Singing ‘The Internationale’ on May Day in Cuba?

Isbel Díaz Torres

HAVANA TIMES, April 27 — May 1 is coming, and the Cuban government is beginning to organize its traditional “March of the Combative People” in the main squares throughout the country. They’re also enlisting old recordings that have historically animated (?) the event, including the workers’ anthem: “The Internationale.”

The changes that are occurring on this island aren’t so rapid, but they’re instituted subtlety. Sometimes it seems like we’re at the very same point, but in reality we’ve moved slightly…in fact we’ve “run” a good ways, it’s just that you have to find out where we’ve run to.

That’s why I’m not sure if the old lyrics written by the French poet Eugene Pottier during the Paris Commune in 1871, and later set to music by Pierre Degeyter in 1888, will again be sung in the streets of Cuba.

Indeed, the anthem was adopted in 1910 by the Second International to be universally recognized as a symbol of the communist movement. It was created so that workers would sing its chorus of: This is the final struggle / Let us group together, and tomorrow / The International / Will be the human race.

One can get a sense of the optimism and voluntarism that must have impregnated that supranational organization by listening to the lines of the words of the French text: “On the day we attain victory / Neither slaves nor owners will be / The hatred with which they poisoned the world / at that point will become extinct.”

We know that history didn’t quite end up like that. The anarchists, for example, were kicked out of the both the First International (1864-1876) and the Second (1889-1814). I lot could be said about the Third (1919-1943) founded by Lenin, whose authoritarian character was accentuated under the rule of Stalin, but that debate will be for another time.

However, it’s good to know that since 1917 “The International” was also the official anthem of the then USSR, however Stalin (who defined his new policy as “socialism in one country”) replaced the song in 1944 for a new national anthem.

I mention this because in this year of the Pope’s visit to Cuba, and when the Roman Catholic Church has achieved an important public role, it would be in bad taste to sing verses so discriminatory such as those that wail: “No more supreme saviors / Not Caesar, the bourgeoisie or God / May we ourselves / make our own redemption.”

It would be even worse if these words were heard in the same square where just a month ago a Catholic mass was celebrated. Those words would not resonate well here in this capital, where new capital is being accumulated in the shadows by the emerging bourgeoisie. I imagine that both (the Catholic Church and the new bourgeoisie) have every right to demand respect.

To be consistent, the organizers should censor “The Internationale,” or perhaps eliminate the annoying stanzas (which the censors have done on other occasions with names from our political history, art and sports). I’m sure no one will notice.

For the moment, the television promotional messages that are encouraging workers to attend the demonstration in Revolution Square have as their background the tune of that legendary march – but not the parts that are sung.

I’ll write to tell you what happens on May Day. Perhaps in Cuba ‘The International’ will suffer the same fate as the banned video “Chupi Chupi.”


3 thoughts on “Singing ‘The Internationale’ on May Day in Cuba?

  • This made me cry – the Internationale should always be sung in its entirety!!!

  • tony baloney wanted to rid the british labour party of it´s anthem, the red flag. though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we´ll keep the red flag flying here. maybe international themes of solidarity in the red flag were not wanted, as well as themes of struggle against injustice?

  • This reminds me of Woody Guthrie’s famous song, “This Land is Your Land; This Land is My Land.” During its subsequent history, many verses, critical of the ruling class, were “sanitized” and replaced with innofensive ones!

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