Rosa Luxemburg

The First of May as a Day
of Working-Class Struggle

Speech to the Nuremberg Congress of the German Social Democratic Party

(September 1908)

German original: Protokoll der Verhandlungen des Parteitags der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands, abgehalten zu Nürnberg vom 13. bis 19. September 1908, Berlin 1908, pp. 267–269.
Source: Rosa Luxemburg, Gesammelte Werke, Vol. II, pp. 256–259.
Translation: Rida Vaquas.
Revision: Einde O’Callaghan.
Transcription & Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

At the Mannheim Congress, when the question of working together with the trade unions was unfurled in all its consequences and ways and means were sought, so that we would be able to achieve the inevitably necessary close cooperation in the interests of both branches of the workers’ movement, I was among those comrades who least expected a fruitful collaboration through the most senior organisational heads of both branches of the workers’ movement communicating dualistically and reaching agreements, which would then be binding for both parts of the workers movement. I believe that, after the first two important tests of collaboration using this dualistic system, which we have now experienced, our fears at the time have been fully confirmed.

These two disheartening tests have been May Day and the youth organisation. The question of May Day has rightly been debated at all German party congresses. This corresponds perfectly to colossal significance of this expression of our workers’ movement. However, just recently a whole new aspect has been thrown into consideration, which could have calamitous consequences for the cause of May Day. That is the question of support. When we in the German delegation had reached the decision in Stuttgart [1] that the Party is also prepared to participate in the support of May Day victims, it was only intended in accordance with the sense and spirit of this agreement that the party on its part wishes to do everything within its power to build up the celebration of May Day a manner that was as worthy as possible. In practice, the question of support has already proven itself quite quickly to be a noose, which may throttle celebration of May Day, if we do not prevent this issue being resolved the wrong way. Comrade Fischer has said that he can’t grasp where the logic lies, if one advocates the idea that through the resolution of the Support Question the effect and prevalence of May Day will be reduced.

On the contrary, he says by taking measures to support the bravest and most courageous victims of May Day celebration and not leaving them on the wayside we will be acting in favour of a worthy celebration of May Day. I see no logic on Fischer’s part. The Party Executive and the General Commission are completely right to declare: “We may have found an incorrect resolution of the Support Question, now please give us a better one and we will adopt it, up to now we have not found a better solution.” I assert that a total resolution of the Support Question, in the sense that, on one hand, May Day becomes ever more prevalent, and on the other, that all victims of May Day are effectively supported, cannot be found at all. [“Quite right!”] Therein lies the noose, which will strangle May Day, if we continue to identify all possible combinations in order to regulate the support in such a way that all victims are covered and May Day continues to be strengthened. The previous practise of celebrating May Day, not only in Germany but also in all other countries, has shown that there is only one way to prevent victimisation as a result of celebrating May Day. That is not some method or other of arranging support but rather the greatest possible expansion of the celebration of May Day. Only when the number of people celebrating becomes so huge that disciplinary measures become impossible, only when we set the real power of the class-conscious, organised fighters of the working classes with all their might against the employers, only then will the employers not dare to carry out disciplinary measures against us. (Dissent and agreement] We have experiences that confirm this at every turn. [Interjection: “Where then?”]. I ask you to take a look at a country where workers are cut out of exactly the same cloth as German workers, take a look at Russian Poland. [Dissent] There we have had this year in Warsaw a May Day celebration which is unique in the world. All the factory workers celebrated it. That did not happen at the peak of the revolution when all spirits were flying high. For a long time now, in Russia and Russian Poland, there has been a decline, a certain stagnation of the revolution and of the revolutionary movement. We have a terrible economic depression, a colossal spiritual depression, and yet, despite all of that, the masses came together to celebrate May Day there. And directly as a result of that the disciplinary measures this year were minimal, just as in previous years. We have had exactly the same experiences in Germany. I believe there was a payment office of woodworkers in Berlin in this year that established exactly the same in a meeting about May Day, namely that it is only the greatest possible expansion of the number of people celebrating will prevent disciplinary measures against the mass of those joining the celebrations. That is why we would be adopting a completely incorrect method if we actually wished to concern ourselves with the question raised occupy ourselves with methods of supporting those joining the celebrations.

Fischer himself has unintentionally shown how essentially hopeless this method is by saying: “You are all dissatisfied with the previous regulation that local organisations support those disciplined – who else should support them?” The central party funds are not there for that purpose, rather for political purposes. We are not capable of bearing these colossal sacrifices. The central associations (of trade unions) for their part also explain that they have to keep their funds available for other struggles. Then who should pay for the costs of support? In this way it is clear that neither one nor the other can find a satisfactory resolution of the Support Question. The only solution is, independently of some sort of regulation of support, to propagate the idea of May Day with all our might, and not in the timid unenthusiastic spirit that came from the party executive and General Commission in last year. [“Quite right!” and dissent] Doing it this way you are acting so as to increase the victims of the May Day celebrations because it is precisely the timidity of the leading authorities of the workers’ movement that gives the employers and their associations the courage to counter our struggles with disciplinary measures. So we have all the more reason to insist with the utmost ferocity on propagating the idea of May Day, without it being tangled up with all sorts of minor details and the Support Question, as in all likelihood we face serious struggles. May Day has, it must be said in the light of previous experiences, still not shown in Germany what it can actually achieve, rather it has a promising future ahead of it. In order to advance toward this future, we now have every reason to demand with all our might that the concept of celebrating May Day be propagated in all its purity and with all our might. [Applause]


1. International Socialist Congress 1907.

Last updated on: 30 May 2016