pole, making it totally unique in all the world and completely unique year to year, with this Year’s Pole being different from last Year’s, and next Year’s Pole will, reliably, be different from this Year’s one, even with identical materials and dancers being used.
But there is one other effect that occurs, and it is quite apropos to the issue of the rights and powers of ordinary working folks. As the dancers dance, the ribbons draw them inexorably closer together! The words of the classic labor organizing song “Solidarity Forever” come readily to mind:
When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun
Yet what force on Earth is weaker than the feeble force of one but
The union makes us strong
For the union makes us strong!
italics in original
This, above all else, is the Lesson of the May Pole. Alone, each of us is not much more than nothing. Under isolation, we should consider ourselves lucky to survive even one Winter, much less many! But together, we constitute something far greater than the sum of our parts: veritably, there is “no power greater anywhere beneath the sun” ! The Union really does make us strong! This lesson is far older than organized labor. It is symbolized by the Sacred Marriage of the Goddess and the God (which according to European Pagan Tradition occurs at Beltaine), the ιεροσ γάμος, but it is by no means limited to coupling. It is also present at any time more than one of us joins in Solidarity with others of us to protect and defend each other. This power is equally present in families, in labor unions, in many religious groups, and in many other communities where we humans join with one another to create this Power to shelter each other from a hostile and often heartless world. The Union makes us strong! Never forget this!
Was Walter Crane a Pagan?
We do not know and will almost certainly will never know if Crane considered himself a Pagan. But here we embark on somewhat of an adventure: just what constitutes a Pagan? I can tell you that by any lights I can muster, he’s a co-religionist of mine. I do not need to know his views, if any, on the Divine in order to make this statement; in the words of our venerable and beloved fellow Kossack Meteor Blades, ” Don’t tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe. “ And what I have here, this body of the artistry of Walter Crane which I have shared with you above, which he did, shows me that he very much believed in the same things I do. His gentle and venerative treatment of the Maiden Lady, the May Queen, in his art, tells me that he either believes in Her directly as Deity, or as an Archetypal Symbol of love, compassion, mercy, and solidarity. Either or both of these will do quite well as far as this Pagan is concerned! Beyond that, Crane states quite directly in the art and the poetry that he believed in preserving the Earth and the Land for the People, rather than abusing it for private Profit. Again, as far as I am concerned, this qualifies him as a Pagan, as does his clear advocacy for the rights and the powers of the underdog and the working folk (of which he was one). Bottom line: were Walter Crane still alive, and I was the Priest in charge of a Sacred Circle wherein Divine Ritual was to be conducted, and Crane sought admission to that Circle, I would admit him at once! Why? Again, because I don’t need to rely on any claim he might make to know what he believes; I have what he has done, what he has created, to tell me that quite clearly and reliably. He believes as I believe; therefore, he is welcome to worship where I worship, insofar as I get to decide.
It is as close as I will ever come to answering the question.
Most gentle Reader, I thank you for reading!