Monday, May 01, 2006

Melbourne, 1 May 1987 was the best day of my life

In the early hours of the morning, after being at a gig at Ormond Hall (a cool gothic venue (in the architectural, not private-school-teenager sense)) with my fellow arts-student mate Mick, we had sex back at my place – the white share-house on Kensington’s highest point. I lost my virginity (well, in the gay sense, at least) that night, and it felt supremely good.

The morning brought what should have been a normal working weekday (that year I was working full-time in a robotic public-service job), but this was no ordinary morning. Somehow I’d divined that there was a May Day thingy on in the city, a fact which gave me all the extra license I needed to call in sick.

Some brekky bongs (can’t remember if he did the romantic thing, packing one for me while I was still in bed, or vice versa), and we were off to catch the train. I’ve alluded to this day before, which featured a (numerically) tiny march through the heart of the city, starting at the National Gallery of Victoria on St Kilda Road. After that, my recollection of the day is a bit impressionistic – noon-ish at the 8 Hour Day monument opposite Trades Hall, and afternoon or evening at the old fire station (then a squat?) on St Georges Rd, North Fitzroy.

All in all, it was nothing like Lou Reed’s “Perfect day” – more like the almost infinitely-dense 16 June 1904 that gets unpacked, in a fashion, in Joyce’s Ulysses.

Anyway, today I’ve again done the Melbourne-anarchist* May Day-on-May-1 ritual, although this time I was poignantly (i) solo (ii) sober (iii) middle-aged and (iv) not having (nor even able to have) a fuck-da-boss sickie, all facts which may have contributed to my assessment of today’s organised events (yes, intentional irony) as, while characteristically and pleasingly shambolic, lacking the frisson of May Day 1987.

On a less personal tack, Melbourne has had at least two quite memorable May Days in recent years. 2001 saw “M1”, an anti-globalisation protest day, that followed on the heels of “S11”. As in September 11, 2000 – an anniversary that is now forever rather spoiled. The equivalent, “ripped-off” case of those unfortunate kids whose birthday is on Christmas Day, perhaps? Probably not – because September 11, 2001 didn’t just ruin an anniversary, it seems to have killed off an emerging anti-globalisation mass movement, period. I’m not even sure why this has been so, but there seems to be no alternative explanation, other than post 9/11, to take part in a Xer-lead street protest is one degree of separation away from wearing an orange jumpsuit in an Australian jail. (Re Faheem Khalid Lodhi’s case, for the moment I’ll just quip that the orange-jumpsuit treatment is probably much too kind for the average Sydney architect; their crimes against taste merit summary execution, IMO).

Then May Day 2003 in Melbourne actually saw the anarchist May Day-on-May-1 thing blown way out of its shambolic comfort zone, with thousand of building workers (mainly) getting or taking the day off. That May Day also produced a couple of observations from others that seem worth dusting-off for today:

Andrew Norton wrote:

Having observed the lunatic left since I arrived at Monash University in 1984, I've seen their involvement in criminal and other anti-social activity fluctuate over the years. This was the first May Day in several in which the only people making any effort were a few thousand unionists. There wasn't a smashed up McDonalds or Nike store in sight. After their defeat in Iraq, when they again backed a totalitarian regime and lost, have they at last acquired some shame and gone into hiding? Wishful thinking, perhaps. Such is their psychological need to protest they will take a little while to find a new source of outrage, and then be back on the streets.

Whose “defeat in Iraq” was that, Andrew?

And a similarly Victory-in-Iraq! themed May Day musing, but from a less likely source; “unreconstructed Maoist” Albert Langer:

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 war in Iraq has woken people everywhere – and the pseudo-Left has really blown its chance. Those millions [who marched in Feb 2003] still agree that George W Bush is an arrogant bully, but they no longer believe the peacemongers have got it right. . . . . Both Bush and Chomsky know the US cannot be secure from medievalist terrorist mosquitoes while the Middle East remains a swamp. But Bush also knows that modernity grows out of the barrel of a gun.

That is a genuinely Left case for a revolutionary war of liberation, such as has occurred in Iraq

Apart from a Nelson Muntz “Hah hah”, re the war having become increasingly ever-less “won” over the last three years, Langer’s words ring hollow in their snide contempt for Xer activism (“There was no significant Left upsurge in the '80s or '90s, partly because reactionary forces were already on the retreat”). Yeah, right.

And if you’re still an “unreconstructed Maoist” in 2006 Albert, why don’t you fuck off to China and get a job earning 50 cents a day, like the average Chinese worker? Then, and only then might I respect your opinions on your own 60s generation apparently having banished "reactionary forces" so comprehensively that all my generation has/had to do was to mop-up a relatively contained Babylonian backwater. What a boomer moron.

* Queensland has apparently had an official May Day-on-May-1 thing for the last 50 years or so

** Albert Langer, "May Day - it's the festival of the distressed" Australian 1 May 2003

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