On May 1, I went to my local bookstore—Diesel on College Avenue in Oakland—and found a sign on the door saying that the store was closed for May Day, a holiday rarely acknowledged in America. Beneath the sign was a printout of the following statement by Gary Snyder, which moved me deeply. Here is his attempt to reconcile with ancestors who had their own ideas about the elimination of suffering and whose path has, at least for now, been rejected. —Wes Nisker
Let’s drink a toast to all those farmers, workers, artists and intellectuals of the last one hundred years who, without thought of fame or profit—not motivated by a thirst for power—whose motivations were compassionate and humanitarian—worked tirelessly in their dream of a worldwide socialist revolution. Who believed and hoped that a new world was dawning, and that their work would contribute to a society in which one class does not exploit another, where one ethnic group or one nation does not try to expand itself over another, and where men and women lived freely as equals.
The people who nourished these hopes and dreams were sometimes foolishly blind to the opportunism of their own leadership, and many were led into ideological absurdities, but the great majority of them selflessly worked for socialism with the best of hearts. Their dreams proved futile, and “actually existing socialism” became a blight on the century almost equal to that of Nazism.
What we have now is nervous third-world fundamentalism and developed-world global greed. The failure of socialism is the tragedy of the twentieth century, and (on May Day at least) we should honor the memory of those who struggled for the dream of what socialism might have been. And begin a new way again.