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May Day it's the festival of the distressed

By Albert Langer - posted Monday, 5 May 2003

The Left tide that rose worldwide in the 1960s subsided in the '70s, just as the previous tides from the '30s and '40s subsided in the '50s.

There was no significant Left upsurge in the '80s or '90s, partly because reactionary forces were already on the retreat, with the liberation of southern Africa, East Timor and Eastern Europe, the creation of the Palestinian Authority and the shift from military to parliamentary rule throughout Latin America, the Philippines and Indonesia.

When the left tide is rising, May Day provides an opportunity to sum up past victories and preview the revolutionary "festival of the oppressed" to come. When the tide is low or dropping, as now, Mayday is just the international distress call - a cry for help.


For more than two decades, the genuine Left has been swamped by a pseudo-Left whose hostility to capitalism is reactionary rather than progressive. The pseudo-Left opposes modernity, development, globalisation, technology and progress.

It embraces obscurantism, relativism, romanticism and even nature worship. At May Day rallies, the pseudo-Left whines about how things aren't what they used to be.

The real Left has been marginalised, debating neither the neo-cons nor the pseudo-Left, simply because there has been no audience for that debate. Incoherent nonsense from complete imbeciles is published as "Left" comment in newspapers just so right-wing commentators can pretend they have something intelligent to say. In fact "Left" is used as a euphemism for "pessimistic", "unimaginative" and just plain "dull".

But now there is an audience. The war in Iraq has woken people everywhere - and the pseudo-Left has really blown its chance.

Millions who marched in mid-February stopped marching two months later, as soon as the argument shifted towards democratising and liberating the Iraqi people. Those millions still agree that George W. Bush is an arrogant bully but they no longer believe the peacemongers have got it right. People want to figure out what is going on and are joining the debate at websites such as

For months, the argument was about weapons of mass destruction and the role of the UN. If the demands of the US, and the UN, had been fully met, Saddam Hussein could have lived happily, and the Iraqi people miserably, for ever after.


But look at what happened next! Suddenly we were hearing a different song. Bush has been making the argument not for disarming Iraq but for liberating Iraq.

Stripped of the "God bless America" stuff, the US President's case now goes like this:

If we devote our resources to draining the swamps, addressing the roots of the "campaigns of hatred", we can not only reduce the threats we face, but also live up to ideals that we profess and that are not beyond reach if we choose to take them seriously.

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An edited version of this article was first published in The Australian on 1 May 2003.

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About the Author

Albert Langer is an unreconstructed Maoist (anarcho-Stalinist) who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for attempted incitement to assault police as a May Day speaker in 1971. Released on appeal after six weeks, he is still at large, and still supports the overthrow of tyrannical regimes by armed force. His most recent sentence was for contempt of both parties, and the courts, at the 1996 election.

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