Friday, March 18, 2011

180 years ago today in France

March 18, 1871 -- 180 years ago today -- was the beginning of the Paris Commune: an armed insurrection in which workers in Paris took over the city and drove out the capitalist government. It was a landmark in the history of attempts by working people to take charge of the political and economic forces that daily affect our lives in the most basic ways.

During the next two months, the insurgent workers formed a new government, made up of people who had participated in or supported the insurrection, and made the beginnings of attempts to improve the basic conditions of life for the working population of the city. Similar uprisings occurred in several other cities in France, though in most cases these were brief and the workers did not succeed in seizing political power.

At first the ousted capitalist French government made token attempts to negotiate some type of agreement with the new revolutionary government of Paris. This while Paris existed essentially in a state of military seige. Toward the end of May the French army entered the Paris (at a weakly defended area of the city outskirts), and proceed to retake the city. As the army advanced into the eastern (and more heavily working-class) part of Paris, and several days of fierce barricade fighting ensued.

In the end, the Paris Commune was defeated. In the succeeding weeks, wholesale slaughter followed, as the French government summarily executed as many as 30,000 workers, and arrested and imprisoned thousands more.

A more detailed account of the events can be found in the Marxists Internet Archive, here.

Sometime during the months after the achievments and subsequent suppression of the Commune, French poet Eugène Pottier (who worked for a living as a tailor's assistant) wrote a six-stanza poem in response, titled "L'Internationale." Some years later, in 1888, the poem was set to music by Pierre Degeyter, a Belgian lathe operator. In the years since, the first verse (along with some of the other verses, sometimes) has been translated into many other languages, and has become an unofficial but widely sung international anthem of the communist movement around the world.

The version featured in the soundtrack of the movie Reds (starring Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton, among others) was sung by the Moscow Soviet Radio Chorus, recorded in 1926.

I Googled and found a website, here, based on Russia, with links to online audio recordings of "The Internationale" in a variety of languages. Most appear to be MP3's though some are in other audio file formats (RealAudio, etc.). * I haven't attempted listening to any of the recordings linked at the webpage, and don't know how reliable any of the links are or what quality any of the recordings are.

Over the years I've seen at least a couple of versions of English translations of the words, with slight variations of each. The one I'm most familiar with is following version:

Arise, ye prisoners of starvation,
Arise, ye wretched of the earth.
For justice thunders condemnation;
A better world's in birth.
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 nought, we shall be all.

'Tis the final conflict,
Let each stand in their place.
The international working class
Shall be the human race.

This the final conflict,
Let each stand in their place.
The international working class
Shall be the human race.




Blogger Andrew said...

Billy Bragg did an updated version of The Internationale a number of years ago - a very poignant reinterpretation.

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Al said...

Thank you brother Lyle. The Commune of Paris was indeed a turning point in history showing that working people can truly self govern without the oversight of a ruling class.

Indeed, democratic popular self-government is the logical consummation of the Enlightenment upon which bourgeois democracies are founded and serve their purpose as historic stage of development.

In our time, that stage has passed and the rule of wealth has nothing left to offer but destruction and serfdom. We must continue, for our very survival, to move forward and build the Commune.

1:38 PM  

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