Antidote to the anodyne: The Internationale.



The verses of the Internationale were written on 30 June, 1871,  in the immediate aftermath of the brutal crushing of the Paris Commune during La Semaine sanglante (“The Bloody Week”). The policies and outcome of the Commune had a significant influence on the ideas of Karl Marx, of course.

The author, Eugène Pottier, was hiding in fear of his life. The lyrics were intended to convey the historical experience of an important workers’ struggle to a worldwide audience. For Pottier, liberty, equality and fraternity meant the promise of a society in which poor people, like himself, had justice.

The Internationale has long been the anthem of the labour’ movement throughout the world. Its power to move people has survived the repression of fascism, the cruel parody that was Stalinism and free market capitalism. Those who sing it need know nothing about it’s history to feel a strong sense of international unity. The Internationale is simultaneously about history, political argument and is a powerful rallying statement. Pottier established a reputation as the workers’ poet. It earned him a seat on the Communal Council representing the 2nd arrondissement.

The sheer power of Pottier’s Internationale lies in the fact that he was able to encapsulate his personal experience of  specific  events and express them in universal terms. And that identification and recognition is socialism in action.

The Second International (now known as the “Socialist International”) adopted it as its official anthem. The title arises from the First International,  which was an alliance of socialist parties formed by Marx and Engels that held a congress in 1864. The author of the anthem’s lyrics, Pottier, attended this congress.

The original French refrain of the song is C’est la lutte finale / Groupons-nous et demain / L’Internationale / Sera le genre humain. That translates as: “This is the final struggle / Let us group together and tomorrow / The Internationale / Will be the human race.”) The Internationale has been translated into many languages, it is a left-wing anthem, and is celebrated by socialists, communists, anarchists, democratic socialists, and some social democrats.

There’s something of an irony in the fact that New Caledonia became a penal colony from the 1860s until the end of the transportations in 1897, about 22,000 criminals and political prisoners were sent to there, amongst were them many Communards arrested after the failed Paris Commune, including Henri de Rochefort and Louise Michel. But I’m a person that sometimes connects the obscure, and seemingly random.

Which brings me onto contemporary geopolitical issues. Perhaps the famous Caledonian antisyzygy is a highly romanticised way of saying “cognitive dissonance.” Nationalism is the driving ideology of the Scottish National Party, the current Government of Scotland. The clue is in the name.

In the face of the current bloated propagandeering and emotive battle-cry rhetoric, attacks from the cybernats (I’ve even had the “we know where you live, and it’s not far from the borders…”), well, I much prefer articulate cognitive dissidents.

As I have written at length on the subject of  UKIP and ultranationalism, I will focus here mainly on the issues that arise with Scottish independence, though the  two topics are closely related, particularly on an ideological and sociological level.

Although civic-national ideals influenced the development of representative democracy in countries such as the United States and France (the United States Declaration of Independence of 1776, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789), these  examples are very distinct from the current wave of  Ultranationalism in the UK, which is founded on emotionalism, fomenting talk of presumed, real, or imagined enemies, predicating the existence of threats to the survival of the native, dominant or otherwise idealised national ethnicity or population group, and of course, secession.

This kind of nationalism is inherently divisive because it highlights perceived differences between people, emphasising an individual’s identification with their own nation. The idea is also potentially oppressive because it submerges individual identity within a national whole, and gives elites or political leaders potential opportunities to manipulate or control populations.

It’s worth keeping in mind that fascism is often founded on a form of palingenetic ultranationalism that promotes “class collaboration” (as opposed to class struggle), a totalitarian state.  Fascists have often promoted ethnic or cultural nationalism. Fascism stresses the subservience of the individual to the state, and the need for absolute and unquestioned loyalty to a strong ruler. The key elements are that fascism can be defined by its core myth, namely that of “national rebirth” — “palingenesis“.

Sociologist Max Weber’s conception of charismatic authority has historically been noted as the basis of many nationalist governments. Weber theorised,  before the outbreak of war in 1914, that charismatic authority was one part of a triadic typology of political legitimacy, along with legal-rational authority and traditional authority. He defined it as “devotion to an exceptional leader and to the normative rules ordained by him.” Unlike the other two types of legitimacy, the charismatic bond has an exceptional, highly intense, and emotional nature. It arises “out of suffering, conflict, and out of “enthusiasm, or of despair and hope, in times of psychic, physical, economic, ethical, religious, or political distress.”

In other words, nationalism is a poor, provincialist palliative for current, troubled global-scale socio-economic conditions. An anecdote, not an antidote.

Often, abstract political ideologies are generally incomprehensible to the rank and file and are only vaguely understood by their more articulate spokespersons, whose preference for a certain “ism” may be only an expedient means of getting the “in” group “out.” Furthermore, history again has shown us that disintegration of the manipulated sense of nationalist unity after independence often makes incompatible the simultaneous pursuit of the two goals of political development: the consolidation of the state and the growth of central government capacity to modernise. Economic and social challenges will never be addressed by simply drawing a new border.

“I’ll tell you what hermits realise. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.” – Alan Watts

Fascists aren’t just fascists when it comes to your preferred target group – be it the shabby, politically motivated case presented against migrants, sick and disabled people, unemployed people, women, gay people, academia or the “middle class” that appeals to you – fascists are fascists full stop. UKIP supporters fail to recognise, for example, that most migrants are working class, and oppressed, too. These are your brothers and sisters, in the artificial categories, the “other” groups that the elite have set up for you to hate. I have never seen the UK so divided, with oppressed groups pitched against other oppressed groups, and national boundaries being drawn to divide and weaken us further.

Dividing people by using blame and prejudice further weakens our opposition to oppression.

A recurring theme that SNP ministers and independence supporters alike have persistently utilised is that independence would enable Scotland to rid itself of “government’s that it did not vote for.” Given that the SNP came to power in 2011 on the back of under half of the votes cast, what are the majority of Scots who didn’t vote for them supposed to do, faced as they are by a government they did not vote for?

The SNP’s line of reasoning proves also that their case for independence can only ever be made when Conservatives reside in Downing Street. For 13 years, Scotland VOTED Labour and GOT a Labour government. It is only now that the SNP talk of Scotland getting a government they didn’t vote for. And of course, it’s only now that they decided that Labour are the “enemy” too, and Scotland’s problems are apparently  the fault of Westminster.  This is suddenly justified by a priceless criticism of  Labour’s previous “neoliberalism” coming from Salmond, who is a neoliberal.

 Salmond’s key economic taxation proposal of a reduction in corporation tax to 15 percent, which if implemented would make Scotland one of the most “business friendly economies in Europe”, with the Tory mantra of “job-creation” tagged on as the justification  mechanism,this  reveals his orientation towards trickle-down Thatcherite economic pifflebunk which has been discredited beyond redemption by the current recession. The SNP has refused to commit an independent Scotland to Labour’s proposal for a 50p top rate of tax. It has also refused to support a new top band of council tax. There are  no countervailing measures to replace the funds lost from public services.

With no measures at all to reduce income or wealth inequality, and with no corresponding transfer of income or wealth proposed for poorer Scots, inequality would not fall in the SNP’s independent state. And according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, without the pooled resources from the rest of the UK, there would need to be an additional £3 to 10 billion of cuts or tax increases simply to keep Scotland’s finances sustainable.

Of course it’s a myth that nationalism is correlated with socialism, yet it’s one myth currently being used by some of the yes campaigners, especially the ones that (quite offensively and wrongly) conflate being English with conservatism.

On the issue of nations and the proletariat, the Communist Manifesto says:

“The working class have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word. National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto. The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster. United action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.”

In general, Marx preferred internationalism and interaction between nations in class struggle, saying in preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy that ” one nation can and should learn from others.” Similarly, though Marx and Engels criticised Irish unrest for delaying a worker’s revolution in England, both Marx and Engels believed that Ireland was oppressed by Great Britain but believed that the Irish people would better serve their own interests by joining proponents of class struggle in Europe, as Marx and Engels claimed that the socialist workers of Europe were the natural allies of Ireland.

Nationalism was one consequence of imperialism (though far from exclusively so). As capitalism spread around the globe, it also gave rise to powerful movements of resistance. Initially, the revolt of workers and peasants in countries oppressed by imperialism almost invariably takes the form of primitive nationalism.

Lenin said: “Socialists must be especially prepared to give most emphatic warning to the proletariat and other working people of all nationalities against direct deception by the nationalistic slogans of “their own” bourgeoisie, who with their saccharine or fiery speeches about “our native land” try to divide the proletariat and divert its attention from their bourgeois intrigues while they enter into an economic and political alliance with the bourgeoisie of other nations…. It follows, therefore, that workers who place political unity with “their own” bourgeoisie above complete unity with the proletariat of all nations, are acting against their own interests, against the interests of socialism and against the interests of democracy.

Socialists are internationalists. Whereas nationalists believe that the world is divided primarily into different nationalities, geopolitical zones, socialists consider social class to be the primary divide. For socialists, class struggle, not national identity, is the driving force of history. And capitalism creates an international working class that must fight back, united and co-operatively against an international capitalist class.

Progress, evolution and development, by their very nature, demand of us that we extend ourselves beyond where we are. But the loss of a fundamental recognition of our common bonds, shared experiences, collectivism – the breakdown of solidarity – is retrogressive and involuted.

We are becoming socially fragmented and politically disempowered by a shifted focus on increasingly parochialised concerns. It’s what Thatcher wanted to see.That is why Veteran Labour MP Tony Benn,half-English and half-Scottish, believed independence would do nothing for socialism and would weaken both Scotland and England.

David Benn said his brother, Tony, who sadly died in March this year, was a “committed supporter” of devolution but was fervently against “outright independence”.

Hilary Benn said: “The socialism my father campaigned for all his life was about solidarity.

“He was a passionate believer in standing together and supporting one another in struggle and difficulty, not pushing people apart.

“To him, independence would not further the beliefs he fought for. That’s why he was clear that the Labour cause – and the Socialist cause – was best served by staying together.”

I agree.

People who view the social world parochially and hierarchically are more likely than others to hold prejudices toward low-status groups. This is especially true of people who want their own group to dominate and be superior to other groups – a characteristic known as “social dominance orientation.” It isn’t only the elite that hold this perspective, either

Any group claiming dominance over another – including the “working class” – is displaying social dominance orientation. The oppressed can be oppressive, too.

It is time to recognise those artificially constructed divisions and unite, for we have nothing left to lose but our chains.

“So comrades come rally
And the last fight let us face”.



“The Yes campaign in Scotland, as reasonable as it imagines itself, seems to believe in the unreasonable proposition that you can improve your marriage by getting a divorce” –  Dear Scotland: An open letter from your Canadian cousins

“The Ukip leader Nigel Farage has accused Alex Salmond of stirring up “excessive nationalism” and “anti-English hatred” with just two weeks to go until the vote on Scottish independence.” Remarkable allegation from the king of closing borders – Scottish Independence10658811_698839816852216_7811240035919643833_o

 Many thanks to my friend Robert Livingstone, as ever, for his epic memes, and for seeding the idea for this article.


4 thoughts on “Antidote to the anodyne: The Internationale.

  1. Yippee – I’m not a jaffa!

    As you say, they are fighting a Boys Own petty nationalist agenda, instead of fighting in solidarity against the neoliberal establishment that Salmond is giving them even more of.


  2. Don’t you think that maybe the divisive ‘nationalism’ that Marx was referring to was the ‘one nation, one family’ rhetoric of the right in the U.K. In fact, didn’t he also say that some nationalist movements could be progressive if they improved the conditions of the working class? You have highlighted the very issues I am struggling with as I decide which way to vote on Thursday. Incisive and thought provoking as ever, kittysjones.


    1. Marx did say that certain types of nationalism could be progressive, but later amended his view, as did Lenin, and as you point out, it was contingent on that which promoted solidarity, cohesion of the labour movement, united the workers, who are defined by universal class struggle, not geography.

      Here’s some more thought, but I know you will and must make up your own mind. This is difficult for me, too, grappling with events I’ve never experienced before, to understand the complex processes and psychology of it all. And such emotions…already, it’s changed my relationships forever with some people, sadly.

      Dennis Skinner, Tony Benn, Seumas Milne, the Communist Party of Britain, amongst others, all oppose Scottish independence. These from the collective left who are actively engaged in the struggles of the labour movement, they recognise that Scottish independence undermines solidarity, and divides us in what is a universal struggle, defined by class, not geography. Such competing self-interest, reflected in the nationalism of the Yes campaign, is a right wing phenomenon, associated with the philosophy of the likes of Ayn Rand and Thatcher.

      On the basis of continued capitalism in Scotland and the rest of Britain, Scottish and English workers would be placed in direct competition. This is especially true if we consider SNP plans for a more “business friendly” environment, with lower corporation tax and other incentives, in an attempt to encourage businesses to relocate from England to Scotland.

      The whole approach would be to drive down costs, i.e. wages to become more competitive. They would encourage a race to the bottom and pit worker against worker. Such competition between Scottish and UK businesses would result in a driving down of wages on both sides of the border,too. That would potentially fuel resentments.

      Historically the way Scotland was able to compete by exporting was to lower wages, which depressed the development of the domestic Scottish market and made the economy highly vulnerable to falls in international demand. Potential is there for conflict between our ruling classes across the borders, too, and I fear there’s some scope for violence.

      I want to be wrong, I often do.

      This is worth a read –


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