Partition of the International.
© Montreuil Living History Museum
Publication date: March 2016
The representation of an emblematic hymn
It was in 1887 that Eugène Pottier edited the poem The International. The song, which was first widespread in the North and in Guesdist circles, gained all socialist currents and the whole of France from the turn of the century, then crossed borders, imposing itself de facto as the anthem of international socialism.
It is frequently edited in four pages, form then in use for songs of all kinds. In 1902, the socialist propaganda bookstore entrusted the illustration of one of these editions to Steinlen, a regular contributor to the workers' and anarchist press.
"The International will be the human race"
The International is represented by a dense and connected crowd (the figure with the bare torso holds his neighbor on the right by the shoulders and, more indistinctly, that on the left). She's on her way to a future, ahead of her and out of the box. But this future is also well represented, according to the codes then frequently in force in engraving, by the rays of this new sun that is the International, illuminating its course.
The class belonging of this moving world is signified by the flags, technically black but evidently and uniformly red, beyond their distinct national origins. It is also by the use of the codes then in force to signify the worker: wide trousers and belts of digger, blacksmith's aprons, bare torsos.
The international dimension is expressed in these codes of a different kind of fur caps or Quaker outfits to represent Russia and America respectively. It is also affected by the inscriptions which appear on the flags to signify organizations: the American Labor Party (partially phantasmal: there is only a meager Socialist Party of America), Social Democracy (undoubtedly the German Social Democratic Party, the most powerful component of the IIe Internationale), the workers' party (undoubtedly of Belgium) and, leading the way, the socialist party which could equally well signify international fusion as the two components of French socialism then in conflict: either the French socialist party (of the Jauressists and of their allies), or the Socialist Party of France (Guesdists and theirs), by limiting itself to the common radical of these two titles.
A virile and organized humanity
For the 1er May 1901, the same Steinlen made the front page of Voice of the people, newspaper of the CGT. The working people marching behind their flag, which they appear there, have many similarities with this International which is also moving forward. Three differences however: in 1901, the work is signified by tools, abandoned in the engraving of 1902 which constitutes the political party as a major attribute. The people, composed exclusively of men, are there at least guided by a female allegory, naked wearing the Phrygian cap. The flag she carries is devoid of any inscription, meaning the class and not any organization.
Socialist engraving therefore accentuates the virility of the workers' movement to the point of exclusivity. It subordinates the class to organizations known internationally to express it.
- labor movement
- working class
Robert BRÉCY, Anthology of revolutionary song of 1789 at the Popular Front, Atelier Editions, 1990.
Jacques DROZ (dir.), General history of socialism, Paris, PUF, 1974.
COLLECTIVE, Steinlen exhibition, Museum of Living History, Montreuil, 1987.
To cite this article
Danielle TARTAKOWSKY, " The International, revolutionary hymn ”