Madras: May Day, 1923

May Day was first observed in India in 1923 in the city of Madras. It was organised by M. Singaravelu Chettiyar (“the first communist in South India”). Chettiyar later presided over the first Congress of the Communist Party of India (CPI) in 1925. It was thus reported in Vanguard (edited by MN Roy):

The First of May was celebrated for the first time in India as a proletarian holiday, when in response to the call of M. Singaravelu Chettiyar, veteran Indian socialist, two mass meetings were held in the open air in the city of Madras, where the grievances of the workers formed the theme of the addresses and the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ party was announced in accordance of the manifesto previously published in the Tamil language. The audience was composed of workers and peasants and speeches were made in the vernacular so that everything was understood by them. The significance of May Day was explained, and the formation of a political party of the working class for the attainment of “labour swaraj” was urged. Comrade Singaravelu who presided over one of the meetings welcomed the advent of the first of May as a proletarian holiday in India and explained the growth of the class struggle in India as in other countries of the world. The aim of the workers of India should be labour swaraj, he declared. So long as the state was on the side of the capitalist and safeguarded the vested interests, labour organisations could accomplish little to change the lot of the expropriated working class. The relation of Indian labour to the international proletarian movement was also made clear, and the necessity of organising a working class party to head the struggle for economic and political power emphasised. It was declared that the new party would work within the Congress. Resolutions were passed declaring for celebration of May First as an annual working-class holiday in concert with international labour: demanding economic relief for the Indian working class; urging a united front with the workers of the world to secure labour swaraj; recommending opposition to government institutions and declaring for working inside the Congress as a separate working-class party. The meetings were largely attended and the demonstration passed off successfully. Telegrams to the press of other provinces were sent by the Labour and Kisan Party urging similar celebration of May Day throughout India.

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