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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

The Internationale: Hymn of millions

From the Soviet press, 1982:

Today the "Internationale", the hymn of workers all over the world, is sung in 90 different languages.

The French revolutionary, Eugene Pottier, wrote the words of the immortal proletarian hymn over a hundred years ago, while hiding from the police in Paris.

At that time the streets of Paris still showed the signs of recent battles. Arrests and searches continued throughout the workers' quarters of the city. The Paris Commune of 1871, the world's first proletarian revolution, was bathed in blood. But it was at this very time that Pottier wrote the lines that today the entire world knows:

"Arise, ye pris'ners of starvation, Arise, ye, wretched of the earth, For justice thunders condemnation - A better world's in birth."

Eugene Pottier was one of the organizers of the Paris Commune, one of those who, as Marx wrote, "assaulted the sky" in fighting on the barricades of Paris. The text of the "Internationale" was first published sixteen years after it was written, in the year of Pottier's death. It appeared as a leaflet of 6,000 copies. In 1888, the Belgian socialist, Pierre Degeyter, set the words to music.

Such was the humble beginning of the song that was soon to become the great hymn of the working class and of communists all over the world. "In whatever country a class-conscious worker finds himself, whatever fate may cast him, however much he may feel himself a stranger, without language, without friends, far from his native country - he can find himself comrades and friends by the familiar refrain of the 'Internationale" Lenin wrote in an article dedicated to the memory of Eugene Pottier.

Why is it that the lines of the "Internationale" met and continue to meet with warm responses among workers of different countries?

First of all, the words of the proletarian hymn express the centuries-old dream of working people for freedom, equality, fraternity and social justice.

"No more tradition's chains shall bind us, Arise, ye slaves, no more in thrall! The earth shall rise on new foundations, We have been naught, we shall be all."

The summit of social progress is the ideal of which the best minds have dreamed. But the road to that summit is always difficult and steep. Victory can be achieved only through persistent struggle.

"We want no condescending saviours To rule us from their judgement hall. We workers ask not for their favors, Let us consult for all!"

The history of revolutionary struggle has confirmed the truth of the poet-Communard's words. Socialism has affirmed in practice the ideal of a new world: "We have been naught, we shall be all." In the course of building a new society the exploiter classes have disappeared, social and political rights for working people have become a reality and genuine social and national equality has been achieved.

With each year the international communist movement grows more and more influential. Today there are communist parties in 94 different countries and there are about 4.5 million communists in the non-socialist part of the world. All this testifies to the magnetic force of the ideas reflected in the "Internationale".

Even today in various countries, the struggle of progressive forces for the better future Eugene Pottier wrote about is not easy and even dangerous. But the optimism of the "Internationale" is the optimism of those who are fighting for peoples' happiness. The words of the workers' hymn inspire more and more people to join in that struggle.

Here are three great versions of the grand anthem from Alistair Hulett and Jimmy Gregory,

Tsinghua University in the People's Republic of China and from the USSR in 1978.

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