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Utopia & Lost Futures: On the anti-authoritarian history of 1 May

April 2023. Lecture notes from LyA


I Early history

First call for a reduction in working hours in 1865 (after the American Civil War, demand for an 8-hour working day (previously 11-13 hours) through the workers' struggle for shorter working hours) -> results only 20 years later


Caesura 1886: May 1886, in Chicago, extreme police repression, further demonstrations after 1 May, during which two workers were killed by police. Further protest at Haymarket, where a bomb was detonated and police shot into the crowd. Further repression against anarchists with a wave of arrests and bans on assemblies and newspapers.


8 anarchists (mostly former Germans) were arrested and four of them were sentenced to death and hanged without proof of participation.

Anti-authoritarian movement mobilised workers' struggle/remembrance of Riot Haymarket for 1 May. Initially no public holiday, 1st May tradition of "moving days" (signing contracts, cancellations, changes of job, housing, etc.)


Meeting of international trade unions on 14 July 1889 in Paris - 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, struggle for an 8-hour working day, setting of the day of struggle on 1 May 1890 (international). Initially no talk of repeating the workers' day of struggle.


Anarchist tradition of the labour movement: Rejection of the state as the organiser of socialism, anarchist people around Bakunin demand of the gender question emancipatory. Criticism not only against industrial capitalism, more social criticism (family, culture, habitus).


Anarchism = leaderlessness, freedom from domination, in a broader sense: society as free of domination as possible, for a life in associations, cooperation, comradeships, for a self-determined life in freedom, self-determination, anti-authoritarianism, freedom from violence, decentralisation, self-administration


Anarcho-syndicalism: those who produce social values are also capable of managing social values, direct participation of members, direct action by workers (such as the Free Labour Movement Berlin FAU)



Short disclaimer about "Labour Day"

April 1933 Hitler declared 1 May to be "National Labour Day" after Goebbels also declared "that 1 May goes hand in hand with a magnificent demonstration of the will of the German people"

Enforcing ideology-> Trade unions were "occupied"/ violently stormed by Nazis after 1 May 1933

1945 first May Day celebrations with remaining social democrats, communists and trade unions

1946 1st May was declared a public holiday by the Allied Control Council


To this day, there are calls not to formulate "Labour Day", as this is still a reminder of the Nazis and the inhuman meaning of work. Significant is the 1st of May as "workers' day of struggle"



II Historical context: demands/conflicts of the West German student movement

1961 - What happens: in the middle of the Cold War, construction of the Berlin Wall, Kennedy announces the end of "racial" segregation, Sputnik 10 in March, hydrogen bomb in Somalia, shortly after the oil crisis in Iran, Korean War, Vietnam War, etc.

  • Conflict with authoritarian power imbalances / hierarchies in post-NS Germany

  • Demand for complete denazification of society with anti-fascist enlightenment

  • Emancipatory endeavours against capitalist exploitation and oppression

  • Fight against "emergency laws"

  • Protests against the Vietnam War

  • Conflict with Axel Springer publishing house

  • Conflict with the police (murder of Benno Ohnesorg in 1967)

  • Criticism of the university education reform

Anti-authoritarian movement directed against authoritarian, hierarchical, unfree university structures

-> Hierarchy and authority in the education system is questioned

-> social movement with various demands (co-determination in seminars, institutes, faculties, abolition of positions of power and dependency that are alien to the subject, democratic self-administration of universities)

  • Moving away from authoritarian family relationships/demand for anti-authoritarian education

  • Individual before tradition: (sexual) self-determination

  • Differentiation from the authoritarian left

Oskar Negt (former SDS, sociologist)

Describes two contrary accusations against the anti-authoritarian movement:

1): Accusation of "de-democratisation": smashing the thinking of the time, etc. see above

2): Accusation: tendencies towards totalitarianism, contempt for communication based on understanding, "left-wing fascism" (Habermas)


Eva Hermann (1988-2006 Tagesschau presenter and author): accusation levelled at the anti-authoritarian movement: Destruction of the bourgeois family, traditions. In her opinion, anti-traditional people should be punished. In politics, she received a lot of support from politicians with an obvious Nazi past, no criticism, conventionalism and authoritarian submissiveness/aggression strongly represented.


In 2023, we notice a strong increase in conventionalism, conservatism and a rising right-wing pressure. The demands of today's anti-authoritarian labour movement or anti-fascists are in no way comparable to right-wing populism and right-wing propaganda. Describing Antifa as "more dangerous" relativises right-wing pressure.



III Anti-authoritarianism

Theory work plays a central role in anti-authoritarian movements: Theoretical reflection, preparing practice


The theory of the anti-authoritarian movement is also its practice, as long as the movement is literally in motion, there is theory


All the theorists are discussed and various literature is read. After practical movement, experiences are reflected on and included in discussions.

Theoretical approaches according to Marx, Kant, Lenin, Mao, anarchists such as Bakunin, but also Lenin and Stalin were critically discussed in the anti-authoritarian collectives and groups.


Sociology as a critical science with authors from the Frankfurt School, critical theory centred around Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse

Fight against the above-mentioned existing authoritarian tendencies


Why split from the authoritarian movement?

Authoritarian left-wing movement: strict discipline, hierarchical subordination of individuals to authority figures and strict control, subordination of state order (strongly influenced by National Socialist ideology, backward-looking, authoritarian social structure (-reactonary modernism))

Anti-authoritarian movement: strong participation of individuals, greater freedom in all areas of life, partly anarchistic approaches

Difference: demand for freedom, (sexual) self-determination, individual responsibility, rejection of all (patriarchal) power



IV Reference to the labour movement

The labour movement is an important political force, advocates for the interests of workers. Dichotomous relationship:

Certain solidarity with struggles/part of workers' demands

However, trade unions and political parties were characterised by authoritarian hierarchical structures, criticism of the workers' movement and its leadership structures by anti-authoritarian activists

Attempt by part of the anti-authoritarian movement to bring ideas into the labour movement - but other anti-authoritarian activists rejected this

Relationship between the movements very complex and ambivalent: always an attempt to connect, but the central area of conflict is authority and hierarchy.

Nevertheless, students want to fight with workers and pupils



V Failure & continuities

Failure: "theory mackery", in many of the theoretical groups it was always the same, mostly always the same male students, who mostly talked among themselves and didn't let anyone else have their say, because a certain broad knowledge of definitions and terms was expected; the authority of parents, teachers and other authority figures was not completely questioned, no fundamental change in the political system,


BUT also


Continuities: many social changes in German society due to anti-authoritarian movement, e.g. more liberal attitude towards sexuality; individual freedom, promotion of gender equality, establishment of newer forms of political participation; other movements result from the anti-authoritarian movement (violence against children challenged in the 1960s, laws were only passed in the second women's movement in the 1980s)




Sources/bibliography





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