First Published: Marxist-Leninist Quarterly, No. 11, 1976
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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This song has been translated into all European and other languages. In whatever country a class-conscious worker finds himself, whereever 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. The workers of all countries have adopted the song of their foremost fighter, the proletarian poet, and have made it the worldwide song of the proletariat.
This is what Lenin wrote in commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Death of Eugene Pottier, the author of the Internationale.
Eugene Pottier composed the militant words of the Internationale only one month after the end of the Paris Commune. It was this historic struggle that Marx called “the dawn of the great social revolution which will liberate mankind from the regime of classes for ever.” The words of the song defiantly express the confidence of the working class in the victory of the Communist cause.
As one of a number of right opportunist errors in overreacting to left opportunist errors in other parts of the British Marxist-Leninist movement, the CFB (ML) has failed in the past to make militant use of The Internationale to strengthen our revolutionary proletarian spirit. In accordance with a recent decision of the National Committee of the CFB (ML) this must now be corrected.
The Internationale was composed in French and there is more than one English translation. The National Committee has considered the older translation, which begins, “Arise ye starvelings from your slumbers, arise ye criminals of want!”, and the relatively newer translation, which begins, “Arise ye prisoners of starvation, arise ye wretched of the earth!”. It has resolved that the second version is the better and more politically correct version, and is therefore the one that the CFB (ML) will sing.
The second version, “Arise ye prisoners of starvation, arise ye wretched of the earth!”, uses clearer language and in most cases makes the political points better. Many of these are fundamental Communist principles.
“A better world’s in birth,” states clearly the qualitative transformation that will come throughout the world with the victory of Communism. “No more tradition’s chains shall bind us,” concisely declares that the victory of Communist ideology involves a radical break with all previous bourgeois ideas.
“We have been naught; we shall be all”, emphatically states that the historical mission of the working class is to rise from its oppression to overthrow the capitalist order and in the course of liberating itself, to liberate all mankind.
“We want no condescending saviours to rule us from judgment hall. We workers ask not for their favours” is a sharp criticism of social democracy, against which must wage a relentless struggle as part of the struggle proletarian revolution.
“Let us consult for all,” concisely expresses the principle of the mass line, which the Marxist-Leninist Party must use in leading the working class and other progressive strata to victory over capitalism.
“We must ourselves decide our duty. We must decide and do it well.” These words remind us of Marx’s saying that “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”. They remind us that we need iron unity of will and resolution to crush and overthrow the forces of the bourgeoisie.
The translation beginning “Arise ye prisoners of starvation, arise ye wretched of the earth,” is the one used by the Communist movement in the USA and is the more widely used version among the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain.
In the CFB (ML) and in the British Marxist-Leninist movement we must make good use of the Internationale in learning the historical lessons of the great Paris Commune and in strengthening our militant commitment to the proletarian communist principles so well summed up in Eugene Pottier’s words.
1. 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 naught, we shall be all.
T’is the final conflict. Let each stand in their place.
The Internationale shall be the human race.
2. We want no condescending saviours to rule us from the judgement hall.
We workers ask not for their favours; 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.
3. Toilers from shops and fields united, the union of all who work.
The earth belongs to us the workers, no room for those who shirk.
How many on our flesh have fattened, but if the bloody birds of prey
Shall vanish from the sky some morning, a golden sunlight will stay.