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 On reading Selected Poems of Eugene Pottier

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Glorious Poems of Unity and Struggle of the World's Proletariat


— On reading Selected Poems of Eugene Pottier


by Szu Chung

Source:Peking Review, No. 27, July 6, 1973
Transcribed for www.wengewang.org


   This review of the "Selected Poems of Eugene Pottier" appeared in "Hongqi," No. 5, 1973. The poems were translated into Chinese and published in March this year by the People's Literature Publishing House in Peking. — Ed.

A SELECTION of poems by the great proletarian poet Eugene Pottier has been published. The stirring and heroic revolutionary struggles by the working class of the Paris Commune come once again to life as we read through this selection of 20 poems.
   "One of the greatest propagandists by song," said Lenin of Pottier, whose The Internationale has inspired the proletariat of the world over the past century to unite and struggle for the triumph of communism. Today, at a time when Chairman Mao has called on us to learn to sing, grasp and put into practice the ideas embodied in the songs The Internationale and the Three Main Rules of Discipline and Eight Points for Attention*, Pottier's poems serve as our powerful weapons in upholding Marxism and opposing revisionism.
   The proletariat must thoroughly smash the state machinery of the bourgeoisie and carry out the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is a basic principle Marx and Engels summed up from the experience of the Paris Commune. An important concept contained in all the 20 selected poems is the seizure of political power by armed force and setting up a commune of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The revolutionary principles of the Paris Commune are fully embodied in The Internationale which calls upon the "wretched of the earth" to rise up, for "no more tradition's chains shall bind us," and "the golden sunlight still will stay." This theme also resounds in Pottier's poems. Even while the Prussian invaders laid siege to Paris and I he ''Government of National Defence" of the bourgeoisie was determined to capitulate and sell out Paris,
    
Pottier called: "Up, Paris! Sound the tocsin, comrade!" "Drive out those pimps and emperors! Set up a France of the French people!" His poems ring out sharply, powerfully and clearly. Where the fighting is raging, there one hears his clarion call. When the workers of Paris rose up on October 31, 1870 and occupied the Hotel de Ville, Pottier's response was prompt and powerful. The very next day he called on the "oppressed and wretched" workers to "rise up and rebel." "Set up the Commune, Paris!" he urged. This stirring battle cry, so full of the revolutionary pioneering spirit of daring to struggle and daring to seize victory, prepared public opinion for setting up the first proletarian regime in the history of mankind. The glory and brilliance of the Paris Commune and these poems are interblended and are indelibly etched in the hearts of the revolutionary people.
   Because the course of proletarian revolution is full of rocks and rapids, firm resolution, tenacity and steadfastness in the face of setbacks and difficulties are invaluable revolutionary qualities the proletariat must possess. Pottier's poems amply express these qualities. Firm confidence in the revolutionary strength of the world's proletariat and optimism in the triumph of the proletarian revolution flow strongly throughout his poetry. He was the passionate champion of the Paris Commune before its founding and the unyielding defender of its revolutionary principles after its defeat. Nine long years of exile and enemy persecution and poverty left him unbowed. On the contrary, it solidified his revolutionary determination and belief in the ultimate victory of the cause of the Commune. He never ceased to tell the world that "the Commune is not dead!" "The blood of the martyrs has added undying glory and honour to the working people!" he affirmed. "Workers, you will be humanity!" He was tireless in pointing out to the working masses that all the wealth of capitalist society was produced by the working class and other labouring people and that they had the right to seize back all that they wanted. "Look ahead, as masters of the state, holding state power and completely changing the laws and system." This revolutionary optimism is most manifest in The Path the Commune Has Taken written around 1880. In it he recalled the fighting days the Paris Commune had gone through and affirmed that the blood of the Commune fighters had not been shed in vain. "On the blood-soaked soil, seeds will sprout." Pointing out the global significance of the path taken by the Paris Commune, he declared:

"The future growing in the sunlight,
There are no frontiers that can bar us.
The people have but one programme. . . .
The path the Commune has taken!"

   These words could come only from a genuine communist fighter. This is poetry, this is a manifesto, the solemn manifesto of the determination of the proletariat guided by Marxism to bury the old world and create a new one. "The principles of the Commune are eternal." "Whatever therefore its fate at Paris, it will make le tour du monde." The world proletarian revolutionary movement of the past century has proved this great truth pointed out by Marx, and with the development of history it is becoming more and more a glorious reality. But the Soviet revisionist renegade clique has the effrontery to distort history, preaching that the Paris Commune was "initially" an "almost completely bloodless revolution." Read these poems red with the blood of the glorious martyrs of the Paris Commune! What a devastating rebuff to the absurdities of the Soviet revisionist renegade clique! History has refuted the shameless lies of the Soviet revisionists, and the reality today has utterly exposed their ferocious features. Their lie that the Paris Commune was "bloodless" is for the sole purpose of undermining the revolutionary fighting will of the people of various countries, ordering them to reduce revolutionary violence "to the minimum" while they themselves go all out to boost counter-revolutionary violence, militarism and expansionism to the maximum. But will this reverse the wheels of history? Absolutely not! The revolutionary people of the world will advance bravely along the path of the Paris Commune!
   Pottier's rock-firm confidence in the cause of communism was founded on a scientific analysis of capitalist society. His ruthless exposure of it is an important part of his poems. There were some works in those days by bourgeois critical-realists that to some extent exposed and satirized capitalist society, sometimes very bitter and pointed, but compared to Pottier's poems they paled into insignificance and differed in essence. The "criticisms" by bourgeois critical-realist authors were aimed only at reforms, at safeguarding the continued existence of the capitalist system. Pottier's exposure of capitalism aimed at wiping out this system of exploitation and replacing it with the socialist system. In The Old Building Needs to Be Demolished, he bared the rottenness of capitalist society, compared the rule of the bourgeoisie to a "building" "about to tumble down" and called on the workers to "demolish" it. In his long poem The Workingmen of America to the Workingmen of France, which Lenin praised, he mercilessly dissected the criminal capitalist system, pointing out that every filthy pore of capital reeks with gore. "Capitalist production, how many cogs you need! Your state stands propped up only by scaffolds." Only a revolutionary armed with scientific socialist thinking is able to make such a profound exposure of the essence of capitalist society. And on the basis of such a scientific analysis, Pottier clearly told the people that the path of liberation for the proletariat lies in "putting the world back into the hands of the workers" and "by the next Centennial, the world will see one huge Commune."
   "We want no condescending saviours to rule us from their judgment hall. We workers ask not for their favours, let us consult for all."
   Pottier's brilliant poetry for the first time in the history of literature expressed the materialist concept of history that it is the slaves who are the makers of history and profoundly repudiated the idealist concept of history that heroes are the makers of history.
   In The Social Revolution, The Rebel, and Dream of the Blacksmith, Pottier enthusiastically acclaimed the great historical initiative of the awakened working class to "get organized and rely on ourselves" "to remake the world." In the Dream of the Blacksmith, in particular, he has with his powerful pen depicted the image of the worker who made history. This colossus stands as a shining representative of the slaves who are the makers of history. He clearly realizes that in the long tortuous past it was the working men, hammer raised high and glistening with sweat, who created material civilization. He clearly realizes that no illusions should be entertained about those "Judases" who style themselves as advocates of the workers or about those parliaments of the bourgeoisie, and that the workers must rely on themselves to seize back the fruits of labour plundered from them by the bourgeoisie.

"We must unite as one, for one common goal, Power lies nowhere else but in ourselves.”

This is the image of a slave awakened, one who has recognized the nature of the proletariat. Through this image Pottier showed that the proletariat and other working people by relying on their own united struggle have unlimited strength and that this strength will break through all difficulties on earth, smash all the obstacles and sabotage by demons and monsters and continually create great miracles to ultimately liberate the whole of mankind.
   Fighting at the barricades, Pottier took a direct part in the great battle to found and defend the first proletarian regime, saw with his own eyes the earth-shaking fighting deeds of the workers and was inspired by the heroism of the slaves who were creating history. It was these very struggles which led him to recognize in depth the great truth that the masses can liberate themselves. He moulded this brilliant concept into fresh and lively artistic images to make his poems powerful instruments for encouraging and pushing forward the liberation struggle of the proletariat. They dealt telling blows to the bourgeoisie at the time they were written, and today teach us to counter and repudiate the reactionary idealist concept of history hawked by Liu Shao-chi and other political swindlers and arouse us to unite and fight to the end for the great ideal of communism.
   Pottier's poems are poems of unity, of fighting, and of victory of the world's proletariat. Like the principles of the Paris Commune, these poems are "now more alive than ever before." The revolutionary cause of the Paris Commune that Pottier sang of in his poems has been developed further under the new historical conditions and to a higher level. Imperialism, social-imperialism and all reactionaries vainly scheming to stem the tide of history cannot escape their doom. Let "Judases" who sell out and sabotage the revolutionary cause of the Paris Commune tremble! The socialist system will ultimately replace the capitalist system. "The Internationale shall be the human race!"

 * These were the rules of discipline laid down by Chairman Mao for the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army during the Second Revolutionary Civil War and were reissued by the General Headquarters of the Chinese People's Liberation Army in 1947.


  
Source:Peking Review, No. 27, July 6, 1973
Transcribed for www.wengewang.org
  
  
  

 
 
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