Events

Saturday, May 1, 2010

1 May: International Holiday of the Working-Class and Socialist Movement

Many of my acquaintances here spent the day attending the gay Pride Parade or the Amherst Ultimate Invitational, or just generally enjoying the warm spring day (86 degrees F, last I checked) and pagan holiday (yes, even Morris Dancing takes place in our fair town, though my opinion of the sport tends to echo that of Edmund Black Adder.) However, this is also, in most other parts of the world, the annual holiday of the working-class and socialist movement.

The anthem of that movement is of course the "Internationale," which Pierre Degeyter composed in 1871, immediately following the collapse of the Paris Commune. Only in 1888 did it acquire the rediscovered verses of Eugène Pottier. Soon, versions in other vernaculars appeared. There were multiple German ones, but that of Emil Luckhardt proved to be the most enduring. (Fun facts to know and tell: in late Imperial Germany, one could be sent to jail for public singing of the song.) The message was simple: as the title suggests, bonds of class are stronger than those of nationhood. The reality was more complex: the First World War proved the durability of national identities and loyalties, a fact that the left is still struggling to come to terms with.

In the US, the "Internationale" is probably regarded as a "communist" song if it is known at all, but it in fact remains popular among the mainstream labor movements and social democratic parties throughout the rest of the world. When I was a student, I attended a huge outdoor French-German trade union rally in Stuttgart, at which the musicians asked audience members to sing the song in their respective native tongues.

Herewith a few renditions of the "Internationale"


Here's a classic version in the original French. (The advantage of this video is that it scrolls the text as the music plays. The disadvantage is the association with silly factions of the marginal left.)




This version, featuring Hannes Wader singing at a German Communist Party (DKP) rally in 1977, is among the folksiest and most engaging.



Some Anglo-Americans don't like it and say that it sounds like "beer hall" music. But they also don't necessarily like this classic, fully orchestrated one, which they find pompous or "militaristic." There's no pleasing some people. At any rate, this one has the practical advantage of providing the text scrolling across what appears to be an East German banner.



This one, in Hebrew, features some classic images of the socialist movement along with some more incongruous recent pictures.



This rather more relaxed, almost wistful version entails an adaptation of the text, performed by the Union of Working and Studying Youth back in the 1970s. The musical tone has strong echoes of that era and place, but generally in the positive sense.



And in the meantime, there are metal, reggae,and electronic versions (the largest collection here).

Now, I ask you: can Morris Dancing compare with any of this?

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