Peace, Labour, May: The history of the holiday

The holiday, celebrated in Russia, the United States and a number of countries in Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia on the first day of May, is known by several names -- International Workers' Day, Spring and Labour Day, Labour Day, and Spring Day. In the Soviet times, most Russians referred to the holiday by its date – the 1 of May or the May Day.

The history of the May Day tradition is linked to the events that took place in Chicago, the United States, in the 19th century. On May 1, 1886, large-scale public rallies and demonstrations of workers started in the city with the demand of an eight-hour working day. The action resulted in clashes with the police. In July 1889, the Paris Congress of the Second International, on the proposal of French delegate Raymond Lavigne, in solidarity with Chicago workers, decided to hold annual workers' demonstrations on the 1st of May.

Russian workers did not stand back from the international action. In the Russian Empire, May 1 was first celebrated in 1890 and got the name the International Workers' Day. The following year Saint Petersburg hosted the first May Day rally -- an illegal workers' meeting, usually held outside the city on the1st of May. From 1897 onwards, those rallies became political and were accompanied by mass demonstrations.

After the October Revolution in 1917, the holiday became official. It was enshrined in the Labour Code and was named "International Day". During the demonstrations, thematic theatrical productions were shown. In addition, visual propaganda with all kinds of slogans and so-called ‘commitments’ were displayed. In the USSR, this term meant a promise made by the workers of an enterprise to exceed the plan by a specific date. The annual parade of athletes became another traditional feature of May Day celebrations. In 1930-1934, choreographer Igor Moiseyev was the first stage director of sports parades on the Red Square. The first air parade took place over the Red Square on May 1, 1933. From this date onwards, air parades were held regularly until the outbreak of the World War II, as an integral part of the Soviet military might demonstration. During the World War II, military parades or processions on the 1st of May were not held. On May1, 1956 the first television broadcast of a military parade and workers' demonstration on the Red Square was organized. For a long time a military parade was held on the 1 of May as well -- until 1985, there was only one military parade on May 9, 1965.

In 1970, the Fundamentals of the Labour Law of the USSR adopted a new name for the holiday: the 1st and 2nd of May officially became "International Workers' Solidarity Days". It was a real holiday for the workers, who got two extra days off. May Day celebrations took place across the country. The festive table was a May Day must. With time, the political colouring of May Day faded and the opportunity to celebrate the holiday with family or friends came to the forefront. Almost until the collapse of the Soviet Union, The tradition of holding celebratory processions, where congratulations were replaced by political speeches, was preserved. The tradition of parades, where congratulations were supplemented by political speeches, was preserved almost until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Regardless of whether people call the May day – The Laborers’ Day or a Spring and Labour Day, for the majority of population the 1st of May traditionally symbolizes the nature rebirth and beginning of spring. It carries the deep emotional charge due to a sense of nature's flourishing, but also due to the perception of the 1st of May as a common, unifying celebration.

A digitized recording of one of the most famous marches by the Soviet composer-brothers Dmitry and Daniil Pokrass to words by V. Lebedev-Kumach, “May Moscow”, is posted in the museum PhonothèqueBarely heard, the song “May Moscow” became extremely popular and truly loved. Later it was an essential attribute of the USSR celebrations on the 1st of May.
The march was digitized from the gramophone record that is stored in the museum Music Library. This vinyl record was released by the Noginsk factory "Gramplasttrest" in 1937.

On the cover: Reproduction of a painting, depicting the 1st of May celebration in Stockholm by an unknown artist. Sweden, Stockholm