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Ferrua, Pietro


A film by Peter Miller

Sunday 31 August 2003, by ps

USA, 2000.

Color and B&W, 30 mins.

In the aftermath of the Paris Commune of 1871, Eugène Pottier wrote the song "L’Internationale." Peter Miller’s film, The Internationale , forgets to tell us about the author and his life [1]. It would have been interesting for the viewer to know that Pottier was an elected member of the Commune. In addition, he was a close friend of Gustave Courbet , the famous French painter and head of the realist school. Pottier shared with Courbet several political and administrative tasks and responsibilities within the Commune. Besides working on some initiatives together, they also shared certain ideals, both being admirers of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (by then, already deceased) and partisans of his kind of federative and anti-authoritarian socialism.

Moreover, after the defeat of the Commune, Pottier was condemned to death, although not executed because he succeeded in escaping abroad and reached the United States. (Courbet went into exile in Switzerland, and other Communards, including Louise Michel , ended up in New Caledonia.)

The song "L’Internationale" was dedicated to another member of the Commune: Gustave Lefrançais. The music, however, was added by Pierre Degeyter in 1888, one year after the death of Pottier. Miller’s film recognizes, at least, that the song had become the hymn of socialists, communists and anarchists, and shows us the CNT-FAI militias of the 1936-39 Spanish Revolution singing it.

Unfortunately, the hymn progressively lost its revolutionary content, became the first Soviet Union National Anthem, then the anthem of the (third) Communist International. On March 15, 1944, it became the song of Stalin. After World War II, the hymn was shamefully used for official military parades of the Soviet Union government and the P.C.U.S. in front of the Kremlin. It became, for many years, a glorification of the State and the Army, thus betraying its original revolutionary meaning.

Happily, it was revived by the Chinese students dying at Tienamen Square in Beijing and reacquired its sense of protest. Despite its biographical, historical and political gaps and fallacies, this short documentary deserves to be seen if only to witness the great Arturo Toscanini conducting "L’Internationale" and for the many newsreel excerpts of the struggles all around the world.

Pietro Ferrua

[1Peter Miller is a documentary filmmaker based in New York. He has co-produced The Uprising of ’34, Ken Burn’s Jazz and Frank Lloyd Wright, produced Passin’ It On and was coordinating producer of Barbara Kopple’s American Dream.