One hundred years ago today, Vladimir Lenin led the Bolsheviks in their takeover of the Russian Provisional Government. Their anthem was “L’Internationale,” a stirring song about “striking the iron while it is hot.” A catchy tune has always worked to galvanize the oppressed, wretched, and poor into action. The lyrics of revolutionary songs range from fearmongering warnings to prideful exaggerations to simple ridicule. The music varies among regions and time periods, though it often accompanies a march.
American Revolution: “Yankee Doodle”
The upbeat tune traces back to Europe, centuries before the American Revolution, but British soldiers sang “Yankee Doodle” in mockery of the colonists. The lyrics were meant to describe the foolish, classless American soldiers. However, the Yankees claimed the derisory tune as their own (and had the last laugh).
French Revolution: “La Marseillaise”
The French national anthem was written in 1792 as a rousing call to Frenchmen to fight against the Austrian invaders (“They’re coming right into your arms / To cut the throats of your sons, your women!). “La Marseillaise” gained its name from its popularity among the fédérés (volunteer soldiers) from Marseilles in the French Revolution.
Young Turk Revolution: “Mshag Panvor”
Grikor Mirzaian Suni wrote the anthem of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, “Farmer, Laborer.” The ARF was involved in the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, which led to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The ARF went underground during Soviet control of Armenia, but since the fall of the Soviet Union the party has once again gained influence in government.
Easter Rising: “The Foggy Dew”
Canon O’Neill’s ditty, “The Foggy Dew,” was written in Ireland in 1919 about the Easter Rising, a five-day armed rebellion in Dublin in 1916. O’Neill’s tune comes from other traditional Irish folk songs, but the lyrics reflect many Irish opinions of the time that Irish soldiers leaving to fight in World War I for the British ought to have stayed home to fight for their own independence. The most popular recording of the song is by Sinéad O’Connor with The Chieftains in 1995.
Russian Revolution: “L’Internationale”
Eugène Pottier’s ubiquitous socialist hymn was the anthem of the Russian Revolution as well as the Soviet Union and many other leftist entities worldwide. Vladimir Lenin wrote in 1913: “In whatever country a class-conscious worker finds himself, wherever fate may cast him, however much he may feel himself a stranger, without language, without friends, far from his native country — he can find himself comrades and friends by the familiar refrain of the Internationale.” Pottier wrote the lyrics after the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871.
Mexican Revolution: “La Cucaracha”
The traditional Mexican folk song, “La Cucaracha,” wasn’t originally sung with lines about marijuana, but Pancho Villa’s army added in lyrics when they sang it during the Mexican Revolution. Their version of the mariachi song also contained revolution-specific lyrics about hardship and referred to President Huerta as the cockroach in question.
Cuban Revolution: “Hasta Siempre”
The “Nueva Trovo” movement in Latin America in the 1960s focused on culturally significant, authentic music as opposed to commercial projects. Carlos Puebla’s “Hasta Siempre, Comandante” was written to Che Guevara when the revolutionary departed Cuba to stoke uprisings elsewhere after the Cuban Revolution ended successfully in 1959. “We will carry on / as we followed you then / and with Fidel we say to you / ‘Until forever, Commander!’” ends Puebla’s Cuban folk song.
The Cultural Revolution: “The East is Red”
Mao Zedong disseminated a heroic image of himself in various forms of propaganda during The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. One of them was “The East is Red,” an unofficial anthem of the People’s Republic of China during that time. The lyrics proclaim “Chairman Mao loves the people / He is our guide / to building a new China / Hurrah, lead us forward!”
Romanian Revolution: “Deșteaptă-te, române!”
“Didn’t we have enough of the blinded despotism / Whose yoke, like cattle, for centuries we have carried?” goes the Romanian national anthem, an old song called “An Echo” written during the revolutions of 1848 in the Austrian Empire. Later titled “Wake Up, Romanian!,” the song was stripped of its national anthem status in 1947 during the country’s stint of communism, and it made a resurgence in the Romanian Revolution in 1989.