ON THE HISTORY AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE INTERNATIONALE

By Thomas Finnegan


As new and young comrades enter the sphere of leftist politics, many quickly become familiar with the classic L’Internationale, or The Internationale in English. This song has served the communist movement as a unifying melody, stressing the international relevance to the class struggle. Born from the struggle of the Paris Commune, this song has been used by socialist and communist parties everywhere across the globe. It proclaims a vision of a wondrous revolution, one in which the downtrodden and starving refuse to be servile under class oppression, and with this revolution, a future that is equal, fair, and just to all, not simply a small minority of the population. It was chosen to be the anthem of the First, Second, and Third International, and from 1918 to 1944, and was, for a time, even the state anthem for the Soviet Union. Even after the Soviet Union’s adoption of a new state anthem, it continued to be sung at other occasions, such as the party congresses. It remains an embraced song in countries like the PRC, DPRK, Cuba, Vietnam, and all other communist parties around the world. To promote the class struggle as an international cause, the song has been translated into numerous languages, a song to unify all against the capitalist class.

For the modern youth of society, this song echoes the importance of international solidarity and cooperation in order to reach the goals of a socialist and, eventually communist, society. Every capitalist society on earth subjects its youth to the toils and struggles of proletarian subjugation, and further it subjects the youth of the global south to devastation in its efforts to pillage the resources and labor it has to offer. The strength of our youth comes in numbers, and the proletarian class overwhelmingly outweighs that of the capitalist bourgeois class. If the youth stands up and together simultaneously, the capitalist class will have little choice but to accept our long deserved demands of proletarian liberation. In our international struggle, a strike against one is a strike against all, and therefore solidarity and support for our comrades the world over is essential in our movement. The working class revolution, as the song entails, is the final conflict, and the working class shall become the human race, allowing no parasitic classes to take further advantage of others. Through our revolution, we will make a new world, free from the traditions of old, no longer binding us as the song further entails. But this can only come about if we are to act as a unifying unit, one that is willing to show support and solidarity for a people we have and may never meet face to face. Further, the song describes the importance of deciding how we go about said revolution, and thoughtfulness is necessary for a successful revolution. Without it, we shall not inherit what is rightfully ours.

The lyrics to this anthem are as insightful as they are empowering, as it describes a world of people who will no longer listen to the demands of their oppressors, willing to stand up and fight for a truly righteous and socialist society. The following are transcriptions of the song written in English by Charles Hope Kerr in the early 20th century. This song was performed in 1933 by Marc Blitzstein and the Singers and can be found online. Though many have drastically changed the lyrics as of late to “keep up with the times,” this version maintains the original sentiment that is not attained in more recent renditions.

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!

Chorus

‘Tis the final conflict;

Let each stand in his place.

The International working class

Shall be the human race!

(repeat)

We want no condescending saviors

To rule us from a judgment hall;

We workers ask not for their favors;

Let us consult for all.

To make the thief disgorge his booty

To free the spirit from its cell,

We must ourselves decide our duty,

We must decide, and do it well.

Chorus

Toilers from shops and fields united,

The union we of all who work:

The earth belongs to us, the workers,

No room here for the shirk.

How many on our flesh have fattened!

But if the noisome birds of prey

Shall vanish from the sky some morning,

The blessed sunlight still will stay.

Chorus

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