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The Dual Symbols of the French Revolution: The Marseillaise and The Internationale as Political Symbols

Yiwei Song

Notes de la rédaction

PhD thesis defended on 24th of May 2021 before a jury presided by Zhao Hui (Professor, Nanjing Normal University) and composed of three anonymous recorders, as well as Xu Kaiyi (Professor, Nanjing Normal University), Zhang Fengyang (Professor, Nanjing University), Li Lifeng (Professor, Nanjing University), Wang Haizhou (Professor, Nanjing University), and Sun Jiang (Professor, Nanjing University), thesis director.

Notes de l’auteur

My most sincere gratitude goes to Pierre Serna, my supervisor in France. During the school year 2019-20, I was invited to do my research in the Institute of History of the French Revolution (IHMC-IHRF) of Pantheon-Sorbonne University. There I found knowledge and warmth, in the framework of the China Scholarship Council. I also want to thank my friend Yolande Bernard, who helped me with my research and read the first version of this text in English.

Texte intégral

1The difference between the British and French experiences of revolution should not be pushed too far. Neither confined its influence to a particular field of human activity and the two were complementary rather than contradictory.

  • 1 Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848, New York. Vintage Books, p. 53.

2“Dual revolutions” is the concept proposed by Eric Hobsbawm to express the worldwide historical significance of the British Industrial Revolution, on the one hand, and the French Revolution, on the other.1 The term “dual”, like the two wings of a bird or the two wheels of a car, refers to the fact that these two revolutions worked together to produce great changes in the modern world. The Industrial Revolution broke down spatial barriers and accelerated economic globalisation, while the French Revolution established a new form of Republic and sowed the seeds of modern political thought. Karl Marx regarded the French Revolution as one of the important sources of communism. Most representative of this inspiration was the Conspiracy of the Equals (La Conjuration des Égaux) organized by Gracchus Babeuf (1760-1797). From these beginnings to the revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries, the wave of international communist movement washed over the world.

  • 2 Michel Vovelle, La Révolution Française 1789-1799, 3rd edition, Paris, Armand Colin, 2015, p. 201.

3How can we understand the global legacy of the French Revolution ? At the end of his general work on the French Revolution, Michel Vovelle (1933-2018) complained about the current omission of revolutionary memories by using the example of The Marseillaise.2 As we all know, The Marseillaise is the product of the French Revolution. When we examine all the songs that emerged in the course of all modern French revolutions, the only one which had a comparable global impact is The Internationale. These two songs seem to express divergent ideologies of nationalism and internationalism, but their inner spirit is consistent. The Marseillaise and The Internationale can be called the dual symbols of the French Revolution.

  • 3 Studies of The Marseillaise are published intensively in two periods. (1) From the consolidation of (...)
  • 4 We should pay more attention to these works on The Internationale: Maurice Dommanget, Eugène Pottie (...)
  • 5 Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics: With a New Afterword, Urbana and Chicago, University (...)

4There have been many comprehensive studies in France about these two songs. On the one hand, by constructing the link between the songs, Republican and nation-state scholars highlight that The Marseillaise is “the conscious expression of national consciousness”.3 On the other hand, most researchers who have studied The Internationale come from the left-wing camp, and this song expresses their hope “of building a more equal society”.4 These studies provide much historical information, but, since they are mostly devoted to only one of the two songs, necessarily lack a synthetic perspective. Therefore, this dissertation will refer to previous studies, use archives and materials which I collected during my visit to the Institute of history of the French Revolution, and uses the concept of “symbolic politics”5 to explore the development and interaction of these dual symbols.

Overview of the songs’ history

5The first part of the dissertation examines how The Marseillaise and The Internationale evolved into political symbols with specific meanings, and the roles they played in modern political practices in France. By doing so, we can draw a genealogy of French political culture from the Revolution to the Republic.

  • 6 Pierre Serna, “De l’évidence de qui appartient ‘ce sang impur’”, Revue historique des armées, no. 2 (...)
  • 7 Sophie-Anne Leterrier, « Du patrimoine musical. Le concours de chants nationaux de 1848 », Revue d’ (...)

6The Marseillaise was composed by Rouget de Lisle (1760-1836), a moderate revolutionary and patriotic officer. During the night of 25th and 26th April 1792 in Strasbourg, in the context of the internal political crisis and external war with the Austro-Prussian alliance, he wrote a song named Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin (War Song for the Army of the Rhine), which expressed patriotism and the fight for freedom. Employing violent lyrical imagery, the writer wanted to “water our furrows” (abreuve nos sillons) by using the “impure blood” (sang impur) of nobles/aristocrats.6 Singing this song, the federate army from the city of Marseilles overthrew the royalty on 10th August 1792. Since then, the song became known as the Hymne des Marseillais (Anthem of the Federates of Marseille). It took on the political meaning of republicanism and was commonly used in official ceremonies as one of the patriotic anthems. In the decree of 14th July 1795, the National Convention declared that The Marseillaise and the Chœur à la Liberté (Chorus to Freedom) should be played at every day’s changing of the guard at the National Palace. In the 19th century, The Marseillaise was forbidden during the two empires, but it was widely used by the French people on every critical moment of revolution or war in order to express their enthusiasm. In the competition of national songs in 1848 presided by Hippolyte Carnot (1801-1888), The Marseillaise was temporarily revived in official events.7 Although the Republic was declared in 1870, The Marseillaise only regained official status in 1879. After a heated debate in the Chamber of Deputies, the Minister of War published a note reinstituting the decree of 1795. Eventually, The Marseillaise became the national anthem of the Third Republic and one of the most potent political symbols of the French nation-state.

  • 8 Pierre Brochon, Eugène Pottier, Naissance de “l’Internationale”, pp. 9-15.
  • 9 Robert Brécy, « Un Manuscrit de “L’Internationale” », International Review of Social History, Volum (...)
  • 10 The version in Chinese is: Lenin, “Eugène Pottier (In Memory of the 25th Anniversary of His Death)” (...)

7As for The Internationale, Eugène Pottier (1816-1887), its lyricist, was born in a Bonapartist family in 1816. His father was a tailor (tailleur d’habits), responsible for Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais’ wardrobe, while his mother was a housemaid for the Empress. From the 1840s, Pottier began to show interest in socialism, particularly the ideas of Proudhon (1809-1865), and took part in the activities of “goguette” (small groups of men gathering and singing together). Before 1870, Pottier was a painter of textiles (dessinateur pour étoffes) and also co-managed an atelier in Paris.8 There are two texts of The Internationale with the signature of Eugène Pottier. One is a manuscript found in 1961 at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam ;9 the other is the version we use today which Pottier published in 1887 in his personal collection Chants Révolutionnaires (Revolutionary Songs). A comparison of the two versions suggests that Pottier wrote this poem during the Franco-Prussian War, followed by the Paris Commune of 1870 and 1871. He encouraged workers to take part in political struggles with this anthem, which was dedicated to the International Workingmen’s Association. In 1888, Pierre Degeyter (1848-1932), a Belgian musician and moulder, obtained Pottier’s collection from Gustave Delory (1857-1925), a leader of the French Worker’s Party, and composed a new melody for The Internationale. The song was then used by workers in northern France in their actions against the government of the Republic. After the First Congress of French socialist organisations (Premier congrès général des organisations socialistes françaises) at the Hall of Japy in Paris in December 1899, The Internationale became popular in the socialist movement throughout Europe. In the congresses of the Second International in Amsterdam (1904) and Copenhagen (1910), the Socialist International Bureau confirmed the status of The Internationale. In 1912, Lenin wrote a memorial article about the history of Pottier which formed a classical narrative about The Internationale.10 After the October Revolution of 1917, The Internationale became the undisputed symbol of the proletariat revolution all over the world.

  • 11 Gérard Chappez, Rouget de Lisle, l’oublié du Panthéon, Tours, Éditions Sutton, 2017, p. 231-236.
  • 12 Nathalie Dompnier, “Entre la Marseillaise et Maréchal, nous voilà ! quel hymne pour le régime Vichy (...)

8Although The Marseillaise and The Internationale have different symbolic meanings, there is no long-standing rivalry between them. Both of them played important roles in political identity and social mobilisation, particularly during the two world wars. The Marseillaise is one of the most popular songs from the siege of Paris and Commune, and The Internationale was based on the melody of The Marseillaise when Pottier first wrote this poem. Even in the parliamentary debate over The Marseillaise in 1879, some conservative deputies regarded it as “the song of the Commune”. In the labour movements of the late 19th century, The Marseillaise continued to be sung by workers until The Internationale became popular. On 14th July 1915, the government held a major ceremony of commemoration for The Marseillaise, by transferring the remains of Rouget de Lisle to the Invalides.11 This ceremony, held on the national holiday, successfully raised and stimulated nationalism. Socialists temporarily put The Internationale aside and united under the flag of the “Sacred Union”. After the outbreak of the Second World War, the Vichy regime adopted The Marseillaise as its official anthem in order to gain legitimacy, but restricted its use in public areas.12 As for The Internationale, there was no doubt that it was completely banned. At the Riom Trial (1942), Léon Blum (1872-1950) united socialists and communists with The Marseillaise and reinforced their identity with the Republic. Within the Resistance Movement, soldiers on battlefields, in concentration camps, even on the execution grounds of Nazi Germany, preferred to sing The Marseillaise and The Internationale to inspire the fighting spirit and steel their resolve in the face of danger. These two songs have transcended the frontier of nation-states and became the common voice of all antifascists around the world.

Two related songs, five interpretations

9The second part of the dissertation explores five interpretations that have been advanced about the relationship between The Marseillaise and The Internationale.

  • 13 XIVe Congrès national du Parti ouvrier français : du 21 au 25 juillet 1896, Collection of BNF, 1896

10The first view is that The Marseillaise and The Internationale are opposed to each other. For example, in July 1896, the 14th National Congress of the French Workers’ Party (XIVe Congrès national du Parti ouvrier français) was held in Lille. During this conference, the streets of Lille were filled with socialists carrying red flags and singing The Internationale, while their opponents carried tricolour flags and sang The Marseillaise. The demonstrations on both sides were in striking contrast, and there were also some clashes between them.13 To the majority of the French public, The Marseillaise, as a symbol of nationalism and the French Revolution, is the national anthem of France. In contrast, The Internationale is sung to protest against the government ; it is a symbol of internationalism and the Paris Commune of 1871. Therefore, people always agree that the two songs are completely contradictory. This opinion is simple and straightforward, it has a broad influence, and leaves room for more interpretations of the relationship between The Marseillaise and The Internationale.

  • 14 There are some correspondences about this event between centre and local officer in the French Nati (...)

11The second view comes from the French government’s discussion on whether it was illegal to sing The Internationale. In the fifth paragraph known as the “verse of generals” (couplet de généraux), we can find that there are some anarchist ideas. It speaks of starting a strike and disbanding the army, especially in the last two sentences : “They soon shall hear that our bullets will reach our own generals” (Ils sauront bientôt que nos balles sont pour nos propres généraux). This paragraph was hugely popular within the workers’ movements, but the French government considered it a provocation towards the authorities. In 1929, on the Île de Ré, an island off the west coast of France, children from a summer camp sponsored by the French Communist Party sang The Internationale in front of the house of a right-wing writer. After several rounds of correspondence that lasted nearly half a year, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Poitiers finally suggested that singing the “verse of generals” in front of soldiers would be considered an offence.14 But because of the long delay, the influence of this event declined, without inflaming more conflicts. This ambiguous attitude shows that, in the eyes of French authorities, The Internationale does not stand in opposition to the nation-state.

  • 15 Jean Jaurès, « Marseillaise et Internationale », La Petite République Socialiste, no. 9998, 30th Au (...)

12The third view draws upon Jean Jaurès’s article, “Marseillaise et Internationale” (Marseillaise and Internationale), a political polemic published in La Petite République Socialiste on 30th August 1903. Jaurès pointed out that violent expression is the general character of revolutionary songs. In the French Revolution, The Marseillaise thundered against the despots and attracted foreign soldiers to join the free-revolutionary camp by “betraying” their own motherland. In this sense, “The Internationale was the proletarian continuation of The Marseillaise ” (L’Internationale n’a été que la suite prolétarienne de La Marseillaise).15This article was published in a specific context, within a particular ideological genealogy. On the one hand, in the background of the struggle against clericalism, some newspapers criticized the abuse of The Internationale on official occasions since the visit to Marseille on 8-9th August of the Premier Minister Émile Combes (1835-1921). Many socialist politicians, like Paul Brousse (1844-1912) and Alfred Léon Gérault-Richard (1860-1911) also wrote articles as a response. On the other hand, this article reflected the understandings of internationalism among the French socialists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who rejected “bourgeois nationalism” but agreed with the conception of “motherland” and “patriotism” as necessary preconditions for internationalism. This article clearly reveals the ideas of Jaurès about revolutions. The Marseillaise is the masterpiece of the French Revolution which expresses the hope for freedom but with some limits. Consequently, as a proletarian revolutionary song, The Internationale could only carry the spirit of The Marseillaise.

  • 16 L’Humanité, no. 13708, Sunday 28th June 1936, p. 2.
  • 17 L’Humanité, no. 48 Année, no. 1581, Tuesday 4th October1949, p. 3.

13The fourth view can be traced back to 1936 and 1949 in two speeches by Maurice Thorez (1900-1964), in which he affirmed the equal status of The Marseillaise and The Internationale. On 27th June 1936, in the context of the Popular Front Movement and its practice of reviving The Marseillaise, the French Communist Party held a grand commemoration of the centenary of the death of Rouget de Lisle. Maurice Thorez, general secretary of the PCF, declared that The Marseillaise encapsulates the “nature of the French people” (génie du peuple de France), is the “expression of the revolutionary will of the people” (expression de la volonté révolutionnaire du peuple), serves as a “call for national unity” (appel à l’union de la nation), functions as the “national anthem” (hymne national), and shows the communists to be the “true successors of the Jacobins in 1792” (héritiers authentiques des Jacobins de 1792). At the end of his speech, Thorez encouraged that “in the symphonies between The Marseillaise and The Internationale, […] together we make a free, strong and fortunate France !” (aux accents mêlés de La Marseillaise et de L’Internationale, […] ensemble nous ferons une France libre, forte et heureuse !).16On 1st October 1949, on the occasion of the 17th anniversary of Pierre Degeyter’s death, Thorez stated again that, in the “battle for democracy and peace” (la bataille pour la démocratie et la paix), The Internationale was the “anthem of revolution” (hymne de la révolution) and the “anthem of workers all over the world” (hymne des travailleurs du monde).17 A close analysis of the two speeches reveals that Thorez highlighted not only the communists’ inheritance of the French revolutionary tradition. but also their own identity as a proletarian party. His rhetoric represented an attempt by the PCF to resolve the differences between nationalism and internationalism on both a practical and theoretical level. By singing The Marseillaise and The Internationale, the communists in France took part in the struggles against fascism, supporting both national liberation and world revolution in the 1930s and 1950s.

  • 18 Maurice Dommanget, “L’Anniversaire de Rouget de Lisle : Marseillaise et Internationale”, L’École Ém (...)
  • 19 Maurice Dommanget, De la Marseillaise de Rouget de Lisle à l’Internationale de Pottier, Paris, Libr (...)
  • 20 Maurice Dommanget, Eugène Pottier, membre de la Commune et chantre de l’Internationale, Paris, EDI, (...)

14In contrast to Jaurès’ “idea of succession” and Thorez’s “idea of fusion”, there was also a strong resistance to The Marseillaise within the left-wing movement. For instance, Maurice Dommanget (1888-1976), a syndicalist historian, criticised the compromise strategy of the French Communist Party in the summer of 1936 in an article in the journal L’École Émancipée. In the eyes of Dommanget, Rouget de Lisle was a “bourgeois and anti-revolutionary officer” (officier bourgeois et contre-révolutionnaire) and The Marseillaise was a “song of war and militarism” (chant de guerre et de militarisme). Proletarians should sing The Internationale “of the producers” (des producteurs) rather than The Marseillaise “of the butchers” (des massacreurs).18 In a historical work written by Dommanget in 1938, he compared the development of The Marseillaise and The Internationale in details, pointing out that the latter was against patriotism. In this piece, he sharpened his opinion that the two songs were incompatible. It is interesting to find that this work was supported by the French Socialist Party and its newspaper Le Populaire.19As late as 1971, Dommanget revised his previous work, but insisted that the two songs could not be put together.20 For more than thirty years, Maurice Dommanget did not change his core point that the relationship between The Marseillaise and The Internationale was like that of fire and water – diametrically opposed. The ideological root of this view lies in his firm stance against bourgeois nationalism and adherence to proletarian internationalism. It should also be noted that Dommanget applied the method of class analysis to his historical research, which influenced quite a few areas of studies on the French socialist movements.

Conclusion

15In conclusion, this dissertation describes the competitive-cooperative relationship between The Marseillaise and The Internationale in modern French history. The two songs have become “dual symbols” of the French revolution and their use in practice is closely related to the political concepts of “motherland/patriotism”, “nation/nationalism” and “international/internationalism.” The Marseillaise reflects the ambiguous relationship between patriotism and nationalism, while The Internationale is regarded as an iconic symbol of internationalism. In the process of propagation, however, The Marseillaise was well-received in many countries and became a revolutionary song on the international level. The Internationale is also well integrated into the process of nation-state building and revolution. The dual symbols, together with the concepts they convey, are the legacy of French Revolution to the world.

16The Marseillaise and The Internationale also played an important role in modern China. In the 1870s, Wang Tao, an intellectual of the late Qing Dynasty, translated The Marseillaise into Chinese for the first time in his book about the Franco-Prussian War. When the governments of the Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China searched for a national anthem for modern China, The Marseillaise was a perfect example to be referenced and imitated, for it was seen as helping to cultivate the concept of state and national consciousness. In the 1920s, The Internationale was introduced into China by both France and Russia, which had a deep influence in the Chinese revolution. Nie Er, composer of the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China, the March of the Volunteers, pointed out that The Marseillaise and The Internationale inspired his creation of this famous patriotic-revolutionary song.

  • 21 E. J. Hobsbawm, Echoes of the Marseillaise : Two Centuries Look Back on the French Revolution, New (...)

17On the bicentenary of the French Revolution, Hobsbawm published his work about the legacy of this great event in modern history, whose main title is Echoes of the Marseillaise.21 Furthermore, the research of this dissertation shows that the echoes of the French Revolution all over the world, are not only The Marseillaise, but also The Internationale.

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Notes

1 Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848, New York. Vintage Books, p. 53.

2 Michel Vovelle, La Révolution Française 1789-1799, 3rd edition, Paris, Armand Colin, 2015, p. 201.

3 Studies of The Marseillaise are published intensively in two periods. (1) From the consolidation of the Third Republic in the late 19th century to the First World War, such as : Alfred Leconte, Rouget de Lisle, sa vie, ses œuvres, la Marseillaise, Paris, Librairies-Imprimeries Réunies, 1892; Julien Tiersot, Rouget de Lisle : son œuvre, sa vie, Paris, Librairie CH Delagrave, 1892; Id., Histoire de la Marseillaise, Paris, Librairie Delagrave, 1915; Louis Fiaux, La Marseillaise, son histoire dans l’histoire des Français depuis 1792, Paris, Librairie Charpentier et Fasquelle, 1918; etc. (2) Around the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, such as : Michel Vovelle, “La Marseillaise : La guerre ou la paix”, Pierre Nora (ed.), Les Lieux de Mémoire, volume 1, Paris, Édition Gallimard, 1997, p. 107-152; Frédéric Robert, La Marseillaise, Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1989; Hervé Luxardo, Histoire de la Marseillaise, Paris, Plon, 1989.

4 We should pay more attention to these works on The Internationale: Maurice Dommanget, Eugène Pottier, membre de la Commune et chantre de l’Internationale, Paris, EDI, 1971; Pierre Brochon, Eugène Pottier, Naissance de “l’Internationale”, St-Cyr-sur-Loire, Christian Pirot, 1997; Marc Ferro, L’Internationale : Histoire d’un chant de Pottier et Degeyter, Paris, Édition Noêsis, 1996; etc.

5 Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics: With a New Afterword, Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1985; Wang Haizhou, “Retrospections and Reflections on the Theory of Political Symbols: Concurrently Discuss the Building of a Symbolic Politics Approach”, CASS Journal of Political Science, no. 4 (2016), p. 14-21.

6 Pierre Serna, “De l’évidence de qui appartient ‘ce sang impur’”, Revue historique des armées, no. 287 (2017), p. 18-30.

7 Sophie-Anne Leterrier, « Du patrimoine musical. Le concours de chants nationaux de 1848 », Revue d’histoire du XIXe siècle, tome 15, n° 2 (1997), pp. 67-80.

8 Pierre Brochon, Eugène Pottier, Naissance de “l’Internationale”, pp. 9-15.

9 Robert Brécy, « Un Manuscrit de “L’Internationale” », International Review of Social History, Volume 17, Issue 1 (April 1972), pp. 587-589.

10 The version in Chinese is: Lenin, “Eugène Pottier (In Memory of the 25th Anniversary of His Death)”, The Central Compilation and Translation Bureau (ed.), The Complete Works of Lenin, vol. 22, Beijing, People’s Publishing House, 2017, 291 p.

11 Gérard Chappez, Rouget de Lisle, l’oublié du Panthéon, Tours, Éditions Sutton, 2017, p. 231-236.

12 Nathalie Dompnier, “Entre la Marseillaise et Maréchal, nous voilà ! quel hymne pour le régime Vichy?”, Myriam Chimènes (ed.), La Vie musicale sous Vichy, Bruxelles, Éditions Complexe, 2001, p. 69-88.

13 XIVe Congrès national du Parti ouvrier français : du 21 au 25 juillet 1896, Collection of BNF, 1896.

14 There are some correspondences about this event between centre and local officer in the French National Archives: « Chants révolutionnaires », Archives Nationales, Cote : 20010216/47, Dossier 1257, fol. 42-75.

15 Jean Jaurès, « Marseillaise et Internationale », La Petite République Socialiste, no. 9998, 30th August 1903, p. 1.

16 L’Humanité, no. 13708, Sunday 28th June 1936, p. 2.

17 L’Humanité, no. 48 Année, no. 1581, Tuesday 4th October1949, p. 3.

18 Maurice Dommanget, “L’Anniversaire de Rouget de Lisle : Marseillaise et Internationale”, L’École Émanicipée, no. 40 (28th June 1936), p. 638-639.

19 Maurice Dommanget, De la Marseillaise de Rouget de Lisle à l’Internationale de Pottier, Paris, Librairie Populaire, 1938.

20 Maurice Dommanget, Eugène Pottier, membre de la Commune et chantre de l’Internationale, Paris, EDI, 1971.

21 E. J. Hobsbawm, Echoes of the Marseillaise : Two Centuries Look Back on the French Revolution, New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers University Press, 1990; translated in French by Julien Louvrier: Id., Aux armes, historiens : Deux siècles d’histoire de la Révolution française, Paris, La Découverte, 2007.

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Yiwei Song, « The Dual Symbols of the French Revolution: The Marseillaise and The Internationale as Political Symbols »La Révolution française [En ligne], 23 | 2022, mis en ligne le 29 juin 2022, consulté le 10 août 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lrf/6530 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lrf.6530

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Auteur

Yiwei Song

Post-docteur du département d’histoire,
Institut XUE-HENG pour les études avancées
Université de Nanjing, Chine

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