Saturday, 31 July 2010

United Front Song (Einheitsfrontlied)

One of the best-known songs of the German labour movement is Einheitsfrontlied or United Front Song, with text by Bertolt Brecht and music by Hanns Eisler. The song was written in 1934 after the rise to power of Nazism, and reflects Brecht’s conviction that only a united front of the working class could lead to social progress. Eisler’s simple arrangement, together with the march-like beat, means it can easily be sung by people without musical training.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that the sexism of the English translation below (“a man is flesh and blood”) does not exist in the German. The word Mensch means not a ‘man’ but a ‘person’.


And while a man is flesh and blood
He will ask, if you please, for bread and meat
And windy words won’t be enough
For words aren't good to eat.

    Then left, two, three! Then left, two, three!
    Comrade, here’s the place for you.
    So fall in with the workers’ united front
    For you are a worker too.

And while a man is flesh and blood
He won’t be driven till he drops.
He will want no slaves beneath his feet
And no masters up on top.

    Then left, two, three! Then left, two, three!
    Comrade, here’s the place for you.
    So fall in with the workers’ united front
    For you are a worker too.

As long as there are two classes
Proletarians must agree
It’s the task of none but the working class
To set the worker free.

    Then left, two, three! Then left, two, three!
    Comrade, here’s the place for you.
    So fall in with the workers’ united front
    For you are a worker too.

English translation by H.R. Hays


The original German version:

Und weil der Mensch ein Mensch ist,
drum braucht er was zum Essen bitte sehr!
Es macht ihn kein Geschwätz nicht satt,
das schafft kein Essen her.

    Drum links, zwei, drei! Drum links, zwei, drei!
    Wo dein Platz Genosse ist.
    Reih dich ein in die Arbeitereinheitsfront,
    Weil du auch ein Arbeiter bist.

Und weil der Mensch ein Mensch ist,
drum braucht er auch noch Kleider und Schuh.
Es macht ihn kein Geschwätz nicht warm
und auch kein Trommeln dazu.

    Drum links, zwei, drei! Drum links, zwei, drei!
    Wo dein Platz Genosse ist.
    Reih dich ein in die Arbeitereinheitsfront,
    Weil du auch ein Arbeiter bist.

Und weil der Mensch ein Mensch ist,
drum hat er Stiefel im Gesicht nicht gern.
Er will unter sich keinen Sklaven sehn
und über sich keinen Herrn.

    Drum links, zwei, drei! Drum links, zwei, drei!
    Wo dein Platz Genosse ist.
    Reih dich ein in die Arbeitereinheitsfront,
    Weil du auch ein Arbeiter bist.

Und weil der Prolet ein Prolet ist,
drum kann ihn auch kein anderer befrein.
Es kann die Befreiung der Arbeiter nur
das Werk der Arbeiter sein.

    Drum links, zwei, drei! Drum links, zwei, drei!
    Wo dein Platz Genosse ist.
    Reih dich ein in die Arbeitereinheitsfront,
    Weil du auch ein Arbeiter bist.

You may notice there are in fact four verses — for some reason H.R. Hays does not translate the second verse.


You can listen to the 1934 recording (in German) by Ernst Busch from SovMusic.ru:



One of the classic performances of Einheitsfrontlied is by the German singer-songwriter Hannes Wader. I have had the good fortune to hear him sing live in Germany.



Here is another noteworthy performance, by the classic German rock band Ton Steine Scherben (vocalist Rio Reiser):

3 comments:

Kay D. Daggerly said...

Here's my favorite English translation:

"We are human, so therefore
we must eat before we can think.
Fine words are only empty air
when you have no food or drink.

REFRAIN:
So left, two, three!
And left, two, three!
There's a place, comrade, for you.
March with us in the Workers' United Front,
Because you're a worker, too.

We are all human so therefore
We all need shelter and clothes.
Fine words alone can't keep you warm
When what you need is a home.

(REFRAIN)

We are all human so therefore
We'd rather not be trampled underfoot.
We want no masters over us,
And no slaves under our boots.

(REFRAIN)

We're all workers, so therefore
No class can free us but our own.
The emancipation of the working class
Is a task of the workers alone.

(REFRAIN)"

While not as exact in its literalism, it better captures the meaning of the original lyrics, while keeping the same meter.

Will Fitz said...

I'd really like to hear this sung! Do you have a link to a recording?

MinimeTheGreat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.