French Revolutionary Songs …. Marchons! Marchons!

 Satyajith Andradi, in Island, 12 July 2019, with this titleLa Marseillaise And L’internationale – Revolutionary Songs From France”

 “How many on our flesh eat their fill?
But if the ravens, the vultures, One morning disappeared,
The Sun would shine still.” …..
L’Internationale; trans; Michell Abidor

the Storming of the Bastille

Many countries have produced great revolutions during the past three hundred years. Revolutionary France is undoubtedly the greatest amongst them. During the relatively short period of 82 years from 1789 to 1871, four socio- political upheavals took place in France – the revolutions of 1789, 1830, 1848 and 1871. The greatest amongst them was the cataclysmic upheaval of 1789, which is generally known as the French Revolution. It is widely regarded as the greatest social and political revolution of all time. It signaled the downfall of the aristocracy and the political and social ascendency of the capitalist middle class – the bourgeoisie. Whilst the revolutions of 1830 and 1848 could be considered more or less as continuations of the great upheaval of 1789, the revolution of 1871, which is generally known as the Paris Commune, was of a different kind. It was the first instance in which the revolutionary working class seized state power from the bourgeoisie. Hence, although the Paris Commune held power only for a brief period of two months, it anticipated the great October Socialist Revolution of Russia. It was hailed by Marx and Lenin, who closely studied it and drew lessons on proletarian revolution.

It is interesting to note that the Revolutions of France have inspired the creation of numerous revolutionary songs. The La Marseillaise and the L’Internationale are the foremost examples amongst them. Whilst the former was inspired by the bourgeoisie revolution of 1789, the latter was inspired by the working class revolution of 1871.

La Marseillaise

By the beginning of 1792, the French Revolution had accomplished most of its bourgeois democratic goals : Aristocratic privileges was abolished: The power of the monarchy was drastically diminished. A form of broad – based parliamentary democracy had been introduced in France. These developments alarmed the princely and conservative rulers of France’s neighbours, who thought that the revolution would spread from France to their own countries, and thereby threaten their aristocratic privileges and monarchical absolutism. This resulted in a war between revolutionary France and imperial Austria in mid-1792. At the beginning France suffered many defeats. There was a real possibility of counter-revolution and the restoration of the old monarchical tyranny with foreign intervention. The revolutionary song ‘La Marseillaise’ was written by the French army engineer, poet and composer Claude Joseph Rouget De L’isle (1760 – 1836) in this hour of national peril, to raise the patriotic and liberating spirit of the French soldiers. The words and music were composed by him in Strasbourg in the night of April 24, 1792. Its original title was ‘Chant de guerre pour l’armee du Rhin (War song for the Rhine army). However, in August 1792, a battalion of revolutionary volunteers from the southern French city of Marseillies entered Paris singing this song. Hence, it became known as ‘La Marseillaise’. Since then the song has been a great hit in France and abroad.

La Marseillaise demonizes tyranny (verses 1 and 3) and deifies liberty (verse 6). It is a revolutionary patriotic song, and refers to the fatherland (verses 1 and 6). It comprises of seven verses and a chorus. All the verses are sung to the same tune, whilst the chorus is set to a different melody. While the first six verses were composed by Rouget De Lisle, the authorship of the seventh verse has not been established. The first verse and the chorus in French are as follows :

First verse

Allons enfants de la Patrie,

Le jour de gloire est arrive!

Contre nous de la tyrannie,

L’etendard sanglant est leve ( bis )

Entendes – vous dans les campagnes

Mugir ces feroces soldats ?

Ills viennent jusque dans vos bras

Egorger vos fils, vos compagnes !


Aux armes, citoyens

Formez, vos bataillons

Marchons, marchons!

Qu’un sang impur

Abreuve nos sillons!

English Translation of the first verse and the chorus:

First verse

Let’s go children of the fatherland,

The day of glory has arrived.

Against us tyranny’s

Bloody flag is raised .(repeat)

In the countryside, do you hear,

The roaring of these fierce soldiers ?

They come rights to our arms,

To slit the throats of our sons, our friends


Grab your weapons, citizens!

Form your battalions!

Let us march ! Let us march!

May impure blood,

Water our fields.

Source : ‘La Marseillaise’ Lyrics in French and English

The Marseillaise was adopted as the national anthem of France in 1795. However, during Napoleon Bonaparte‘s rule it was abandoned. It was re-adopted as the national anthem in 1879. The music of the Marseillaise has been “quoted by Schumann in Fashingsschwank aus Wein and Die beiden Granadier, by Elgar in the Music-makers, and by Tchaikovsky in his 1812 overture. Further, the Marseillaise has been elaborately arranged for soloists, choir and orchestra by Berlioz.” (The Oxford Dictionary of Music ; Michael Kennedy).


The Franco – Prussian war of 1870 was, in a very true sense the first major inter-imperialist war in Europe. France’s disastrous defeat in this war brought about immense suffering and privation to the common people of France. Sensing the treacherous designs of both the French and Prussian imperialists, the revolutionary workers of Paris waged an insurrection against the French bourgeoisie and established the Paris Commune 18 March 1871. The insurrectionary commune was suppressed on 28 May 1871 with unprecedented brutality. However, the defeat of the Paris Commune did not dishearten the proletarian revolutionists of the day. L’Internationale composed by the French worker- poet and communard Eugene Pottier ( 1816 – 1887 ) in the month following the suppression of the Commune stands testimony to this. Pottier’s poem was set to music by the Belgian worker – composer and socialist Pierre Degeyter ( 1848 – 1932 ) in 1888. The L’Internationale has become the battle song of the workers of the world. It comprises of six verses and a chorus. Whilst the verses are sung to the same melody, the chorus is set to a different tune. The first verse and the chorus in French are as follows :

First verse

Debout! les damnes de la terre

Debout, les forcats de la faim

La raison tonne en son cratere,

C’est l’eruption de la fin.

Du passe nous faisons table rase

Foule esclave, debout! debout!

La monde va changer de base

Nous ne sommes, soyons tout!


C’est la lute finale

Groupons nous et demain


Sere le genre humain.

English Translation by Mitchell Abidor:

First verse

Arise, the damned of the earth!

Arise, prisoners of hunger !

Reason thunders in its crater

‘T’is the eruption of the end.

Let’s make a clean slate of the past

Enslaved mass, arise, arise!

The world’s foundation will change

We are nothing, now let’s be all.


‘T’is the final conflict,

Let us unite and tomorrow

The International

Will be the human race.

Source :

L’Internationale was the national anthem of the Soviet Union till 1944, in which year it was replaced by a distinctly nationalistic song by Stalin. Whilst La Marseillaise is nationalistic in character, L ‘Internationale, true to its title, is unmistakably internationalist in spirit. It emphasizes the worldwide class struggle between the capitalists and the working class. L’Internationale has been translated into numerous languages ( these include European languages such as German, English, Russian, Italian and Spanish, and Asian languages such as Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Sinhala, and Malayalam ) and is sung in socialist gathers throughout the world.


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