[Marxism] The Internationale
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 29 12:51:08 MST 2006
On November 18th I attended a memorial meeting for Caroline Lund, a
socialist activist who I knew from the Socialist Workers Party in the 1960s
and 70s. She had died a few weeks earlier of ALS (Lou Gehrigs Disease) at
the age of 62 and the speakers and audience were honoring her accomplishments.
In keeping with the traditions of our movement, the meeting concluded with
a singing of the Internationale. It was the first time I had sung it in
public since the last SWP convention I had attended in the 1970s. For
people like us, this was like a national anthem but even more central to
our being. It always made my hair stand on end like a great operatic aria.
No matter how amateurish the singers, they always sounded stirring.
For anybody who has ever sung this song or who still has hopes that, as the
lyrics say, The earth shall rise on new foundations will want to see
Peter Millers 60 minute documentary The Internationale, now available in
DVD/video. Miller also directed the definitive documentary on the Sacco and
Vanzetti case and is one of our finest radical film-makers.
Miller blends together archival footage of people singing the
Internationale from all around the world and interviews with various
well-known socialistsand some not so well-knownabout what the song means
to them. We hear from Pete Seeger and from Dorothy Healy, who died
recently. Healy, who is worth the price of admission just for her own
fantastic insights, talks about being jailed during a farm workers
organizing drive in the early 1930s. In jail, she sang the Internationale
with the workers, who were mostly Mexican and who had vivid memories of the
revolution led by Zapata and Pancho Villa.
Seeger and Healy get to the heart of a contradiction that is contained in
the songs lyric: No more shall traditions chains bind us
song is the quintessential expression of iconoclasm, it becomes turned
against this very goal when it is adopted as the national anthem of the
USSR. Seeger says that performances in the USSR, especially at military
parades, etc., slow down and become ponderous. The song was now meant to
convey an awesome state power and Stalins authority. He illustrates this
by singing a few bars in his altogether unique style.
Millers documentary is also filled with fascinating historical detail,
especially the circumstances of its origin. Although I consider myself
fairly knowledgeable about socialist history, I had no idea that the song
was composed by Eugène Pottier, a partisan of the Paris Commune who was
fleeing repression. Later on, it was set to music by Pierre Degeyter, a
Although the song might be regarded in some circles as kitschy, it will
certainly continue to be embraced by anybody fighting to change the world.
One of the more striking examples, which can be found on the MRZine
website, is a video of militants of the Nepalese Communist Party singing
the song accompanied by indigenous instruments. It, like Millers film, is
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