The Internationale (for May Day)

Tom Condit tomcondit at
Wed May 1 03:22:36 MDT 1996

It's May Day. Time once again for


Arise you prisoners of starvation,
Arise you wretched of the earth;
For justice thunders condemnation--
A better world's in birth.
No more tradition's chains shall bind us;
Arise you slaves no more in thrall;
The earth shall rise on new foundations--
We have been naught, we shall be all!

'Tis the final conflict,
Let us stand in our place;
The international working class
shall free the human race!

We want no condescending saviors
to rule us from a judgement hall.
We workers ask not for their favors--
Let each 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!

'Tis the final conflict,
Let us stand in our place;
The international working class
shall free the human race!

Word by Eugene Pottier, a Paris Communard who later emigrated to
the United States.

I have always assumed that Pottier's formulation "the
International shall be [is "become" a better translation?] the
human race" to mean that he expected the whole of humanity to be
brought into the struggle, and to see a merging of "party" and
"class".  Different translations have this as "international
party," "international soviet", "international working class",
"industrial union", etc., depending on the politics of the person
involved.  I've always liked the formulation "the international
working class shall free the human race" because it doesn't imply
that everyone in the world is or will become a worker, but does
say that all will be freed with the end of capitalism (even the
capitalists, who are presently chained to their bank accounts).

Daniel DeLeon's translation, which I haven't seen in many years,
has (aside from DeLeon's usual wooden prose) a line about "galley
slaves" which I'm willing to bet is directly from the original.
The version I am posting for this May Day is based on the
translation by Charles H. Kerr, as mutated through the I.W.W.
songbook.  (The line "let us stand in our place" is Marsha
Feinland's resolution of the perennial struggling with the use of
"his" as generic for all humanity.  Many contemporary versions
have the "politically correct" but grammatically hideous "let
each stand in their place".)  Both DeLeon and Kerr may very well
have known Pottier personally, since he emigrated to the United
States after the Commune according to an earlier post by Chris

The working class has changed greatly since Marx's time.  It's
far larger and a far greater percentage of the population.  The
tens of millions of French peasants and English countrymen have
been "proletarianized", the millions of servants who made up the
single largest occupational group in 19th-century European cities
have been replaced by laundromats and pizza deliverymen, and
certainly artisanal production has been reduced to a minimum.
Moreover, the wage-labor system is now predominant in the
majority of countries, rather than being confined to Europe and
some of its colonies as it was in Marx's time.  The largest
single strike in history was a general strike in Brazil a few
years ago which encompassed 20 million workers.

Similarly, a far greater percentage of the workers are employed
by giant transnational corporations than in the workshops and
factories typical of the middle 19th century. The great gangs of
longshoremen are gone from European and North American ports,
but computer assembly workers are spread across the world, as are
manufacturing workers of every description. Hence, the message of
the "Internationale" is more than ever appropriate.

Tom Condit

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