May Day Speech


This is the speech I gave during the Hip Hop Occupies May Day rally and showcase. Unfortunately I forgot to make a couple of the points included here, but this was the overall message. My goal was to convey a few key points, as accessibly as I could:

1. Unemployment/underemployment is not primarily due to globalized labor markets, but to mechanization or the shift from formal to real domination of capital.

2. Class struggle is for unemployed and precariously employed people too.

3. Really winning is going to take serious effort to develop ourselves theoretically and strategically as a class.

May Day started when Chicago police massacred workers and revolutionaries who were fighting for an eight-hour workday. Back then, workers drudged through ten, twelve-hour shifts. Today, factory workers in China, seamstresses in Pakistan, and farmworkers in eastern Washington face the same long hours at dangerous work and still barely make enough money to get by.

But for some of us, instead of working too much, we can’t find work at all, or can’t get enough hours in the jobs we have. Some say this is because jobs have moved overseas, but did you know that the US still produces more than China? In fact, a big reason why so many of us are out of work is not because we’ve been replaced with 3rd world workers, but because we’ve been replaced by machines.

In a sane world, it would be a good thing to have machines to do boring, dangerous, backbreaking work. It would mean that all of us have more time to learn, to be creative, to spend time with friends and family. But this isn’t a sane world. This is capitalism. We produce enough to feed, house, and clothe every person on the planet, but millions starve and live without homes. This is because with capitalism the fundamental reason we produce things like food, houses, and clothing is not to use them, but to make a profit for the rich.

There’s an alternative, where we produce what we need in order to use it, and where all of us have a say in what we make and how we make it. So how do we get there? I don’t claim to have all the answers. This is something we have to figure out together.

But there are a few places to start. One is to study how these oppressive systems develop and how oppressed people fight them. The capitalists are smart and have a lot of resources on their side. If we want to win we have to be smarter and that means we have to learn both through study and through our experiences in struggle.

Second, we need to develop networks of people who can effectively fight the capitalists. If you have a job, organize with your coworkers so you can learn how to take power from your boss. Talk with folks from the Occupy Seattle Workers Caucus or the Industrial Workers of the World if you’re interested in this. If you don’t have a job, you can still hit the capitalists where it hurts like we did during the Port Shutdown in December.

And this isn’t just to fight for better wages or more respect on the job. If we have a strong network of people ready to take militant action together, then the next time the cops murder somebody, the next time Israel attacks Gaza, the next time an immigrant dies behind bars, instead of protesting and going home, we can punish the capitalists by shutting this city down as we develop ourselves to eventually smash their system completely.

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9 Responses to May Day Speech

  1. mamos206 says:

    May Day in Seattle was incredible. One of the most multi-racial actions I’ve ever seen in Seattle, with thousands marching on an openly “anti-capitalist” unpermitted march that involved property destruction of banks. Amazing new queer and feminist “pink bloc”. Lots of youth participating in all parts of the day, multiple high school walkouts, an outstanding hip hop show. We’ll most more updates and analysis as soon as we get a chance.

    This was a great speech. The crowd was very sympathetic to the openly revolutionary messages, and when that one dude tried to red-bait and heckle Fray it only added to their case and a whole bunch of people in the crowd who aren’t part of the usual revolutionary circles ended up confronting him and getting your back. It’s definitely a new moment.

    • Frank56 says:

      Mamo if we were to take a poll about how popular property destruction is, I think it would more tnan 99,9% against. and I think that is the 99% you are trying to win over. Groups that advocate property destruction, are a perfect haven for fbi informants, and how well they can hide in an Anarchist group. Blowing a bridge with people, people you are trying to win potential victims? Why was it so easy to frame these 5 Anarchists? Because they saw property destruction as their main strategy. Because, they can’t wait for the working class to bring down the capitalist class through strikes or other demontrations? Who is going to try to get these Anarchists out of jail? Or will they be left hanging on their own?

      The capitalist system is laying down the foundation for the social system to replace that, That is the revolutionary aspect of the capitalist system. As Fray says, we need to have the machines work for us.

      If you could destroy every single capitalist machine, we could go back to the feudal system and …then what? start the process all over again?

      In terms of property desctruction we may never see it on the scale 9/11 hijackers inflicted on the financial centers and govt buildings. It may go down in history as the largest ever of capitalist property destruction. What political advantage did it gain for the highjackers?

      I think, if Anarchist become extinct, as a poltical party or group, it will be because they cannot abandon property destruction.

  2. Frank56 says:

    Very good Fray, Number 1, I found your speech interesting to read. You said so many things I would have want to say in a May day speech. You did say:

    “But there are a few places to start. One is to study how these oppressive systems develop and how oppressed people fight them. The capitalists are smart and have a lot of resources on their side. If we want to win we have to be smarter and that means we have to learn both through study and through our experiences in struggle.”

    I would like to have to said to out smart the capitalist is to read the best book on capitalism, Capital by Marx. It is the most detailed study of the capitalist system I have found.

    We also need to study from all revolutions especially the Bolshevik revolution to learn from their correct strategies and their mistakes. We need to see if property destruction was one of the key tactis that led to the overthrow of centuries of Tsarism. We need to ask if Marxism played an important, or perhaps the most important role on over throwing Tsarism.

    And if most Anarchist I meet can already explain how oppresive systems evolve or develop, something is happening that I welcome. For example, how the capitalist evolved from the feudal system before it.

    • mamos206 says:

      Wait, wait , wait, hold up Frank….. noone in Seattle tried to do any of that stuff, they simply smashed some windows. The anarchists here had nothing to do with blowing up bridges, or 9/11. If you claim to be a Marxist get your facts straight and don’t compare other revolutionaries to 9/11 hijackers -that’s completely irresponsible and plays into the systems’ hands. Windows were broken at banks, the courthouse, and corporate businesses. That’s it. Noone was hurt – except of course by the police who specialize in hurting people. And many anarchists here are serious about studying theory, including Marx’s Capital, and are also serious about working class organizing, strikes, etc. Let’s not fall into sectarian stereotypes.

  3. Scott Myers says:

    An excellent speech. I’m glad someone has taken the trouble to produce something worthy of sincere critique. And I hope that I may prove myself worthy of making such a critique.

    Re Globalization vs. Mechanization: This is an interesting and oft-overlooked point, especially when the capitalist mass media are always sending the message to American workers, “Work harder for less, or the Chinese will take your jobs!” However, ‘globalization’ and ‘mechanization’ are categories manifest on two different levels of abstraction, and therefore the dichotomy is a false one. ‘Globalization’, properly so called, refers to the total historical movement of the capitalist system, the economic foundation of which is the complete restructuring of production supply chains and labor markets — and therefore the total circuit of capital accumulation — on a new, global basis. “Mechanization” is but one aspect (or ‘moment’ for you Hegelians) of this process, which has different effects for the working classes of developing countries from those of the developed.

    In the developed countries, we see the passing of the industrial proletariat into a ‘post-industrial proletariat’, not in the sense that there are no longer industrial jobs, but just that the majority of the workers don’t have such jobs. This is, in my estimation, the highest level of development of the proletariat under the capitalist system. It is a proletariat which possesses, for the first time in history, the real objective and subjective requirements to supersede capitalism. (I regret that I cannot go into further detail regarding these conditions here.)

    In the developing countries, we see the transformation of a peasantry into an industrial proletariat, and the further transformation of a portion the industrial proletariat straight away into a ‘post-industrial proletariat’. Because of the uneven nature of capitalist development, therefore, in the developing countries there is still a much greater possibility for what Lenin referred to as ‘trade union consciousness’ to take hold of the working classes. On the other hand, the wretched conditions of their exploitation make them all the readier for militant action — as we can see from the historically unprecedented amount of labor unrest in China (that is, when the mass media bother to report it).

    A movement of solidarity between the workers of developed and developing countries — i.e. the creation of a truly global proletariat, no longer merely ‘in itself’ but also ‘for itself’ — is the great task that we have to accomplish in the 21st century. But in order to accomplish this we must first organize the ‘post-industrial proletariat’, something no one has quite figured out how to do. (And no, the Occupy Movement doesn’t even come close. Sorry. But at least it does show that elements of this class are ripe for organization.)

    When the problem is posed in this way, the solution your speech offers of getting in touch with the IWW seems rather ridiculous, does it not? I mean, how is a self-proclaimed organization of industrial workers going to capture the imagination of a ‘post-industrial proletariat’?? And insofar as it holds on to its outmoded ‘industrial’ format, it is still in direct competition with real industrial unions, who retain a firm hold on the few industrial jobs the ‘post-industrial proletariat’ have left. These unions, despite their ‘bureaucratic’ nature (or perhaps because of it) have every advantage over the IWW, and never fail to attract more workers than the IWW.

    “…a strong network of people ready to take militant action together…” This is an oxymoron. Networks are by definition composed of loose, tenuous nodes of contact, and are incapable of providing the strength necessary to protect rebelling workers. Therefore their participants always lack the confidence to take genuine militant action, and rightly restrain themselves to purely symbolic gestures of defiance which entail very little risk. I defy you to point to an instance in history where capitalists were outdone by a mere ‘network’ of people. Networks are always defeated, outwitted, tricked and bamboozled by the capitalists, until someone comes in and teaches their participants how to organize properly (or, studying history, they teach themselves how to do it by trial and error).

    The ‘networks’ of ‘militants’ that exist today are but the splinters of the great ship that was the 20th century Labor Movement, which has been smashed to bits by the transnational capitalist class over the past 40 years. We flail around in the water, clinging to whatever ideological debris we can find to stay afloat, and when we can’t find anything, we drag each other down just trying keep our heads above the water. (What else are these sad factional ‘debates’ around the Occupy Movement?) Networks are not our strength, but a symptom of our utter inability to organize ourselves into a powerful force — in the same way that online ‘social networks’ represent our tragic inability form genuine friendships anymore.

    This is not to urge a return to the Leninist model, which I believe is as outmoded as the IWW. What we need to do is figure out how to organize the ‘post-industrial proletariat’ — or at least the ‘new working poor’, who constitute at least half of it — into democratic mass membership organizations, led by competent leaders who are legitimately elected and directly accountable to the rank and file, with a strategy, principles, and a program suited to the needs and aspirations of this class at this stage of history. Since the older generations of Leftists has proven themselves rather useless in training us in this, the younger generations have to do it by study and trial and error. So it will take a long time, and therefore requires immense patience — something the younger generations, accustomed as we are to push-button instant gratification (e.g. General Strike Now!), have in very short supply. But we must rise to this, for it is the only way!

    Finally, if you will permit me to make a few comments regarding your style. Rhetorically, the speech starts out strong, climaxes in the middle, and then gets rather weak at the end. From “In a sane world…” to “…have to figure out together,” you are brilliant, lucid, and inspiring. This is exactly the kind of language that will succeed in arousing members of the ‘post-industrial proletariat’, and especially the ‘new working poor’. But you end with “…we can punish the capitalists by shutting this city down as we develop ourselves to eventually smash their system completely.” On the surface, this seems like a strong finish. But to anyone who hears it who has some insight into human psychology, it actually seems rather weak. The only possible purpose of using such language would be to touch the listener by mobilizing his desire for retribution, punishment and destruction. When you say things like this, you are no longer inspiring, but fanatical, demagogic. You betray a lack of faith in the solutions you posed, a lack which I believe, as you can see from my comments above, is rightly placed. You turn hope into desperation.

    Such a rhetorical strategy alienates the best people, and attracts only a small minority of the most desperate and most fanatical. It is suitable for the extreme Right, but sometimes the Left becomes so extreme, that it curves around and proves itself indistinguishable from the Right, at least in terms of form if not in content. Even someone like Che Guevara, an adventurist who killed a lot of people, was motivated by genuine love and hope in the future of the human race. If you have ever seen a recording of him speaking, you will never find any kind of demagogy, but he brims with warmth, hope, humor and humanity.

    But how can we similarly act out of hope, helplessly trapped as we are in deadening capitalistic relations? Only when we actually succeed in building something better among ourselves, something worth joining, participating in, fighting for, and perhaps even dying for, will revolutionaries be motivated by passions more noble than petty revenge fantasies. May we find in ourselves the resources to accomplish it!

    • Fray says:

      Scott, thanks for your thoughtful feedback. I don’t have a lot of time to respond but wanted to make sure you knew I’d read your critiques.

      I hope you can forgive a certain lack in complete precision in terminology in a 2.5 minute speech that I meant to be broadly accessible. I would have chosen my words more carefully if I was writing out my 10-20 page communist program and thus hopefully would not have fallen into some of the slips that you point out here. But some of the lack of precision is also me still just learning a lot of these ideas. I don’t have all of this figured out, but I still want to engage publicly with debates around current class composition as well as revolutionary strategy.

      In that spirit, I disagree that advising workers to talk with members of the IWW about organizing in their workplace is “ridiculous”. Your response implies that the IWW is only for industrial workers (I guess you mean people with hard hats?), but I’m fairly sure you know that the contemporary IWW does a lot of its organizing in the fast food industry and that historically the IWW has oriented itself toward precariously-employed workers that aren’t necessarily tied to a single job title. SEIU and Unite Here might be unionizing a lot more workers than the IWW, but A) they are not unionizing baristas, child care workers, etc, and B) they are not teaching rank and file workers the kinds of skills needed to actually organize with their coworkers. The IWW hasn’t figured out all the answers to organizing the “post-industrial proletariat”, but they are trying, and they have a lot to teach. Since no one else has solved this problem either, an experimental approach that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty seems like the way to go to me.

      I agree with you that the ending of my speech was rhetorically weak. I noted it at the time but didn’t really have time to figure out a better ending. This is something I hope to improve on in the future. However, are you implying that the broader point I was making — that networks of workplace militants who are well organized within their workplace can shutdown production/distribution not just for “economistic” demands but also in response to political events such as Israel bombing Gaza — is “petty revenge fantasies”?

  4. Frank56 says:

    Mamo perhaps you can give me more insight. Of what propaganda purpose or what purpose in general does window breaking work to win over the masses? Or more basically what is purpose of making sure the public knows you break windows?

  5. Frank56 says:

    The definition of a chattel slave that works for me is someone whose labor is expoited and part of what he or she produces is returned in the form of a roof over his or her head, food, and medical care, as would be given to other beasts of burden. He or she is likely to have employment for life. On the other hand a wage slave, can be discarded as needed. Its master has no oblication to give him or her full time employment. A wage slave produces enough for a roof over his or her head,, food to make sure his her her class is reproduced to produce more capital. Most slaves get paid enough to have a means of getting to work. Some earn enough to get a few more toys, luxeries. Does it really matter whether one is an industrial slave or non industrial?, employed, unemployed, student or non student, retired or non retired? Isn’t the fact all are exploited the fact we must NOT lose sight of? Workers of the world unites! to me that means all of the above.

  6. Scott Myers says:

    Fray,

    I have no problem with the abstract idea your speech puts forward, i.e. that economic demands must give way to political demands. I was merely criticizing the rhetoric you use. With a short speech aimed at a broad audience, I believe the object must be to infuse the abstract ideas with concrete feelings that people can relate to. (I think Lenin formulated a slogan like ‘big ideas, small words’, or something to that effect.) Upon feeling the direct connection to their own lives, perhaps the listeners will be inspired — to think deeply about the issue, get more interested, involved etc. Therefore, the choice of words is arguably more important than in a communist program.

    Even though not originally intended, a case could be made that the the strategy you put forward — that “networks of workplace militants who are well organized [oxymoron!] within their workplace can shutdown production/distribution not just for ‘economistic’ demands but also in response to political events such as Israel bombing Gaza…” — constitutes a ‘petty revenge fantasy’. At the very least, it lacks imagination.

    Is it so hard to see, that by the time the ‘post-industrial proletariat’ is sufficiently organized to shut down production at the level necessary to win such large political demands, it will already be on the cusp of becoming the ruling class of society? What need will it have to ‘punish’ the capitalists at this point? It will simply overrule them in setting the nation’s foreign policy. The mere threat of the working class asserting its control over society’s productive apparatus, once it has proven that it can do so, will be sufficient to bring the tiny class of capitalists to heel.

    Since we are still a very long way from this level of organization, and the capitalists are still firmly in control, we are reduced to mere networks ‘fighting back’ in insignificant or purely fantastic ways in order to maintain our ‘revolutionary’ self-image. We can’t touch the capitalists and, given our lack of organized power, if by some ‘militant’ act of desperation we managed to even get close they would scatter us like insects with their repressive forces.

    Because we lack the faith, the patience, and the courage to quietly, methodically nurture the embryo of our future organization, we continue to demand ‘instant revolution’ and console ourselves with…’petty revenge fantasies’.

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